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It’s ‘a Passion, It’s Not Just a Paycheck’: Teachers’ Advice on Joining the Profession

Teachers, on average, are not likely to recommend their profession to a loved one.

Just 21 percent of teachers say they are likely to advise their own children—or the children of close family members or friends—to pursue a career in K-12 teaching, according to EdWeek’s The State of Teaching survey, which drew from a nationally representative sample of nearly 1,500 teachers. Teachers say they work long hours for low pay and little public respect and that they’re expected to tackle a wide variety of student needs without adequate support.

But when Education Week reporters asked five teachers from across the country what they would say to someone who’s interested in becoming a teacher, they gave a more nuanced perspective of the job.

Yes, the job is time-consuming, challenging, and overwhelming at times, the teachers said. But it’s also rewarding, fulfilling, and interesting.

Read on for the teachers’ advice for those considering the profession. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

‘There’s going to be ups and downs’

“How do I explain this roller coaster in a way that highlights how wonderful it really is? I just feel like teaching gets such a bad rap. It’s so difficult in a lot of ways, and I feel like those difficulties are the main thing that people hear about. But it’s so beautiful in a lot of ways.

“Today I spent how much of my day laughing? These kids are goofballs. [It’s rewarding] even just having a conversation with them, getting to see who they are as individuals. And what I’m now starting to get to experience is, as they start to grow up a little bit, continuing to be a part of their lives. The way that they light up whenever they see you, because you hold a special memory for them, too. It makes it so, so, so worth it.

“Anytime those lightbulbs go off, anytime they invest in the lessons that you’re putting together, it feels like you hit the lottery—literally. You feel like you’re making such a difference in the world.

“If I had advice, it’s just—be prepared for that roller coaster. There’s going to be ups and downs. You’re going to get frustrated. You’re going to get rip-roaring mad. Sometimes personal boundaries will be crossed, but for the most part, you’re going to have a really wonderful time, and you’re going to meet some of the best people that you could ever meet—[I’m] talking about the students, but also my colleagues.”

—Sofia Alvarez-Briglie, a 7th grade science teacher at Alcott Middle School in Norman, Okla.

‘Know when to stop working’

“Always try to tie in what you find interesting into your job. Everyone has a niche. Some people are very creative; some people like to do the arts. They want to tie in what is special to them; it’ll keep things interesting, motivating.

“This job is very taxing. It could really drain all your energy. It could be an around-the-clock job. It’s difficult for many teachers to separate personal and professional lives because we deeply care about our students. They are a part of us, and we want them to succeed. It’s important for new teachers to set boundaries for themselves and know when to stop working, a skill I am still honing.”

—Helen Chan, a 4th grade math teacher at South Loop Elementary School in Chicago

‘You can’t be a perfect teacher’

“I would say pursue it. But be aware of the many different flaws and difficulties that exist.

“Are you going to be able to financially support yourself? Is that something that you’re going to be able to do, given the restrictions that are placed [on salaries]?

“When teachers talk about having too much to do on their plate, it’s because there aren’t enough people paid to be in the profession. One teacher is asked to fulfill so many roles. We’re asked to be educators, certainly to plan curriculum, of course, to instruct students. But increasingly we’re also asked to be things like counselors, to be guards.

“Before last year, there was a state-mandated training, … the same kind of training that Navy SEALs do. We had to learn how to stuff bullet hole wounds with gauze. The fact that I had to learn how to do that as a 7th grade and freshman and senior year English teacher is horrifying to me. It’s so strange. It’s surreal.

“Teaching offers the ability to work with kids, and the ability to have a positive impact on the world around you. But it comes with the politicization, the overwhelming pressure that I think teachers are under.

“It’s not for the control freak, it’s not for the perfectionist. You can’t be a perfect teacher. I don’t think that’s possible. You can be better than you were the day before. You can be better than where you were a year before. But it’s got to be something where you’re always trying to seek improvement, because there’s always areas for improvement to exist.”

—Frank Rivera, a middle and high school English/language arts teacher at Chaparral Star Academy in Austin, Texas

‘It can be very rewarding to see that growth’

“You have to love it. It can be very overwhelming when you have behavior issues in the classroom, the amount of paperwork—you have to keep on going, and it is time consuming. You have to have the passion. But it can be very rewarding to see that growth. It doesn’t matter how many months—just to see that growth from one aspect of the kids to the other.”

—Griselle Rivera-Martinez, an English-for-speakers-of-other-languages teacher at Enterprise Elementary School in Enterprise, Fla.

‘Put the kids first’

“Do it for the right reasons. Make sure you have a love of young children. I put the kids first. They are someone’s sunshine. These are someone’s children. You have to be mindful of that.

“Teaching is a passion, it’s not just a paycheck. You can’t fake it. I love what I do. It’s more than just a job to me. I want to be the best. You have to commit to that.”

—Jacqueline Chaney, a 2nd grade teacher at New Town Elementary in Owings Mills, Md.

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