Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Teachers

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I have a friend who, after two years as a full professor, is back down to adjuncting part-time due to budget cuts. A former student of mine earned his degree in math and special education and has been subbing for two years in an outstanding district, but he simply can’t seem to get his own classroom. And even though I am (currently) employed by a local community college, I recently decided to conduct an experiment to see if I, with my soon-to-be twenty years of classroom experience, could land even a part-time position in any school district within a desirable radius. I updated my resumé and cover letter and applied to four local school districts.

Did I get a bite?

Not one!

At first I was bitter, but now I understand. There are too many teachers and not enough jobs.

What does this mean? Well, theoretically, it could be a good thing for our children. If the pool of applicants is supersaturated, then – hopefully – the weakest candidates will be tossed away quickly, making way for the cream of the crop to land in our nation’s classrooms which, as we all know, are badly in need of help. Alas, I suspect it means that many positions will be “excessed” causing more teachers to scramble for fewer positions. It means greater numbers of students will be squished into classrooms, which will make it harder for them to learn. It means less adult supervision in the place where we really need them to receive specialized, individualized attention.

Meanwhile, I know plenty of people who have given up. Though stellar students themselves, each having received outstanding reviews during all phases of their student teaching experience, each has decided to leave the dream behind. One former student of mine just took an entry-level position at an editing/publishing company last fall, after three years of looking for an elementary school position. She sent out hundreds of resumés, attended dozens of encouraging interviews, but just never could seal the deal. For years, she worked as a substitute teacher, earning $75-85 a day (with no benefits). I think she files and makes people coffee now. Seriously. I’m not kidding. To do these things, one does not necessarily need to attend college.

“It’s ridiculous,” my former student says, “Spending all that money for an education I can’t use has been beyond frustrating. But really I had no choice. I needed benefits. And I needed to make money.”

How can we continue to allow good students to go through graduate school to become educators if the jobs are not there for them when they come out the other side?

So, my little experiment, though simultaneously interesting and humbling, meant little for me. I am one of the lucky ones: I have a job that I love.

For now, anyway.

tweet me @rasjacobson

19 thoughts on “Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Teachers

  1. My mom, a Ph.D., spends much of her advising time telling her bright, Ph.D.-bound students to give up their dreams. She gives them hard statistics about how incredibly unlikely it is to get a job in their field, and they usually leave her office with a whole different life plan.

    I’m dubious about this strategy. I feel like it’s terrible to discourage people from being better educated, because if they merely want the Ph.D. and don’t expect to get a job in the field, good for them. But Mom discourages students even from doing that – a waste of time and money, she points out.

    1. It’s hard. One doesn’t want to be a dream smasher, but one doesn’t want to lead people down the path toward unemployment either. I don’t envy your mother. Advising students is sometimes the toughest part of the job. Some students have a lot going on in the background that interferes with what teachers are trying to accomplish.

      It is difficult to focus on comma rules when your drug-abusing parents kept you up fighting all night long.

  2. I went a different route and never did the certification way. I ended up at college after not doing a couple other things. I know it’s tough out there for teachers, especially in a system that is obsessed with rewarding terrible educators who should be fired. Funny you should write about this today as I just finished a piece on teaching and am guest blogging at Worst Professor Ever on Wednesday about finding work outside of graduate programs.

    Good thought-provoker you are. I hope you don’t quit teaching because you’re one of the good ones, but I understand the search for stability too.

    1. It’s definitely a bit of a grim time to be teaching. A right jab from the parents; a left jab from the administrators; a quick one-two from the government; a knee to the groin from the students.

      It’s been a great ride, but if I were heading out again on the open seas, would I take my boat and set my course for the classroom? Hmmmm…

      Meanwhile, are you implying we shant have Wiki-Wednesday this week? Say it aint so!

  3. Can you fix me up with Miss Stunning ? Oh, please, please, please. You knew you would get some stupid guy remarks but I don’t care. I want to be first in line! Yes, I am single with respectable income and promise to say “yes” to her every whim and fancy.

