Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, teaching was a highly challenging career choice. Yet, every year thousands of new teachers enter the profession, embracing both the rewards and challenges that come with it. Here are just some of the reasons why teaching can be both rewarding and challenging.
Reward: Watching Students Grow and Learn
By far one of the greatest rewards to teaching is watching your students grow and learn. After all, that’s the reason why most of us took this job! “Lightbulb moments,” where students suddenly “get” something they’ve been working on for a period of time, make teachers feel like their hard work was all worth it.
Educators also cite seeing their students grow socially and emotionally as a benefit of teaching. Teachers help build self-esteem! Sometimes that comes from encouraging students to succeed at a new skill; other times, it might come from guiding them toward a career path or what university to apply to. Whether you’re a kindergarten teacher or a high school teacher, there’s always moments where you can be your students’ greatest cheerleader.
Challenge: Mounds of Paperwork
New teachers mistakenly think that most of their time will be spent working with students. However, a large percentage of a teacher’s time involves grading worksheets and essays, collecting data for IEPs, tracking student growth, etc. Your amount of paperwork may vary depending on if you’re employed at a public or private school.
At the very minimum, you’re expected to write lesson plans, grade assignments, and keep track of your students’ progress. You may also have to differentiate work for students and adapt work for online learners. Many teachers simply feel they don’t have enough time in the day to deal with paperwork.
Reward: Every Day is Different!
Teachers truly never know what each day is going to bring. A teacher will never get bored when they create fun, creative, and interactive learning activities that allow their students to express themselves.
Plus, we all know that kids can be unpredictable! Younger students can keep you busy with jokes and antics. You never know what they’re going to do or say. Older students can also keep you on your toes. These memories are the ones that keep teachers getting up each day and going back to work, even when times are tough.
School hours are usually action-packed with these treasured interactions, which is another reason why teachers often feel there’s not enough time to get mandatory tasks done.
Challenge: Long Hours
School may be in session 6-7 hours a day, but teachers often work overtime to finish lesson plans, grade essays, and create activities for their students. Some of the aforementioned paperwork is completed after hours. Because teachers usually get a salary, much of this work is done on their own time, uncompensated.
Other teachers take on sponsoring a club or coaching a sport, adding to their daily workload and the number of hours they spend interacting with students.
Some teachers find it hard to create a work-life balance because of these long work hours. It’s not uncommon to hear about teachers staying at school until 6 or 7pm, missing precious time with their families, or even prepping on weekends instead of relaxing.
Reward: Influencing Your Own Work Culture
Most workers come into an already-established work culture and hope they’re a fit. Educators, however, get to influence their own work environment and, to a certain extent, the culture of that environment. In the classroom, you get to set the rules and expectations everyone follows. You also get to set the tone you and your students work under. If you want to create a positive and friendly work environment, you have the freedom to do so.
There’s also nothing better than a teacher friend who you can commiserate with when times are rough or celebrate with when things are great! Teachers within the same school can support each other in ways that others may not. After all, you’re sharing experiences that others are not privy to. Although some teachers in your building may not welcome you into their fold, you have the unique opportunity to create a culture of collaboration among those who will.
Challenge: Learning is Not One-Size-Fits-All
Learning is not one-size-fits-all, but curriculums are. Educators are often expected to teach the same curriculum in the same way to every student. Scripted curriculums, or the expectation that each class will be on the same page every day, leave very little room for creativity. Add to that “teaching to the test” and there’s hardly any wiggle room at all.
If a teacher does have freedom to differentiate instruction, it often takes even more of their precious planning time to create the appropriate activities. Once again, it all comes down to not having enough hours in the day.
Reward: Student Appreciation
There’s nothing like a handwritten note from a graduating senior or a fun drawing from a first grader when it comes to feeling appreciated. Even when parents seem aggressive and administrators seem like they’re breathing down your neck, these small acts of heartfelt gratitude can keep you going on the roughest day.
Teachers should look back at these treasures in the future and remember why they do what they do– the kids!
Challenge: Low Pay
Most teachers will tell you they aren’t in it for the big bucks. They may only work 9-10 months out of the year, but that means their salary gets divided up into twelve chunks. Some private school teachers don’t get paid in the summer at all! Factor in all of that unpaid overtime for prep work and grading, and their equivalent hourly wage can be much lower than they deserve. Also, some teachers pay for classroom supplies out-of-pocket because their school districts don’t have enough funding.
Many teachers take on side gigs or additional jobs in the summer just to make ends meet. In addition to private tutoring, some teachers have found success with freelance writing, direct sales, or retail jobs. These jobs may cut into their precious free time, but teachers continue to teach despite the low pay because they love what they do.
If you are interested, be sure to check out our article on the teacher jobs that pay the most.
Reward: Becoming a Lifelong Learner
Teachers must always be students. As a teacher, you’re usually required to take classes to keep your certification and stay up to date on teaching methods. A large number of educators enjoy learning new things in addition to passing on their already-existing knowledge. For example, Social Studies teachers have a responsibility to stay up-to-date on current events; many English teachers will tell you that they read as much as possible in their spare time, and they read anything and everything they can get their hands on. Their love of learning is one of the reasons why they became teachers in the first place. Teaching is the one profession where it’s a job requirement to keep learning!
Challenge: Communicating with Parents and Societal Disrespect
For some teachers, communicating with parents can be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Some parents are notoriously difficult to get a hold of, or simply not receptive to hearing anything they may perceive as “negative” about their children. There’s always that parent you dread emailing because you never know how they’re going to reply. It takes confidence to deal with parents. Some introverted educators love working with kids, but feel stressed in social situations or when talking to adults around their same age.
Unfortunately, not everyone realizes the challenges that teachers face or respects the profession to the level you might expect. At times, it may be difficult to face the fact that you put so much energy into teaching but receive very little recognition from your friends, family, and even sometimes your students’ parents.
Like any other job, teaching has its pros and cons. However, teachers who stay with the profession for any period of time will tell you the pros greatly outweigh the cons. Creating a safe, supportive environment in which your students can succeed, seeing them thrive, and the other intrinsic rewards that come with the job are far more gratifying than any amount of money. To veteran teachers: As we head into a very challenging school year, remember to look back on what you’ve learned so far in your career and keep those intrinsic rewards in focus. And to those of you new to teaching, keep in mind that this has always been a challenging profession. The best teachers are able to adapt and change on the fly, and this year will be no different.
Header image licensed from Adobe Stock / © AntonioDiaz.