Why Teaching Might Not Be For You

Are You Sure You Want To Teach?

Been thinking of joining the ranks?

There will be no special letter in the mail saying we’d be happy to have you join us.

Nor will your doorbell ring and on your stoop be a man dressed in his best and ready to have you sign on the dotted line.

However, allow me to say, we’d be happy to have you join us.

Teaching is a profession often misunderstood and has certainly changed from when you and I sat in the classroom – so it is misunderstood even more so.

Teaching shouldn’t, however, be misunderstood by those interested in making it a career choice.

Each year I have the privilege to speak to students at the University of Richmond who are in the process of earning their bachelors or masters and then their certifications to teach.

I tell them this:

“I will be honest with you about the teaching profession, if you honestly think about whether you really want to enter the profession.”

As a student sitting in an evening course over a decade ago, I so appreciated when a high school principal came to our class and shared with us the truth about his job. There were no punches pulled; it was all unfiltered truth.

Hearing him share his experience, made a difference to me.

I am hopeful the following has the same effect on you.

Before you decide to call yourself a teacher, here are six unfiltered realities about teaching you need to know:

  1. It isn’t just about the kids.
  2. It isn’t easy.
  3. You won’t go home and be able to forget about your day.
  4. You won’t go home and be able to not do anything until you go back to work the next day.
  5. The first year is hell.
  6. You will be under-appreciated.

You’ll notice that there isn’t much positivity there and I don’t like that a bit because I pride myself on being positive when life throws a curveball.

There’s no positivity in those six realities above because you should go into the profession knowing that it isn’t all popsicles, pigtails, patient parents, pink bowties, and paper bows. Being the teacher isn’t always pretty.

You’re reading this because you know there must be a reason you’ve been called to teach – I really do believe it’s a calling.

We all love the little people – I get that.

But do you love the little people enough to endure all the challenges you’ll have to overcome?

It Isn’t Just About The Kids

It’s about a lot more than what might have drawn you in at the beginning.

Teaching is about being with students for a year and then hoping you’ve imparted enough, impressed enough, for them to go on to the next grade. Hopefully, once there, they will leave upon others the impression that they can and will be successful.

It’s about the future and your impact upon it now – and how that manifests itself later.

It’s about those that your students live with at home. It’s their experience at school that often shapes dinnertime conversation. It’s their challenge at school that dictates the worry parents share with one another. It’s your students’ success that bring celebration at the ice cream counter.

It’s about the value of their parents’ homes – state test scores are often one of the first qualifiers prospective homeowners research when deciding to moving into a neighborhood. It’s about district accreditation and the politics of school boards and their decision making.

Again, it’s about more than kids.

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

It Isn’t Easy

In fact, expect to be frustrated.

If there’s anything I’ve realized it’s that teaching doesn’t come naturally. Sure, there are some that can command a room, but there’s so much going on in the classroom. It’s going to take some time to feel competent.

From assessments to learning objectives to group dynamics to motivational strategies. From  student meetings to recess duty to grade book peculiarities to district focus to recertification classes. From training modules to faculty meetings to student files to parent-teacher conferences to morning meetings.

It is going to take some time to get comfortable up at the front – and that’s to be expected.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Forget About Your Day

If my day didn’t go as well as I would like, I often want nothing more than to do a redo. Mostly though I’m trying to figure out how I could have done a lesson better or how I could have had a very different conversation with a student.

Your drive to your home may include a call to a student’s home to share not just challenges, but also a positive experience at school.

You are going to arrive at home and if you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have a family waiting for you then you’ll probably repeat the entire day’s experience to them.

There will be days you’re bothered by a parent’s remarks about you or the low assessment scores from the last test. Other days will find you smiling and laughing at the dinner table remembering what happened earlier in the day. Either way, you’re going to daydream about your students during the day, and perhaps even have some schoolmares at night.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Not Do Anything Until You Go Back To Work The Next Day 

I have yet to figure out a way to leave work at work – literally.

