dcsimg
 

What's It Really Like To Work as a Teacher?

Home > Ask the Guidance Counselor > Teacher > 7 Lessons About Being a Teacher

Before you can embark on a career as a teacher, you need to spend at least four years in college learning the ins and outs of how to be an educator.

However, even the best education degree program can't fully prepare you for the realities that await once you your get your first job as a teacher. We talked to three teachers to find out what things surprised them about teacher careers. Here's what they told us:

Lesson No. 1: Student teaching is a breeze compared to your first classroom.

Kami Goodwin, a 1st grade teacher at Eastern Hancock Elementary in Charlottesville, Indiana, remembers her first solo experience in the classroom being entirely different than her teaching internship.

"My student teaching intern experience took place with a seasoned teacher and during the 2nd half of the year so I didn't get to watch the routines and procedures get established," Goodwin says. "She also had minimal behavior problems." Meanwhile, Goodwin's first teaching job was in a low-income area of West Palm Beach where she had 27 students, including 7 with IEPs and others with behavioral issues.

New teachers don't necessarily get plum teaching positions. They may have large classrooms and disruptive students, factors that can make for a stressful first year. That's not to discourage people from pursing teacher careers, but veteran educators say those new to the profession should walk in with realistic expectations for what their first year could entail.

Lesson No. 2: You may have to move to find a teaching job.

To get that first job as a teacher, graduates may find they need to move.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports jobs for kindergarten, elementary and high school teachers should increase 6 percent from 2014-2024, but job openings will not be uniform across the country. Some states, such as Michigan, Delaware and Illinois, are reportedly producing significantly more teachers than needed to fill their openings. Meanwhile, other states - including Arizona, Nevada and Oklahoma - have a dire need for qualified educators.

As a result, new teachers may find they have to move elsewhere to get their foot in the door. Another option may be to earn a certification in a less popular subject. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list, organized by state, of subjects facing a teacher shortage.

Lesson No. 3: Schools may leave teachers to sink or swim without much support.

Some teachers find they receive minimal support from colleagues or administrative staff. That was the experience of high school physics teacher Bill McLay when he showed up for his first teaching job in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"My department chair told me, I am sorry, but you are basically on your own as we have no other physics teachers and no one in the department knows anything about the subject," McLay relates. Despite not being familiar with the AP format, he was informed he'd be teaching two AP physics classes as well. "They also had no AP test materials for me to use or any lab manuals."

Not every teacher has a similar experience but new educators should be prepared for, as McLay puts it, "trial by fire."

Lesson No. 4: Behavioral issues could take up as much of your time as academic issues.

Goodwin says teachers must navigate a landmine of social and behavioral issues that a degree simply can't address. "[A degree is] training you based on many different individual learning styles, but I still wasn't prepared for that or the varying behaviors," she explains.

At her first school, Goodwin was confronted with children who were hungry, sleeping on the floor at home or struggling with undiagnosed learning disabilities. In some cases, parents were unable or unwilling to partner in their children's education which left Goodwin to try to compensate in the classroom for problems outside her control.

Still, Goodwin doesn't want that to deter other people from pursuing a career as a teacher. "It's a challenging job but I wouldn't ever think of doing anything else," she says. However, she adds the caveat, "If your heart isn't truly in it, then don't do it."

Lesson No. 5: Lessons rarely go as planned…at first.

Veteran teachers have the luxury of time-tested lesson plans. They've been through the process long enough to know which activities will be a hit with students and which will require extra time to master. However, for new teachers, every day is an experiment.

"My very first lecture, which I was sure would be hard for me to finish in 50 minutes, was done in 20 minutes, and [I had] nothing else planned to do," McLay says. "These are the things no one prepares you for."

The best advice for new teachers may be to always have a few back-up activities in the wings to fill time as needed. "Also, that first year may be terrible, but each year you grow and get better," Goodwin says.

Lesson No. 6: Long hours are the norm for many new teachers.

McLay says another surprise of teaching was how much time he spend preparing for each class period. If he wanted his students to run a 30 minute lab exercise, he might spend hours getting ready for it.

However, McLay says those long hours he logged the first year were well worth it. "The fact that I had to come up with my own labs my first year is one of the reasons my labs work so well," he says. In fact, he advises new teachers to ditch the materials that come with a textbook in favor of creating their own. "By doing it your way, you learn it so much better and it becomes a part of you."

Fortunately, once you get through that first year, you have your lessons in place and may only need to make minor tweaks in the years to come.

Lesson No. 7: You'll love your students like family.

Ask teachers what they love most about their job, and you're likely to hear them talk about their students. It would seem logical that teachers love their kids, but the strength of that emotion takes many new teachers by surprise.

"I didn't expect to carry so much of my students in my heart," says Sarah Walker Houston, a kindergarten teacher. "I didn't expect that I would go home and worry so much about my students, cry for them and wish I could do more for them."

