Deciding that I wanted to be an educator was possibly the easiest and first decision I remember making. Beginning with teaching ESL in South Korea, I have either worked in education or I was going to school for education for the last six years.
Putting ideas and information into people’s brains is like a game for me. It’s not always easy, but I always enjoy it.
My friends and family seem to be strongly divided when it comes to their opinion on what I do. I know, I know, I shouldn’t care. But I can’t help but notice that I am either a saint-like martyr putting myself on the front-lines to work a thankless job or there’s an implication that aimed too low in my ambitions.
On behalf of all of your teacher friends, let me help you navigate these conversations. Trust me, if your teacher friend hates their job, you’ll know.
1. “If my career doesn’t work out, or I don’t get this promotion, I might look into going back to school to be a teacher.”
If you wanted to be a teacher, you would have been a teacher. My career isn’t your back-up plan. Just because you could do something, doesn’t mean you should.
We don’t look at lawyers or nurses or psychologists and think of those careers as a nice back-up plan, so why do we do this with teachers?
Many people possess skills that would make them an incredible and effective teacher, who should not be teachers. This isn’t because they wouldn’t do a good job, it’s because they wouldn’t be fulfilled doing it.
As I watched peers drop-out of my credential program, I started to see a pattern. It wasn’t the people who couldn’t teach, it was the people who learned that they shouldn’t. They saw what their future filled with papers to grade and unhappy parents, and they burned out before they even began.
Of course, if you really want to be a teacher, then you should be. Just don’t take it lightly.
2. “You’re so lucky you get so much time off!”
Yes, this is a perk of the teaching profession. But it’s more than just a national “thank you” to educators.
Even if you feel born to be an educator, it is exhausting.
My older brother taught for a while and he was fantastic. I still have people my age ask me to thank him for changing their lives. He was effective, interesting, challenging, and supportive.
On his first day of teaching, he came home to my parent’s house because it was closer. He immediately collapsed on a bed and slept from 5 pm straight through the night. In the morning, he said:
Teaching isn’t that hard. Teaching the same thing eight times is hard.
He found his rhythm, of course. After all, he is our father’s son and knows the value of seeing things through.
He is very happy now working in sales.
Just because I am more extroverted and excitable than my brother, doesn’t mean that this isn’t a problem for everyone. This is why teachers get so much time off. Not only do we need it, but we need to come in next year and do it all over again.
Most teachers at public schools spend weeks over the summer working on professional development and curriculum planning in June, July, and August. During the school year, most teachers work 10–12 hours a day for their standard work-year.
This is why teachers get so much time off, we produce twelve months of work in nine.
3. “How much do you get paid?”
Somehow, this social taboo applies less to teachers. I have heard it many times in many different environments. Sometimes it is asked with empathy, sometimes with a giggle.
We are on the front-lines of American sociological development. We are gatekeepers, combing through the minds of the next generation. We work on developing the skills and character of our students, and we have to fight to stay relevant with technology and ideas.
We professionally believe in people. Not once a week, not over email, but every day. Several times a day.
Your teacher friends have had to excel in their undergrad. Then, they had to study philosophy and evidence-based theory for years. Whatever they are getting paid, go ahead and stop asking. If you care, just assume the answer is “not enough.”
Instead of asking your teacher friend about their private lives, why don’t you buy them a beer? Why don’t you join them in sending letters to policy-makers? You don’t have to have kids to stick up for teachers.
4. “I passed elementary school, doesn’t that make me qualified?”
Nope. Not at all. Not even kind of, and you asking that question, shows us why.
I have been incredibly fortunate in my career and I have settled into my dream position(s). These days, I work as a full-time staff member. On top of that, I teach two courses a semester as an adjunct professor.
Before that, I worked with post-secondary students with special needs. Before that, I did my student teaching at a very impacted inner-city school.
I have been threatened, I have been hit, and I have had some close-calls with biting, but nothing was as hard as teaching k-6.
Of course, every subject and every grade level is a different experience. In my opinion, k-6 teachers deserve so much more than they have.
Do they need to brush up on their addition and subtraction? Probably not. That’s not the challenge.
According to the California Department of Education, the average 5th-grade class size is 27.8 students. This means if there is an earthquake or a flashflood the teacher is the de facto guardian of 27.8 children.
Not only is this job challenging, but it carries immense responsibility.
So no, you couldn’t do it just because you passed 5th-grade.
5. “Do you have to like, work at Starbucks over the Summer? That’s sad.”
According to Pew Research,
About one-in-six U.S. teachers work second jobs — and not just in the summer
So, yes. Sometimes we do. Teachers, at least in California, are on a salary schedule. Public school education is one of the last remaining professions for Millenials to have a set level of income increases but you have to start somewhere.
Young teachers, when they start with their minimum pay, often find that they need to supplement their income.
And yes, sometimes they have to work at a coffee shop or grocery store. Let’s not forget that teaching requires a lot of education, so they are probably also dealing with considerable student debt.
Some teachers, like myself, are lucky enough to have found jobs that work hand-in-hand and are equally rewarding. I teach, but I also oversee the University’s tutoring program and academic success coaching program.
I also meet 1:1 with students on probation and collaborate with them on how to improve academically. I am able to feel like every day is a different adventure, and this is not common for teachers.
No matter what side-hustle a teacher has, remember that they are doing this to fund being able to devote their lives to something noble and underpaid.