Why teaching? Why now?

October 30, 2014

Today’s guest post comes from Daniel J. Quinn – a teacher, doctoral student, and executive director of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

As someone who is attempting to straddle the worlds of policy and classroom practice, I frequently encounter questions about the future of teaching. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of aspiring teacher candidates. During the conversation, the moderator asked a panel of teachers and teacher educators, Why teaching? Why now?  The questions were and still are challenging on many levels.

At this stage in my career, I often examine whether I would enter into the profession again.  But, knowing what I know now, with all that has changed in the last several years, why would anyone want to become a teacher?

I know that my career in teaching has been exceptionally rewarding and challenging.  In many positive ways, teaching has provided me with skills that transcend my classroom. Teaching is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life.  In short, I like being a teacher. But even with all the positives that come from teaching, Why teaching? Why now?

Declining Teacher Satisfaction

The most recently available results from the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher included results on teacher and principal job satisfaction.  One of the most alarming is that half (51%) of teachers reported feeling under great stress several days a week.  The results also showed that less satisfied teachers were more likely to be in schools with declining budgets and located in schools that had declines in professional development and time for collaboration with other teachers.

According to a recently updated paper by Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey (2014) “the teaching force has slowly but steadily become less stable in recent years.”  From their work, the most frequently cited reasons for turnover were: salaries, classroom resources, student misbehavior, accountability, opportunities for development, input into decision-making, and school leadership.

Turnover Challenges

Simon and Johnson (2013) suggested that efforts to recruit promising teachers to the profession would be negated by persistent teacher turnover in communities serving low-income students. Their work uncovered that turnover and repeated waves of new teachers create several problems for schools and communities: (1) high turnover schools employ a large number of novice teachers; (2) turnover creates unstable teaching assignments; (3) turnover hinders relationships between teachers, students, and families; and (4) turnover disrupts the social capital needed to support expanded leadership opportunities for teachers.

Simply put, turnover is a continuing problem. Somewhere, somehow, we need to refocus the conversation, and talk about creating environments where people want to become a teacher, and want to stay for their entire career.

So, Why Teaching, WhCartwright_Sarah_TE_Intern_001y Now?

The short answer is the profession needs high quality teachers. Kids in all schools in all neighborhoods need and deserve teachers who are committed to success, committed to communities, and committed to the kids they teach.  We need the next generation of educators to make the conscious decision to enter the teaching force and stay.

Schools in all neighborhoods – especially in high-poverty neighborhoods – need stable, caring, and smart teachers who are willing to become a part of the school and community. Teaching offers us an opportunity to make a difference, improve communities, and create spaces for learning options.

Before you answer the call to teaching, what would it take for you to become a teacher? How would you answer the questions: Why teaching? Why now?

Daniel J. Quinn- dquinn@greatlakescenter.org