Monday, September 16, 2013

So, he wants to be a math teacher

A former student of mine recently wrote to me telling me he was considering pursuing a math education degree.  At first, I was thrilled!  Another math teacher!  How fabulous!

Then, I started wondering, Does this kid really, truly have what it takes?  Does he know what he's getting himself into?

A few comments he made had me thinking that maybe he was pursuing teaching because he really didn't have any better ideas.

So, I took the weekend to come up with what I hope was a fitting response.  Here are chunks of my letter, modified a bit.  The student is actually still set on pursuing an education degree,!

Dear -----,

I'm thrilled that you're considering education! As a young adult myself, I love to hear that other young adults want to teach. It's an incredible job; I'm certain I will never leave this field.

However, I do want to be realistic with you. There are two things I would recommend thinking very seriously about...

First: the commitment. Teaching--if you want to do it well--is an incredibly time-consuming job. I'm usually at the school ten to eleven hours a day, I work from home during the weekends, and I spend a good deal of my summers researching best practices other teachers are using in their classrooms. As a good teacher, yes, you'll spend time preparing lessons and grading tests, but you'll also be contacting parents, students, principals, and counselors; you'll be writing recommendation letters; you'll be losing sleep over the kids you're particularly worried about. It's never-ending and exhausting. But, again, I wouldn't trade it for the world. What I am saying is this--don't pursue this job unless you're extremely passionate about learning, helping others learn, and loving on your students. If those aren't passions of yours, I don't recommend teaching--you'll be burnt out in a couple years. If, however, you are passionate about helping others grow and are willing to put in the time and energy necessary, I would beg you to please consider teaching. We need all the passionate and loving people we can get.

Second: the money. I used to have a motto: "Study what you love and figure out how to get paid for it later." I can't stand by that motto any longer--especially if a student is taking out large loans to pay for school (i.e., don't take out $100,000 for a job that won't give you the means to pay that back). The reality is, we have to make ends meet. And it's no secret--teachers do not get paid a whole lot. Salaries obviously vary, but I started around $30,000 and will peak--after 25 years on the job and with a Master's degree--at about $50,000 (in today's money). Compare that to my friends who got the same degrees but started at $70,000. On top of this, your friends and family will often say your pay is appropriate because you get off at 3 PM and you have your summers off. As a teacher, you have to be ok with the fact that pretty much all your friends and relatives will be making more money than you. And you have to be ok with the financial sacrifices that may accompany the job.

That's my two cents. I wouldn't recommend pursuing this job unless you know what you're getting yourself into and you're ready for (and hopefully excited about) the challenges that accompany teaching. If, after my warnings, you're still ready to jump in, then please, please do. Future students will greatly benefit from you, and you will get even more out of this job than you put into it.

Please keep me informed.  Much love,

Mrs. Peterson


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