A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher

Posted by The Committed Sardine on

“To teach or not to teach? That is the question asked in this Huff Post article from English teacher Randy Turner. Many educators will identify with the stresses he outlines in this article. What needs to be done to ensure we have young people wanting to get into this prestigious but often misunderstood profession?”


via Huffington Post

Nothing I have ever done has brought me as much joy as I have received from teaching children how to write the past 14 years. Helping young writers grow and mature has been richly rewarding and I would not trade my experiences for anything.

That being said, if I were 18 years old and deciding how I want to spend my adult years, the last thing I would want to become is a classroom teacher.

Classroom teachers, especially those who are just out of college and entering the profession, are more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.

They have to listen to a long list of politicians who belittle their ability, blame them for every student whose grades do not reach arbitrary standards, and want to take away every fringe benefit they have — everything from the possibility of achieving tenure to receiving a decent pension.

Young teachers from across the United States have told me they no longer have the ability to properly manage classrooms, not because of lack of training, not because of lack of ability, not because of lack of desire, but because of upper administration decisions to reduce statistics on classroom referrals and in-school and out-of-school suspensions. As any classroom teacher can tell you, when the students know there will be no repercussions for their actions, there will be no change in their behavior. When there is no change in their behavior, other students will have a more difficult time learning.

While I am fully in favor of students taking control of their learning, I also remember a long list of teachers whose knowledge and experience helped me to become a better student and a better person.

Teachers are being told over and over again that their job is not to teach, but to guide students to learning on their own. While I am fully in favor of students taking control of their learning, I also remember a long list of teachers whose knowledge and experience helped me to become a better student and a better person. They encouraged me to learn on my own, and I did, but they also taught me many things. In these days when virtual learning is being force-fed to public schools by those who will financially benefit, the classroom teacher is being increasingly devalued. The concept being pushed upon us is not of a teacher teaching, but one of who babysits while the thoroughly engaged students magically learn on their own.

During the coming week in Missouri, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill which would eliminate teacher tenure, tie 33 percent of our pay to standardized test scores (and a lesser, unspecified percentage for those who teach untested subjects) and permit such innovations as “student surveys” to become a part of the evaluation process.

Each year, I allow my students to critique me and offer suggestions for my class. I learn a lot from those evaluations and have implemented some of the suggestions the students have made. But there is no way that eighth graders’ opinions should be a part of deciding whether I continue to be employed.

The Missouri House recently passed a budget that included $2.5 million to put Teach for America instructors in our urban schools. The legislature also recently acted to extend the use of ABCTE (American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence), a program that allows people to switch careers and become teachers without having to go through required teaching courses.

It is hard to get past the message being sent that our teachers are not good enough so we have to go outside to find new ones.

And of course to go along with all of these slaps in the face to classroom teachers, the move toward merit pay continues. Merit pay and eliminating teacher tenure, while turning teachers into at-will employees are the biggest disservice our leaders can do to students. How many good classroom teachers will no longer be in the classroom because they question decisions by ham handed administrators looking to quickly make a name for themselves by implementing shortsighted procedures that might look good on resumes, but will have a negative impact on student learning.

If you don’t believe this kind of thing will happen, take a look at what has occurred in our nation’s public schools since the advent of No Child Left Behind. Everything that is not math or reading has been de-emphasized. The teaching of history, civics, geography, and the arts have shrunk to almost nothing in some schools, or are made to serve the tested areas. Elementary children have limited recess time so more time can be squeezed in for math and reading.

Each year, I allow my students to critique me and offer suggestions for my class. I learn a lot from those evaluations and have implemented some of the suggestions the students have made.

Even worse, in some schools weeks of valuable classroom time are wasted giving practice standardized tests (and tests to practice for the practice standardized tests) so obsessive administrators can track how the students are doing. In many school districts across the nation, teachers have told me, curriculum is being based on these practice standardized tests.

That devaluation and de-emphasis of classroom teachers will grow under Common Core Standards. Pearson, the company that has received the contract to create the tests, has a full series of practice tests, while other companies like McGraw-Hill with its Acuity division, are already changing gears from offering practice materials for state tests to providing comprehensive materials for Common Core.

Why would anyone willingly sign up for this madness?

As a reporter who covered education for more than two decades, and as a teacher who has been in the classroom for the past 14 years, I cannot remember a time when the classrooms have been filled with bad teachers. The poor teachers almost never lasted long enough to receive tenure. Whether it is was because they could not maintain control over their classrooms or because they did not have sufficient command over their subject matter, they soon found it wise to find another line of work.

