While many enter the teaching profession for a variety of reasons, it is not for everyone. There are some things you should reflect on when deciding if teaching is the right career move for you.
Entering the Teaching Profession
People go into teaching for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's for financial reasons, such as with professionals who were downsized from other professions, or college graduates who couldn't find employment in their field. There are also career changers, where adults have spent time in their chosen field but decide they want a more meaningful type of employment. Others go through traditional teacher education programs. The reality is that the path you take into the classroom doesn't necessarily correlate to whether or not you are suited to be there. There are some serious questions you need to consider before you decide if teaching is right for you.
How Much Patience do You Have?
One of the first things you want to ask yourself if you are considering teaching is: how much patience do you have? A lot of us think we have patience, but it is a skill. And that skill, and many others, are crucial to whether or not you can survive teaching in a classroom. If in doubt, test yourself. Go to the store, and when you check out, pick the longest line possible. Preferably one where someone is returning something without a receipt, and there are children misbehaving with their parents. How does that experience make you feel? What thoughts are flying through your head? Are the children getting on your nerves, or are the adults? As you wait, are you drawn to playing on your cell phone, or can you legitimately just stand there and observe?
Teachers have to exercise their ability to be patient 24/7. Students will try your patience all day long. There will be students who can never seem to stand in line quietly when you are moving through the building. Others will forget their homework, paper, and pencil every single day. Then there are the adults you have to deal with. For example, administrators who seem to suffer from OCD over the arrangement of your daily agenda on the board, or constant last minute schedule changes. Still others will do everything in their power just to be aggravating. You have to be able to remain Zen in the face of tremendous stress.
Additionally, as the Association for Middle-Level Education reminds us, patience is key in all aspects of teaching. For example, it takes patience to build knowledge and skills in students. Sometimes, that means you must have the patience to give students more time on a writing assignment and spread it out over more days in class so that students have the time to build their skills. Other times it means increasing our wait time in class when we have discussions or ask questions, or having the patience in class to truly debrief activities.
Alright, so perhaps you passed the patience test. Next comes flexibility. There are teachers from both inside and outside the teaching profession who tend to be very rigid about how they run their classroom. It is almost as if they are dictators over their domain. Yes you are in charge, and yes you need to make it clear to students you are in charge. However, it won't be a fun experience if you can't learn to be a bit flexible.
You want structure, but you have to accept that these are children. You can't expect military conformity from them. There are teachers, for example, who will return a paper and mark it late if you stapled the rubric to the back instead of the front of an assignment. Others will take points off if you forget to put the date on the paper. Still, others won't allow students to turn in anything a single day late. You need structure and guidelines, but you also need to be flexible when the occasion warrants it. Children all come into your classroom with their strengths and weaknesses. If you are too rigid, you can ruin your relationship with a student arguing over small, unimportant issues such as wanting the name on the right, rather than left-hand, side of the page.
Working in a school, in general, will require a lot of flexibility on your part. It will happen that you have this amazing lesson planned for Friday, and you walk in the door that morning to find out there is a schedule change to accommodate a last minute assembly. You may not find out about testing dates until a few days before. Last minute meetings are common. The list goes on and on. You have to decide if you are willing to deal with that sort of disruption on a regular basis because it will be a normal part of your week.
Passion for Content
If you stay in teaching for several years, you most likely will find yourself teaching the same content over and over and over again. You have to honestly enjoy what you are teaching because the enjoyment or boredom will translate into your teaching. For example, I am passionate about the environment, so in nearly every topic I teach, I find a way to incorporate it. One of my colleagues is passionate about pirates and seems always to find a way to bring them into his history class. Other colleagues I know have brought their theatrical costumes into literature class. You have to show up with your passion every day.
You have to love the material, or at the very least find a way to love it and make it fun. There will be topics in your year that you honestly just feel blah about. You have to find a way to get excited about them and make it fun for you and your students, because here is the harsh truth: if you can't get excited about it, you have little hope of your students wanting to learn it. For example, I teach science, but biology is not my favorite subject to teach. Honestly, I avoided it as much as possible in college. So when I get to biology in my class, I follow Dave Burgess' advice to teach like a pirate ('Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?'). Burgess reminds us that we have to find ways to bring passion into our classrooms to engage our students, and ourselves, even if that means literally dressing up and speaking like a pirate. For me in biology, I pull out the stops. We sing karaoke about cell structures, make up dance moves for cell processes, and even stage a Wilbur Pig autopsy where the characters in Charlotte's Web are the criminals.
Is Teaching Right for You?
When thinking about whether or not teaching is right for you, you need to spend some time in self-reflection. First, reflect on how much patience you have because teaching will require you to use all of it everyday with both adults and children. Teaching is definitely a job that requires flexibility, because on any given day things will happen to throw off your plans. Finally, you must truly have passion for the subject you teach. That passion will help sustain you through all the challenges of the teaching profession you will face.