1 Teachers and the Teaching Profession

Elementary school teacher standing and holding a marker

Why Teach?

Why do teachers teach? It is a rather simple question, however the question, what is a teacher, must be addressed first. Merriam-Webster’s definition of a teacher is “one whose occupation is to instruct” (Merriam-Webster, 2008, para. 1). That is a rather one dimensional definition of a teacher, as teachers these days offer so much more to the class than just the information; they offer themselves. A collective definition of a teacher, is someone who “yearns to help children learn, watch them grow, and make a meaningful difference in the world” (Teacher Support Network, 2007, para. 2). This definition must be the main reason as to why individuals pursue teaching as a career. Generally the pay is low to fair, but the overall rewards are much greater.  As a teacher, one can touch the hearts of the young and open their minds in order to tap their thirst for knowledge.

The Road Ahead

Becoming a teacher is a lengthy process.   In the State of Michigan, you will have to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree, as well as pass certification tests.  You are taking your first step by taking this course.  If you have not done so already, you will need to decide on the level you wish to teach, Elementary or Secondary, as well as your academic subject major(s) and minor(s).  All of your coursework here at Macomb, as well as at the university, will depend on the level you wish to teach and your major and minor.

Michigan is in the process of changing certification levels.  There are five bands being proposed:

• Prekindergarten to Grade 3
• Grades 3 through 6
• Grades 5 through 9
• Grades 7 through 12
• Prekindergarten (PK)-12

More information can be found at Michigan Department of Education Revised Certification Structure.

As you consider the grades you are looking to teach, consider these certification bands.  Talking with an advisor at your chosen four year university will help you decide what may be best for you.  Each university will have their own  requirements.  Some of them will require you to spend a certain number of hours working with students before you can apply for acceptance into the program.  Other universities may require you to write an admission essay.   At this stage in your development, you should sit down with an advisor from the university you wish to attend.  They will be able to map out a course for you so that you make the best use of your time and money, as well as know the process for acceptance into their university.

Teacher’s Salaries Across the US

Teaching is not a pocket cushioning job, but one with long hours and a flat rate of pay. The income of course, depends on where the teacher is instructing. Private schools, parochial schools, and charter schools, in general, tend to have lower pay scales.  This is because they may not have the same revenue base as the public schools.  However, educators may choose to teach in these schools because of the schools’ philosophy, religious preferences, or a variety of other reasons.  Regardless of the reason, most educators will agree they went into teaching because they have the desire to spread knowledge, and/or to watch children reach their full potential.

Passion

There are multiple factors in deciding to become a teacher.  For one, it is a healthy alternative to other professions as the TDA’s research has found that about twice as many teachers truly enjoy their work, as opposed to those who have careers in marketing, IT and accounting (TDA, In Summary, para. 1). Work is not truly work, if it is enjoyed.  For example, Beth Ashfield, a math teacher, spoke of her job with passion, “I love my subject, but I know it’s not socially acceptable to say that… in school, I can be as enthusiastic as I want to be. I’m able to convey that enthusiasm to the students, to allow them to become confident and creative in their approach to the subject” (TDA, Beth Ashfield, Maths teacher, para. 1).  Becoming a teacher was important for her, due to her great love of a particular subject, and the desire to share it with others in hopes that they might discover the same for themselves.  As a teacher one is always learning, whether it is of one’s content material, or something new from a pupil.  Being a teacher requires an open mind, for the teacher is always the student.  A teacher guides his or her charges on a path to self discovery where they can learn about the world, and ultimately, themselves.

Love

Beyond passion, another reason that teachers teach is simply for the love of teaching.  As stated by (Liston & Garrison, 2003) Love is a “creative, critical, and disruptive force in teaching and learning.”  A teacher who loves his or her job will be a better teacher and have a greater impact on the students he or she influences.  Classroom efforts to manage, instruct, and direct groups of twenty to thirty students frequently requires a feelings for others and an intuition that connects teacher to student and to subject matter (Liston & Garrison, 2003).  For the new teacher, the multiple tasks entailed in this activity can be overwhelming. (Liston & Garrison, 2003)  For the experienced teacher, they can seem almost unconscious (Liston & Garrison, 2003).  Most teachers truly have passion for what they do, but they also have a love for it as well.

