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Why I Became a Teacher (and Why Others Don’t)

This guest post appears in coordination with Teacher Appreciation Week and #TeachingIs, a social media movement seeking to elevate public perception of the teaching profession. Click here to learn how you can participate.

It was a late spring evening during my senior year of high school. After a mock United Nations practice session, my social studies teacher suggested that I consider a career in teaching. “There’s always a need for the best and brightest to teach,” he said.

At the time, it seemed like a compliment from a teacher I respected. But when I reached a curricular fork in the road during my freshman year of college, his words suddenly rushed back to me. The media communications classes I’d been taking didn’t feel right. I realized I wanted a career that would positively impact others’ lives.

I was searching for a purpose—and suddenly I found one. I would chase the promise of my teacher’s words and become an educator.

Once I switched to an education major, I found the classes in my teacher prep program to be rewarding, informative, and exciting. Even more exhilarating was the time that I spent in classrooms, learning from practicing professionals and interacting directly with students.

It was the perfect fit. Teaching seemed to involve everything I loved to do: building positive relationships with youth, using creativity to make exciting lessons, and collaborating with colleagues. Why didn’t I sign up earlier?

While my decision to become a teacher was an easy one, for many young people, it is not. Some are deterred by low pay or misconstrued perceptions of success. Others never consider teaching as a career option, even though their skillsets are perfect fits for the profession.

Here are a few reasons why many young people say “no” to teaching:

  • Politics. There are endless discussions in this country about education policy—yet teachers rarely play a major role in these conversations. Instead, important issues like standards, teacher evaluation, and assessments are decided by people who work outside of the classroom. I entered the profession with my eyes open to this reality, but it seems even worse after being within the system. The time has come for teachers to have a voice in deciding the future of education policy.
  • Respect. My friends from high school have since gone on to careers in law, business, and engineering. Their journeys lead to money and prestige. While I totally respect those professions, I believe that teaching should be considered equal among them. Teachers provide the education that makes all other occupations possible. Educators deserve praise and respect for the long hours they spend teaching (including activities after school and during summer “vacation”), not to mention the impact they have on children’s lives.
  • Pay. Education is notorious for low pay. Teachers’ pay should reflect the level of esteem that they deserve. Most teachers remain dedicated to their jobs despite small salaries—but why should they receive lower pay than professions that require similar amounts of training, education, and expertise? Instead of creating systems that reduce teacher effectiveness, districts should concentrate their efforts on paying teachers fair salaries that allow them to keep their focus on the classroom.

With all these factors at play, it’s easy to understand why people don’t enter the teaching profession (or why some leave it altogether). So why am I confident that I will stay in the profession for a long time, even though I’ve only been teaching for two years?

  • Kids.  Students bring me to the classroom every single day. Sometimes they frustrate me, but the individual growth that I get to witness makes my job very rewarding. My students ask deep questions, often about issues beyond the content I am teaching. I feel that I’m making a positive difference in their lives, and I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything in the world.
  • Change. The teaching profession is changing in exciting ways. Teacher-run schools, cross-state collaboration, and initiatives that support teacher creativity offer hope for what the profession can become. Technology will shift the profession forward and create new opportunities for classroom learning.
  • Leadership opportunities.  No longer is a teacher someone who gives lectures and retires after doing the same thing every day for 30 years. Today teaching is a multi-layered journey of leadership designed to improve the future for our children and our world. For example, organizations like the Center for Teaching Quality are creating opportunities for teachers to lead without leaving the classroom. This is key to growing the public’s perception of the profession and shaping an education system that is based on teachers’ input and expertise.
  • Politics. The future of students is firmly planted in the education that they receive. Teachers have used this battle cry for years, but now the country is moving into a new era. Recent legislation, including the White House education budget increase for 2015, demonstrates that attitudes toward education (and its importance) are changing. Policy shifts are focusing on helping students achieve college and career readiness, which is key for growing our country’s economy.

Education fuses multiple interests that I have: mentoring future stars, implementing innovative teaching methods, and growing my own expertise. But I hope that other young people will begin to see teaching as a career of prestige that has economic rewards and growth potential. I believe that teaching is a noble profession that deserves recognition and fair compensation. It’s time to pay our dues to educators who make a difference in children’s lives.

Brison Harvey teaches social studies at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky, and serves as a virtual community organizer and blogger for the Center for Teaching Quality.

2 Comments

Erin Bagwell commented on May 6, 2014 at 6:27pm:

AMEN! Proud to be your

AMEN! Proud to be your colleague and blessed to have had you teach my children! The future will shine brighter because of the lives you have touched!

William Tolley commented on May 9, 2014 at 10:53am:

Fighting the good fight...

In an upcoming blog for CTQ I am going to directly address the battle between the reasons for and against teaching--and how I made sure when the forces behind the "nos" made it impossible for me to stay where I was, I found a way to stay in the profession, if not where I had originally planned. 

Thanks for the post--and keep up the fight! 

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