Should I teach science? Should I teach anything?
July 31, 2011 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Should I become a high school science teacher? Lots of background info.

I'm 28 and about halfway through a bachelors degree. In what? I don't know, that's why I'm only halfway through. I've changed majors more often than I change my oil, as you could see by my askme history.

I've also had a lot of jobs (25ish) and have never really liked any of them except one, working at a group home for teenage boys. I was good at it, good with the kids; but I got burned out and felt used by the agency so I quit. I'm not one of those people who thinks you have to follow your passion and love your job, but more often than not I'm just plain miserable at work. I have a hard time excelling at things I'm not invested in.

So I find myself close to 30, stalled with my education, and working another job I have a hard time motivating myself to do. I have often thought of being a teacher but usually told myself it was a foolish choice. Too hard and too little pay. Now I'm second guessing that. Hating your job is hard, and the pay, well, I make a damn sight less than the average starting teacher salary.

These are the issues that currently give me pause. 1) My previous burnout at the group home. I was young, just about 22, and they were violent and sexual offenders, but it still makes me wonder if the same outcome wouldn't happen with teaching. 2) I'm not naturally inclined toward hard science, but I know that's where the jobs are. The education degree would be with a focus on Earth and space science, and I enjoy those topics in an armchair fashion, but I don't naturally excel at them. If I picked on instinct it would be social studies.

If I do go ahead with it and I hate teaching, corporate training is always a viable exit strategy, so I don't feel like an education degree is make or break. My other option right now would be to continue working whatever job comes along and possibly seek out a two year program in something else I find interesting. My other very unrelated choice is currently becoming a physical therapy assistant. I've been through PT and think it would be rewarding, though obviously more physically demanding and limiting in terms of a career.

Input from all teachers and anyone who has made similar choices is greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading this far.
posted by Roman Graves to Work & Money (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in education, my wife is in education, my ex-wife is in education, most the people I know are in education...and NONE of them would recommend going into teaching at this point in time.

You will be in a profession that has become the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with our culture.
posted by tomswift at 2:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Spend a few days in a high school. Disabuse yourself of your rosy decade-old memory of what high school is like. I'll bet 10:1 you come to realize that the issue is not that the violent offenders were uniquely thuggish, but rather that randomly-selected cross-sections of immature people are always thuggish.
posted by foursentences at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

As someone who dropped out of a teaching program for physical and logistical reasons and has friends who teach, I'd advise you to seek out teachers in your area to find out what the local environment is like. Where I live, openings even in the sciences are very hard to come by. Motivation is a BIG factor in teaching: my successful classmates were the ones who really wanted to teach from day one. Given the tone of your post, I'd be very cautious about this.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of people go into teaching as a last resort, my girlfriend considered it, but thankfully realised she hates kids. In my opinion, you should only follow the route of teaching if you really believe it is what you want to do. If you love transferring and imparting knowledge then dealing with the bad kids will be worth it. The students will know that you care and everyone will be better off for it.

If your heart is not in teaching, then please direct your life somewhere else. Teaching is a very important job and our teachers shape the future of society.
posted by adventureloop at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

Talk to your school and find out what the path to teacher certification is. It could mean you have to start over pretty much. I had earned a BA in history, went to grad school for history, and decided to try my hand at teaching. It was a trip back to my sophomore year of undergrad to complete all the required corses for certification. You could be 31 by the time you are done student teaching and ready to start your MA. Are you prepared for all of that additional school work? If so, are you prepared to not find a job for two years, move hundreds of miles for a job, and have a degree that doesn't easily fit into other professions? Because while corporate training sounds like a good move you will need corporate experience and training to do it and it doesn't sound like you have those. There are thousands of kids with BBA's who will be better qualified.

Also talk to your school and see if you can shadow a teacher for a week. As students, we see our teachers in the classroom and think that is teaching, when it is a fraction of what new teachers do. Lesson plans, preparing material, and other things will take up a lot of time.

Finally, I would suggest talking to your school's career councilor. There are ways to help kids and opportunities to explore those jobs before committing to a degree you may regret.

Best of luck.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go for it.

You've got a history of changing your mind--and you probably will in the future. Nothing wrong with that (there are many people who should change their minds more often!).

You've got everything to gain by having a goal you're moving towards and everything to loose by not moving towards anything. Chances are that even if teaching isn't where you end up--moving towards this goal will help flesh out any better options.

[and I whole heartedly disagree with a bunch of the stuff people above me are saying]
posted by Murray M at 2:16 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

The world already has enough teachers who only have a so-so interest/excellence in their subject area, and it sounds like you'd be heading towards being another one. No matter what the current hiring outlook is (largely terrible all over), you should at least be pursuing teaching something you really love and know inside-out.

