How do I find out if I'm good at teaching?
September 26, 2017 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm always in a state of considering new careers but after a week away from a depressing, bureaucratic job, I'm back at my desk, wondering what would kill me less. One thing I've often wondered about in recent years is teaching.

(English, to be specific.)

My whole family teaches. It's almost strange that I didn't end up doing it, but I've always felt bad at speaking extemporaneously and have wondered how the hell people lecture coherently for an hour. There are other reasons it's not an intuitive fit: I don't like kids, per se, and though I do like teenagers, I'm not one of those people who has an automatic rapport with them. Teaching college is not an option--I'm way too old to get a PhD, plus I started one once and I wasn't much of an academic.

I've practically talked myself out of even typing the rest of the question but the thing is once in a while I get bursts of conviction that I'd be a pretty good teacher, and I always think of it as important work, maybe the most important work. I know if I committed to it, there are some ways in, like Teach for America (which has its issues but does not have an age limit) or things like the NY Teaching Fellowship.

How do I start figuring out in a more detailed way whether I would actually be good at this or whether it's just another escape fantasy?
posted by Smearcase to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You don't have a PhD, but do you have a masters? If so, maybe you could adjunct teach "13th grade" for a while to see if you would like it. It's very fun. You don't have to lecture for an hour ever and in fact probably shouldn't, even if you're great at it. What if you were terrible at it? Most people start out pretty terrible and get rapidly better. It's not something the "customers" will allow you to be bad at for long.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:47 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Best answer: How about volunteering to teach English to immigrants? Look into programs that work with immigrants in your community. It's a very rewarding kind of teaching because adult learners are there because they really really want to be. I did some of this about 20 years ago and the organization I did it for gave me some basic training.

If you like it you could get a master's in adult education or ESOL education, probably through a reputable university online.
posted by mareli at 11:59 AM on September 26, 2017 [5 favorites]


Teaching is really, really tough - even people who love teaching will acknowledge that. IMO, what keeps you going is that you love those kids. In high school and undergraduate classes you need a lot of love, because a really high percentage of the kids won't love you back for the first several months, regardless of what you do. You need to be able to accept that even though they hate school and you and their peers, and their parents and your boss are challenging you all the time, you are still doing a good job. In other words, you only teach if you need to and you feel you are achieving your goals regardless of relentless negative feedback. I've spent months of my life consoling colleagues who had been bullied by students and their parents, and even other colleagues.
I teach graduate students, which is a whole other thing, but I have taught undergraduates and high-school students and it is rough.
If you still want to do it after I told you all this, go! I love teaching and it makes me happy every day of my life.
posted by mumimor at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Definitely find some ways to teach or assist in some way to get some practice and see how it feels to you. I can’t help you with ideas on how to get that experience in your field because I’m in a different one, but I’ve been teaching/assisting on a part-time basis for a couple years and I’ve learned a lot and it’s also clarified how I feel about it as a potential career/focus (I know what age range I prefer now, and also that I love it on a part-time basis but would never want to do it full-time).
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:05 PM on September 26, 2017


I'd reframe this as "if you'd like teaching." Like most things, teaching is a craft that takes time to master and one that one should always be honing.

I love the idea of doing some volunteer teaching as mentioned above.
posted by advicepig at 12:31 PM on September 26, 2017


There are many other instructing opportunities beyond teaching in schools and colleges. Adult education is one (as mentioned above), corporate training another. Many non-profits do educational outreach of varying kinds. If you don't see a fit in schools/colleges, maybe look at other areas?
posted by dttocs at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2017


I'm a veteran teacher, nominated as Teacher of the Year in my state.

You won't know until you actually teach, so it's best to try working as a sub and getting a feel for spending the day with kids. Being a sub is hard work but it gives you a sense of classroom management and what it's like to work in a school.

Having said that I want to correct a few misnomers:

*having a degree in English does not qualify a person to be an English teacher. You need to go to graduate school to learn how to actually teach; it's part science/part art and you need to learn the pedagogy. I've worked with a few alternate route teachers who had degrees in their content area and were trainwrecks in the classroom

* if you're lecturing for an hour, you're a really bad teacher

*teaching is incredibly bureaucratic as you're responsible to your admins, your team, your kids, and their parents

*teaching is physically and emotionally exhausting for the first 3 years, after that it just becomes very draining

* if you don't like kids, you won't be a good teacher,

* Not to be a total downer, but there's no shortage of high school English teachers. We get hundreds of applicants for those jobs. However, we can't find special education or STEM teachers to save our lives, and

* Teach for America and other alternate programs are not great teacher prep programs. They generally throw people into the classroom with a sink or swim attitude. Very few make it. If you want to teach, you need to get a graduate degree in education.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:52 PM on September 26, 2017 [20 favorites]


Teach for America and other alternate programs are not great teacher prep programs. They generally throw people into the classroom with a sink or swim attitude. Very few make it.

