When I went to college, I double majored in Theatre and Vocal Performance, two things that I truly loved. However, I soon discovered that while I would always love these activities as hobbies, I did not want to do them professionally. I then switched to a major in Psychology, since I enjoy helping people with their problems. Yet again, I realized that a profession in Psychology would be too draining for me full time.
Feeling a bit lost, I took stock of all of the things I loved and excelled at, and decided on majoring in English Education to become an English teacher. I had always loved literature and writing, and I was energized from planning lessons and being in front of a class. After I graduated, I taught English and Creative Writing to high school students. It wasn’t until I finally had a job that I realized teaching was not what I had imagined it to be. While college was great, it had ill-prepared me for the harsh realities of day-to-day life in the classroom. I wish someone had helped me understand exactly what being a teacher was all about so I could have planned differently.
So if you’re an education major, read on to make sure that being a teacher is the right career for you.
Make Sure You Love What You Do
Students choose a major in education for all sorts of reasons, but many don’t know the reality of a career in teaching until the final semester before they graduate when they student teach for the first time. And even student teaching isn’t a true litmus test of life in the classroom, since student teachers are usually paired with experienced teachers who have earned better classes and have a good rapport with the students.
Don’t wait until your senior year to discover whether or not teaching is truly for you. Teaching is a wonderful profession for those who truly love it, but it can be nothing short of torture for those who aren’t really called to it. Observe in various classroom settings, especially with “problem” kids. Most first-time teachers get stuck with less-than-desirable classes, and it’s important to figure out if you have the chops to stick it out in that type of environment. If you look around and have a hard time picturing yourself in that scenario everyday, it may be time to switch majors.
Have a Backup Plan
Unfortunately, the outlook for many teachers is quite grim right now. Cutbacks are happening everywhere due to budget constraints, so there are fewer jobs available. Hopefully you will land a teaching job, but you need to look at the reality that you may not. You also need to be prepared for a layoff if you do get a job, since inexperienced teachers are sometimes the first to get cut when money is tight.
Instead of finding yourself serving coffee if you don’t get a teaching job right away, devise a Plan B now. What other marketable skills do you have? If you were going into elementary education, could you also apply at daycare centers to get experience with children? Going to school to be an English teacher? Maybe you could write or edit instead. Being realistic about your options will help you build a related resume to obtain a teaching job later if you’re not able to find one right out of school.
Know The Facts About Pay
Teachers’ salaries are being discussed all over the media right now. Some say that the pay is too low for those with college and masters’ degrees, while others say it’s too high, much higher than the average worker’s salary. The truth is that it’s somewhere in between, depending upon how much education and how many years’ experience you have.
What many education majors don’t realize is that teaching is very different than other professions. Once you join a school district, the pay scale is very rigid. You can basically look at a grid and know how much you will be paid. Unlike other careers where you can earn incentive bonuses or get raises based on performance, teaching offers two ways to make more money: get a higher degree or get another year’s experience. For each degree you earn (Master’s, PhD), your pay goes up, and each year that you teach you also receive an increase in pay. This fact is a double-edged sword. It’s nice to know that you will get a raise each year, but it’s frustrating to know that you may work harder and be better at your job than other teachers, but you won’t jump up the pay ladder more quickly for it.
When you start, the pay is low, especially for a college graduate. If you have outstanding debt in the form of credit cards, student loans, and a car, you may find yourself quite financially unstable, despite your steady job. When I was a new teacher, I had to work a second job at night, just to make ends meet. This was difficult, draining, and less-than-ideal. You may choose to get a different job out of school to pay off some debt before you start teaching. That way, you are able to handle the salary constraints once you do get your first teaching job.
Plan For Graduate School
If you plan on making teaching your career for the long haul, then graduate school is a must. Not only will an advanced education give you a salary increase, you will be in a better position at your job as you gain more experience. Those with Masters and PhDs have an easier time transitioning to teaching honors and gifted classes, becoming the head of a department, or moving into an administrative role.
The good news is that many districts pay (at least partially) for their teachers to go back to school. But the bad news is that unlike college, you will have to divide your focus between your already busy teaching job, the demands of graduate school, and your personal life. It’s a lot to consider, so it’s worth planning ahead so that you don’t take on too many responsibilities at once.
Teaching is a rewarding and wonderful profession for those who truly love it. However, it’s important to be realistic about what a career in teaching really holds while you’re still a student. Once you know it’s what you want to do, jump in with both feet and give it your all. But if you feel hesitant, don’t be afraid to explore other career options that may be a better fit for you.