The truth about teaching in America

Jacqui Murray

IMS Expert on websites/online content, tech advice and computer support.

Jacqui is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a Cisco blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller for her agent that should be out this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office, WordDreams, or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

If you’re interested in technology textbooks for K-5, visit Structured Learning. You’ll find the tech curriculum Jacqui Murray and hundreds of schools across the nation use.

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When I was asked to write a piece about teaching last week, I knew I could write fluff about the feel-good nature of working with children, or the high of enlightening a child's cerebral world. In fact, that would be true, but if you're reading this article because you're pondering a position as a teacher, you already know that. What you want to know is: Is it worth it? Five years into the career, when you’ve had too many truculent parents and challenging students, do you still feel the scales are balanced?

Let’s back up a moment. The most common reason cited for becoming a teacher is altruism. Teachers self-report they join the ranks of those with the greatest influence over the future of our nation--our world--because they want to do something worthwhile with their lives. But if you scratch beneath that noble veneer, you find other reasons:

  • I lost my job and couldn't get any other
  • It's easy to teach
  • I like summers off
  • Kids don't intimidate me
  • I can't stand the competition in my business job
  • I want to influence people. Parents respect teachers and are open to influence. Kids expect it.

In truth, many graduates from teacher credential programs end up quitting. The ones who stay are those that arrive there as a second career. That's because:

  • after surviving a cut-throat high-powered, highly-paid business job, experiencing the rush of a child's mind lighting up is the greater reward
  • two months off every summer well-rejuvenates the spiritual engines and reminds us there's more to life than money, prestige, and expensive suits
  • there is a lot of satisfaction in having a classroom of students look to you for answers.
  • new friends and acquaintances always react favorably to your job as a teacher. That wasn't true when you were [fill in the blank--assume some Big Business job]
  • you don't teach for a retirement package. In fact, many private schools have none. Still, they have hundreds of job applicants for each position.

If you are now convinced that teaching is your destiny, consider this unique challenge. If you aren't in a public school, you're likely to get a one-year contract, which means every year you worry that you won't get hired back to the underpaid under-benefited job that expects you to work until the kids have asked their last after-school question. It's hard to buy a house--or a car-- based on a one-year financial plan. I've been in my current position twelve years and every one of those, I've worried the bosses would let me go. Between admin shuffles and policy changes and darn bad luck, I've never had a year I could relax. That's stressful.

So why don't I leave, find something with more security, better pay and benefits? I have an MBA and oodles of experience. I interview well—I even get calls from head hunters.

Because I love it. I couldn't leave if I wanted to.

If you're interested in teaching, here's the best advice I can give you: Go for the right reasons. Understand the pros and cons and accept them. Don't expect a miracle and you'll do just fine.

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