Ah, teaching. Quite possibly the most rewarding job a person can have. Popular movies have done a fantastic job of convincing some people to enter this profession. For me, it was “Stand and Deliver.” I began teaching three years ago and I haven’t looked back. I truly love what I do.
But there are several things one should think about if one is considering a teaching career. By no means is this a complete list, as every situation, your included, is different. But these are a few areas that can easily apply to most situations.
1. What are you comfortable teaching? Many people, before entering a teaching field, consider teaching in “high need” subjects, like Math, Science, Foreign languages, and Special Education. Many times, young teachers desperate for work go to fantastic lengths to teach outside their strong areas. But if you are not comfortable teaching a certain subject, don’t. First of all, if you don’t know what you are talking about, your students will find out and expose you real quick. Second, if you are not as competent in a particular area or you are not passionate about what you are teaching, you are setting yourself and your students up for an abysmal experience. This is especially true in the case of Special Education. Special Education requires a level of commitment unmatched by any other field. So if you are basing your decision to become a Special Education teacher just on the number of job openings you see and hear about, you probably don’t need to be a Special Education teacher. It is the same with any other field, but especially this one.
2. Where are you comfortable teaching? If you are teaching in a field that is not “high need,” chances are you may have to commute or move to where a job might be. You may also have to teach in an area with a high turnover rate, which is more than likely to be an economically depressed area. If these are not sacrifices you are willing to make, you may want to hold off on teaching a while, if not altogether. Many states do offer benfits to teachers willing to teach in low Socio-Economic Status (SES) school districts, but in most cases, students from low SES backgrounds have to confront a different reality than high SES students. As their teachers, you must confront this reality as well. If a student is unable to do homework because their single mom works the night shift and that student is responsible for getting little brother to his homework, getting him fed and bathed and put to bed, you must take this reality into consideration. You cannot punish a student because of situations beyond his or her control. If you cannot accept this, which is one of a myriad of situations you may have to face at a low SES school, perhaps you should consider a different career path.
3. Who are you comfortable teaching? This sounds like a no-brainer, but if you have personal issues with people because of race, national origin, religion, or even orientation, teaching is not for you. As a public school teacher, you are everybody’s teacher. If having a student whose primary language is something other than English is a problem for you, it doesn’t matter, you are still that child’s teacher. If homosexuals cause you grief, either get over it or move along, because a student with gay parents and even gay students are a reality you will be confronted with. If you are not willing to put your personal feelings aside and be that student’s teacher, teaching isn’t for you. Believe it or not, there are still public school districts in 2006 that are de facto segregated. Maybe one day we can change that, but you may find yourself in a school where you are the only person who looks like you. If that is going to be an issue for you, you need to re-evaluate your decision to teach.
4. Why are you teaching? A teaching career requires almost as much education as a career in medicine or law. It requires a deep commitment to the students and the job to be done. Teachers also walk a very fine line in their personal lives. Teaching requires sacrificing personal and family time. In their communities, they are almost held to a higher standard of personal conduct, and rightfully so. If you are getting into teaching for money or job security or because that’s what your family wants you to do, do society and the teaching profession a favor and find another career. But if you genuinely love young people and you are committed to their well-being and willing to do your best to help them be their best, you will find no greater satisfaction from any other career.