Near the end of the school year, many new teachers ask themselves a simple yet crucial question: Did I make the right decision to go into teaching?
Is it worth the
- low pay
- lack of respect
- lack of resources
- unreasonable expectations
- disrespectful students
- rude parents
and much, much more?
Then, they begin wondering: Did I just waste thousands of dollars to get my teaching credential, only to want to turn around and quit?
If this is your current mindset, either as a new or veteran teacher, let me ask YOU four questions to help you come to a decision.
1) Are you a blamer?
Do this quick and uncomfortable exercise for me: write down three painful things that happened in your life. In one to two paragraphs, summarize what happened and how it made you feel.
Now go back and read through it while asking yourself: Was it anyone’s fault? If so, whose fault was it? Who was the reason why it ended up this way?
If you can easily list a number of people – including yourself – to be at fault, then you’re a blamer. I mean, there are instances when it’s NOT your fault for someone important passing away or maybe a friend that had to move.
However, if you tend to point the finger at someone when something bad happens, you’re a blamer.
Still not sure if it applies to you? Ask a couple of your closest friends who you can count on to be brutally honest with you. Ask them if you tend to blame others or yourself for all of the ugliness that’s ever come your way.
Why is this important?
Hopefully, new teachers have been warned that there are many, many obstacles that you will face. Most humans could not endure what we do, which is why there is a teacher shortage. It takes a special type of person to put aside the negative aspects of teaching and focus on the positive, or, even better, TURN THEM into something positive!
When teaching inevitably gets tough, people who blame others for everything that goes wrong in their classroom, school, and the world become cynical and negative teachers who hate teaching.
They’ll blame parents for not raising their kid right. Or the kid for not being self-motivated or having a lack of respect. And definitely their administrator for how they built the master schedule, their district for how they allocate money, and sometimes themselves for being a bad teacher (although they’ll never admit it).
If you’re going to make it to the ripe old age of retirement as a teacher, you CANNOT inherently be a blamer. You have to be an optimist, a problem finder AND fixer, a counselor, nurse, hug-giver, and hero.
2) Do you have thick skin?
Many new teachers come into the profession with their heart in the right place and with the best of intentions.
They may have seen movies where a teacher in an inner-city school was able to save lives despite all of the hardships they all endured.
They probably read an inspiring book on education, watched a killer TED talk, or just really admired their own teachers when they were in school.
However, when faced with a class of 34 squirmy kids, they let every little outburst or misbehavior unravel them. They get visibly angry, offended or scared when a student tells them to F-off and then yell at them to immediately go to the office.
They turn red when someone throws a paper airplane at them.
When they realize that nobody likes them, they try to pivot and become everyone’s friend.
And then they go home and cry at night.
Do my observations sound harsh?
They’re supposed to because teaching is hard and requires us to have thick skin.
Look, you don’t have to be a militant disciplinarian to have a class that’s under control. You don’t need to friend all of your students on Instagram. You don’t have to just let it go when a student swears at you.
But you do have to have the wherewithal to stand tall and remain calm when the class explodes into humiliating laughter over something you said. You have to be able to hold your ground when a student says no without embarrassing them or having either of you lose face.
You have to be confident enough in yourself to not be caught up and offended by how an adolescent or teenager feels about you.
And you have to FAKE IT if you can’t naturally do any of the above. Even if you’re trembling inside and have no clue what you’re doing, you have to feign confidence in front of those kids.
Because any student can smell fear from their teachers like sharks in bloody water, and they’ll eat you alive if you let them.
3) Do you like the sound of kids’ voices more than your own?
Perhaps you became a teacher because you’re SUPER knowledgeable in your subject area and you want to pass it on and pay it forward. Perhaps you earned your Master’s or Doctoral degree in biology and thought, Hey, I know a ridiculous amount of information about biology. I should become a public school teacher!
You close your eyes and imagine being able to give moving lectures and speeches, with your students hanging on your every word like Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. All of a sudden, the 35 faces sitting in front of you are diving into the 10-page packet you created on molecular biology.
If this resonates with you at all, then teaching is going to be tough because 1) knowing a lot about a certain subject does not make you a great teacher, and 2) no student will ever stay fully engaged if you just love to hear the sound of your own voice (or love seeing kids complete an endless stream of packets).
The old-school style of pure lecture, book work, and note-taking is out the door.
Gone. Education is now more focused on structured student interaction, personalized learning, rigor, and relevance – to name a few.
Nowadays, more and more classrooms are filled with students who are doing research on their own electronic device, debating who the real villain is in a story, creating virtual reality models on computers, reenacting the Salem witch trials, and overall participating in structured chaos.
If this doesn’t float your boat because giving lectures and speeches is your jam, then you have a couple of viable options: 1) be a public speaker at conferences in your subject area, and/or 2) be a professor at a college or university.
Otherwise, if you’re someone who just can’t stop talking and revels in the sound of your voice, then teaching K-12 probably isn’t your gig.
4) When was the last time someone changed your mind?
This one can be a tough one to mentally tackle. As someone who likes to have things her own way, I’m fairly hard-headed, so it can be tough to influence or sway me.
However, I’m also extremely introspective and reflect on my teaching constantly. I ask for feedback and bounce ideas off of others and am always in pursuit of doing what I do in a better way.
In other words, I’m coachable.
Yes, I’m opinionated and stubborn, and yes, I think I know more about teaching than most, but I desperately want to be a better teacher today than I was yesterday.
I don’t want my peers to flatter me with praise on my lessons or teaching style. Nor do I necessarily want someone to marvel at how every student I’ve ever encountered loves me. I think I’m a pretty awesome teacher, and I don’t need someone else to tell me that.
What I want is for them to help me find ways to reach more students. Increase their learning. Close the achievement gap. Get more kids to read at grade level. (Notice I didn’t say do better on tests because I loathe standardized testing!).
If you can’t see past your own BS and you think you could do no wrong, then teaching is NOT for you.
In order to be a great teacher that truly makes an impact on students, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and welcome critiques.
You have to openly listen to opposing points of view and alternate teaching/grading/disciplinary methods, and actually entertain the idea of implementing them. This can be tough because you might think those colleagues that disagree with you are crazy!
Even more important is you can’t get defensive when someone challenges something that you’re doing in your classroom. As teachers, we can get stuck in our bubble and classrooms and begin to have a narrow-minded idea of what good teaching is.
As a lifelong student, I know that I have much to learn from those around me. So if I want to improve, I have to be willing to listen to the stuff that makes me uncomfortable.
It’s important that you can actually listen to someone’s critique and step outside of your own mind. Seeing from other people’s perspective – whether it be your colleagues, administrator, parents, and/or students – will make you a stronger, more relatable, and impactful teacher.
How did you do with these questions? Should you stay or should you go now?
You’ve heard by now that many new teachers quit within the first five years. They probably realized that it was more than what they’d signed up for, and couldn’t handle it.
I totally get it. Teaching isn’t for the faint of heart, even if it’s ridiculously rewarding. Both the physical and microaggressions that we encounter throughout the day will take their toll on even the most resilient teachers.
And don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for fewer teachers in our classrooms. There’s a dearth of quality educators, and we need every one we can get.
But I won’t lie to you – teaching isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.
I would hate for you to be ten or fifteen years into your career and realize that you’ve made a horrible mistake. I’ve met teachers in this boat, and they feel trapped because they’ve invested so much into it, and they don’t know how to get out.
So if you’re early in your career and are at that crossroads of staying or leaving, dig deep and answer these four questions. While they’re not the only questions you need to ask before making the decision, they can help bring clarity on whether or not you’re really cut out to be a teacher.