Nationally, teachers are leaving the profession at the rate of 17 percent per year, and in urban areas, the number is 20 percent. The national cost for this revolving door of teachers coming and going at such a rate is over $7 billion a year. Teachers are leaving for a number of reasons, with low pay and lack of respect near the top. That means two things for those thinking about choosing teaching as a profession. First, it means that there are always new openings for good teachers, particularly in urban environments and second, it means that those thinking about becoming teachers need to do some serious soul searching before embarking on that journey.
Why would anyone want to enter into teaching? If low pay and lack of respect are the things driving people away, then why should anyone consider teaching as a profession? The unmistakable truth is that there are few professions that are more vital to our success as a society. Teachers are quite literally preparing the next generation to assume leadership roles. Hard as it is to imagine, it is entirely possible that one of the kids you teach could be a great inventor, poet, actor or politician in the disguise of a small human that desperately needs help with his/her ABC’s.
For that reason, you would think teachers would how a position of honor in our society, but that has not been the case in recent years. Teachers, and schools in general, are under tremendous pressure to perform and a very high level. Because the stakes are so high, tempers can flair and accusations made that make many feel like they are in an undesirable profession.
With the stakes so high, and the rewards so modest, why would anyone choose this profession? Clearly, there are rewards that are not a part of your employment package. The teachers who enjoy their work most, and perform best, are those who genuinely love working with children. This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of people who have wandered into the profession who have little patience for kids.
So, how do you know if this profession is for you? The best way is to get some experience. Schools have programs for those who are working on there degree in education that requires them to spend time in the classroom, working with, and assisting a teacher. However, this comes at the end of their college experience, near graduation, when they have committed to a course of action and feel the pressure to pay off their student loans. Spending time as a volunteer earlier in the process would make more sense. Getting an accurate picture of what it is like to teach, both its challenges and rewards, is essential to make making a good decision.
Substituting is even better than volunteering in that it requires you to actually assume responsibility for the class. Interning for an experienced teacher can make the job look far easier than it really is. How much better to put yourself in the driver’s seat and experience just how big the challenges are. The requirements for subs vary from state to state, but if you qualify it is a great way to get experience, with the added benefit that it is also a great path to a full time job. Substitutes work with the very people who make hiring decisions, and good subs are often given a fast track to permanent employment.
The other advantage to substituting is that it can give you a chance to teach at a number of different levels. More than a few teachers have entered the profession thinking they wanted to teach one age group, only to find later that they were far more comfortable in another. Sometimes, just the difference in maturity levels between one grade and the next can make a difference in your perspective, and your success, in the classroom.
The industry needs good teachers. Indeed, all our society needs the best teachers we can get. If you think you might bit that bill, get some experience, see the job from the inside as much as possible before committing to take on such and important task. No one will blame you if you decide you are shaped for something else. And if you decided it is for you… you’re in for an incredible treat, with a challenge to match.
Author: Lee Reed is a teacher who writes extensively on matters of education, children and careers.Check out his new book for teachers and substitutes alike at: The Substitute Teacher’s Toolkit