Should You Become a Teacher? 8 Questions to Ask Before You Commit
By Catherine Dorian – former English Teacher, Brattleboro Union High School and Fort Benton Middle/High School
August 24, 2021
Maybe you have fond memories in the elementary library or the high school hallways, and maybe you get giddy when you think about back-to-school season, shopping for a new backpack and pencils and all. Maybe you were the type that didn’t like school, and you want to become a teacher so you can help students who are less engaged in learning and who need a little extra help.
Chances are, you remember well what it was like to be a student and perhaps you want to recreate some of those magical experiences for future generations. Now you’ve come to the place where you’re asking yourself the big questions – “Should I become a teacher?” … “Do I really want to be a teacher?” … and the all-important, “Would I be a good teacher?”
Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, albeit one of the most misunderstood. If you’re wrestling with these questions and not sure how to know if you should become a teacher or not, it’s a wise idea to start by asking yourself some soul-searching questions to get started.
The decision to become a teacher isn’t one you’re going to make lightly. It’s worth taking plenty of time and putting a lot of careful consideration into figuring it out. We can’t tell you if you’re cut out for the job, but we can help you figure out for yourself how to know if teaching is for you.
1 – Am I Trustworthy?
We all know that teaching is important because you’re preparing people who will one day be the leaders, voters, and innovators of the world. So how do you tell if you should be a teacher in the first place? Every day, teachers are trusted with the learning and well-being of the young and the vulnerable. You should become a teacher if you are someone who, in the face of such an important and influential task, is worthy of such trust and can give the job the attention and dedication that it deserves.
Teachers serve many people and step into many roles throughout the year. Students, their families, your colleagues, your administrators, and the general public will trust you to make decisions every day that impact others. Before each school year, and even before your first day on the job, you’ll decide how you want to set the expectations for students for the year. You’ll decide what classroom norms you’ll establish, and you’ll routinely create the environment that supports learning. You’ll correct behavior when necessary, and you’ll want to do so in a way that keeps all students engaged with the learning and that does not damage their relationship with school. You’ll decide how to present the content, how to engage students in activities, assess them for their learning, and sequence your units. Every day, you will decide when and how to adjust your teaching, and you’ll have to quickly develop the confidence that you are making the right decision and the wisdom to reflect on how you may have done a situation differently.
Good teachers are respected, both in the classroom and in the community they’re teaching in. You may be asking, “Should I be a teacher?” but also, ask yourself, “Would I be a good teacher?” Being a good teacher means imparting on all of your stakeholders—the most important ones being your students—that you are someone who can make the right decisions, learn from mistakes, and continuously improve your practice. To be a good teacher, you should be someone who is dependable and has integrity.
2 – Do I Have the Right Attitude?
As a teacher, you’re making decisions all day, every day. Do you drop what you’re doing to correct a student’s behavior, or do you choose to ignore it instead? How do you greet students at the door each day? How do you react when the typically bubbly Jessica looks like she’s about to cry, or when James, who you suspect is experiencing some challenges at home, once again confesses that he hasn’t done his homework?
Throughout the day, the week, the year, you’ll experience both routine and sporadic challenges, and your students and the school in general will rely on you to have a “can-do” attitude. That child who just isn’t grasping how to write an introductory paragraph? Your job is to engage and to teach all students, and their parents, other teachers, school counselor, and administration will expect you to find a way. You may sense some tension between a group of kids after they come in from recess. Be ready to pivot your lesson accordingly. One of your fantastically fantastic lessons fell short; students aren’t engaged or understanding the material, but you still have to meet the objective by the end of the class period. Can you think on the fly? There will be times when you feel discouraged and unsure. There also won’t be much time for waiting for someone to help you; you’ll have students in front of you, and you—no one else—will be responsible for their wellbeing.
In March of 2020, when we transitioned to teaching online, we needed to provide reassurance and structure for our students, while finding ways to engage students in remote learning. In recent decades, teachers have become not just instructors, but protectors and directors, as we hold drills for emergencies and school shootings. There are still many unknowns about the future, and you’ll need to be OK with your job being more than simply an educator. You’ll be asked to wear many hats and embracing each of your roles will be essential for student buy-in and to gain the trust of your supervisors.
