The Current State of Teaching
It’s well known that teachers are leaving the classroom in unprecedented numbers. According to a February 2022 National Education Association (NEA) survey, 55 percent of educators across the industry (teachers, along with bus drivers, food service, admin, etc.) are contemplating an early exit from the profession.
The pandemic complicated and intensified the working lives of an already stressed and stretched teaching community:
- Working from home while caring for their families for the first year of lockdown
- Then returning last spring to anxiety-filled classrooms and everchanging demands
- A revolving door of illness and covering colleagues’ classes when substitutes weren’t available
- Uncertainty about their own health and safety
This has added up to mental health issues for teachers and students alike. For educators, it’s been an unimaginably challenging couple of years.
Teaching as a Second Career
I found myself at a turning point in life–a ten-year-old at home and divorce on the horizon. So in the summer of 2005, I decided to become a teacher.
I had worked in business management, marketing, and advertising through the years and knew there would be opportunities in Silicon Valley. But at that point, I had volunteered in enough classrooms to know many dedicated, magical teachers and had seen firsthand the impact of those invested teachers on both the students and their families. This more relational way of being in the world called to me, so I turned my attention to acquiring my teaching credential.
The first thing I needed to do was get into the classroom to see if I had what it takes! I contacted the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and looked through the options for “meeting the basic skills requirements” to work in the classroom.
I chose to take the CBEST—California Basic Educational Skills Test—and once I passed, got fingerprinted at the local sheriff’s office and had the results sent to the schools where I signed up to substitute teach.
With a Bachelor’s Degree in English, I knew I wanted to get my single-subject English credential, so I selected four possibilities:
- Two public high school districts
- A public K-8 district (where a single-subject credential is adequate for teaching middle school)
- A private all-girls’ high school
Feeling fairly certain one of those would be a fit, I began the search for a nearby teaching credential program.
Finding The Right Teaching Credential Program
I investigated two online schools and visited my local state university’s teaching program. I learned that online programs move through one course a month and require a local partner to complete the student-teacher requirement.
I thought this pace would be too intense, so I went with the in-person option, and enrolled in the university’s program, which conveniently offered classes from 4-9pm, supporting the schedules of people teaching on an emergency credential or working as a substitute.
The program took me two academic years to complete, as I was raising my son and working while taking classes in the evening, but it can also be done in one, full-time year.-Jeannine Black, high school English teacher
During the time I took my credential courses, I worked as a substitute teacher. This experience had several benefits:
- Helped me familiarize myself with the various district and school cultures
- Helped me understand the different student ages I might prefer to teach
- Gave me the opportunity to develop professional relationships with people who would one day become my colleagues. In fact, I made a friend in my credential classes who has taught English on the same campuses with me for 9 of our 15 years as teachers!
The Post-Covid Teaching Landscape
Covid has produced a new way of seeing ourselves as workers. Working from home, people have had time for self-discovery and, for the first time, people have discovered their basic needs without much social influence, especially their interests beyond work.
There is a sense that we are our greatest resource, deserving of a balanced life and self-care. It’s no wonder some have decided to leave established careers, including teaching: a job where, on any given day, ten plates are spinning at once:
- Classroom management
- Managing absences
- Professional development
- And many more…
As a consequence of the pandemic, teachers have become frontline workers, at odds with the wants and needs of parents, administrators, and the government. As teachers were, in some states, called to return to the classroom before vaccines were available.
So, in this time of career migration, or the “Great Resignation”, teaching is a growth field with the opportunity to influence how the next era of being an educator is shaped. The stressors of the status quo are being addressed in district boardrooms nationwide.
Who Makes A Great Teacher?
I’ve known many interesting people who came to teaching as a second career—engineers, actors, physicists, writers, corporate executives, artists—and I believe there are some real advantages to teaching later in life.
For one thing, we have more experience with people, conflict resolution, consensus building, politics, and for many of us, raising our own children. Teaching requires many skills, but it is, before anything else, about relationships:
- Establishing rapport
- Communicating clearly
- Leading and accepting leadership
- Knowing and admitting our limits
As for the financial question, everyone knows teachers are underpaid, and I won’t dispel that belief, but the lure is retirement. Since starting pay is based on education level + years of service, with stipends for advanced degrees, it’s not rock bottom and only gets better. Looking down the road, though, teachers are fully vested in most state retirement systems after just five years.
A final benefit? The glorious weeks of summer. It’s not the full three months we once had when school began after Labor Day, but there are usually 8 full weeks of freedom to travel, explore hobbies, walk on the beach, teach summer school, and get some professional development in before we go back and do it all again.