  4. No matter what our profession, we tend to want to steer our children away from it. Don’t be a teacher, a journalist, a policeman, a nurse, etc. Definitely the face of education has changed. Some districts have overcrowded classrooms while others have a very enviable student/teacher ratio. Everyone is working more hours for less money and many districts are not hiring to ease class sizes or offer more class options (foreign languages, arts, technology, etc). I think that, in part, is why there are so many unemployed teachers serving coffee or working construction or going back to school for a degree in something else. This isn’t a new problem by any means. In my state, there were few jobs in 1991 when I graduated, and there sure aren’t many now.

    1. I actually love teaching. I just think for the amount of time and energy that I put into preparing and grading and counseling, I could have been a billionaire had I started my own business. 😉 Then again, my business could have failed and I would have never met all those wonderful people with whom I share such glorious memories. That said, I’ve been fortunate because my husband has always been the primary bread-winner. We never could have made it on my salary alone. Never.

  5. I don’t think there’s any lack of demand for teachers. As an AP student, I’ve been in classes with almost 40 students in one period for one teacher. With increasing budget cuts, even the non-AP classes at my school are becoming crowded with around 40 students for each teacher in a period. I think the problem for educators is probably our economy. While that only kind of answers your question, I just thought I’d throw that out there… Thanks for the interesting post. I want to be a teacher someday, so I really appreciate your insight into issues like these.

    1. Wow! I have many thoughts on that one. First off, 40 students in one class is too many students for one teacher – ever. That said, there probably shouldn’t be 40 AP students in your class. There is a lot of pressure to put students who don’t belong in AP into AP classes. Parents want their children in AP classes and high schools want to say they offer lots of AP classes. There should probably never be more than 20 students in an AP class; otherwise, students are being short-changed. I imagine if you look around your AP class you probably wonder why some of those students are in there. That’s called parental pressure.

      I would add agree that there is always a need for good teachers, but new teachers rarely get jobs in their own subject matter right out of graduate school. I had to start out teaching English as a Second Language to 3rd graders: not even close to my certification area in Secondary English! Many prospective teachers do not make it beyond substitute teaching – think about how subs are treated – and others can’t bear the treatment they receive from students, even other faculty members. Schools are not always the most cordial environments behind the scenes. And, as you said, the physical limitations of schools create problems in and of themselves. It takes money to make more classrooms and hire more teachers and, in this fiscal environment, no one is talking about building much of anything of/or related to schools.

      I have loved teaching, but I’m not sure I would advise people to go that route today. I hope a bunch of motivated, intelligent students come out of college wanting to teach. I’d love to see the US change the way in which we look at educators. Frankly, we have to change things because everything depends on how well each generation is prepared.

  6. Interesting post, Renee, and it’s an issue that stirs up strong emotions in me. Speaking as an educator, my belief is that many teachers are their own worst enemies in regards to the profession and pay because they support the concept of tenure. In a dozen years of teaching, I’ve come to view tenure as nothing more than a way to ensure that mediocre and below-average teachers keep their positions regardless of their actual job performance. And not only keep their jobs, but get paid more each year. There is no extrinsic financial motivation to do a better job as a teacher. You receive more money by:

  7. Crap. Literally. While dealing with start-of-the-morning diaper blowout from #4, the Hellcat was messing with the laptop and hit enter before I was finished.

    So, teachers receive more money by: 1. taking a vertical step on the salary scale by managing to not do something so horrendous that tenure can’t save them, or 2. earning additional credits/degrees to move horizontally on the salary scale. However, there is no guarantee that these additional credits/degrees have any impact on actual job performance.

    So no matter how good of a job I do in the actual classroom, positively impacting students intellectually,academically, and emotionally, the only way I can earn more is through longevity and additional coursework. Performance is not a factor. That is unlike any other profession.

    And then there is a union that complains about salaries and how teachers are treated unfairly by districts and administrators. The same union that is fighting to keep a below-average-or-worse teacher in a position because he/she is tenured.

    I specifically request a non-tenured contract each year; I wouldn’t sign a tenured one. And I would never join the union. I’m a really good teacher. I want to be paid based on my performance and value. And if I’m not cutting it, they should get my ass out of there.

    There would be more jobs available for potentially great teachers if more of the poor ones were weeded out.