Like any job, there is of course room to become frustrated, and you will have colleagues you can vent to if you’re having an off day. But for the most part, you’ll need to find excitement in generating new solutions.
3 – Am I Organized and Disciplined?
When you show up to school each day, you’ll most likely have a set schedule, whether in forty-five minute periods, 80-minute blocks, or at least some structure around when your students have recess or lunchtime. But how you run your lessons will be up to you, and while this allows for some flexibility, you’ll need to have a plan if you want your teaching to be successful. To maximize student learning time, you’ll want your materials prepared the day before the lesson. At the end of each day, you’ll want to be timely about grading formative assessments, and you’ll want to keep accurate records of your students’ learning. Doing so requires that you get organized and stay organized. If you’re taking on a more personalized, project-based approach to teaching, you’ll still have to be deliberate about how you sequence activities for your students to complete and how you structure the projects with them. Students are relying on you to be their manager, so you need to be someone who can manage themselves.
4 – Am I Flexible Enough to Toss All the Plans Out the Window and Adapt on the Fly?
Whenever people used to ask me about the teacher workload, I always used to say that as a teacher, you have to be a quirky combination of organized, but adaptable. Teaching is for you if you can keep a color-coded planner with your daily tasks, habits, routines, and goals; teaching is also for you if you are comfortable letting the game plan change.
As a teacher, you’ll be working all day with humans, and those humans are, like all humans, delightfully complex—they’ll have off days, different moods, different needs, and different interests. As many students as you’ll have in one room, you’ll have as many ways to teach a lesson and as many potential ways that things may or may not go to plan. You may have a whole week planned out, only to discover that you have an even better idea for your lesson halfway through. You may set a due date for a project, then realize that it’s unreasonable and your students need more time. You may be sure that your way of explaining a concept or modeling a skill is going to effectively reach your students, but a formative assessment could demonstrate otherwise. Be sure that you’re the type that can re-sequence a week’s worth of lessons and decide what content is most relevant for student learning.
Part of being a good teacher is being thoughtful and purposeful; part of being a great teacher is being adaptable. You’ll always want to have a plan for your students, but you’ll need to be open to changing that plan, and to having fun in the process (hence, what we talked about earlier with attitude).
5 – Am I OK with the Salary?
There are many personal and professional benefits to becoming a teacher. You may have all the qualities that put you on the path to becoming a good teacher, and of course, you know that you’re not pursuing the career for the money. But salary, benefits, time off, and overall quality of life are important considerations when choosing a profession.
Considering all of these things, is it worth it to become a teacher? The truth is that teaching salaries and benefits depend on where you live, and only you can decide if the salary is going to give you the life that you want. In most public school districts, your salary will depend on years of experience and education level, and not necessarily on the number of hours you’re putting in to the teaching job. Are you willing to go on and earn additional degrees throughout your career? And are you willing to take on new roles, like coaching or advising, so that you can increase your pay? Many districts will offer you a pension plan. Are you prepared to commit to teaching for a set period of time, so that you earn your retirement? Are you flexible about where you want to live and teach? Depending on a few factors like where you live, how much you spend on your bachelor’s degree, and how much you’re willing to invest in more education throughout your career, teaching can be both a personally rewarding and financially sensical choice.
To decide if you want to become a teacher, you’ll need to weigh the monetary benefits and drawbacks. If you feel that you can work well on a set, yearly salary, pending your union’s negotiations, your school’s budget, and occasionally, the politics in your district or state, you will be able to navigate the financial aspect of the profession. If you feel that the salary can provide a life for you and your family that is desirable and brings you security and happiness, then you can make the pay work for you and your lifestyle. Earning additional credentials will be essential for maximizing your pay—not to mention, improving your practice. Are you willing to put in the extra hours to do so? Ask yourself these questions and figure out if you can make teaching work for the life you want for you and your future.
6 – Am I a Giver?
Teaching is a profession of sacrifice. Some educational theorists and consultants may see this differently, but throughout my time in the public school system, I always held this mantra to be true: as the teacher, I am the least important person in the room.