Yes, there are exceptions — people who slipped through the cracks, and gained tenure, but there is nothing to stop administrators from removing those teachers. All tenure does is to provide teachers with the right to a hearing. It does not guarantee their jobs.

Times have changed. I have watched over the past few years as wonderfully gifted young teachers have left the classroom, feeling they do not have support and that things are not going to get any better.

In the past, these are the teachers who stayed, earned tenure, and built the solid framework that has served their communities and our nation well.

That framework is being torn down, oftentimes by politicians who would never dream of sending their own children to the kind of schools they are mandating for others.
Despite all of the attacks on the teachers, I am continually amazed at the high quality of the young people who are entering the profession. It is hard to kill idealism, no matter how much our leaders (in both parties) try.

I suppose I am just kidding myself about encouraging young people to enter some other profession, any other profession, besides teaching.

After all, what other profession would allow me to make $37,000 a year after 14 years of experience and have people tell me how greedy I am?


  1. cheryl thomas

    I live in Arizona and we have been there for several years….and I could not agree more. I would NEVER tell a young person to become a teacher. Sad.

  2. RS

    I am a passionate teacher who loves going to work everyday (for 20 years), but lately I have been thinking, did I make the right decision. Your post rang true for me. I am in New Jersey and prior to Common Core we did well as a state overall. The common core “rigor” is already evident in our state standards and frankly I have been using the methods they are advocating for the past 7 years. Here in New Jersey we have the republican party superstar governor who turned the citizens against public workers; teachers in particular. Moral has never been lower and teacher appreciation week seems a bit of an oxymoron this year….sigh…

  3. Angela Hollis

    Come and teach at our school – we would love knowledgable, passionate, innovative and enthusiastic teachers to join our team. Our students are (for the most part) well behaved and motivated to learn. The salary package is not huge, the rates of tax are high and we live in a slightly remote part of the world which is why we find it difficult to recruit excellent teachers but if you want a sea change and really want to make a difference to students’ lives then our school could be the place for you! So where are we? We are on a pacific island – Guadalcanal – get out your atlases and discover for yourself. We are the only international school in the country. Interested to find out more? google Woodford International School, we would love to hear from you!

  4. M. Hallford

    I teach special education in Ontario, and I give a lot of respect to teachers in the US who show up at work everyday with such ridiculous pressure and limited compensation. It is shameful that the individuals making the decisions often do not have accurate information in front of them. The issues that teachers confront on a daily basis in the classroom are complex, and it is my experience that very few people – inside or outside the system – have the ability to fully appreciate these challenges. This is something that will likely not change. Our children will continue to be educated by knowledgeable, caring individuals who know that despite the lack of respect and pay, our kids are worth it. The job is simply too difficult and demanding for anyone to remain in the job long term if they don’t have a love for it – despite the challenges. There are few jobs as important and as rewarding as the teaching profession, and I thank the universe everyday that I get to spend my days working with creative, inspiring children.

  5. Julee Veljanovski

    This common educational madness is endemic in the Western World…i’m a Primary School Principal and I see the stress on teachers, caused by edicts from non-educational factions every day. I wait for when we drop standardised testing, allow some passion and creativity to actually flourish and instill a love of learning- then we would all benefit from a more humanistic happy society!

  6. Mark Housel

    So proud that I was a teacher and so glad that I am not one anymore. I was a NJ teacher for 15 years. I can’t BELIEVE the mess that politicians are making of our schools. I do think that the teachers union has played it’s own part in the mess. I was riffed in 2011 after 14 years of loving my job and trying to be the best teacher I could possibly be. I would put my resume up against anyone, anywhere but because of seniority, the only thing that mattered was how long I had been there. I had tenure and everything. I got another teaching job after that and resigned after 6 months. Teaching will never be the same for me and hopefully I will never have to go back. Your article is GREAT! Hopefully people will wake up to what is going on in our schools before it’s too late!!