However, don't worry too much about a lot of the scare stories. Most schools really aren't that bad, and intelligent adults who can empathize with teenagers can sort most of it out.

In many states, a preliminary certification can be had with a Bachelor's in the subject area and passing some standardized tests (PRAXIS or state-specific). It's mostly a matter of paying some fees and you can at least get yourself certified or on the path to being certified without having to make up your mind yet or change your course of study.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:17 PM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: I'm a science teacher and I wouldn't recommend going into education unless you are passionate about your content, value intrinsic rewards, and you're very self-motivated (teaching can be isolating... though there has been a trend that schools require teachers to follow a set curriculum so it can be demotivating to have your professional opinion disregarded to just basically follow a book).

Based on this info and previous questions, maybe it is in your best interest to pursue an education degree if just because it will get you closer to finding out what your passion is. If you don't know what you want right now, head towards what you think you want and continue to modify plans until you're happy.

That said, I'm a science teacher. It used to be that math and science teachers were generally in high demand but now there is intense competition for each position and schools can be very, very picky - many will expect a master's degree (not always, though). For one position at my lil' rural school we had dozens of applicants. We picked 8 to interview. All of them had excellent grades in their science courses and had a varied enough background that they could certify not just in the position we advertised but pick up other electives (so physical science teachers might also have an anatomy course). We interviewed brand new teachers who had amazing reviews from their cooperating teachers and we had one that was a National Board Certified teacher and one with a doctorate in the subject area. Competition is fierce right now all over.

Basically, I don't know if you should become a high school teacher (and I don't know easy it will be for you to find a position) but there is nothing wrong with pursuing it if you have no idea what else to do - at least it will get you exposure so you can answer your own question. I second the opinion that you should shadow a teacher when school starts again (your uni may even have a "September Experience" program that requires you to) Pee when they can find time to pee, stand when they stand, ask them about time for planning and grading, etc. Find a newer teacher so you can get an idea what the next few years of your life would be like (I would go through basic training again than through my first year of teaching).

I will warn you that if you had a hard time doing nursing (from your last question) b/c of stress and personal involvement, you may have a hard time with teaching. If you have more questions, I'm happy to answer.
posted by adorap0621 at 2:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: High School English/History teacher here. My husband is pursuing a credential in the same subject/level right now as well. For the last four years, I've worked with new teachers, coaching and supporting them through their first few years, and here is what I've learned:

1. People who are natural teachers will succeed no matter what obstacles are thrown at them. Bad school, troubled kids, sadistic administrator, crazy parents, insane work load, etc. They risk burn-out, sure, but that's what you get when your job relies on working with people, especially broken ones.

2. People who are not natural teachers can succeed, but they have to work a lot harder to do it and are often the ones who leave the profession in the first 5 years (along with 50%+ of all new teachers). Listen to your insticts - if something in you says that this isn't something you can see yourself enjoying, you should probably listen. The world doesn't need another passionless retired-without-telling-anyone sorry-excuse-for-a-teacher, and neither do the kids.

3. Doing an education degree/credential does not prepare you for the reality of a classroom. It just doesn't. Nothing but having to stand in front of your class, day after day, often with too little/too much planned, scared out of your mind, can prepare you. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something or has pants that are on fire.

4. Don't get credentialled in something you don't want to teach. That being said, you sound a little like me - I have taught math, physics, history of aviaton/spaceflight, general science, English, PE, history and geography and I've loved all of them in different ways. However, I know that I wouldn't be happy teaching nothing but science for the rest of my life. But I have something most teachers at the high school level don't: a broad range of experience and interest, which opens me up for some really cool opportunities.

5. Every teacher second guesses themselves about whether or not they should be in education. The good ones do it more often than the bad ones. It's called being self-reflective. A teacher who is not self-reflective is dangerous and ineffective. I never think that I've done anything well, and am rarely satisfied with lessons or assignments. I've been teaching eight years and I've never taught anything the same way more than once. I push myself to be better than I thought I could and I surround myself with people whom I see as better than me to keep pushing me. That's a professional learning community and it's one of the great joys of education.

6. There are three different types of good teachers, and I use a slightly religious metaphor to describe them:

A. Prophets: They love the art and skill of delivering information in a way that is compelling, clear, and effective. They love researching, learning, developing, creating new ways of explaining something; they love the light bulb moment when a student finally sees what they've been trying to explain. Teaching, to them, is a craft and one that is intellectual.