Creativity Is Key

Young Child sitting on a stack of books reading a book

“Every person is unique and the challenge is to find fun ways to guide individuals to learn and understand what they are interested in learning” (B. Anders, personal communication, February 2, 2008). There are many ways to be creative in the classroom, whether it is using projects, videos,and presentations, but what if the creativity stemmed from the teacher?

Being creative is important in teaching, for the students are the audience. No one knows this better than entertainers, who are creative and use their ingenuity to bring to life rather dull aspects of education.  This in and of itself is talent, and there are those who devote themselves to that.  Paul Keogh, a Modern Languages teacher, had always aspired to be an entertainer, however, he chose teaching as his profession instead.  He does not regret this choice for he’s always got someone to perform for.  He equated teaching to entertainment, but more importantly he remarks, “I love to see them growing personally, socially and academically” (TDA, Paul Keogh, Modern Languages teacher, para. 3).  This statement itself encompasses the point of education, for there cannot be growth without learning.

The Rewards

The rewards received by being a teacher are different than those received by someone like a salesman, for example.  If a salesman is doing well, he makes his quota, and he then earns his monetary bonus.  It is possible that he receives a plaque to hang behind his desk stating that he was the number one salesman for this period in time.  Teachers’ rewards are not so tangible, but rather, “They are rewarded more by witnessing their students succeed and follow their dreams than by any plaque “ (Daily Egyptian, 2005, para. 7).  A group of school teachers who had participated in a study that looked into why teachers taught in high challenge schools, jointly agreed that what their students achieve under their instruction was reward enough for all the time that they devote to their students.  “Student achievement was another reward the teachers discussed as a reason for staying.  When their students were successful, the teachers felt incredibly rewarded.” (Morris, 2007, pg 58).  The reward teachers receive is a feeling, and feelings are more special and memorable than gold and silver plaques hung stoically on a wall proclaiming an individual’s success.  For teaching, it is not about what the teachers can achieve, but what they can get their students to achieve, and through their students, reflects a teacher’s greatest achievement.

Why do teachers teach?

To address the opening question, “Why do teachers teach?”, the answer is simple; “They teach for the love of children and to contribute to the well-being of all of us” (Teachers are Important, 1998, para. 4).  It is something inside them. It is a drive, a force, a passion, a talent that they wish to dispel upon his or her students in order to watch them succeed.  Choosing to be a teacher is not for the money, as a teacher’s monetary compensation is hardly adequate given all that they give to their students.  Becoming a teacher is almost like heeding a calling.  It is not for the light at heart, but rather, for those who love children and people, who have a passion for education, and who love to share in that passion.  Teachers yearn to see the burning desire to learn, and love to see the excitement of discovery, and that, is why teachers teach.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Teacher showing a book to young students who are sitting on the floor

There are many qualities and characteristics that make up a good teacher. Engaging, caring and innovative are some things that may come to mind. According to Dr. Richard M. Reis, a professor and executive director at Stanford University, the top priority of teachers should be that they want to be good teachers. In his article he states that as teachers “we respect students who really try, even if they do not succeed in everything they do, so they will respect us, even if we are not as good as we want to be” (Reis, 2007). Your future students will know that you want to be a good teacher if you yourself strive to become one. There are many opinions on what goes into a good teacher, but only you can implement the characteristics in your own teaching career.

From the time I was a very young child, I wanted to be a teacher. I played school with friends and family and never considered another path. In the late 70’s, when I was entering college, there was an over abundance of teachers. Family and school personnel tried to persuade me to choose another career. I took all the business classes in high school so I had a fall back, but I never wavered from my desire to teach.

My first classroom presented many challenges: challenges my teacher education program did not prepare me for. I had all the “textbook knowledge”, but now I was in the “real world.” Throughout the course I want to try and share as much of the “real world” with you as I can. I also encourage you to share your classroom experiences in the “At the Teacher’s Desk” discussion forum.