  7. Celia

    I’m a teacher educator at a state university in IL right now. Last year I completed my PhD and now I’m on “the tenure track.” I managed to survive 7 years of grad school in a program that wasn’t very well run AND to complete my dissertation with my idealism, passion and adoration for teaching intact if you can believe that! But now and all I can say is that because of the massive ****storm described in this article I’m only 2 years in and I feel like the biggest chump on the planet and here’s why:
    1. First, “the tenure track” is a total joke! All it is is an excuse for the university to own everything you produce. Plus, you have to work your a** off for 7 years AND since funding is non-existent you have to self-fund any research you manage to fit into your insane life of chasing unmotivated students all over a crumbling campus and following student teachers all over the state on a salary that is almost the same as I earned teaching high school kids. THEN, if the higher-ups deign you worthy you get a whopping $3000 raise. And that’s just to go from Assistant to Associate Prof! Once you get Associate you have to start the hoopla all over again and this year I’ve learned that most people don’t ever get Full Prof in state schools because there’s only so much $$$ to go around. AND as lovely bonus, the same squeezes on pensions you mention here for K-12 teachers is happening for us too-awesome.
    2. Next, I owe the government as much as most med students and lawyers for my education because my it was both over priced and in a field (Education, Curriculum & Instruction/Teacher Education) that universities don’t even value let alone offer funding/scholarship assistance and consistent grad assistant opportunities for. So many semesters my promised GA or TA positions never manifested when the rubber hit the road and my only option for continuing or finishing my degree was taking student loans-lots and lots of student loans.
    3. Next, because we are responsible for educating the teachers everyone thinks are so grossly incompetent I’ve become totally buried in nothing but a bureaucratic nightmare of random state Board of Ed standards, yearly state-run (which means real pointless and shoddily executed) program reporting initiatives and requirements, NCATE edicts, and random state and national mandates that take 2-3 reads to even understand (and I have my PhD for crying out loud!!!).
    4. Lastly, with the Pearson-controlled edTPA on the horizon I want to run away screaming. This is a totally useless, mandatory and expensive test Teacher candidates will have to pay $300 each to be tortured and distracted by this “exam” during their student teaching when they SHOULD be practicing TEACHING. It has been designed by “experts” to supposedly improve teacher practice but in the end it is nothing but a glorified writing assessment. And it’s still unclear what will happen if the student fails it after it’s graded by an “outside and [supposedly] totally objective” assessor getting $75 a pop for their work. Will they fail student teaching and not get the degree they’ve worked at and paid for for 4 or 5 years? No one knows. Will they be allowed to retake it? No one knows. Will they have to repeat student teaching and this stupid exam at their own expense? NO ONE KNOWS!!!
    So you talk in this article about discouraging students from becoming teachers and I’m inclined to agree but to also add don’t waste your time going to grad school to study Education or anything related to it (for your Masters or PhD) and steer well clear of getting suckered into teacher education and working for the “higher education” racket! There’s nothing “higher” about it anymore, and all I can say is I’ve got only 8 more years — 16 little semesters — left of putting up with this crap and doing only what’s absolutely necessary to survive while trying totally in vain to do my best to prepare my students for a hellish career I’ve totally lost faith in and passion for. And why only 8 years you might be asking? Because thats how long (10 years total) the government has said I have to work in “public service” (aka this slavery) until I will have my student loans all forgiven which have now become my sole motivation for sticking with this sham. Then the minute I’m free I am going to relish in washing my hands of all of it and grabbing my bag of marshmallows to toast over the flames of the imploding US public education system. My PhD will be better put to use opening a gourmet, organic juice bar. I will get to spend my days actually helping people get healthy and contributing to my community in a meaningful way rather than dying slowly and beating my fists against the brick walls of greedy bureaucracy while fondly and longingly remembering when teaching was actually a really exciting, rewarding and respected profession!

    • Justin

      Amen. I left anyways…. with the loans and all…. and started the business I knew I could start. Already have $5K in revenue. Just leave. Don’t torture yourself. Be free and happy NOW.

  8. Math Teacher

    I’m a high school math teacher in BC, Canada with 6 years seniority. I gross about $70,000 a year, net about $4000 a month. Mind you, average housing prices (2 bedroom condominiums) are $350K to $500K and detached homes are easily in the millions (nothing fancy either)… but we have free healthcare! Come to Canada!! :)

  9. Justin

    I am a former high school Spanish teacher – 9 years experience. I agree with everything this articles says. It is a waste for young people to become a teacher right now. All they will get is low pay and demoralization. The leaders are not leading. The burocracy is choking…. BUT WE ALL KNOW THAT ALREADY. I am not interested in complaining about what is wrong. I am interested in repairing and refashioning the system. I am currently building a team of non-profit leaders, business leaders, and committed professionals who want to rally around TRANSFORMING the system… not “changing it”… not “reforming it…” All those efforts are failures. I am looking for WINNERS who KNOW what EDUCATION MEANS and ARE PASSIONATE about rescuing systems that are in a free-fall collapse. If you are interested in hearing more about what I am saying, then email me at approachinginfinity1@gmail.com. We could use your help and expertise!!!

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