It’s a job with decent hours, at least on the face of it, say 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, that schedule keeps you on your toes, literally and metaphorically, all day long. You are legally responsible for the health and well-being of a group of youngsters, in the case of elementary teachers, and for several rotating groups, in the case of secondary teachers.
You’re also responsible for their learning; indeed, at the end of the year, if they don’t perform well on tests, it points right back to you. Your salary, your bonuses, in many cases even your continuing employment, all hinge on whether the students do well on the tests.
There’s little time during the actual work day to prepare for all this, so you will be spending many long evening hours and holiday hours getting stuff ready, since your district also demands a high level of student engagement. A full day of highly-engaging activities that meet state and national standards takes a great deal of work, both intellectually and physically (preparing materials).
You must have at least a four-year degree in teaching–as well as a subject-matter degree if you are a secondary teacher– but if you want a little more money, you’ll probably want a masters degree as well.
Starting salaries average just under $30 K, and after a few years, average salaries top out at about $40 K. You get good benefits, health insurance and retirement. And you get a series of nice chunky vacations, like Christmas, spring vacation, summer…
In addition to the full day of instruction, you’ll be asked to serve on committees, chaperone activities such as sports events and dances, attend weekly faculty meetings, and attend professional development courses. Indeed, you are responsible for taking ongoing classes and courses so you can renew your license every five years.
It’s not a job for the faint and it’s not a job for the greedy, which is why many teachers moonlight, or take other jobs just to earn enough to pay the bills. It’s particularly difficult these days because students have changed. Many of them come from homes with trouble and misery. As an example, over 95% of the students in my rural junior high come from homes with single parents or step-parents, which means that these kids have witnessed and experienced stress and struggle. Most of the kids don’t like to read but they do like to play video games, so it’s often very hard for them to focus. Many of them have grown up latch-key kids, which means that they often lack the basic skills of courtesy and cooperation.
That’s your job, to teach them, along with the content that hangs over all your heads toward the tests at the end of the year.
On one hand, it’s the ideal job to serve others. On the other hand, it can be stressful, long, and sometimes dark and seemingly fruitless, especially if you have to deal with hovering parents who insist that their child would never do such a thing–whatever that thing was–so they blame you shrilly.
People sometimes grouch that teachers get the whole summer off. They think we should work all year long, just as they do. I say, try doing what I do for a week. See if you can even last a week. It takes intuition, intellect, grace, attentiveness, kindness, love, and creativity just to get through the day. It’s a high-focus job. By the end of the year, the glass is less than empty; it’s probably cracking.
Despite fears that numbers of new teachers are declining, government statistics say this is not so. I’m glad to hear it, not simply because it means that we’ll continue to infuse our schools with bright new teachers committed to help students, but also because it says a great deal about the selflessness and good-heartedness of people.