The Pros and Cons of Teaching English

The Pros and Cons of Being an English Teacher

Teachers have always been underappreciated and underpaid. Whether you teach preschool or high school, chances are you spend overtime hours planning for your instructional time, yet you likely never get paid overtime. You probably have to purchase materials with your own money as well. Let’s not forget the increasing responsibilities that come with standardized testing, special education data, and after school clubs!

Now more than ever, teachers have a lot on their plate. The educational climate has rapidly changed and will likely keep changing. With all the stress that teachers face on a daily basis, why would anyone want to join the profession?

I became an English teacher because I love reading and writing, and I wanted to pass that knowledge and passion along to others. I never imagined just how complex the job could be! On top of the normal teacher responsibilities, English teachers must teach an almost overwhelming amount of content. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve compiled a list of “pros” and “cons” for being an English teacher. For teachers who teach other subjects, some of these may be surprising. So many life skills rely on the foundation that reading, writing, speaking and listening skills provide.

Summary – Pros and Cons of Teaching English

Here’s a quick summary list of some of the “pros” and “cons” of being an English teacher.

Pros Cons
Incredible opportunity to see your students grow and experience the world in new ways. Having to teach an endless list of subjects.
Getting to teach students how to look at problems or situations from multiple perspectives. Having to often teach boring and tedious topics like grammar and punctuation.
Getting to see students’ “lightbulb” moments and breakthroughs. Having to teach the “extra” stuff that doesn’t fit in other classes.
Being able to teach real-world analytical and problem-solving skills. Having to help students wade through “fake” news and evaluate online sources for reliability and credibility
Teaching English means  you are always learning yourself. Having to stay on top of all of the advanced reading that curriculums require.

 

Cons of Teaching English – The “Bad” and the “Ugly”

The Cons of Teaching English

Let’s do things a little backwards and talk about the “cons” of being an English teacher first. Teaching “English” is really like teaching an endless list of subjects. Depending on the grade level you teach, you might focus on American literature, British literature, or world literature. Since it’s unlikely that you’ve read everything in the world, you’ll probably have to do quite a bit of advanced reading to keep up with your curriculum.

But teaching reading skills is just one aspect of your instruction. There’s also grammar and composition to consider. Understanding grammar has never been a strength of mine. Of course I understand how to use the appropriate punctuation, but more advanced concepts like the different types of indefinite pronouns make my head spin. I also sometimes have a hard time explaining grammar in a way that’s engaging, probably because so much of it is so boring to me. Teaching how to write essays can be tedious or frustrating at times as well.

In addition to literature, grammar, and composition, you’re often called on to teach all of the “extra” stuff that doesn’t seem to fit in any other class. For example, English teachers are usually tasked with teaching test prep skills for state-mandated tests. If you teach high school seniors, you may also have to guide them through writing college admission essays, which are likely unlike any other essays you’ve taught before. I’ve also taught study skills and notetaking skills as part of my curriculum.

As students turn to the internet for both news and research, I’ve had to give lectures on how to spy fake news and evaluate online sources for credibility and reliability. Part of an English teacher’s job is to help their students assess the information that is being thrown at them on social media and 24/7 news culture. That can be a heavy burden to carry.

All of these facets of daily instruction also neglect the special classes you might have to teach, such as creative writing, journalism, or English as a Second Language. These are topics you’ll likely have to be certified in, or at least have some special knowledge in, if you want to teach them at all. Still, having experience with creative writing, publishing, or linguistics can be helpful in your everyday instruction as well.

Pros of Teaching English – The (Doing) Good

Pros of Teaching English

It all sounds overwhelming, and honestly it can be. However, I wouldn’t want to teach any other subject. Along with all of the complexities of English Language Arts lies the incredible opportunity to really see your students grow and experience the world in new ways.

Math teachers often teach a process a student must follow to get a correct answer. There’s usually always a “right” or “wrong” answer. There may be multiple ways to find that answer, but curriculums sometimes mandate which of those methods should be taught. English teachers, however, can teach their students to look at problems or situations from multiple perspectives. In fact, that’s really the basis of learning how to analyze literature using literary theory. Before a student can analyze literature on an advanced level, they must understand that the world is full of ambiguities. There is no “right” or “wrong” analysis as long as you can justify it with proof from the text.

It is English teachers who, along with Social Studies teachers, get to show students other parts of the world and other cultures they may not have experienced before. This exploration occurs through literature, of course, but it also happens through informational texts. Common core requirements have required teachers to include more nonfiction texts in the classroom. I get to introduce my students to historical events and time periods through primary source documents and foundational documents. I even occasionally share articles about scientific discoveries and math concepts, even ones that I don’t totally understand myself. The nature of my job means that I am also always learning!

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills infuse all other aspects of a student’s education. One of the most rewarding aspects of being an English teacher is when I get to see those “lightbulb” moments in my classroom. For example, a student finally understands a concept or realizes that they enjoy a particular type of writing or book. However, I’m very aware that those moments also happen in other classrooms, and that I am at least partially responsible for them. That student who finally has enough bravery to present in front of his history class? We’ve been practicing his speaking skills one-on-one for months. The student who no longer dominates a conversation, who carefully prepares what he is going to say before speaking? I’ve taught him how to consider other students’ perspectives. Students know how to format research essays in science class and summarize current events in social studies, because those are all things I’m required to teach them.

More importantly, those skills transfer to the real world, particularly in this time of “fake news” all over the internet. Analytical and problem-solving skills are invaluable in the 21st century and will be valuable forever.

Pros and Cons of Being an English Teacher – The Takeaway

Many teachers go into secondary education because they love the content area and they want to show young adults how awesome that subject can be. They yearn to see students embrace math, writing, or science in the same way they did when they were younger. Although sometimes a teacher gets lucky enough to mentor a student like that, it’s more likely that they’ll see a million smaller victories instead. I choose to see those victories as puzzle pieces. Together, those skills help build the young adults that will go on to become our future teachers, doctors, lawyers, and parents.

Despite its difficulties, teaching English Language Arts can be extremely rewarding. I haven’t even touched on the joy of teaching an English as a Second Language student how to read or write in English, or the amazement of watching your students express themselves creatively through words. However, it’s not a career you should pursue lightly. Many book lovers and writers feel much more content working by themselves, or fear public speaking. If your passion lies in writing or publishing, by all means pursue it. For me, neither one of those pursuits worked out. However, teaching English Language Arts became a way for me to continue my own writing practice while simultaneously teaching teens how to pursue their own passions. Despite the long hours and ever-changing educational environment, teaching has allowed me to continue my own educational pursuits even as I instruct others.

Recommended Reading


What Kind of Teachers Make the Most Money? – Find out if English teachers make the list!
NCTE.org – The National Council of Teachers of English.
Cambridge English Teaching English Resources – a great site for current and aspiring English teachers.
Teacher.org – Comprehensive resource on how to become an English teacher with state-by-state salary info and more.

Photo Credits: © @izzetugutmen, @insta_photos, @Jacob Lund   / Adobe Stock

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Crystalee Calderwood

Crystalee Calderwood is a high school English teacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, where she studied poetry and writing for children and teens. Now she spends most of her time writing and reading poetry with teens as an English and Creative Writing teacher at a local private school.

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