It seems that housing developments are sprouting in nearly every vacant field. New homes mean more families and families mean kids, kids who need to go to school. Many communities have launched major building programs. School buildings are cropping up where corn and tomatoes used to grow. All of these new classrooms require teachers.
This demand for additional teachers comes at a time when fewer college students are majoring in education. Those of us who are in the profession have noticed fewer student teachers or interns in recent years. Why are college graduates steering away from the classroom?
An obvious answer is the booming economy. Bright collegiates can take their pick of a variety of job offers from business and industry. Most start at salaries much higher than the first year teacher’s. In addition, there are bonus packages, stock options, corporate perks, and hefty benefits that no school could possibly afford.
And why would a person want to become a teacher, anyway? A glance at the newspapers or a glimpse of television news would be enough to scare anybody away from a career in public education. There are frequent reports of violence in the schools. Drugs seemingly run rampant in the hallways. Discipline has gone down the tubes. Teachers don’t seem to get respect anymore. Meanwhile, society keeps changing the signals. They want higher academic standards but less homework. They ask schools to establish values but can’t decide which ones. They expect teachers to demand better behavior and establish stricter accountability while maintaining everyone’s high self-esteem.
Teaching is a pretty tough job.
No wonder a corporate desk in a high-rise office building looks a lot more attractive to career seekers. At IBM you may not like all the people you work with, but at least they don’t throw spitballs at you or write your name on restroom walls (not usually, anyway.)
You have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat a teacher to work. It is common for students to start class at 7:30. Teachers must be there even earlier. The next seven or eight hours are pretty relentless. The teacher is surrounded by restless youth who must be educated, entertained, informed, inspired, amused, challenged, and otherwise corralled until the buses haul them away in the afternoon.
You can usually tell when you are having lunch with teachers. They eat fast. Most have to squeeze a sandwich into a lunch period which is ostensibly thirty minutes or so, but which is heavily eroded by supervisory duties, paperwork, parent calls, conflict resolution, tutoring, and numerous other acts above and beyond the call of the lunchbell.
If you’re the type of person who needs frequent stroking and lots of positive reinforcement, you may want to stay away from teaching. The lesson plan that you worked on for weeks, polishing and fine-tuning to perfection, is likely to met with frowns and groans.
So the hours are long, the pay isn’t so great, the goals are fuzzy, expectations are unrealistic, and appreciation is touch and go. Why become a teacher?
Well, maybe because it’s fun. It’s fun to go to a place each day that is brimming over with so many challenges. It’s fun to use your own powers of persuasion, personality, psychology, compassion, common sense, verve, vitality, and vaudeville to flatter, cajole, coddle, coax, and bamboozle youngsters to learn and mature and generally get along. You stand in front of a bunch of kids in daily amusement or amazement. No two days are ever alike. You interact with hundreds of personalities, young and old. Intermittent bells shatter the silence (or bedlam) of the moment, endless forms and reports come due, parents call, memos flow from on-high, chalkdust flies, the lesson plan crumbles, stacks of papers grow higher on your desk, and always there is a youngster at your door who needs a pass, a Kleenex, or a make-up test. And there you are, in the middle of everything, clutching your gradebook, turning, twisting, deciding, reacting, yes, always reacting, and hoping you’re getting it right.
In Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman describes the trials and delights of a first-year teacher. A minor injury at school puts the teacher in the hospital for a few days. During a visit by a colleague, the novice asks, “What is happening at school?”
The older teacher replies, “Life is happening there. That’s where life is.”
That’s why you should become a teacher.
Why be a teacher, anyway?