As I look at the teacher I was then, and the one I am over 30 years later, there is a remarkable difference! Sometimes I feel bad for those students in my early years. If I could go back, I would change so many things! One aspect of being a professional is reflecting on your practices and making necessary changes that will benefit your students. Always look at what you are doing in the classroom and ask yourself if there is any way you can improve on what you’re doing.

As parents, we tend to raise our children with some of the same strategies and practices of our parents. Likewise, teachers tend to teach in the same manner in which they were taught. While this is not necessarily a mistake, it is also not the most effective way to fulfill either role.

As teachers, we set the climate for the classroom. We model for students the behaviors we expect from them, we set up learning experiences, and set expectations for their work, behavior and personal development. We also teach social skills. Teachers are a major force in a student’s success or failure and much of that has to do with the environment we set up and maintain.

We are the individual who facilitates the learning process. It is our responsibility to guide and support students in their learning endeavors. We set up a classroom with consistent routines and expectations to encourage and promote learning. We plan learning activities, employ instructional strategies and guide students in their social interactions, all in an effort to foster learning. We set up the environment that we feel will be the most productive for our students.

In order to fulfill the previous two roles, we have to make countless decisions. Some of our decisions will be easily accepted and others will not be. The list of decisions we have to make is endless. There are some decisions we will make having the benefit of time to think and reflect, and other decisions we will have to make on the spur of the moment. All of our decisions will have an impact on our effectiveness as an educator and on how others view us in this role.

To assist us in making some of these decisions, we have to practice reflection. We have to look at our practices, student progress, and our relationships to see what is working and what can be improved. This particular course has been in existence for several years now and there have been many changes made based on student feedback and my reflection. I have changed assignments, learning activities, and even the text we use. We also have to reflect on new information we may receive and make decisions on how we may incorporate it into our learning environment, or disregard it if it is not credible or beneficial for our students.

We also have to be an advocate for our students. We have to stand up for what we think is most beneficial for them, defend them when necessary and be their “cheerleader”. For example, when this course was being designed, there was great discussion on the field work portion. The question seemed to be whether we let students choose where they observe, or if the college should place them. I strongly believed that the students should be in a situation that they were comfortable in for this first experience in the classroom. The only way I could see this happening was if students had the opportunity to decide which schools, grade levels, teachers, etc. they would work with. Many students go back to the schools they attended, with teachers they felt were effective. I stood up for my students and advocated for what I thought would be the best opportunity for them.

One thing I want to caution you on, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is making assumptions and judgments about your students! As human beings, we see situations, people’s actions, or their lack of action, and we make assumptions. We assume that the parent doesn’t care about their child’s learning because they never come to a conference or help with homework. DO NOT MAKE THESE TYPES OF ASSUMPTIONS!!!! They are unfair to your students, unprofessional, and will not help you provide the best possible learning experience for your students! If you can’t tell, I feel very strongly about this!

Several years ago, I heard a teacher speak about her experiences in the classroom. She told the story of a little girl in her class and her very active mother. Mother was always helping out in class, she sent notes in to the teacher, attended parent/teacher conferences and the little girl always talked about mom helping her with homework. On the last conference of the year, a man came with mom. This teacher said she was surprised and immediately introduced herself. This man introduced himself as the little girl’s dad. She was absolutely floored! She had assumed all along that this girl only had a mom. She had harbored feelings of sympathy for the girl in not having a dad and admitted to making allowances for some things based on this thought. Now, here was dad standing before her. As the conversation went on, dad admitted that he was not a very good reader and the reason he never came to conferences was because he was afraid his daughter’s teacher might ask him to read something he would have difficulty with. He did not want to be embarrassed or humiliated, so he stayed away.

This is a perfect example of how our assumptions can influence our practice in the classroom. While this one had no real negative effect, I have seen many that do. Students who appear to not want to learn or have no desire to do their work are often labeled as “not caring” or “not wanting to learn.” Teachers sometimes then do not put forth the necessary effort to help them learn because they don’t feel the child wants to learn. 99.9% of the time, this is a wrong assumption!! Many of these children are struggling with the skills necessary to complete the work, they don’t see the relevance of the material, they don’t understand the assignment or they just don’t know how to do it. They are too ashamed and humiliated to ask for help or take the risk of trying and fail, once again. It is psychologically safer for them to shut down and do nothing. Teachers make incorrect judgments and assumptions about these students and they do not give them what they really need in order to succeed. It’s so sad.

