The work of an elementary school teacher is an important one, although surrounded by misconceptions. As with any career it has highs and lows, but what are some of the pros and cons of being an elementary school teacher?
If you are considering becoming an elementary school teacher, be prepared to examine your values. The career comes with its risks and struggles, such a low pay, exposure to sickness, and students who are content with mediocre work, but there are also great rewards, especially the growth of young minds. Everyone loves summer break, and few things will make a teacher happier and more fulfilled than a student who was struggling finally having a realization.
Most young adults dream of making a massive positive impact on society, and what better way to change the course of the world than by playing a critical role in the education and formation of future generations?
An elementary teacher is not simply an educator – he or she will serve as an example. Students will begin to realize not only the foundation of all learning to follow (a big enough job already!), but also the idea of what is normal and appropriate behavior from their teacher – language, dress, etc. This power carries great responsibility for the educator but seeing positive development in the students can also be extremely rewarding.
Apart from social development there is the more obvious duty of providing students with a good education. Elementary learning is critical because it teaches the child the basics of learning and sets in place the groundwork on which the rest of their schooling must grow.
For example, a student with a poor foundation in the four basic functions of mathematics will struggle with all math to follow – algebra, geometry, etc. A student who reads poorly because he was not taught well while young is almost always going to work harder to master simple concepts in other classes; he may spend too much time simply reading directions and even a writing assignment or chapter reading will be a greater challenge to him than the average student.
Because of this, the information given by an elementary teacher is important because of its effect on the student while in grade school, high school, and beyond. While it is a great responsibility, the teacher has the power to positively impact their students by working hard to give them a foundation that can support the weight of higher learning.
Con: Working with upset parents/administrators
Every career worker can tell horror stories about their bosses, but teachers must face a notoriously tough crowd: school administrators and parents. Some parents and staff can be pleasant and easy to work with, but even the most kind and patient parent or faculty member is capable of jumping to conclusions or refusing to accept responsibility for their child’s behavior.
In fact, the more inexperienced the teacher is, the more likely that he or she will make a few mistakes that result in contact with parents. Teachers can also expect to receive phone calls and emails at any time. Clear and open communication can help to solve quite a few problems before they begin, but “to err is human”, and apologies (deserved or not) come with the territory.
Pro: Unique perspective on the world
One of the great joys of working with children is their worldview. Far from the jaded, pessimistic views of most adults, young people have fresh and entertaining outlooks which keep their teachers on their toes and provide entertaining and unusual stories. Elementary age students are very exuberant and eager. Above all, being surrounded by this constant wonder at the outside world helps the educators stay out of a stagnant mental state themselves.
Con: Low salary and long hours
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average teacher’s salary in the 2015-2016 school year was reported to be just over $58,000; a bit higher than the average nearly $56,000 median income for that year as released in a report from the United States Census Bureau. Along with their average pay, most teachers can expect to work longer than the ordinary white-collar worker. 9 to 5 workdays are the stuff of dreams for almost all educators.
The regular teacher will spend time on class preparation and grading when not in front of students, and these duties often will extend past the end of the school day. Other factors which increase hours are extracurricular duties – monitoring teams and clubs, after school tutoring for struggling students, classroom cleaning and decorating, and the inevitable calls with parents. While these may seem like trivial details, in reality they add up to create hours that easily explain why teachers are paid a salary rather than an hourly wage. According to a report from Scholastic, the average teacher logs over 10.5 hours a day before extracurricular assignments.
From a different perspective, the ratio of work to pay means that most educators are driven by selfless motives – teaching is hardly the career for gold-diggers. Instructors primarily look for student success in the classroom, on the field, and in the community. These two factors together lead to the discussion of whether teachers should be paid well above average, but for the present, potential teachers can expect a salary that is not exceptional on any range of the spectrum.
Pro: Student breakthroughs
Teachers who genuinely care for the success of their students will be excited when a student who struggled with a concept finally gets it. That “light bulb” moment is one of the most rewarding experiences of teaching, because it not only points to success in that one class, it also usually inspires the student to be excited about learning more about the subject in general. Many teachers even say that these breakthroughs are the reason that they keep teaching, and even more say that it is a reminder of why they began their work in the first place.
Con: Unmotivated students
For the same reasons that instructors are happy when a student has a realization, they are weighed down by poor performances. Some of the worst grades can come from the brightest students. This does not mean that all teachers will be unhappy because of bad grades – they are simply a sign of another problem: a lack of motivation, poor work ethics, or a willingness to settle. Teachers as a rule will become upset at wasted potential.
The issue is not with the grade alone – that can indicate either difficulty learning, (which can be resolved and is not itself the worst problem,) or difficulty applying to the work at hand. Identifying and resolving the issue is a struggle that takes hard work from both the teacher and student, and it can be devastating when a student chooses to retain their bad habits.
Pro: Summer Break
A definite advantage for teachers is summer break. For several months a year, they are able to relax, visit with family and take vacations, and generally enjoy more leisure time that most. Also, if a teacher has enough energy, he or she could earn extra income with their free time.
A portion of every summer is spent in planning future courses and preparing for the next school year, but definitely not 40 hours a week – not necessarily even every day. This makes sure that they are recovered from stress and exhaustion from the previous school year and rested and ready for the next schoolyear.
Related: Do Teachers Get Paid in the Summer?
Con: Exposure to sickness
Children by nature are usually both friendly and in close contact with their teachers, and germs. Normal days have some coughs and sneezes from different students, and the younger the grade, the closer to the teachers those sniffles come. Little ones especially have not always formed a habit of covering their mouths, and they have a pattern of telling someone that they don’t feel well from a very close distance.
On a positive note, new teachers will build immunity to many different colds and other bugs, but plan on stocking up on cough drops, tissues, and cold medicine the first year or two in a school setting.
Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons of Teaching Elementary School
If at the end of your evaluation, you are willing to work long and hard for the success of young people, then elementary teaching might be the career for you! Plan on being surrounded by enthusiastic, passionate kids who wear their hearts on their sleeves in good times and bad, working with other staff who are devoted to their occupation, and above all, making a difference.
There will be many hard days (and possibly tears), which are forgotten the second a student says you are his favorite, or even just gives you a smile. Other days will end questioning why you ever decided that teaching was a good fit for you. The majority however will come with a feeling of fulfilment, knowing that you are passing down the wisdom of the past and shaping the minds of tomorrow.
Above all, you will have the reward of watching small children develop from the potential of the future to adults who change the present.