One question I'm often asked, by both students and parents, is "Why did you decide to become a teacher?" I wish I could figure out a simple answer to this seemingly simple question, but the truth is, I'm not quite sure myself. There are many reasons why teaching is a great choice for a profession, but there are also many reasons why this job is not for everyone. If you are seriously considering becoming a teacher for a career, then it's probably a good idea for you to consider some of the pros and cons of this particular job.
The Cons of Teaching:
- Low Salaries:
- The Many Frustrations of Teaching:
- Frustrations with Parents:
- Frustrations with Students:
- Where did your life go?
Everyone knows—teachers do not make a great deal of money. Not only is teacher pay relatively low compared to other professions, it also does not get much better over time. A teacher who has been working twenty-five years doesn't make substantially more than a teacher who's only been in the profession for three years.
While parents can be a benefit and support in the classroom, they are also often a pain for a teacher—particularly if a parent makes many demands on a teacher's time with conferences, phone-calls, and e-mails pleading for special excuses for a child's lack of motivation. Some parents (again, to many new teachers' shock) can be belligerent or verbally abusive to teachers.
New teachers often begin their careers with visions of fantastic class projects and fruitful engaged discussions, only to discover that most of their students are either asleep or completely bored or disinterested by any area of knowledge. A new teacher often finds that reconciling his or her ideals with the reality of the trenches can be very painful indeed.
Someone once said, "Teaching is a job for nuns and priests," and what this person meant is that teaching is a job that consumes all of your life. Presumably, the job is perfect for nuns and priests who do not have familial obligations to distract them from giving of all their time. Because teaching doesn't end when the bell rings at 3 pm; often that's when clubs need sponsoring, sports need coaching, meetings need leading, and dances need chaperoning. It can seem endless. Teachers may find themselves looking a little more wrinkly and gray in the mirror much earlier than they expected. Teaching can age a person quite quickly.
The Pros of Teaching:
- There's More to Life Than Your Salary:
- The Many Benefits of Teaching:
- Strong, Supportive Union and Collegiality
- Those Famous "Summers Off" and Other Holidays
- Getting Paid in Personal Fulfillment:
While it is true that the pay is (and stays) relatively low, teachers usually don't starve. Being a teacher means having a modest and humble lifestyle, but not being impoverished. If nothing else, the pay is reliable; no one budgets better than teachers who get paid the same amount once a month and have to make that paycheck last right up to the next one. Besides, there are many other (non-monetary) compensations for the low pay.
Teaching can be a lonely profession, trapped in a room day after day with everyone far younger than you, but in other ways teachers are not alone and very well-supported. Many states have powerful and influential teacher's unions that look after teachers' best interests. Also teachers often develop strong supportive friendships that make the burdens of the job weight a little lighter.
The benefit that everyone who is not a teacher knows about is the "summers off." While it is true that teachers do have a summer break, it gets shorter every year—and often teachers (to make up for their low pay) have to take other jobs while not in the classroom. Still, when you add up the number of days a teacher gets off per year and compare it with another job that only gets two days for Christmas, you realize teachers do have an embarrassment of riches for holidays.
If teaching does indeed make you prematurely gray, it also (paradoxically) keeps you feeling young at heart. Being surrounded by young people discovering life, love, and joy year after year can keep a teacher's heart light—the type of lightness that makes up for the lightness of one's pocketbook. Ask teachers about their most wonderful day on the job, and they are sure to tell you about the day one student told them thank you for making a difference in his or her life. No price tag or salary could ever equal to that kind of fulfillment.
So What's It Going to Be?
Ultimately no one can tell you whether or not teaching is the right fit for you. Only your own experience can answer that question. You just have to investigate the profession with wide-open eyes that see both teaching's woes and its virtues. Do the pains of teaching outweigh the pleasures? Only you can decide.