So, long story short, do not assume and do not make judgments. ALWAYS talk with students and find out what is happening; what the exact situation is. It is only then that you can really help a student succeed.

The next idea is developing dispositions. These are the attitudes and beliefs we have about learning. These dispositions are evident in your philosophy of education. One very important disposition is the belief that all students can learn. If you cannot fully believe in this statement and work towards this goal, you need to find a different career because you will never be an effective teacher. EVERY STUDENT CAN LEARN! What they learn, how they learn and the rate they learn will vary, but they all can learn.

When we have this positive disposition in regards to learning, we then can foster that in our students.  We want them to develop a “Growth Mindset”.  This is the belief that they can learn anything, but they recognize it will take time and work to do so.  We want them to be strong and never give up.  We want them to believe in themselves and their abilities.  In order to do this, however, they are going to have to experience success and it will be up to us to support them and help them experience that success.

The last idea is our continued growth in both our knowledge base and our skills. As teachers, we will never have an end to our own education. It is a MUST that we continue to attend workshops, seminars, take classes, etc. to keep ourselves up to date on the latest in education and further develop our teaching skills. You wouldn’t want to go to a doctor who hadn’t been back to a class or seminar since they graduated and we don’t want teachers in the classroom who haven’t done that either. Be active! Seek out educational opportunities. It’s not too early to begin now! Look for conferences, workshops and such that you can attend. You don’t have to wait until you have a teaching certificate to engage in these educational opportunities. In order to maintain certification, you will be required to take additional college courses and attend conferences, etc. Start thinking now about what you want your masters to be. You will be working towards this as you take classes for maintaining certification.

In our profession, we often speak of “effective teachers”. You will see this term in the media when the discussion centers around teachers and what is happening in classrooms. You will also hear it when there is discussion of how to evaluate teachers. Effective teachers make a difference in students’ lives and use a variety of strategies to reach their students. They set up productive classrooms and they work to see that every student is successful. Students have identified these as characteristics of an effective teacher.

  • Push students to learn
  • Maintain orderly classrooms
  • Are willing to help
  • Explain until everyone understands
  • Vary classroom activities
  • Try to understand students

Corbett and Wilson, 2002

There are four terms I want to introduce to you now and we will be using them throughout the semester:

  1. General Pedagogy: This refers to the general beliefs a teacher has in regards to education and teaching. It is a teacher’s philosophy.  
  2. Content Knowledge: This means knowing the content that you are teaching. You will never know everything, but you must have a firm mastery of the content in order to teach it to others.
  3. Pedagogical Content Knowledge: This refers to knowing how to teach your content. It is knowing the order to teach material, such as teaching number recognition and one-to-one correspondence before teaching addition. It is also knowing what activities and assignments to present for a given concept.
  4. Knowledge of Learners and Learning: Teachers must have a solid understanding of how learning takes place, what students need in order to learn, and how best to support their learning. On top of this, teachers must know the students in their classroom and what works for each of them.

Add these terms to your vocabulary list. We will refer to these throughout the semester and you will want to know them as a professional.

If you talk to any educator, you will get a variety of ideas on what professionalism is. You will develop your own ideas. For me personally, professionalism includes:

  • Making students my first priority
  • Creating a productive learning environment for every student
  • Continuing my own education
  • Avoiding gossip and speaking ill of students (You have probably heard some of the talk in the teacher’s lounge about students.)
  • Accepting responsibility for mistakes I make and working to correct them.
  • Accepting and respecting each student and their families
  • Maintaining open communication with students (and families)
  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Providing students with timely feedback on assignments

There are just a few of my beliefs. You will learn more about my beliefs as we progress throughout the semester.

For some, teaching is an overwhelming task. I have had many parents who have said, “I could never do what you do.” We are all given different talents and interests and that’s what “makes the world go around.” I will, however, not fail to remind you that this career is a challenge. We have many responsibilities and expectations placed upon us. Everyone will have an opinion on what we do and they may not always agree with what we do. We are responsible, first and foremost, to our students!