I was a high school English teacher for five years, and routinely, I’d get students who claimed that they “just didn’t enjoy reading” or that they “couldn’t write.” It was my job to find a way to reach them by speaking to their interests, giving them motivation to write, and finding new ways of presenting the material. You may have a lesson that you find intriguing and fun, but it won’t engage every student—and you need to be OK with finding new ways to engage those students who may already have biases or preconceived notions about your content. Demonstrating passion about your subject is key, but that doesn’t mean that students will automatically mirror your excitement; you’ll have to learn about your students and give them your time and energy so that you can achieve the desired outcome.
You’ll also find that you will give your time, your mental energy, and your attention to your students and to teaching. In the evenings, you’ll still be thinking about your lessons as you scan Netflix for a documentary, and when you land on one that connects to the World War II unit that you’re about to start, you may get whisked away to your laptop, where you’ll quickly type some notes. In the morning, as you’re getting ready for your day, you may remember that one of your students seemed to be bothered by something yesterday, and you’ll make it a point to see if everything is OK with her today. On a Friday afternoon, on your drive home from work, you may hear of a news story that connects to that scene from Macbeth that you’re teaching your tenth graders, and you may mentally restructure your lessons for next week as a result.
If you’re deciding whether you should become a teacher, be prepared to enter a profession that will enter your life and make some demands on your time. Giving yourself to your students and to your practice becomes an integral part of your job and life. What you’ll want to know before becoming a teacher is whether or not you’re someone who can and will be generous with yourself and with your time.
7 – Do I Love to Learn?
Jobs become lifelong careers when they continue to challenge you, motivate you, and provide you with the fulfilment and stimulation to keep things new and interesting. Is teaching a good career? Moreover, is teaching a good career for you?
Being an educator is a good career if you’re the type of person who loves to learn. Each year, you’ll have a new set of students to engage and you’ll have to be the type of person who is genuinely interested in learning about and getting to know your new students. Even if your content standards and course load remain the same, there will always be new ways that you can captivate your students in relevant material and new applications of the skills that you’re teaching. As a professional, you may take additional courses and workshops so that you can renew your license.
If you want to make teaching your career, you can become involved in professional affiliations, such as the National Educator’s Association (NEA) or in a membership that is specifically related to your content area. You’ll share your curriculum, research, and/or articles about your teaching practices in local or even national publications. You’ll be someone who pursues more and more knowledge and ideas each and every year.
Teaching can be a fulfilling, challenging career that nourishes your desire to learn and grow. Teaching can be a fulfilling, challenging career that nourishes your desire to learn and grow. Even if you choose not to participate in the professional realm, your students will continue to teach you new ideas and to present you with new challenges each year. Even after getting many years of experience under your belt, you’ll still have an infinite number of puzzles to solve, and you’ll embrace such challenges as learning opportunities.
8 – The Best Way to Know if You Will Love to Teach is to Ask Yourself: “Why Do I Love to Learn?”
There are many things to know before becoming a teacher. But one of the most important things that you should know is your why. As covered above, learning is an integral component of teaching. So why do you love to learn? Why do you want to be in an environment that demands learning, and why do you want to be in an environment that fosters exploration of new ideas?
For me, knowing my why was necessary for knowing how to run my classroom. I knew that I loved the satisfaction that came with learning. I loved that moment when I understood something new or thought of something in a new way or was able to put a new skill into practice. Learning feels transformational for me, and I wanted my students to feel the same. Then, if I was planning a lesson or figuring out what I wanted to change from year-to-year, I could ask myself if the lesson or the change to my students’ learning would fulfill my why.
When COVID hit and I had to streamline my curriculum, I could come back to my why and figure out how to best serve my students and myself. In the days or weeks when things were busy and I was feeling tired, or if a challenging day had me second-guessing, I could re-engage with the profession and re-energize my spirit by remembering why I love to learn.
If you know your why, you can persevere through the obstacles that will inevitably come with being an educator. If you know your why, you’ll identify yourself as a learner, which will bring you more insight into who you are as a teacher.
Still interested? Learn more about how to become a teacher.