Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

"Teaching is not for the faint of heart."

I think I said this at least half a dozen times in Introduction to Education this semester. One of our themes in the course was to get a handle on what the profession really looks like--both the joys and the challenges. Education is often seen as a catch-all major: "Oh, you don't know what to do with your life? Consider becoming a teacher!" or "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I feel pretty strongly that people who say things like this are basing it on their experiences in school, rather than a true understanding of the requirements of the profession.

So we discuss the professional requirements and societal demands on a teacher quite a lot in Intro to Ed. I want my students to come into the profession with their eyes wide open. So it makes sense--I hope!--that on my final exam for for the course I asked this question: "What does it take to become a teacher?"

It's an open-ended question for sure, with lots of possibilities for an answer. Many of my students included things in their response along the lines of "you have to like kids" or "you have to know your content really well" or "you have to complete the requirements to earn a teaching license"--or even a combination of these kinds of ideas.

One student, however, knocked my socks off. Here is part of his answer:

"I am no longer planning on becoming a teacher. I have realized how much time teachers have to put into their jobs to do it right. I think that teachers can be taught how to be good teachers, but they still need to be driven from within. This power, I believe, is the confirmation teachers need to tell them, 'This is where I belong!'...The teacher must have the gifts to teach. If they do not have compassion and love toward their students, they should really reconsider becoming a teacher...I did really enjoy this course, but after reflecting on this, I just feel that teaching isn't for me."

I am impressed by his ability to think through his own motivations for teaching, weigh the pros and cons of joining the profession, and decide it isn't really for him. I'm a little sad, to be honest, because I think he'd make a good teacher. But as he said, if you aren't passionate about it, this profession probably isn't for you!

My friend Barb shared this piece with me yesterday--the title kills me: "Teaching Isn't Rocket Science. It's Harder." (I highly recommend that you read it.) It it written by a former aerospace engineer who has since become a teacher; he understands the challenges of both...and he thoughtfully articulates why teaching is more taxing. I also get the sense that the author loves teaching, which is really my point:

We need teachers passionate about their content, 
their pedagogy, and--most of all--their students.

It's critical that we have good teachers, and I want great teachers! Clearly teaching isn't for everyone. We need our brightest and best students to see education as a rigorous, challenging major--not unlike engineering or nursing or pre-med--but they also need to understand the relatively low status teachers hold in contemporary society. It's not just low pay, though that's part of it. Teachers hold tremendous influence in their students' lives. They should be held to a high standard!

Teaching is not for the faint of heart.


  1. Thanks for sharing Dave. Teaching is profession you have to be passionate about to be successful. Great Teachers, live, breathe, eat and sleep their profession. Sad to see the education major as a catch all. Society needs to recognize how difficult it is to be a great teacher.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Todd. We definitely see the situation through the same glasses!

  2. whoever goes into teaching thinking it will be easy....will soon find out. you have done a great job teaching....the above essay answer makes that quite clear. unfortunately there are those who insist on staying in the field, even when it is clear they are not effective...for a myriad of reasons. if you LOVE teaching, you will find a way to teach! :) the GREAT! :)

    1. Grace, you're the best! You are so right--we need to find ways of gently encouraging those ineffective teachers to consider alternatives. I'm not so naïve as to think there's some hidden enclave of amazing teachers just waiting in the wings and ready to swoop in to save the day...but I think we can help teachers in the profession get better, *if* they want to. And if they don't want to...well...maybe they need to reconsider their calling.

      But I do hope we can help potential teachers discern their calling early, so if teaching isn't for them, they know this before they end up in a position they aren't really passionate about.