We do have a responsibility to keep parents informed of their child’s progress. We also need to look for ways to involve parents in our classrooms. Many teachers feel this is one of the biggest challenges they face. Busy schedules, attitudes and indifference about education and parental/teacher expectations make it difficult. Newsletters, emails, phone calls, a classroom website, and parent/teacher conferences are all ways we can pass along information to parents. Please don’t fall into the trap of believing that parents don’t necessarily care about their child because you don’t see them as much as you would like to. Many of them do, but life circumstances, pressures and demands on their time may effect the amount of attention they can give you and their child.

You will not be teaching within a bubble. You will have colleagues within your school and district to work and collaborate with.  As in any working relationship, keep the lines of communication open. Maintain an open mind in discussions. Just because you do things differently than a colleague, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an idea that will work just as well as yours, or better. Get yourself involved in school and district committees and activities. Attend school board meetings so you know about the decisions being made that will affect your work in the classroom. It will also make you aware of the community’s feelings in regards to the work you do.

Your professional reputation begins now!

I challenge you to begin thinking like a teacher and take responsibility for your learning. Your reputation begins with your college coursework. Attend class regularly and arrive and leave at the designated times. Read work that is assigned and be prepared for classes. Turn your work in on the designated due dates and be certain you have done your best to meet the expectations of the assignments. Do not expect your professors to make allowances for you and your life. You have made the decision to be an educator and this means you have to make the sacrifices in your life in order to get the work done. Plan well! Don’t wait until the last minute to complete assignments or study for tests. Seek out additional information for things you do not understand and ask questions! These are all practices that will carry over into your role as a teacher.

While it takes hard work and perseverance, in my humble opinion, teaching is one of the best professions there is!  Your journey is beginning and I hope you enjoy the ride!

Why do teachers leave the profession?

Teacher attrition has been on the rise for the past two decades and it is no surprise that it has become a major concern. (Brooks-Young, 2007).  Every year, approximately one-third of the nation’s teaching force turns over and the retention rate of new teachers after five years is only sixty-one percent. (Kersaint, 2007).  Researchers believe that teacher shortages are caused not by lack of interest in teaching, but by too many teachers leaving the profession (Williby, 2004).  What must be addressed are the factors affecting teachers’ decisions to leave, the effects on the students and schools of low teacher retention, and the possible solutions to increase teacher retention.

Factors Influencing Teacher Turnover

According to Smithers and Robinson, there are five main reasons for teachers leaving the profession: workload, new challenges, school situations, salary, and personal circumstances.  Among those five main reasons, workload was the most important factor in affecting teacher turnover, while salary was the least important (Smithers & Robinson, 2003).

Workload

Woman biting pencil while sitting and looking at a laptop monitor

Being a teacher is not an easy job.  Teachers must teach their students, as well as complete paperwork, lesson plans, assessments, etc., and at times this can be overwhelming. There is an increase on assessment and accountability of teachers, which means there is an emphasis on testing, evaluation, and passing state standards. Teachers are required to teach to state standards and for their students to pass standardized tests, adding another requirement to be placed upon teachers.  Also, many times, teachers are expected to sponsor a club or activity on top of everything else they must do.  This means spending more time at school working.  Meeting these requirements and juggling these tasks can be hard and frustrating, especially for new teachers with little experience.

New Challenges

New challenges often cause new, inexperienced teachers to leave the profession.  For the most part, their first few years in the classroom are spent trying to get organized, get a grasp on the pace of teaching the material, and learning how to effectively manage a classroom . Disruptive or troublesome students can make a teacher’s job that much more difficult by having to deal with the students and in some cases having to take disciplinary actions.

The inclusion of special needs students also poses an additional challenge for teachers.  Many do not receive adequate training for working with the various special needs that may be present in their classroom.  If you have the chance to take courses that will add to your knowledge and skills in regards to this population of students, do so.  It may delay your graduation a semester, but it will be well worth it once you are in the classroom.