B. Priests: They love the counselling, the advising, the relationship building, the classroom community. They want to hear their students' opinions and care deeply that they have made an impact on their students' emotional and social development.

C. Kings: They love the administration, the organisation, the scaffolding, the structure behind teaching. They love graphic organisers, notetaking, study skills; helping students choose the right classes, go to college, etc. They see the big picture in a school and help the policy shift to meet the goals they/the school has. They often rise to administrative positions because they're just so good at it.

I'm a priest. My husband is a prophet. However, you need all three. If you don't have all three, or the ability/desire to develop them, you will struggle.

I think of it this way: I can't do anything other than being a teacher. I'm not good at anything else. I don't love anything else. At the end of the day, being a teacher is central to my identity and without it, I would really struggle to feel professionally fulfilled. There are a lot of people who are in love with the IDEA of education - 30 angelic, adoring faces starting up at you, desperate to glean the pearls of wisdom you so sagely drop from your mouth when they least expect the first time a kid swears at them or they have a fight in their classroom, or students falling asleep in class, or administrators who seem determined to get you sectioned, or colleagues who talk shit about you behind your back or even to your face, they realise that they can't do it.

Summer school just ended last Thursday. I am already planning and looking forward to the first day of school. I can't wait. THAT is what being a teacher is all about. My instinct is telling me that you should take the plunge. My instinct is usually pretty good with new teachers.

Please Memail me if you'd like to talk further. And good luck. :-)
posted by guster4lovers at 2:39 PM on July 31, 2011 [232 favorites]

What about private school teaching? Salaries can be lower (because there are lots of candidates and free tuition for your own kids is considered compensation), but the type of stress you are worried about would probably be much lower,too, and that might make up for it. If you were going to go that route, though, it might be worth talking to a recruiter about qualifications first. Some/many private schools, particularly secular ones, won't accept an education degree, and prefer a degree in the subject you'll teach.
(At least, the above all applied when several friends of mine considered / went this route, several years back)
posted by Wylla at 2:54 PM on July 31, 2011

I can't offer any advice about the profession, but I'd say you should ask yourself this: Did you like school?

All through school, I had considered teaching to be a reasonable fallback career for me. I think lots of smart kids think this - you're exposed to teachers far more than you are to other professionals, you figure it's a secure job that will always be in reasonable demand (though not so much right now).

I quickly disabused myself of this notion when I graduated from college and, living life without school, realized how much I hated it. I always kind of knew this, but not having to be in school anymore really hammered it home. Seeing as teaching is, on some level, like being in school all the time, it stands to reason that I'd be a pretty miserable teacher.

I'm not saying don't do it, but the world has more than enough half-assed teachers who are going through the motions. You do want to be like them. Think about this carefully.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:59 PM on July 31, 2011

Please do not become a teacher if you genuinely are not sure if you want to be one.

I am going through a multiple subject masters and credential program at an incredible university. I know, deep in my heart, that I am there for two reasons: one, because education is a hugely important part of my life, and two, because I know that I want to be part of the reformation of American schooling more desperately than anything else.

The purpose of education in the United States is, for the most part, to oppress, and to reproduce social class. Are you prepared to deal with inequity in your classroom? Are you prepared to work with students from a variety of cultures and do everything in your power to make sure that their respective experiences with science at the high school level equip them with more than just factual knowledge, and that you do not stereotype or diminish someone's experience based on ethnicity, sex, social class, or anything else? Are you ready to deal with all the shit that high school generally entails, which includes but is not limited to: cliques, apathy, passive aggressive behavior, obstinate behavior, over achieving, desperation, and, when possible, those few students who are genuinely there to learn and improve themselves?

If yes, okay. Go for it. Maybe you'd do better at a multiple subject credential instead. You could be a 5th or 6th grade teacher, still have the chance to do science, but also have some time to do social studies. I'm not sure. Just don't become a teacher because you assume it's a job that comes with a decent paycheck if you're not familiar with the realities of American education today.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a teacher. Please don't go into teaching a subject that you aren't 100% interested by/in.
posted by alby at 3:45 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a middle/high school special education teacher working with behavioral teenagers.

I wasn't certain what I wanted to do either; I had worked in radio, public tv, advertising, a whole bunch of things. Liked many; didn't love any.

Went to work as a substitute teacher one day and it was truly a lightning bolt feeling of, "Oh, I get it; this is what I want to do. I have to."

