8 years ago I left the business world to become a public school teacher. I have spent all 8 of my years teaching math and science to 4th and 5th graders at a low income, high-risk school.
What do I like? I love the subject. I am passionate about math and science. For me it is the subject material that gets me excited. I’m not a big lover of children. If I wasn’t teaching math and science I wouldn’t be working with kids. I very much enjoy the theories and practice of learning. I love taking a concept and creating a lesson that results in someone understanding something they didn’t understand before. I enjoy looking back on an activity or lesson and figuring out ways to tweak it so that the concept is better understood by the students. And there is something noble about the profession. Or, rather, the profession has the potential to be nobly.
What do I dislike? Get ready. This list can go on forever. I have worked in huge corporations and for small businesses. When I was in college I even spent some time working for the Federal Government, and I make the following statement without hesitation: Education is the most messed up, bass-ackwards institution I have ever experienced in my life. There are at least 8 levels of people above me, all of which are telling me what to do. Most of the time their instructions and directives clash with each other, and a good portion of the people directing my actions have never actually been teachers. The American education system is fucked up right now…and I mean that seriously. The people in charge are either ignorant of the facts, or lack the political courage to say them out loud. 80% of your job as a teacher is frustration. The trick is to enjoy the other 20% enough to make up for it. I don’t get frustrated with my students because…after all, they are kids. I expect 4th and 5th graders to posses a certain amount of irresponsibility and selfishness. But the parents…holy, fucking shitballs! Before I started teaching I had no idea there was an entire sub-culture in America that had, as its fundamental values, things like excuse-making, playing the victim, and entitlement. We all know irresponsible people, but it has blown my mind just how wide spread it is. A case in point: Last year a 4th grader walked into my classroom, I said “Good morning,” he gave me the finger, said, “Fuck you,” shoved the computer off of the desk then ran over and decked a kid in the face. I had multiple witnesses and the first part of the incident was on video tape since there are cameras in the hallway. I explained all of this to the father and his first words to me were, “Well…what did you do to piss him off?” Now you make take this as an isolated incident, but I assure you it is not. This is a normal experience in our more struggling schools. At meet the teacher night this year a parent introduced herself to me by saying, “Now my son gets his food for free, so you make sure that happens.” I’ll save my rants about the unprofessionalism of my fellow educators for later.
Please spend time in the classrooms before committing to the profession. Find out what it is really like. Find some friends that are teachers and ask them for the inside scoop. It is nothing like the movies. Depending on where you are at, you will have varying levels of freedom in your classroom. Right now I am told exactly what to do every day in my classroom from my district curriculum department. As demands and accountability systems increase, districts are reacting with more control and micromanagement over their teachers, rather than respecting them as professionals that know what is best for their students.