At the end of the school day I’ve seen teachers roll suitcases, pull milk crates on wheels and have canvas bags hanging from the end of each arm as they head toward home. Others use backpacks or shoulder bags. I’ve even seen a grocery bag or two.

I would very much like to tell you that you won’t need to do any work at home, but I would be lying to you.

I won’t lie to you.

Between beginning of the year reports, getting your classroom organized, figuring out your first week of lessons, getting to know your students’ names, remembering the copier code, and understanding the acronyms that are mentioned between colleagues in the hallway – you’re going to be exhausted.

There’s no way you’re going to be able do the other million and one items on your to-do list at school.

Well, you could if you got a cot, a nice soft pillow and warm comforter, but they frown on that nowadays.

Your family will most likely frown too.

The First Year Is Hell

I hate to say it this way because I am grateful that I really don’t know what hell is like, nor do I have any interest.

It got your attention though, right? The first year is definitely the toughest.

Like swimming in a pot of water being slowly heated on the stove, the first year is going to get increasingly uncomfortable.

For returning teachers, we all start the year on a positive note after we acclimate to once again not being able to sleep in as long as we would like (note: actually full disclosure: not all teachers start on a positive note which I don’t truly understand – the time we have with our families during the summer is awesome).

We envision great things and try to improve on areas in which we didn’t do well last year.

For a new teacher, you really do go into that first year largely blind no matter how well your college classwork might have prepared you. Perhaps though, ignorance is bliss as some would profess.

The year starts slow and consistent. The year then begins to get frantic.

And then it quickly becomes a rollercoaster of emotion brought on, not only by uncertainty and inexperience, but also from utter exhaustion.

Your students will test you, your colleagues will often be speaking a different language during team meetings, and your principal will try to determine whether they’ve made the right decision hiring you.

The experience will be similar to that of being on a moving sidewalk – the kind you find at the international airport between departure gates, with no exit point ahead that you can see. You can try to turn around and go backwards to seek an escape, but that’s no solution either. Face forward and you will be rolled into the unknown.

You’ll be on the ride every first-year teacher has taken – it ain’t much fun.

You Will Be Under-Appreciated.

Your own parents will initially be supportive (or not) – it’s hard, after all, to say with an honest face that one disapproves of teachers.

Your spouse will be happy that you’re now getting paid after all the unpaid student teaching you did, but they won’t have counted on all the extra work you’re now doing at home.

When people ask you what you do and you share your career decision, they will remember all the unhappy experiences sitting in the classroom.

They will ask how you in fact do it? How do you manage all those kids? They may even place their hand on your shoulder and proclaim that you are a saint – but do it with sad eyes.

Perhaps during the summer you will feel elated that your new year has yet to start. That there’s still time to take another trip to the beach. Then you hear your neighbors talk about who their child has this upcoming year and they share their displeasure.

Ready To Change Your Major? Ready To Throw In the Teaching Towel?

So why do it?

At this point, if you’re still reading this, why in God’s name would you even consider teaching?

Simply, there is no more noble profession than teaching.

We teach every child.

Whether they come to us from homes where they’re well taken care of or come from homes where they’re an after thought, they arrive to us each morning.

They come to us hungry and well fed, happy and sad, well loved and mistreated.

They arrive full of hope and tired before they ever sit down. They sit down excited about a favorite subject and never having found joy in anything that has to do with school. They want to tell stories and not ever utter a word. They begin the year at the start line and they begin well behind because of challenges they’ve had their entire life. They want to impress you and they could care less.

We teach every one of them.

They are the little people entrusted to us and regardless of how they arrive, you are their teacher.

You will always, from here on out, be their teacher.

You will be on their class picture hidden deep in a pile in their attic, and found when they move from one home to another. You will be in their thoughts when their own children are in the grade you’re now teaching.

You have the opportunity to change lives at an age in which your students will look back and include you as the reason they are who they are. That’s pretty amazing.

It’s an opportunity few others have.

And that’s why you should join the ranks of teaching.

I hope you’ll join us.


Do you have some realities I failed to share? Please share in the comment section so that those new to teaching might know the challenges you faced and they in turn can be convinced to become a teacher. Thank you.

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