I recently read an article written by a college student who is reconsidering her decision to become a teacher. While her heart seems to be in teaching, those around her are persuading her to pursue a more prestigious, higher salaried career. In other words – a “real profession” that is worthy of the cost of a college degree.
The question then arises – why do teachers teach? It certainly can’t be for the salary. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. It can’t be for respect. Teachers are often falsely charged as being the “problem” with education. It can’t be for the prestigious working conditions. Many teachers work in anything but. Why then do we see teachers endure these conditions year after year not closing the door on education to pursue a more self-satisfying, lucrative career? The answer must lie in the altruistic nature of teaching and the strong sense of duty most teachers cite as the reason for choosing a teaching career.
According to the National Education Association the average 2011-2012 starting teacher salary in the United States was $35,672. Factoring into this salary the state of the economy, the increasing cost of shelter, utilities, food, insurance, and yes – taxes, this amount of money doesn’t support a lavish lifestyle or even a modest lifestyle.
Do teachers deserve more respect? While teachers bear the brunt of accusations on what’s wrong with education, few outside of education stop to question why most teachers teach a specific way. With the terms and conditions of No Child Left Behind came a landslide of do’s and don’ts over the years eliminating any autonomy a teacher may have in the classroom.
Working conditions? Consider a career which pays on average for 37.5 hours of work, but commands on average 50-60 hours plus each week to get the job done. Add to that career – purchasing books and materials out-of-pocket for students unable to afford them, classroom maintenance, professional development, teacher disrespect, constantly changing expectations, added demands, student behavioral concerns, etc., and answer this – would you teach?
While you may say “no” there are many teachers who would still say “yes.” When I ask my college students why they chose education, the same answer is given every time – “I want to make a difference.” Indeed, there are many teachers who have done just that. This altruistic sense of service to others is best expressed with the story of David Menasche who does not consider his declining health but instead asks “Did I make a difference?”