Why become a teacher? In, A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher, the author asks, “Why would anyone willingly sign up for this madness?”. Among the author’s critiques of contemporary teaching, he cites merit pay, the growth of online and student-centered approaches to learning, “arbitrary standards”, calling teachers greedy despite sometimes low wages, administrative mandates to give fewer referrals and suspensions, programs like Teach for American seemingly indicating a lack of respect for the quality of existing teachers, and the removal of tenure in some places.
Of course, there are some assumptions with such a critique. First, it seems that the author has his specific experiences in mind, likely a traditional public education setting in 1-3 schools and/or districts. There is also an assumption about the nature of a teacher’s work, that is some universally defined job description. Finally, the list of items hints at one individual’s philosophy of education. Given those three considerations, his critique makes good sense.
At the same time, the title and article both offer a broad warning, do not become a classroom teacher. The warning is so broad that it misrepresents the nature of education today. I’ve likely visited well over a hundred schools in the past decade, and I know from direct experience that his descriptions do not accurately represent all those schools. I am referring to community public schools, magnet schools, charter schools, elite private schools, independent and other parochial schools. Among them, I’ve learned about direct instruction schools, classical education schools, bilingual schools, STEM academies, core knowledge schools, project-based schools, democratic schools, self-directed learning schools, game-based learning schools, personalized learning schools, art academies, science and math academies, leadership academies, one-room schoolhouses, schools that look like I took a time machine back to the 1950s…even unschool schools. We have more variety in schooling today than any other time in the history. The choice is not simply to become teacher or not become a teacher. It is a question of which type of teacher profile interests you. There is a place and context to fit almost anyone who has the necessary character, competence and commitment.
If you are willing to relocate, then there has never been more opportunity for educators to live out their passion in a context that aligns with their educational philosophy and core values. Granted that one is mobile, unless one truly believes that he is called to stick it out in a school that clashes with his beliefs and convictions, there is no need to work in a school that does not work for you. The choice is not always to teach or not to teach. It is about finding the right fit. This might be a traditional school and classroom or any of the other schooling options listed above. It might also be engaging in the good work of teaching in contexts beyond classrooms. There are hundreds of options for teachers beyond the traditional school, even options to use your passion for teaching in an education startup, an established education business, online teaching options, tutoring businesses, writing as teaching, and teaching opportunities in government agencies and private sector businesses.
With this in mind, I offer different advice. If you don’t want to be a teacher, consider becoming a teacher. In other words, if you believe that you might have a calling to become a teacher and you don’t want to experience the challenges described in A Warning to Young People: Don’t Become a Teacher, then become a teacher anyway. Just do it in a different place. Find the place that fits your passions and convictions, and then give everything you have to make that the best learning organization on the planet. Then write your own article on why every young person should consider work as a teacher.
There is one non-negotiable when it comes to the calling of teacher. A teacher is called to help students learn. Who, how when, where and why is negotiable; but helping students learn is not. If someone has that passion for aiding others in personal growth and development, then I don’t just suggest that they become a teacher, I beg them to do so. Just find the right type of teaching, whether it be in a classroom or one of the other tens of thousands of non-classroom classrooms in which teachers thrive every day.