Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Should I still become a teacher?

Last year a young woman, an undergrad, who was considering a career in teaching spent 30 hours observing in my classroom before applying to several local credential programs. She wrote to me last week, after being accepted into several, to ask if I thought she should still become an English teacher.

"If you don't mind, would you tell me what you think of the job market right now? All I seem to hear are horror stories and people telling me it's a bad decision. If you were me trying to get into the field, would you still get your teaching credential?"  -J
 Public version of my answer:

Dear _________,

     If you really want to teach then there will be jobs available, especially if you are willing to be flexible about where you live. Lots of districts still need teachers, they are just more remote.

Also, teaching experiences a boom and bust cycle. Right now with terrible budgets and a bad economy, lots of older teachers are hanging on to their jobs instead of retiring.  That means there will be a wave of retirements in the next five years.  My district just offered a retirement bonus to people who retire this year or next.


At the same time, people like you, who are considering teaching, see the prospects as iffy and don't get credentials. This creates a shortage 3-5 years from now. I already see numbers dropping in the courses I teach to pre-service teachers and I expect that to continue.


Absolute truth. There are always people who get credentials and can't get a job teaching. They aren't very good. I could tell you horror stories about a particularly horrible (and flat out racist) student teacher I had once. I refused to let him keep "teaching" my students. His credential program placed him at another site and he got his credential. Last I heard he was a paid signature gatherer and I never worked with that university again. 

On the flip side, another student teacher I had, who was excellent, had offers from a local district and a charter school at a time when my district had laid off a thousand teachers. The leader of my credential program, Dr. Nancy Farnan, addressed this question back in 1995, when the 28 teachers in my student teaching cohort were stressed about getting jobs even before they started student teaching. She said, "There are always jobs for good people." I'm not sure that is a universal absolute and the job may not be the one you want, but I have seen it is generally true.

If you can make yourself more employable by adding a Social Science or Special Ed credential then do that too. I got my first job because I had English, Social Science and a complete CLAD credential. I also wrote a letter directly to the principals I wanted to work for, which was against procedure, but it worked. 


If you like kids and you want to teach then go for it. If you love English and you can't wait to teach Emily Dickinson then I have some bad news, she's dead already.  You have to love kids because you'll spend 90% of your work day with them.  If you are considering other careers, and they seem equally tempting, then you should probably choose one of those.