School Situations

School situations encompasses many different things.  It can be how the school is run, who runs the school, what type of programs are available to teachers, geographical setting of the school, and much more.  Geography can play a major role in affecting a teacher’s decision on whether to leave the profession.  In rural settings, the main reasons for teachers leaving was due to cultural differences, the geography (i.e. being too far away from a city or town), and professional isolation (Williby, 2004).  For urban settings, the reasons for leaving were an emphasis to oversee extracurricular activities and whether they were teaching at an at-risk school.  How the school is run is also another factor causing teachers to leave.  A lack of administrative support is damaging to a teacher’s self-esteem,  poor facilities cause teachers to become frustrated, and insufficient mentoring leaves the teacher with nowhere to look for advice, and ultimately cause teachers to leave.

Personal Circumstances

Since teaching requires a lot of time and effort, sometimes personal circumstances can affect a teacher’s decision on whether or not to leave.  The most common personal circumstance that causes teachers to leave is family.  This encompasses everything from pregnancy, spending more time with family, and taking care of family.  For women who get pregnant while teaching, they may find it more cost effective to leave and become a stay-at-home mother (Kersaint, 2007).  For other teachers, quality time with their family and taking care of their family is very important and the workload of being a teacher doesn’t allow them much time to do this.  Age is also another personal circumstance that causes teachers to leave. Typically, it is younger teachers or older teachers approaching retirement that usually leave the teaching profession.  For older teachers, there is a direct correlation with early retirement and pension-plans. (Ingersoll, 2001). This means that it is more likely for an older teacher to retire if they have a pension plan.

Effects of Teacher Turnover

For the school systems, teacher turnover is a fiasco.  It drains resources, diminishes teacher quality, undermines the ability to close the gap of student achievement, and is financially burdening. (NCTAF, 2007).  Resources are drained due to the need for experienced teachers to train and mentor new teachers.  Financially, schools are suffering from teacher turnover because of the cost of recruiting, hiring, advertising, and providing incentives (Harris & Adams, 2007).  Ultimately, the effects of teacher turnover on the school systems directly impacts the students; the financial cost of teacher turnover takes money away from other projects that could be beneficial to the students.  The quality of teachers hired directly impacts student learning and student achievement, and the school community and effectiveness can be destroyed.  The effects of teacher turnover are astounding, not only for the school systems, but for the students as well.  Teacher turnover can have a negative effect on student learning. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, inexperienced teachers are noticeably less effective than senior teachers. These new, inexperienced teachers passing in and out of the school systems can have an emotional and physiological effect on students and student learning.

Boosting Teacher Retention

So now the question is,  “What can be done to boost teacher retention?”  Teachers leave the profession for several reasons from lack of administrative support to poor facilities to low pay.  There are several steps schools can take to boost teacher retention.

To retain teachers that are inexperienced, schools can implement a well-organized induction program. This type of program would include mentoring and peer review evaluations.  This allows teachers an outlet for help and instruction, as well as advice on how to improve performance.  These types of programs also prepare teachers on what to expect and how to effectively do their job.  Studies show that teachers who receive intensive mentoring are less likely to leave than those who receive little to no mentoring. (Williby, 2004).

In Macomb County, the Macomb Intermediate School District offers a “New Teacher’s Academy.”  This is a series of workshops aimed to support teachers in their first years of teaching.  This is a great way to network with other teachers and gain support and ideas.

Other ways to boost teacher retention include new administrative and organizational strategies.  Since workload is the major reason for teachers leaving the profession, strategies such as job sharing or part-time work may be more appealing to some teachers, or time to get work done during the school day through extended planning time, etc.

Hiring incentives are also another way to boost teacher retention.  Although salary is not the biggest force driving teachers away from the profession, incentives would give them more of a reason to stay. These incentives include: hiring bonuses, health insurance, pension plans, and higher salaries.

Teacher turnover is a growing problem and must be solved

The reasons for why teachers leave the profession vary from teacher to teacher, but there is no doubt that something must be done to boost teacher retention.  Teacher turnover effects student learning, student achievement, and the school systems. The cost is astounding, and new programs and strategies must be developed so teacher retention does not become an even bigger problem than it already is.


Modified from “Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment” by Alyschia Conn, Jasmine Tucay and Sarah Wolff licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Education 2010 by Brenda Alward is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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