All I can suggest is try substituting and see how it hits you. If there's no resonance and feeling that it's the greatest job ever, then don't do it. You will...guaranteed...hate it and burn out.
posted by kinetic at 4:26 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Despite being incredibly passionate about my subject matter, loving the kids, having really great colleagues and being successful at my work (according to my kids and colleagues at least), I burned out in 4 years of public school teaching (and when I was in my credential program, I smugly told myself that I would not be one of those people. HA!). While it was a fantastic experience that I am so glad I had (and wow, do I miss my kids!), you've already had a similar thing the boys' home experience. It's never been an easy profession, but in the current climate, I cannot recommend anyone become a teacher unless the fire burns in their heart with the power of ten supernovas.

If you're doing your job right (delivering rigorous content via project based learning, differentiated for various student needs), you'll be working 60-80 hours a week, roughly. You will have no real breaks in the teaching day and will be performing for 6-8 hours straight. This is only bearable if you love your kids more than yourself and this is your true vocation. You will likely have people who sucked at classroom instruction (or have never been classroom teachers) tell you what to teach and how to teach it (there's a lot of failing up in this profession). You will be judged on student test scores, with no regard to your students' attendance records, home situations, abuse, neglect, substance abuse, etc.

I couldn't keep it up, and I'm still sad that I couldn't make it work. There are some great answers and points of view in this thread--please take them to heart. Good luck.

And seriously? My teacher credential program was an expensive joke. All theory, no practice or discussion of classroom management. I'm still paying it off.
posted by smirkette at 4:51 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm starting my first teaching job next week. I feel like I could throw up, but It's more of that pleasant right before a first date kinda vomit feeling.

Wish me luck.
posted by JimmyJames at 5:40 PM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]

I was a middle-school teacher for two and a half years after switching careers in my mid-20s. Much like you, I became a teacher because I found my current job dull, had enjoyed working with kids in the past, and had an idea that I could help kids by becoming a teacher. However, nothing could have prepared me for the horror show which known as "classroom management." In a low-income school, managing a group of teenagers without a fight breaking out, kids flashing gang signs, boys harassing girls, objects going flying through the air, etc. is seriously hard. By the end of my teaching career, I was able to do it, but I found that I lost some of myself in the process.

If you really want to be a teacher, I would suggest thinking a lot about whether you are the type of person that enjoys being in charge. Great teachers love both directing a bunch of kids and sharing their knowledge. Unfortunately, with so many state-mandated tests and a endless number of behavioral challenges in your first few years, you probably won't be able to develop much of your own curriculum in the first few years. You'll be teaching lesson plans following state standards while being frequently observed by a bevvy of other teachers and administrators evaluating your teaching and classroom management abilities.

All this being said, if you absolutely love working with kids, especially kids from rough backgrounds, and you feel like you have a lot of subject-matter expertise, I would recommend taking baby steps toward teaching. Becoming a substitute teacher is a great way to test how you respond in the classroom. I'd suggest substitute teaching in a variety of school settings (elementary, middle school, high school) and income levels. If you can consistently make it through the day without crying and the other teachers seem to look favorably at you and ask you to be their substitute in the future, maybe you've found your calling.

I recently ran into an old student who, at age 17, had three kids and had dropped out of school her first year of high school. She was a fun, quirky kid with a challenging background, as were many of my students at the low-income school where I taught. She is having a very hard time now. I sincerely hope that you do find that teaching is your calling and that you are able to make a positive impact in the lives of kids like my old student. As hard as teaching is, growing up going to terrible schools without a stable home is a million times worse.
posted by JuliaKM at 6:06 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

One thing I'll add based on some of the other advice here...

Being a sub is to being a classroom teacher, what being a defendant is to being a defence attorney. All the responsibility of the outcome, with none of the privilege, background knowledge or authority.

In my experience, subbing is 100% classroom management. Have you ever tried to make 35 15-year-olds watch a movie about cell division when you don't know their names? Have you ever had to teach a lesson, only to find out that the kids already had done it and there's no backup plan? Have you ever had a kid curse in your face and walk out of class, and you can't figure out who it was because you don't have a seating chart or even a roster, and all the kids band together against you?

That is what being a sub is about. You don't get to build relationships, develop lessons, assess learning, create routines, or have any genuine ability to hold students accountable for their actions. Hell, if the classroom teacher doesn't want your referral to stand, they can literally just throw it away.

Subbing is great to get exposure to the worst of what teaching has to offer. It can be helpful in determining the level you want to teach, but I'd discourage you from seeing subbing as analogous to teaching.

I'll put this out there in case it is helpful now or in the future: Any other new or aspiring teachers who want to memail me, please feel free...anytime.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:58 PM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

I kind of made the "no to teaching" choice when I was aimlessly trying every sweet in the shop in my younger days,

I don't really do "regrets" but guster4lovers' comment is further evidence to me that I could have chosen better. That's not to say oh woe is me my life is unfulfilled, but it's not my job which fulfils me and I have a feeling teaching would have been very fulfilling.

