A career in education has obvious advantages: teachers are highly respected and it is a recession resistant field. Why, then, do so many teachers leave the profession within a few years? Probably because teaching proves more stressful than they thought. Teaching isn’t right for everyone and you should research a career before making a decision. I interviewed Susan*, a public school teacher, to help those considering a teaching career.
How long have you been teaching? What grades and subjects have you taught?
I’ve been teaching for thirty years – eighteen in special education, one year teaching 5th grade language arts and math, six years teaching 5th grade reading, and five years teaching 5th grade United States history.
How has your job changed since you started?
When I taught special education all the SPED were basically self-contained for language arts and math. They were in grade level science and social studies with help from the SPED teacher. Now students are included within the regular classroom and the inclusion teacher comes to them in the regular classroom. Inclusion has a lot of advantages for these students. Being around their peers is a good learning experience and many of the students adapt well. However, the inclusion teacher cannot be with all of them all the time. Also, there are students that truly need to be self-contained. Inclusion is frustrating for these students, the SPED teacher and the regular teacher. Inclusion will be a great program if they hire more teachers and assistants for the inclusion program.
NCLB ( No Child Left Behind) is another thing that has caused changes within the school since I have started teaching. I understand that schools need to be held accountable for successful instruction of all the students. However, it seems to many teachers that the guidelines were written by people who have never set foot in an average classroom. Students are being tested that have only spoken English for about 4 years. They may speak English well and even get to use a dictionary to translate, but we are talking about long passages to read and on top of that comprehend these passages. SPED students are also tested and expected to score well on the test without any individualized instruction that they have become accustomed to during the year. Then, the teachers are held accountable for the scores. The state publishes these scores and rates the schools according to this. Many schools do not have any ESL (English as a second language) learners or as many special populations as other schools in the state. But all schools must meet the same standards.
What are the most in-demand jobs in education?
Special needs, math, and science teachers.
Besides a degree in education, what are ways that one can become qualified to teach?
There is an alternate route where anyone with a four year degree can become a teacher. There are certain criteria to meet. I don’t know a lot about this but I know they have to go to some classes and pass the Praxis (teacher’s exam).
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The lack of respect from not only some of the students but also the parents. The fact that many of the students don’t care. Also, the home life that some of these students have to put up with and which we have no control over.
What do you like best about teaching?
There is never a dull moment and you hope that hopefully you are making a difference in their lives and helping them to one day be productive citizens in our society. Children can be fun to work with if you can keep your sense of humor intact.
Why do you think so many new teachers leave the profession within a few years?
Many new teachers do not realize just how hard of a job teaching is. Many times you take work home, you come back at night for PTO meetings and ballgame duties. You cannot always go to the restroom when you want to because you are not suppose to leave students unsupervised. When they have lunch or recess you do not always get a break because you are on duty. Some new teachers also come in acting like they have all the answers to students’ problems and it discourages them when they do not see immediate results. New teachers need a teacher mentor whether they think so or not.
What kind of person does it take to be a good teacher?
A good teacher is not in it for the money or extra vacation days. If they are in it for those reasons, they are in for a severe shock. A good teacher must have loads of patience, of course, and never ever give up on students.
Would you choose the same career if you had to do it again? Why/why not?
Yes, I would choose the same career. I cannot think of anything else I’d rather do with my life. And I must really mean it because as I am writing this our state legislature has not appropriated money yet for our salaries. And the end of next month is looming closer and closer.
* real name not used