Weighing the Decision: To Teach or Not to Teach

Education May be Calling So Be Ready with an Answer

"Every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling."

The philosopher and reformer John Dewey made this statement in categorizing teaching as a calling. For anyone who is making the decision today to join the ranks of educators (from ducere  "to lead" or to the ranks of teachers (from tæhte," to show") should give serious consideration to the following factors.

01
of 09

Investment in the Future

Teacher writing on blackboard with students
Jamie Grill/ Iconica/ Getty Images

The teaching profession has an impact far into the future. Consider Mark Twain's sentiment on education:

“We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.” 

Twain respected the far-reaching effects of education on our nation.  He may have complained about schoolmarms in "Tom Sawyer" or in "Huckleberry Finn," but he well knew that education was critical to America democracy. He saw teachers as planting the seeds for the future.

Whether it is in a public school, a charter or magnet, teachers have an impact on the future. Whether a teacher is in a private school or even a home-school context, the results are felt for lifetimes.

Teachers make students into the future citizens of our nation. They teach lessons to prepare students to join or to develop new and different professions that drive the economy. They teach lessons about responsibility and preparedness. They capitalize on student experiences to teach the importance of success and the importance of failure. They use the school communities, large and small, to teach about kindness and social skills.

Teachers use all these lessons and coupled them with subject area content to help students meet the challenges in the future.

 

02
of 09

Rewards of Student Success

Student success depends on teachers, and helping students to succeed is rewarding.  According to a report issued by the Rand Corporation,

"Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling...When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership."

Teachers get to celebrate accomplishments big and small throughout the school year. 

Teachers must adjust their teaching to meet the needs of students. Adjusting is a challenge, but finding the methods that work best for each student is rewarding. 

On occasion, students will return to talk about how helpful a teacher was was in helping them grow.

  •  
03
of 09

Improving Your Own Mind

Teachers know that the best way to learn a topic is to teach that topic.   Annie Murphy Paul describes in her article​ (2011) in TIME magazine "The Protégé Effect," how scientists researched student teachers acting as tutors. The scientists found that the student teachers "worked harder" were "more accurate" and more effective in an application of knowledge. Murphy Paul notes,

"In what scientists have dubbed 'the protégé effect,' student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake known that the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else.

She notes this has been true far back in history, quoting the Roman philosopher Seneca who said, “While we teach, we learn.” 

04
of 09

Teacher Peers as Support

 

Teachers working with other teachers has always happened in the past, but the implementation of mandated personal learning communities (PLC) in schools had formalized this form of support.

The design to have teachers collaborate and work as like-minded people can be a privilege, especially if the teachers have a positive attitude and a sense of humor. 

Because teaching is emotionally draining, the support of colleagues can help in all types of situations. When there is a large task, the responsibilities for the task can be shared based on individual teacher strengths and interests.  

Finally, every teacher knows that the teacher next door or down the hallway is often the best or most reliable support in the school. There is the mutual sharing of experiences that help forge relationships with other teachers.  This sharing can be helpful,  particularly if it comes with advice from another teacher's expertise. Or perhaps the sharing can be for enjoyment because students will come out with the funniest statements without realizing what they have said. 

 

05
of 09

Teacher Pay

Remember education is a calling. The profession is known to be more rewarding than profitable in many school districts across the nation. The NEA's website provides a number of metrics in order to push for higher teacher salaries nationwide. They cite a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that pegs the average national starting salary at $30,377. In comparison, NACE found that college graduates with similar training and responsibilities  had higher salaries:

  • Computer programmers start at an average of $43,635,
  • Public accounting professionals at $44,668, and 
  • Registered nurses at $45,570.

More disturbing has been the trend of a widening gap which increases annually between educators and their peers in the private sector:

"Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher."

Teachers have banded together to stage walkouts to counter the impact of this widening gap. The difference, accounting for inflation, can be as much as $30 per week, a calculation made over the last two decades. 

Teacher pay does receive attention national coverage. "US News and World Report" posts ratings for "The Best States for Teacher Pay" noting that "Teachers in Northeastern states are typically fairly well-paid, while those in the South struggle."

06
of 09

Teacher shortages

 The teaching profession, like other professions, offers some job security, especially for positions with shortages based on teacher training. 

The  United States Department of Education DOE posts shortages in specific subject areas every year. For the several years, there have been nationwide shortages in the full-time teachers of mathematics, science, foreign languages, bilingual education. For teachers with these credentials, employment opportunities abound.

There may also be a shortage of teachers in general. In 2016, the "Chronicle of Higher Education" noted that only 4.6% of college students planned on going into education, as compared to 11% in 2000. 

 

07
of 09

The Myth of Summers Off

Unless you work in a district that has a year-round education system, as a teacher you may have a couple of months off in the summer. Having summers off, however, is a mixed blessing.  The myth of summers off has been a factor in keeping salaries low. According to the National Education Association  (NEA) website"

"School begins in late August or early September, but teachers are back before the start of school and are busy stocking supplies, setting up their classrooms, and preparing for the year's curriculum."

Many teachers choose the summer break to enroll in professional development or to finish coursework. The NEA points out that teachers are often not compensated for the cost of additional training in comparison to other professions:

"Most full-time employees in the private sector receive training on company time at company expense, while many teachers spend the eight weeks of summer break earning college hours, at their own expense."

Others may choose to get another job to supplement their salary. 

The same comparison can be made about the traditional two weeks off during Christmas/Winter Holidays and one week for Spring Break.  While these vacation days may provide much-needed rest time, the dates equal the same amount of time as those for employees in the private sector. The difference is that private sector employees are allowed to choose their dates. 

08
of 09

Teachers Who are Parents

 Teachers with school-aged children may benefit from the school calendar. Typically, school schedules allow teachers to have similar hours during the day or the same days off as their children. This makes daily or vacation schedules easier to coordinate.

On the positive side, a teacher will probably be getting home close to the same time as their children. On the negative side, a teacher might bring work home student work to grade or a plan book to prepare. That pile of papers to grade on the dining room table or the plan book in the workbag will take away from quality family time.

Teachers also need to make a clear line between how they talk to or disciplines their own children in contrast to how they interact with students. 

09
of 09

The myth of tenure

One area of employment that differs from the private sector for teachers is the awarding of tenure. Tenure offers some job security, but many districts are delaying granting tenure until the teacher has been in a school or district for several years.

The NEA points out that the definition of tenure does not mean "job for life." The meaning of tenure includes "just cause" for discipline and termination and "due process," which is the right to a fair hearing to contest charges.

"Quite simply, any tenured teacher can be fired for a legitimate reason, after school administrators prove their case."

The NEA also concludes that the rights of due process and just cause are not limited to the teaching profession and extend to employees in the private sector.