Five reasons you shouldn’t become a teacher

classroom[photo credit: Todd Binger]

Here’s a little change of pace for you all.  I suppose I’ve whined enough recently. If this post looks like whining, it really is not.  It is a well intended warning and cautionary tale that I don’t think is told often enough. Mostly.

Teachers change careers at a stunning rate—something like half of all teachers stop teaching within the first five years.  Considering that most new teachers in 2011 and 12 have master’s degrees, that’s a lot of wasted education and money for those individuals, and awfully bad news for education as a whole.

I went into teaching in 2009 with the idea that because I love English and loved working in the youth group, I would be able to cut it as a teacher. Two student teaching positions, lots of job searching, plenty of subbing, a half time job in a junior high and a (current) position as an adjunct teacher later, I realize how much more seriously I should have taken my decision.

The truth is I could just as easily make a “five reasons you should become a teacher” list. I could even make that “fifty reasons.” The point is not that teaching is a bad or unworthy profession (quite the contrary) but that young people who think they want to be teachers are not told often enough the reasons why they may need to consider their options more carefully.

Without further ado…

5 reasons you should not become a teacher.

1. You are going into teaching because you don’t know what else to do with your degree.

Really, seriously, worst reason ever.  And don’t you be tricked like I was into thinking that this idea just hadn’t dawned on you until graduation, and how silly of you, of course you were meant to be a teacher!  Some people do reach this realization and live happily ever after with it.  Just proceed cautiously—the epiphany will not be enough to sustain you. And you will figure out something to do with your English or history or sociology degree.  Chances are, it’s what you love and are afraid to do.

2. You just really like teaching.

Here’s a tricky one.  You absolutely must love teaching to be a teacher. But you cannot only love teaching. Because the reality is, you will spend a huge amount of time not teaching but writing (and losing) important lists, making copies, shuffling papers, holding your bladder, attending meetings, calling and emailing parents, repeating yourself to people (kids and adults) who didn’t listen the first time, etc. Teaching is filled with red tape, bureaucrats, and people who like to tell you how to do your job. Students often control their parents, who control school funding and therefore administrators, who control teachers.  Sometimes students think they just straight up control teachers without all those middle men. It is what it is. Yes, there are some exceptions—but mostly there are just exceptional, superhuman teachers who somehow deal with it all and continue to love teaching.  Make sure you’re one of those. If you are, God bless you.

3. You don’t know what it’s really like to work with students.

This does not mean you don’t like kids, or that you haven’t spent time around them.  Enjoying children (particularly older children and teenagers, who really are just fun to hang out with sometimes) is not the same thing as enjoying working with children. Until you have spent enough time volunteering in a classroom to know what working with children is really like, do not proceed.  I found out the hard way that mentoring kids in small groups in church is not even remotely like being in charge of a student’s grades, the way she occupies her time for an hour a day, and making sure she’s not being disruptive. You will be the uncool adult in charge. The disciplinarian. The bad guy who calls home. Which brings me to…

4. You care if people like you.

Teaching, like parenting, is best accomplished when you care deeply about your reputation as an educator, yet don’t give two shakes what people think about you. (Sound impossible?…No comment.) To be a decent teacher, you need a combination of teachability and unshakeable confidence. Teachability because you never will know everything. Unshakeable confidence because everyone and their mother (literally) will tell you you don’t know anything. You must be so sure of your calling that you are willing to juggle being disliked by kids, parents, other teachers, and administrators all at once.  I promise all four will not like you at the same time.

5. You aren’t sure you are sure you are sure you want to be one.

As I mentioned above, teaching is a calling. Not one, generally, that you decide upon last minute. Not one influenced by not knowing what else to do. Not one that sneaks up on you.  Many of the most talented teachers I know have always known they want to be teachers. Some decide later in their educations, but have gotten their feet wet somehow in teaching (usually through volunteering or a class in undergrad) and can say with certainty that they are prepared to experience the joys of teaching amidst the struggles.

In conclusion, I have learned that I am just not as cut out to be a teacher as I thought I was. I’m not a bad teacher, and my “success” has made this realization even more confusing. Truthfully, it’s been a painful (and expensive) realization, and since coming to it, every time I talk to teacher friends I see how obvious their passion is and how obviously lacking it is in me. The way they are able to deal with the things that bother me with so much more grace and perspective, because the end goal, the absolute joy of teaching, is their single passion.  And they find it, against all odds.

I hope you find that passion in yourself, whether or not you end up becoming a teacher.

Meanwhile, I’ll panic about lesson plans and get excited to write about medical software. I can’t explain it, either.

Any questions or comments on what I’ve addressed here can be directed to my email (contact page) or left in comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  • Ms. Reverie

    I am also a teacher (elementary), but right now in my 3rd year of substitute teaching. I would add to your list #6 Even if you are passionate and would make a great teacher, there will no jobs for you. You will fill out 50 applications and not even make it to the interview process. You will be left to become a substitute teacher, which is life sucking, because you will not be able to build the relationships with kids, which is your favorite part about teaching. You won’t even get to sub for elementary, you will be mainly at the high school, doing what you completely did not sign up for!! I wish I’d gone into business.

    • Brynna Lynea King

      Thanks so much for commenting. And…yikes. Yes, I agree. Some of the most talented teachers in my program are out of work still and subbing full time or close. Others subbed for a while but have given up and gone back to the jobs they hated before they decided to get their M.A.’s. Still others are sticking out temporary and part-time contracts with little incentive to excel.

      This problem is so far-reaching, and I honestly don’t know the solution. But for as cynical as we sound, it makes me equally upset that so many teacher programs and communities push graduates into teaching knowing there is so much frustration and so little opportunity.

  • Tom Giardino

    Can I add my own #6?
    You should not become a teacher unless you are willing to teach any kids, anywhere. Reading that last comment broke my heart… there are a half-dozen teaching vacancies in my town right now. There’s an incredible teaching shortage in America, but you won’t find it it in a pleasant suburb or a charming metropolis.

    At my poor, rural school district in Mississippi, at least 5 teachers have been hired who are from India. Many of them have a less-than-functional command of the English language. I love them and respect them, but they would not be considered qualified to answer the phones at a school in Portland or Spokane or Seattle. And they are literally the best option we have, because so few people apply to teach in poor rural districts.

    • Brynna Lynea King

      Absolutely true, Tom. I guess because relocating isn’t an option for me (Eric’s job is in Portland and we’ll be here for a while), I didn’t factor that aspect into my personal equation and thus didn’t include it here—but I’m so glad you brought it up for other people to consider. Thank you.

  • Tom Giardino

    **Disclaimer: that last #6 was written by a Marketing major. We need business majors to go into teaching, not the other way ’round.