In the first part of this series, I explored the pros of being a teacher.
If you’re considering enrolling in a school of education, knowing the challenges of teaching is just as important as understanding how rewarding the job can be. Of course, there is no single cause that accounts for the dissatisfaction teachers reported; however, the following factors may have played a role.
I’ll be honest. Not all teaching positions are created equally. Some grade levels and subject areas demand more from the teacher than others. For most subjects, however, your day extends well beyond the seventh period bell. Nights are spent at home reading for the coming week’s lesson or grading papers. There have been countless weekends where I’ve had fifty or more essays to read and comment on, in addition to lesson planning that needed to be completed.
Of course, while this stress lifts once summer rolls around, rare is the new teacher who doesn’t need a supplemental income to balance low pay and high student debt. Most young educators, myself included, need second jobs to fund the first. When it comes down to it, signing up for becoming a teacher means signing up for a workweek that lasts well beyond 40 hours.
If you search online for "standardized testing," the results will yield countless articles from teachers, researchers, parents, and students arguing all sides of the issue. I won’t pretend to know all of the research about the effectiveness of testing. What I do know is how high stakes assessments affect students on a day-to-day basis.
When any assignment given from the teacher or from the state is weighted too heavily, the consequence is that students focus not on the learning, but on the result — the grade. This makes sense. If a single assessment determines whether or not a student passes a class or graduates from high school, how could that student not fixate on the end result instead of the learning that occurs along the way? When the federal government is behind the assessments, though, it creates a culture that values the grade above learning. As Paul Goodman writes in his essay "A Proposal to Abolish Grading," the "competitive grade has come to be the essence."
Why is this a challenge for teachers? Teachers tend to put the value of education on the learning that takes place, instead of the grade that is earned. Oftentimes, we find ourselves telling the student not to worry about the grade and to do her best. Yet, our system, one that is characterized by increasingly frequent standardized testing, is in direct conflict with this message. Instead, our education policy values quantifiable measurement and data, which leads to valuing the grade above all else.
One of the hardest parts about being a teacher relates not to the students, but to the people outside of the classroom. Because most of America has attended school, it seems that everyone has an opinion about what should take place within the classroom, how teachers should be evaluated, or how student growth should be assessed.
This, of course, can be a boon to education. A more engaged and invested public means more engaged and invested students and teachers. On the other hand, this willingness on the part of the public to voice an opinion on education, schools, and teachers can get in the way of the good work that we do.
Well-meaning entrepreneurs and politicians fund and create initiatives that seek to fix a broken American school system. (Recently, private-sector giants such as Bill Gates, George Lucas, and Mark Zuckerberg have made large financial contributions to this end.) At times, these solutions may conflict with the teacher's experience of best pedagogical best practices, and when this happens, when those who have little or no education background are influencing policymaking, these struggles will be left for the teacher to iron out.
To become a teacher means to constantly navigate the ever-changing landscape of education. As new policies and initiatives are created and move into classrooms, the teachers needs to balance their beliefs with those of policymakers. While the struggle is worthwhile, the workload and the emotional investment can feel, at times, overwhelming. Luckily for us, we have the students to look forward to.
Want to learn more about the upside to teaching? Check out the next part of this series: Considering Ed School? Why You Should Become a Teacher.