What would your perfect job look like?
You might choose to be your own boss, with space to creatively express yourself and feel fulfilled by your work. Maybe you would want day-to-day novelty, an experience that never grows stale. You might even seek a job that would allow you to pick up and move around the country if you wished. Certainly, such a dream career would meet your practical needs: Job security, vacation time, strong benefits, and a sure retirement.
If such a career sounds near-perfect to you, then you might want to consider becoming a teacher.
I suspect most readers are a bit surprised by my assertion that teaching is a dream job. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll try to persuade you exactly why this is a great time to enter this most noble profession.
Of course I realize that public awareness of teaching’s challenges may be at an all-time high. In fact, many of us in the field of education are guilty ourselves of discouraging aspiring teachers from joining our ranks.
It is undeniable that the profession has lost some of its prestige in recent decades, and that this trend has accelerated in the past couple of years. Polling data from Saint Louis University and YouGov shows that Missourians are less likely to encourage young people to become teachers, even in the face of pressing teacher shortages.
These changing attitudes have real-world consequences in schools; many community members and legislators today feel quite comfortable inserting themselves in areas previously thought to be the domain of educators, such as book selections and curricular choices. Whether this is healthy or democratic is up for debate; regardless, it has certainly increased the pressure on teachers.
Sadly, the fact that becoming a teacher today also means leading students in active shooter safety drills almost certainly discourages some potential educators.
For all of these relatively new reasons, public opinion has cooled on the desirability of a career in teaching. And, for as long as most of us can remember, education advocates have argued that teachers and potential teachers alike are discouraged by relatively low salary levels.
Yes, those are real challenges — but they do not override the many benefits of becoming a teacher. And we need to tell that story. After all, if we only tell the world how tough the job is, we shouldn’t be surprised if no one wants to join us.
When I have the opportunity to talk with high school students considering the field of teaching, or to aspiring teachers at Saint Louis University, I cover several attributes of potential careers that can make a job fun and rewarding, and then highlight how teaching fares with respect to each.
First and foremost, a good job is one that is personally fulfilling and allows you to have an impact in the world. On that mark, teaching earns an A+.
Teachers never have to convince themselves of the meaning or purpose behind their career choice. Of course, the job is challenging; after all, anything meaningful is. Our new teachers will have to be ready to fail. However, you will learn from failures, become better teachers, and improve the lives of students, in turn.
Good jobs provide autonomy, so that employees have agency over their work and get to make the decisions that govern their workday. Here, I would give teaching a grade of A-. The classroom is a teacher’s domain, where you have day-to-day autonomy in your work, even recognizing the effects of some outside constraints.
The best jobs also provide flexibility, whether in workflow, location, or availability of vacation. Here again, teaching earns an A+.
Teachers have the freedom to pick up and move to a new city without fear; there are 90,000 schools scattered across the United States. If you want a new challenge after teaching middle schoolers, you can seek a position in a high school. If you want to pursue an interest or passion, you can serve as faculty coordinator for the yearbook or as assistant basketball coach. During summers, teachers have an opportunity to rejuvenate, retool, or even relax. In short, unlike those in many other careers, teachers have plenty of opportunities to ensure that the job does not become mundane.
Finally, many of us seek security in our work.
Teaching no doubt excels in this area (receiving an easy A). Teachers can expect job security at the micro and macro level, and from working years through retirement. Individual teachers are quite well protected in their contracts from unfair dismissal; overall, the industry of teaching is not vulnerable to cyclical swings. Even during the height of the pandemic, with millions of U.S. citizens facing unemployment, teachers were in high demand. And robust pension benefits ensure teachers are taken care of in their sunset years.
Still today, and perhaps especially today, excellent teachers are in great demand. The job is tough, and we must acknowledge the trends and challenges that make the job tougher than necessary.
While working together to improve the environment for teachers, let’s also remember to celebrate the many reasons teaching remains one of the best vocations a young person can pursue.