The Pros and Cons of Being a Teacher
What I've Learned About Being a Teacher
Maybe you are looking for a career change, or maybe you are still trying to figure out "what you want to be when you grow up." Perhaps you are already on your way toward a degree in education.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher once I entered high school. I was in the higher-level English courses, and my teachers inspired me not only to think critically about literature but also to write with feeling and purpose. I loved how everyone in the class could talk about their views and thoughts on passages from books, share their writing in small-critique groups, and the overall feeling of learning that I experienced. I knew that I wanted to teach and allow future students to have the fantastic experience I did—sharing their love of books and writing about their ideas.
I went to college and took my undergrad courses in English Writing and Secondary Education. I was eager to have my own classroom and meet fellow teachers to share ideas with.
However, things did not turn out exactly how I'd envisioned. I've yet to teach a higher-level class with students who are eager to learn. Instead, I've gotten the classes with struggling learners, kids on the verge of dropping out, and kids who come with parole officers and troubled backgrounds who sometimes don't see the value in education. I've had to revamp my initial teaching style in order to reach these types of students, and every year (sometimes every day) brings new challenges.
Contrary to what you might think, however, I absolutely love these classes and the kids I've taught over the years. I wouldn't change it for anything.
I began my teaching career in the fall of 1998, and now, after twelve years' experience and a Master of Science in Education, I offer you everything I've learned about being a teacher: the pros and the cons.
The Pros and Cons of Teaching
Pros of Teaching
Cons of Teaching
Bonding with students
Trying and failing to help difficult students
Summer vacations and holidays
Connecting with other teachers and staff
Lack of support from administration
Always learning and continuing to grow
Continuous professional development requirements
- Being a confidante. The feeling you get when a kid chooses you as the one person they will open up to and let down their guard.
- The bond you form with your students after spending 180 days with them during the school year. I've had students from 10 years ago still stop by to see me, send me emails, and look me up on Facebook. I've been invited to baby showers, weddings, and college graduations of former students. I'm always touched that they still remember me.
- The friendships you make with other staff. Some of my closest friends are those that I've met while teaching. You'll share ideas about not only work-related issues but also every other part of your lives, as well.
- You'll always get to enjoy your love of learning. If I've learned anything, it is that you are constantly learning and growing within the profession. There are so many great websites and ideas that other teachers have and are willing to share.
- The "aha moment" when the students finally understand what you've been teaching. You can see it on their faces, and you know you've opened a door in their minds that might otherwise have remained closed.
- Being a hero. Knowing you are the only person that some kids have to rely upon, and that you are their source of strength and inspiration.
- Summer vacations. I don't think I need to elaborate on this little gem that comes with the profession.
- The days off. Let's face it, in no other profession will you receive time off nearly every month. The days and weeks off throughout the school year are fantastic!
- Summer vacations. I know it's also on my list of pros, and you're probably wondering how 8 weeks off can be a con. Well, the answer is money. Many districts offer just the 21 pay schedule, meaning your last paycheck comes on the last day of school—and that's it until September rolls around. Without fail, the last two weeks of August I am always short on funds. No matter how much I think I've budgeted and saved, something always comes up, and I long to go back to work so that I can make some cash!
- The salary isn’t very good. With an average salary of around $60,000, teaching is not exactly a lucrative profession. Some states, like California and New York, have salaries in the $80,000 range, but for the most part, the amount of work dedicated to students inside and outside of the classroom is not necessarily reflected in a teacher’s paycheck.
- Not always getting the support you need from your administration. This will, without a doubt, happen to you on more than one occasion. Maybe you won't get backed up in terms of discipline with a student; maybe your principal will side with a parent rather than with you; maybe you've got a really great idea for a class or project, but the administration shoots it down. At some point, you will become frustrated with the administration and wonder why they make triple your salary.
- Professional development training days. These can be great if they are applicable to what you teach. On the other hand, they're not always relevant. For example, I've sat through a training on foreign language in elementary school, and to this day I can't figure out anything I learned in that training that is useful for what I teach. Sometimes the district will hire a speaker who tells you about why you're not good at your job, and how everything you're doing is wrong. It's always baffling how many of these speakers either have never taught in a classroom or have been out of the teaching field for decades. I'd rather teach my classes for the day than sit through 7 hours of someone talking at me.
- Students who won't complete any assignments, no matter what you do. Sometimes you will pull out every trick that you know to get a student to complete their work. You'll try to strike deals, be overly lenient, practically spoon-feed the answers—all to no avail. You'll spend nights wracking your brain wondering what you could have done differently to get through to this kid. Sometimes you just have to let it go. This can be one of the hardest parts about teaching—knowing that a kid with potential just won't make it.
Teaching at Private School vs. Public School
The vast majority of private schools are religion-based schools, and that impacts what you’ll be allowed to teach. Public schools tend to offer higher salaries and better benefits than their private-school counterparts. This can make public school a more attractive option for potential educators. However, there are a higher percentage of new teachers at private schools, which means it’s easier to get started in a private school than it is to start out in a public school.
Most public-school teachers are required to take annual continuing education courses or attend seminars, which is not a requirement of most private-school teachers.
If you’re interested in smaller class sizes, private school might be a better option for you. Public schools tend to have much larger class sizes, and generally offer a greater variety of classes. Interested in teaching Latin or International Baccalaureate classes? You’re more likely to find those opportunities at a private school.
Public schools also offer higher levels of diversity among the student body. Students at private schools are typically in higher socioeconomic brackets; therefore, if you are looking for a more diverse group of students to teach, you may want to consider public school.
Teaching at Different Grade Levels
Elementary and kindergarten teachers tend to teach more general subject material on a wide range of topics. For example, as a third-grade teacher, you’re responsible for planning reading, math, science, and social studies lessons. The students are younger, so grading assignments will be easier and less time-consuming than at higher grade levels.
Junior high and high school teachers teach more specialized subjects. You’re expected to have more expertise on your designated subject (such as U.S. History or Biology), and planning and grading assignments will be more complex and time-consuming ventures. Junior high and high school teachers also typically teach far more students per day, as they teach multiple periods a day as opposed to having one class of 20-30 per year.
The students will also be different and dealing with behavioral issues. Elementary school children may be more prone to tantrums, while junior high and high school students face more puberty-associated drama issues and bullying.
Teaching English Abroad
Not sure whether you want to commit to a career in teaching? Interested in exploring your options? You might want to think about teaching English abroad. This is a popular option for recent college graduates in America. You can make decent money with little experience (particularly in Asia—European countries tend to have higher standards for their English teachers in terms of experience and education).
For the most part, all you need is a bachelor’s degree and a willingness to live abroad for an extended period of time. It’s a great way to figure out if teaching is the right path for you before you spend tons of money on the education required to become an instructor in the United States.
Substitute teaching is a great way to get some experience and test the water if you’re not sure about becoming a teacher. You get to teach on a wide variety of subjects, and the requirements for becoming a substitute teacher are far less stringent than those of a full-time teacher.
While the salary is not ideal in terms of a long-term career, substitute teaching is one way that many educators get involved in teaching, and being able to "try before you buy" with teaching is certainly a key advantage of the profession.
Will You Become a Teacher?
Being a teacher is something that you must have a passion for. It is more than just a job; rather, it is who you are. It can be both rewarding and frustrating. There will be times when you will wonder why on earth you chose this profession, and there will be many more times you realize there is nothing else in the world you would rather do. It is a wondrous feeling to know you have the capacity to impact so many young people who are our future.