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Would You Tell a Student to Become a Teacher? It Depends (Opinion)

Whether educators would recommend the teaching field to newcomers is more than just a reflection of their own satisfaction with the job; it’s also a question that can have serious implications for the future teaching pipeline. And, earlier this school year, it was a question that sparked fresh discussion on social media. When Larry Ferlazzo’s opinion blog post “Would You Urge a Young Person to Go Into Teaching? What Teachers Say” was shared on Facebook in September, it triggered a substantive, 600-comment-long discussion.

If you had to boil down many of those comments to just two words? “It depends.”

Though some commenters jumped in to answer the headline with an emphatic yes or no, many instead reflected on the highs, lows, and in betweens of their profession—nuanced responses that some singled out as a critical approach to preparing future teachers for the job.

“I love teaching, but I have long discussions with my students when they want to be teachers because they need to have realistic expectations in order to be happy,” wrote Christina Tsichlis. “Going in with a romanticized idea of teaching is part of what leads to new teachers leaving so quickly. I want them to know the positives and the negatives as well as how I find personal joy in it. I want them to be able to find joy in the classroom if they do become teachers.”

For students who do answer the call, some may find that the profession has changed by the time they join it. That was the experience of 5th grade teacher George DeVita, who reflected earlier this year on his parents’ teaching experiences that he had seen growing up—and the very different world he found when he joined the teaching force as an adult.

“Now an experienced educator myself,” DeVita wrote, “I have witnessed an unnerving transformation of the profession. Once brimming with passion, creativity, and innovation, the colorful canvas of teaching has been replaced by a sterile landscape of rigidity and disillusionment.”

In fact, educators themselves widely worry that daunting professional demands are keeping the next prospective class of teachers from signing up. In a recent EdWeek Research Center survey of principals, teachers, and district leaders, a full 90 percent of respondents agreed that the high demands on teachers are making it harder to attract people to the profession and retain them.

Despite these challenges, some current teachers still take a rosy view of the profession that the next generation of teachers will find when they enter the classroom. In another popular Larry Ferlazzo opinion post, “Ignore the Negativity. Be a Teacher,” four teachers made their best case for the career.

And it’s not, as former teacher and principal Sharif El-Mekki cautions, a matter of just encouraging or discouraging students but actively modeling for them what empowered teaching can look like. “How we teach students is also how we present the profession to our high school students—classroom instruction is truly the primary recruitment ground for future teachers,” he wrote earlier this year in his essay “‘Never Get Into Teaching’: The Message We Need to Stop Sending Students.”

It’s a big responsibility: The actions we are taking today, he reminded readers, will shape the teaching talent who walk in the door a decade from now.

However, that recruitment message may not be reaching every student. Writing in The Principal Is In opinion column last month, El-Mekki returned to this topic, recounting his own delayed journey to the classroom, a career that often fails to invite in Black boys and young men. He himself was well out of college before a trusted mentor nudged him onto the teaching track. “Meanwhile,” he noted, “I’ve heard stories aplenty of white women who received the proverbial tap on the shoulder from the profession as early as 3rd grade.”

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