I recently found myself in conversation with a student enrolled in Calumet College of St. Joseph’s transition-to-teaching program. Like her fellow candidates, she had decided to leave one profession to pursue that “other path not taken.” I was greatly impressed by her dedication and enthusiasm.
It’s easy to make the case, however, that this kind of career change doesn’t make sense. The teaching profession is under considerable pressure as our nation looks for a quick and easy path back to economic vitality.
Indeed, it’s all too easy for public officials to pin the blame for our difficulties on teachers, hence the growing call for more rigorous accountability standards, even when they don’t make a lick of sense.
As a result, job satisfaction among teachers has fallen by 15 percent over the course of the last four years. And the number of teachers exploring alternative careers has jumped from 17 to 29 percent.
Teacher pay might be a contributing factor as well. Over the course of the last 30 years, teacher pay has fall 11.5 percent relative to other professions that require comparable knowledge and skill sets.
Nevertheless, mid-career professionals continue to enroll in education programs. Why teaching? In fact, my recent conversation mirrors many other such conversations.
Our adult students – some of whom have been phenomenally successful in other careers – are looking, for the most part, not for an easy career, but for one that holds the potential to add meaning to their lives. They want to make a difference.
It’s amazing when you think about it. We exercise great care in selecting a financial advisor, a veterinarian or a hair stylist. We don’t trust our money, our pets or our good looks to just anyone. And yet our children are so much more important than any of these other concerns.
Teachers make a profound difference in the lives of their students, and the very best of them experience great meaning in doing so.
Tony Bennett, a former superintendent of Indiana’s Department of Education and a leading voice among those who promote the “de-skilling” of the teaching profession, once told a group of educators, “We don’t need teachers who love children; they just need to know content.” The audience was astounded.
In fact, we need teachers who understand the subject matter they teach, teachers who how to teach, and teachers who love children so much that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help a child succeed, teachers whose own sense of themselves is intensely wrapped up in the lives of their students.
So here’s a thought. If you owe your success to a teacher, let him or her know it. And if you’ve thought about that “other path not taken,” please know there is always room for another dedicated teacher.
In fact, there is an emerging need. Some 30 percent of our K-12 teachers are now eligible to retire. It’s never too late to make a difference.