    Thanks for the rant space, Renee.

    1. How do I love thee? Well… I would tell you how much, but I’m a little afraid of Kick Ass Wife. 😉 I agree with you on all points. Tenure is a strange system that started long ago and was designed to protect teachers but – like everything else – has become a corrupt institution.

      Like you, I never joined a teacher’s union, and this raised the ire of many public school teachers. I liked teaching best in my private school in New Orleans where class sizes were kept small, and my Department Chair observed me, where my mentor observed me, where I observed others, and we enjoyed a very collegial atmosphere which fostered intellectual vitality.

      I know a lot of good teachers these days who are burning out quickly because the students don’t bring any energy to the classroom. I’d take a class of rowdy kids who care about the material over tight-lipped kids unwilling to take intellectual responsibility any day of the week.

  8. Sobering post – though I take your point that perhaps schools are already overflowing with excellent teachers, so much so that no more are needed. Though somehow I doubt it.
    I recently had the excellent surprise of my son’s new teacher turning out to be an all round success. Interesting, enthusiastic, energetic – and unusually, male. Not many men in primary schools in the UK these days.

    1. I wish our schools were overflowing with excellent teachers. There are some wonderful teachers – both young and well-seasoned, but many schools are stuck with tenured teachers who make lots of money each year while caring less and less about the students and the curriculum.

      I get pretty furious when communications come home from my son’s school teachers and the content is peppered with grammatical errors. Drives me batty. That’s usually the young’uns. Sigh.

  9. It’s too bad we are going through such rough times in America these days. People with teacher’s degrees aren’t the only ones who can’t find jobs, and I think an over abundance in teachers isn’t the only reason why teachers can’t find a job. I think it’s so hard to find a job as a teacher today because it’s hard to find a job anywhere today. I can honestly say that at least a third of the people I know are struggling for money and/or have lost their jobs.

    Last winter my uncle was fired from his job where he had been working for nine years, and is now scraping for money anyway possible. Last summer my father lost his job at the salt mine and became another statistic in the category of laborers and manufacturers that lost their jobs in the past year (basic laborers and factory assembly-line workers had the highest percentage of lay-offs in the past year or two). Also, three months ago my former landlord lost her job that made her over $100,000 dollars a year, and is now being forced to work at a gas station that is within walking distance of her house, and her bills stack up into towers. I feel like everything that is going on in today’s economy is causing other aspects of our economy to decline. I say this both physically in the actions people make, and mentally and emotionally in how people think.

    It seems like the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and even middle class people are becoming poor! I feel like people that are rich today are admired greatly, and people that are poor are looked down on by society. In the apartment complex I grew up in as a child, there was no shame in living there and many of the people who lived there had decent careers and were doing just fine in life. We weren’t discriminated against for living in this apartment complex, and our family members from out of town always liked visiting us. Now, it seems like people that don’t have high salaries are forced to live in this complex, and every time I hear someone bring this apartment complex up in conversation, someone is always sure to say, “That place is full of scum.” Why? Because these people don’t live in big houses and drive nice cars? Don’t get me wrong, some people just make poor decisions and put themselves in bad predicaments, but for the people who have worked hard and have been released from their jobs (or can’t get one) because of our economic situation, it’s just not fair.

    With all of the people that are in America today, how are we going to keep employing people if they keep getting fired? How are we going to educate people so we can employ them if teachers are being fired causing too few teachers for too many people? What if the teachers who are still employed are doing a bad job at educating? We will have poorly educated people that may be unemployable, but what if all of these unemployed people can’t make enough money to pay for school to begin with? There are a lot of problems in the job market today. It’s unfair for people to go to school and spend money on school just to not be able to get a job when they graduate. Something needs to be done not to only save teacher’s jobs, but to save everyone’s jobs.

  10. Having only started 2013, my comment comes a bit late, but you’re right, a career in teaching has become a significantly difficult thing to obtain, especially if you’re looking to go into higher education at a lecture based university.

    1. Hi Heretic: And things have gotten worse since I wrote that post. Obviously. I ended my formal teaching career at our local community college. I wish you all the luck in the world. For 15 years, teaching was all kinds of awesome.

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