So You Want to Be a Teacher

What to Have in Mind

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I remember my senior year. That was the moment of big decisions. Many of those decisions are simple memories, but the one choice that changed my life was selecting my career.

My dad, a physician, was thrilled when I told him I did not want to follow in his footsteps. On the other hand, my mom, a physician as well, was ready to disown me. I was decided to become a teacher regardless of the challenges I could face for disappointing some relatives. 

Dad thought being a teacher would be so much easier than being a doctor. He passed away when I was in my first year of teaching. I don't think he ever imagined that a teacher cares, heals, and loves like a doctor. Teachers, like doctors, are on duty 24/7. I always wonder what he would say if he could see me taking night shifts, not on E.R., but completing paperwork. Did he ever imagine that teachers also work overtime & suffer from job-related stress?

Mom was convinced I would starve to death with my salary. She has witnessed the effort, the growth, and (although she would never accept it) she has realized that teachers' compensations go beyond the digits in our paystub. Sure I'd love to own a car or to take my kids to Disney World, however, there is food on our table, running water, clothes and a roof over our heads. Did she ever imagine that teachers can be very happy with very little?

Family Pressure

Middle school students are now prepared to resist peer pressure. It is a very common term and awareness on this matter has increased. Yet, are you ready for family pressure as an adult?

"Why don't you ask for a raise?" "Have you thought about a career change?" "Do other teachers stay as late as you do?" "Why do you spend so much money in  your class?" "Will you ever be promoted?"

Most relatives might be truly concerned and all those questions might have very good intentions. The reality is that some opinions, advice, and inquiries might be uncomfortable and even discouraging. 

It is natural to hesitate in life. Listen, reflect, but always make your own decisions. If you are committed to becoming a teacher and remaining a teacher, be ready to resist family pressure. Here are some phrases you might want to use:

  • "Thank you. I'll think about it."
  • "That is a very good point. I will keep it in mind."
  • "Not everyone stays late. Others come early."
  • "I don't spend money. I invest in my students' future." 
  • "I enjoy what I do, thank you.
  • "Teaching is about the outcome, not the income."
  • "I am promoted every year. Sometimes my students promote me to second mom, counselor, best teacher ever, etc."  
Because family is our first and most important caring circle, it is natural to be concerned about disappointing a family member. However, the families with strongest bonds are those where it's okay to be different. Your career does not make you a better or worse nephew, aunt, or sibling.  

Adaptability

Being a teacher requires a wide range of talents and skills. Some abilities like being a good reader or a passionate learner are required. Others such as being a gifted artist or tech-savvy are preferred but not essential. 

After more than a decade in this career, two countries, seven schools, two languages, ten grade-levels, and more than one hundred former students, I can tell that the best qualification for a teacher is adaptability.

Not only will you adapt to new students, new colleagues, new curriculum, new trends, new approaches but also every day you will face unpredictable moments that will lead to a decision-making point in which, of course, you will very likely need to adapt.

"Sometimes the one thing your students need the most has nothing to do with what's on your lesson plans." -Unknown 

Now, there is a fine line between being flexible and being underprepared. You need to know where you want to guide your students and must have the resources ready before class. It is how you get there that you need to be flexible about. One school year you might have a very extroverted class and the next one you might have to forget about school plays. 

When it comes to curriculum, be flexible too. All publishers have great ideas, every teaching method has its strengths, and each one conference and workshop you attend will enrich your practice. Listen, reflect, and always be willing to incorporate new protocols to your baggage of knowledge. Stick to your school's norms without losing your essence. 

Living on a Budget

For many reasons, that I could address in a different Vocal, teaching has become an underrated, undervalued and underpaid job. Is it so bad, though? 

We are a family of four. In my native land, both of us had full-time jobs. With two salaries we rented a nice big house, we paid for a car, we had enough food, and could take our kids out every other weekend. Unfortunately, the workload plus the house chores were driving both of us crazy! In America, I am the only source of income. My teacher salary allows us to live in a pretty apartment, we use public transportation, we have enough food, and we take our kids out every other weekend. Fortunately, when I get home, dinner is ready and house chores are taken care of!

Money is still tight, and we don't have solid savings... yet. For the past 17 months, we have been using a spreadsheet to adjust our budget. We consider all the house expenses and there's even a row for classroom needs. 

I don't see living on a budget as something negative anymore. Instead of feeling pity for ourselves, I feel proud for:

  • Contributing to less polluted air by using public transportation.
  • Eating healthier by consuming home-made food.
  • Raising imaginative kids by limiting the number of toys.
  • Repurposing used furniture.
Real happiness is not proportional to the amount of money you earn.

Right Reasons

Make sure you want to become a teacher for the right reasons. 

No, you will not get paid for a two-month break. No, you don't know it all now and you never will. No, you won't need a second job to pay for your teaching job. No, not all the answers are online. 

Yes, you will hold hands. Yes, you will give advice. Yes, you will dry some tears. Yes, you will get attached. Yes, you will change lives.

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