5 Reasons to Teach
CHALKING THE LINE | BY DEB MEYER | 7 MIN READ
Why teaching? As the New Year kicks off, I’d like to share five reasons to teach and encourage you to begin your journey in education during 2019. I hope to persuade you to put “Check out what it takes to become a teacher” at the top of your New Year’s Resolutions!
Whether you are a high school student considering a college major, a college student considering changing majors, or a professional thinking about a career change, hopefully two or three of these reasons will resonate with you. Now is the perfect time to consider entering the field of education.
- Teaching Matters
- Not Everyone Can Teach
- Teaching is Advocacy
- Educational Career Pathways are Limitless
- We Need New Teachers
Reason No. 1: Teaching Matters
For me, the primary reason to teach is because so much of what we do matters in ways that expand beyond our day-to-day interactions and our lifetimes. For example, researchers have consistently documented the significant impact of teachers on students’ academic success as well as their adult lives.
Families view schools as essential to their children’s and the entire family’s success. They value their local schools and have high aspirations for their children. Check out this edutopia article “What Do Parents Want from Schools?” to better understand their perspective on how teaching matters.
One of my favorite slam poems is “What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali. As Mali eloquently argues through his poetry, teachers make a difference.
Reason No. 2: Not Everyone Can Teach
Many have heard the quote from George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims for Revolutionists: “He who can does; he who cannot, teaches.” However, in today’s world there is nothing further from the truth. Entering a teaching career today is rigorous—from the initial admission requirements to a teacher preparation program, to the continuous teacher evaluation systems in place across the country. Teaching in America is one of the most challenging career paths someone can choose.
The field requires a high level of academic rigor, instructional expertise, and emotional intelligence that many people cannot successfully integrate into their professional work. Teaching looks so familiar and easy because we all occupied student desks for so many years, but it is uniquely difficult.
Not everyone with expertise in a content area can teach well, especially to students at different developmental stages and with a variety of learning and social-emotional needs. Teachers are like emergency room physicians—professionals who have to understand and readily apply a variety of knowledge and skills in complex situations, while remaining calm, cool and collected.
A good read that supports my second reason to teach is Dr. Adam Grant’s opinion piece, “Those Who Do, Can’t Teach.”
To become a licensed professional educator is rigorous but possible. Learn more about your state’s requirements for teaching at the state board of education’s website. View information for Illinois.
Reason No. 3: Teaching is Advocacy
My third reason to teach has always been an important part of the profession but often isn’t highly visible. Recently teaching in America has become synonymous with advocacy as teachers have been increasingly shown as examples of leaders across media platforms. For example, over the past year, teachers have led reforms across a number of states and were active in both campaigning, and even running, in the 2018 midterm elections.
Advocacy begins in the classroom, spreads throughout the school and district, and then moves into the public sphere when teachers work within their communities to make change happen. One of the most exciting parts of a teaching career is the variety of opportunities to improve education and make change happen for students and their families. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Becoming a teacher means dedicating yourself to what’s possible—our children’s futures.
For more on teacher advocacy, read Lori Michalec’s blog, “The Role of Advocacy in Public Education.” Lori was Ohio’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.
Reason No. 4: Educational Career Pathways are Limitless
The fourth reason to teach, and one that explains my own journey in teaching, is that a career in education is limitless. While many educators choose to build their careers as classroom teachers, they can pursue multiple pathways with advanced degrees, awards, and—for some—National Board certification. Teachers also can present their work at professional conferences and publish.
Often educators combine their classroom teaching with leadership practices such as coaching, mentoring and consulting. Many teachers have multiple roles within their positions, while others build career pathways that take them into different educational positions within schools (e.g., principal or superintendent) as well as outside of schools (e.g., curriculum developers, educational technology consultants or educational policy advisors).
Many classroom teachers, like me, participate in teacher preparation, either as mentors in the field or as adjunct faculty at universities. Over time, we earn our doctorates (Ph.D., Ed.D.) and become faculty members at colleges and universities that prepare teachers. As teacher education professors, we dedicate our lives to “teaching teachers” as we continue to grow in our own teaching, scholarship and service.
Reason No. 5: We Need New Teachers
A fifth reason to teach is that the profession is in demand in America. The United States has a nationwide teacher shortage and the opportunities are expanding every day. Teachers begin with an initial license that describes the grade levels and areas of specialization for which they can be hired.
Two questions should drive your decisions about which type of teaching license to pursue:
- Where do you want to teach?
- Whom do you want to teach?
The current shortage varies by geographic location, so doing some homework about positions that are open in your preferred locations and even in specific school districts. That research will provide you with important insights. Look at the ads that the districts post for teachers, and you’ll learn a lot about what qualifications are in high demand.
Most importantly, you will need to answer the who question. Teaching licenses vary a great deal regarding the age levels of students. In some states, an elementary license might span kindergarten to eighth grade; while in other states, an elementary license might be for grades 1 to 5.
Today’s teachers instruct students who have increasingly diverse backgrounds and preparing for that diversity is important when choosing a licensure program. For example, some programs offer special education or bilingual areas of specialization as teachers complete their early childhood, elementary, middle level, or high school licensure requirements. Such dual endorsement programs provide new teachers with multiple career pathways from the very start.
For more information on the current teacher shortage, go to the Center for Public Education. The Center is supported by the National School Boards Association.
Of course, there are more than five reasons to teach, but hopefully, this list will get you started in seeking more information about becoming a teacher and the lifetime of opportunities the profession has to offer.
What are the reasons you teach or want to become a teacher? Share your thoughts in the comments and we’ll add them to the conversation.
About the Author
Deb Meyer is a professor of education at Elmhurst College and a former classroom teacher in Mesa, Arizona. She teaches undergraduate courses to prospective teachers in educational psychology and upper elementary/middle school literacy methods and graduate courses in teacher leadership.
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