T Nation

Choosing a Career


I just finished my freshman year of college and I think that I want to either teach in high school or be a college professor. Can anyone who has taken this route give me any advice or insight into what the lifestyle is like (i.e., hours of work required per week, pros vs. cons of the job, etc.)? Thanks.


I teach in high school. History.

Here's the thing about teaching. You need a credential to teach high school or lower. I don't know what it is in other states, but in almost all counties in California you also need a credential to be a substitute teacher as well. I went to a private university until my baseball scholarship was up, then I transferred to a cheaper state school (Chico State), so the CSU system's criteria is what I know. There, you have to have a 3.1 GPA or better to get into the teaching credential program after graduation, along with a few extra classes that mean nothing toward your degree as prerequisites for the program. The program itself is two semesters of working at a high school or junior high with a teacher who basically acts as your mentor. You also have to take a class or two each semester one night a week. So you're working about 40 hours a week without getting paid a single red cent, on top of the time allotted for your class at night.

Once you have the credential though, you're in a really good position to get a teaching position right out of school. I had absolutely no problem finding a job and actually had to turn one down in favor of the position I hold right now.

Here's the thing though: I got really lucky in that sense. I graduated about ten years ago before going into the credential program, went to work in a totally unrelated field for a while, but also spent time as a youth league baseball coach and accumulated quite a bit of verifiable volunteer time with kids/teenagers through the Boys and Girls Club and volunteer time at a foster child agency. I also had letters of recommendation from an economics professor who I worked for on the weekends maintaining her property, the head of the Chico State history department, the head of the teaching credential program and a current teacher whose son is my best friend. I had excellent grades and interviewed well also. I also got lucky in that the school at which I did my student teaching had an opening the following year that they knew about in advance. So I had a lot of factors stacked up on my side of the ledger that most applicants didn't have.

Generally-speaking though, it is best to try to do your student teaching in the area that you want to teach in, because it gives you more networking opportunities and it also allows a potential employer to see you in action for a year first. I made quite a bit of money in my previous career before going back to school ten years later to earn my teaching credential, so I could afford to work part-time for cash under the table for a year while doing the credential program. But there are still financial aid opportunities while you are enrolled in the program if necessary, and many states will waive your student debts if you spend your first year or two teaching in a low-income area, which is well worth it.

As far as teaching itself goes, I LOVE it. I see bad teachers all the time, and I see good ones, and I would like to think that I am a very good one. You have to really have a passion for it, especially if you are teaching at a public school. There are going to be discipline problems, there are going to be students who don't give a fuck and so on. That part is frustrating, especially if you really understand the power of education and the opportunity these kids are throwing away by being apathetic about it. But if you have a real passion for TEACHING the subject and working with kids to better their lives, rather than just a passion for the subject itself, this really translates well to success as a teacher.

I don't really have discipline problems at all in my classes. For whatever reason, I have a really good rapport with the students because I respect them and I do not EVER underestimate their desire to learn, even the ones who think they're too cool to be there or whatever. I really think that it takes a special, or at least a unique, type of person to have this sort of effect on students while still maintaining control of the classroom and being effective at conveying information. You are not their buddy, but you are not an authoritarian either. You are an instructor whose job is to improve their lives and help them understand the power of education.

As for college professor, I hope you like school. You'll need a minimum of a master's degree to teach at a junior college and a PhD to teach at a university, plus you'll have to publish to stay relevant. I don't really know what college professors make compared to what I make, but I don't make a whole lot, to be honest. I have simple tastes and am smart with my money anyways, so it doesn't bother me and I am doing not only what I love, but what I am best at. I don't really think there is a price that can be put on that.


My major right now is elementary education (5-6 grade). I kinda wanna make the switch to high school though.


Don't do it.
High school kids are total turds.
Teach the little ones and be the cool teacher that actually molds their minds while they are impressionable to have a love for school and learning.


Honestly I kind of feel the same way, at the higher elementary age your teacher is still "cool". But yet you can still teach them and have a normal conversation with them unlike the lower grades


I think it depends on the subject. some high school kids will be inspired by biology or government. But I think generally they don't give a shit English literature and math.
what subject would you teach?


Wow. Thanks for this response. The school I go to offers a couple of courses that allow you to be certified to teach high school as soon as you graduate (insert snide remark about NC education system here). Right now I'm double majoring in anthropology and history with a minor in creative writing, so if I choose high school I'll be a history teacher.

As long as I can afford my surfboard and a gym membership I'll be happy. Money has never been a big motivator for me. What attracts me to teaching at the university level is the freedom that comes with a tenured professorship. It seems to me that the schedule for a college professor is much more flexible than that of a high school teacher; you might teach two classes and have office hours twice a week vs. a high school teacher who is in the classroom from 8 until at least 4 five days a week.


The reason the schedule is flexible is because it is assumed you are using your free time to compile the results of whatever research you are doing between and during semesters into something publishable. You're basically expected to be publishing articles in academic journals or writing a book of some sort, or both. You'll probably also be on some sort of board or run some sort of on-campus club like the historical society's honor club or something like that. You're also likely to have a class each semester, especially when you first start out, that has about 100 students in it, so have fun grading all their papers and tests and so forth.

And I think a full-time college professor is still teaching a minimum of three classes per semester, sometimes four.


That would be true of the professors that I know. When they aren't conducting research or traveling to other universities to get schooled up on other peoples developments, they are leading their own seminars to share what they've done at that level.


Government and Econ or history


Teaching is a thankless job for sure. My mom did it for 33 years, right here in NC too. As was already mentioned the kids are complete turds and have very little respect, if any, for their teachers. I would also agree that the slightly younger kids are better / easier to teach, and lots of them actually want to learn. Also, from my experience watching my mom, teaching can be more of an 80 hour week than a 40 hour one. You have lesson plans to prepare, tests and homework to grade, etc, etc.


North Carolina can be a difficult place to teach because teachers' pay ranks among the lowest in the nation.

That being said, college professors have a very difficult path. Being married to one, I've watched some truly sociopathic people behave in ways that would have gotten them fired in any commercial job. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a lot of stories on the pitfalls of the profession. You're looking at a Student Loan bubble that's getting ready to pop.
When that happens, the higher education system is going to implode. Also, your odds of getting a tenured job in the liberal arts is about 1 in 5 the last time I checked. There's an over-supply of qualified people.

Being on my second career, my advice is to think in terms of learning skills that can provide opportunities and serve multi-uses. Some people love teaching. Some people try teaching, hate it, and then become managers because the same skills used in controlling a classroom can also be used in managing a team. One of the best Senior vice Presidents at my last company was a former high school football coach.

Very few people have careers that last a lifetime. My Doctor was an artist before he decided to go to Medical School in his 30's. Smart is smart.
If you enjoy teaching, go for it. If you decide that it's not for you, you still have a lot of options available.

But I would think very hard about becoming a college professor. Getting a tenure teaching gig has very low odds, and even then, in the liberal arts, the pay is lacking.

Have you visited the Career Center at your school yet?


Don't attempt to be a history professor. You won't get a job and you'll pay for your degree. It will likely be a terrible mistake.

The topic of whatever you are teaching has nothing to do with your efficacy as a teacher and whether or not you will enjoy teaching the given subject. You are a teacher or professor first, your major is second. You might initially find history more interesting than science or business but with steady application you can learn to be just as enthusiastic about any subject as you are with history. Learning begets more learning. As your mastery over a subject grows and the time you spend studying it increases, you will learn to love it.