As a person with inside knowledge of TFA, I concur with this statement. Anything you do with TFA (or TNTP, or NY Teaching Fellows) will be a million times harder than doing a PhD.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 2:08 PM on September 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


First, it's important to understand that in K-12 teaching, research-based best practices do not align with what most of us adults experienced growing up. The best teachers have kids working in groups, solving complex problems, analyzing texts, and doing much of the talking and thinking in class, rather than having the teacher lecture for a while and take lots of notes to memorize information. I've trained a lot of teachers, and this is a huge mindset shift many people I've worked with have had to experience.

Second, I'm not trying to be nitpicky, but no teacher I know would think of teaching as any kind of escape fantasy. It is very, very, very, very hard. It is exhausting, not just because you are working so many hours with so many students, but because there is grading and planning and meetings and forms to complete and mandatory trainings to attend and parent phone calls to make and after school clubs to manage. TV and movies make it either seem way easier than it is, or make it seem like one teacher with enough conviction will change the lives of 25 students in a few months or a year. Sure, teachers make a difference, and teaching is an incredibly important work , but let's not ignore that high school caseloads are more like 150 students, and while the work is rewarding, you sometimes have to squint really hard past a bunch of other stuff to really see the rewards and impact.
posted by violetish at 4:36 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


*having a degree in English does not qualify a person to be an English teacher. You need to go to graduate school to learn how to actually teach; it's part science/part art and you need to learn the pedagogy. I've worked with a few alternate route teachers who had degrees in their content area and were trainwrecks in the classroom

I have huge respect for yes I said yes I will yes 's teaching knowledge and always notice and learn from their answers, but I respectfully disagree with this. Before getting a PhD and becoming a professor, I had an MA in English and taught in a private school; I was good enough as a middle school and high school English teacher that I won an award and am still getting emails from students thanking me, decades after. However, this was in a private school. All of the other teachers also had subject degrees. So I would say the kind of school makes a difference. Except that at my own kids' public and very educationally diverse middle and high schools, the absolute best (by which I mean inspiring, invested, passionate) 3 teachers had degrees in their subject areas. So... although it's much harder to get a job in a public school without an education degree (I don't even know if you can, anymore) and private school jobs are also difficult in many ways, I don't agree that it's a deal breaker not to get a degree specifically in pedagogy.
posted by flourpot at 5:31 PM on September 26, 2017


Sorry to burst your bubble, but teaching is basically the definition of a "depressing, bureaucratic job." Rewarding. But depressing and definitely bureaucratic.
posted by raspberrE at 6:07 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Another option to test the waters is substitute teaching. It wouldn't be exactly the same, but it would expose you to lots of lesson plans and different classrooms.
posted by aniola at 8:52 PM on September 26, 2017


If you have ever scored decently on standarized tests, you could try teaching for Kaplan Test Prep (or Princeton Review, or whoever). Back in about 2002, I spent a year as a teacher's aide during the day and an ACT Test Prep teacher for Kaplan in the evening. The nice thing about doing something like that is (at least when I did it) all classes are taught evenings/Saturdays so you could keep your regular job while you explore it. There's prep time and then classroom lecture/test proctoring. To me, it seemed like a lot more of what "teaching" would be than my time as an aide, because as an aide I had absolutely no control over the classroom and as such didn't get a lot of respect from the students. Plus it's all teenagers or even adults, if you taught something like the GRE.
posted by jabes at 9:06 AM on September 27, 2017


So... although it's much harder to get a job in a public school without an education degree (I don't even know if you can, anymore) and private school jobs are also difficult in many ways, I don't agree that it's a deal breaker not to get a degree specifically in pedagogy.

It's not impossible to get a public school teaching job without an education degree. You can get a waiver as long as you're enrolled in an accredited education degree program, usually no more than 3 years. And it is definitely true that private schools don't require education degrees. But really, public versus private school teaching are vastly different worlds.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:06 AM on October 1, 2017


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