Goodwin has had a similar experience. While some of her students have come from broken backgrounds and exhibit difficult behaviors, she loves them all the same. "You are like a parent to each of them and for many of them the only hug they get all day," she says. "You watch them grow, change and learn."

This last lesson, like the others listed above, may be something referenced in education degree programs but hard to fully understand until you get your first job as a teacher. It's also why so many people pursue teacher careers despite the long hours and sometimes difficult working conditions required of the profession.

The best advice for new teachers may be this from Houston: "Make sure you really love teaching and that you are teaching because you have a passion for it. If that is true, everything else will work out."

Sources:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, High School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm (visited January 22, 2016).
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm (visited January 22, 2016).
3. Teacher Shortage Areas, U.S. Department of Education, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/pol/tsa.html4. The real reasons behind the U.S. teacher shortage, Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, August 24, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/08/24/the-real-reasons-behind-the-u-s-teacher-shortage/6. Colleges Overproducing Elementary Teachers, Data Finds, Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week, January 22, 2013, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/23/18supply_ep.h32.html

Refine School Matches
Hide filters
  • SUBJECT Clear All

    See More

  • DEGREE

    See More

  • PROGRAM TYPE

  • START TIME

    LOCATION
    Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
            Results open in new window

            Searching Searching ...

            Prefer exploring options talking to our staff?
            Call toll free now: 1.855.330.6938
            Matching School Ads
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Why Earn Your Degree from GCU?
            • Options: Choose from a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Business, Nursing, Psychology, Education & more!
            • Convenience: Complete courses online, on campus, or a combination of both!
            • Earlier Graduation: Our 4-credit courses allow you to complete your degree program in less time.
            • Transfer Friendly: We will request your transcripts, evaluate your graduate coursework, and determine your anticipated graduation date within 24 hours.
            • Quality: Grand Canyon University was founded in 1949 and is regionally accredited. Learn more today!
            Good for Working Adults
            • Accredited
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees available in a wide range of fields.
            • Flexible online programs offered in Psychology, Criminal Justice, Education, and more.
            • Assigned Financial Services Advisors to help answer student financial questions.
            • Servicemembers and their spouses can apply for the Ashford Military Grant to reduce tuition for all undergraduate courses.
            • Online Courses
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Founded over 60 years ago on the principles of inclusion and social justice.
            • Offers credit for previous life and work experience.
            • Equipped with over 17,000 titles in their library.
            • Has 3 semesters and 6 start dates a year.
            • Located in Pasadena, CA, with instructional sites in Sacramento, Salinas, Santa Cruz, and Visalia as well as online options.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the 2015 Best Online Graduate Education Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
            • Awarded 21 institutional scholarships in 2013, totaling over $76,000 in tuition.
            • Offers several certificate programs where students can earn credits without committing to a full degree program.
            • Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
            • Part of the Colorado State University System.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            3 Program(s) Found
            • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
            • Received the 2013 Making a Difference for Students Award from Quality Matters.
            • Offers a free student app for smartphones and tablets, helping students keep up to date.
            • Has a Golden Key International Honour Society and SALUTE Veterans Honor Society.
            • Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            5 Program(s) Found

            Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1851, Saint Joseph's University (SJU) has been developing the minds and abilities of men and women in a challenging academic environment steeped in the enriching Jesuit tradition of cura personalis (care of the entire person). The strong liberal arts foundation promotes an environment of open-minded investigation and debate and attends to developing students beyond their academic accomplishments, while maintaining high academic standards. The University strives to be recognized as the preeminent Catholic comprehensive university in the Northeast.

            • Online Courses
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
            • Founded in 1890, it has a campus in Waterbury, CT and offers online degree program in eight-week modules, six times a year.
            • About 800 students are enrolled at the main campus, and about half of them commute.
            • Online courses help make it possible for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in as little as 24 months and a master’s degree in 12-18 months.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • A private, Christian, liberal arts university founded in 1905 and open to students of any faith.
            • Has an average class size of 20 students.
            • 97% of students receive financial aid, with the average freshman receiving $10,000.
            • Offers over 25 undergraduate degree programs.
            • Has approximately 5,000 students; 60% female and 40% male.
            • Accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor's Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
            • Implements a one-to-one teaching model, partnering one student with one faculty member in each course.
            • 100% of faculty members hold doctoral degrees.
            • No physical residency requirements, allowing students to pursue their degree online.
            • Committed to innovation, diversity, excellence, and accountability since its founding in 1996.
            • Offers several programs in business, education, psychology, and more.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            1 Program(s) Found

            Purdue University offers a strong foundation of tradition and history, an environment of intellectual curiosity and discovery, and a supportive, student-centered approach to learning. Founded in 1869 as a land-grant school, the University is known today for its prolific faculty as well as a record of distinguished research and achievement in aerospace, engineering, technology, science, and math. Our goal is to educate and develop men and women of personal integrity and scholarly excellence.

            • Online Courses