As for your hard science inclination or lack of, how many teachers do you know inspire kids by their depth of knowledge?

So, from the other side of your decision, it seems like you realise teaching is one of those jobs that may be who you are and I assume that's sort of what you're looking for.

Good luck ;)
posted by fullerine at 2:42 AM on August 1, 2011

Amen, guster4lovers: don't be a sub unless you just need to get your foot in the door with a district or school to be in line for an actual teaching job.
posted by resurrexit at 6:36 AM on August 1, 2011

Most teaching programs will have you into a classroom pretty early into the program. You do a teacher observation usually. Perhaps volunteering for a quarter. I did exactly that in a first grade classroom and loved it, although it may be harder to set up for junior/high school. Talk to an adviser in the teaching program about your trepidation. They've heard it before and can probably offer you great advice.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:00 PM on August 1, 2011

fullerine, it's never too late. Some of the best teachers I know started in their late 30's to mid 50's. I shared a room with a teacher in my first year, and she started in her 50's. I learned more from her than anyone, and her students learned even more. The best math teacher I've ever met was a doctor for 30 years before becoming a teacher.

Sometimes the path to the classroom is longer than you would expect. But it is NEVER too late.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:39 PM on August 2, 2011

Best answer: if you can get it from a library, i highly recommend reading Teach Like a Champion. it is excellent at describing in depth the level of planning and the thought process involved in the daily grind of teaching effectively. one thing to keep in mind is a lot of teacher talk about having to be a persona, always on, never really yourself, and an entertainer to some degree, every single day. this can be really draining if you're not of a certain persuasion. try looking at videos of good teachers to get a sense of it--the Teach Like a Pro guy has some online somewhere.

there are tons of rewards in teaching and lots of daily discouragements as well. good luck in whatever decision you make!
posted by ifjuly at 2:54 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: Roman Graves: 1) My previous burnout at the group home. I was young, just about 22, and they were violent and sexual offenders, but it still makes me wonder if the same outcome wouldn't happen with teaching. 2) I'm not naturally inclined toward hard science, but I know that's where the jobs are. The education degree would be with a focus on Earth and space science, and I enjoy those topics in an armchair fashion, but I don't naturally excel at them. If I picked on instinct it would be social studies.

1) You'll have troublesome to tough kids in classes, but there are support systems. You aren't the only person who can or has to deal with the kids.

2) Interest is sometimes better than what kids get from teachers. Not every teacher will have a detailed background in the subject they teach, and some are just there for the stable job with reasonable pay and good benefits.

My mother was an elementary school teacher, and my wife has taught high school math for a few years now. My mom loved teaching little kids and did so for her whole professional career. My wife really enjoys the more self-sufficient teen-agers, and teaching math is her passion. I think both my mom and wife got some level of support from their schools and fellow teachers. There are some dolts in administration and in other classrooms, but that's the same with any business environment.

As a new teacher, you're likely to have some mentor and/or new teacher classes, at least for the first few years. You probably won't be thrown to the wolves, especially as school districts like to keep teachers from burning out.

You can probably ask to meet with some teachers in various classrooms and observe. It may change some classroom dynamics, but you can see how a teacher handles a class full of kids, and how they get information across to many people at once. If any of this sounds interesting, I say go for it. My wife may come home annoyed at a kid, someone's parent, the administration or something else, but the next day is full of new challenges and new adventures. She says she's never bored, except when kids are taking tests.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:24 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much to everyone who answered thus far. I've decided to pursue the education degree, though not in science. In turns out that my credits match up very nicely with the social studies track. I'm not positive that I'm making the right choice, but like adorap0621 said, the worst case scenario is that I've finally finished my BS and figured some things out along the way. I'm not going to tag this resolved because I'd love to hear more opinions.
posted by Roman Graves at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's an extra year or more of school, a lot of tests (that some people fail) and a grueling hiring process (usually)...for a job you're not that into. All that effort- why not find something you really want to do? If my kid has a less than great hair stylist, they might have a bad haircut, but they'll get over it. A less-than-interested science teacher could do some real damage, both to my kid's future and the profession.
On the other California, our teacher prep programs are less than half the size they were a decade ago. In a few years, demand will outstrip supply. L.A. tried importing foreign teachers and it was a complete and ridiculous failure; I can't imagine they'll try that again.
Look, get in there, volunteer in a class room, teach a 'canned' lesson, and see how you do. Good luck, no matter what- it's just as brave an act to admit you don't want to do it.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 10:22 PM on August 24, 2011

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