What do you love/hate about being an elementary school teacher?
February 12, 2007 9:08 AM   Subscribe

What do you like most and least about being an elementary school teacher? I'm changing careers and want the lowdown.

I was in a masters degree program to become a librarian, but now I'm changing my career path. Working with kids at a library has been so much fun and I have decided that I would be better suited as an elementary school teacher.

So I want to know everything about teaching. What are the best and worst things about being a teacher? What do you love? What do you hate?

Lengthy responses welcome, but short ones are also appreciated.

In case it matters, I'm a 25-year old male living in Los Angeles.
posted by HotPatatta to Work & Money (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
IANAEST..however, there are some in my family who are always eager to speak.

The biggest pro: The sense of accomplishment you get from working with and teaching children.

As for the biggest cons...
• Administrators who don't support you
• Parents who don't support you
• Having to also be a parent, guardian, and counsellor to so many kids who's parents don't do shit for them. It becomes draining and, ultimately, is met with a smack-down from aforementioned parents and admins.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2007

My mom works with Special Ed kids, and while she's not a teacher (she's a teacher's aide) she's pretty involved with the kids and works closely with the teachers at the school. Her biggest complaint is Thorzdad's third point: that a lot of the kids just aren't getting the support they need at home and that many parents are unwilling or unable to provide it. This is in a middle-to-upper-middle-class community in upstate New York, in a "good" public school district, for what it's worth.
posted by AV at 9:48 AM on February 12, 2007

My mom has been an elementary school teacher for a good 25 years, and she's due for retirement soon.

Pros: As Thorzdad said, the sense of accomplishment you get. She esp loves it when 15 or 16 year old kids come back to visit her and she gets to see how they've turned out and if she really made a difference. She says it keeps her young, working with kids, and she loves that "Aha!" moment, when a child suddenly understands a new idea or method. If you are at heart a generous and giving person, then being a parent, guardian and counselor to kids can be its own reward. But yes, it can be draining.

Cons: Too little pay. When you move, the teaching credits you've earned in your current district may not qualify you for better pay in your next district, and you get paid more for the more years you've been teaching. Politics are tough - for a few years she worked with a principal who was a tyrant and she almost just quit. (Not that you won't find that in any job) Lack of support from parents and admins - absolutely. She's currently involved quite heavily in some union work for her district and the worst part of it is that even though she's fighting for a pay raise she isn't getting support from the high school teachers in the same district. Which leads me to the biggest con (I would say) - the cliques. At least in the schools she's taught in (all over California), there are in crowds and out, and if you aren't *in* your job can be quite difficult.
posted by routergirl at 9:54 AM on February 12, 2007

One con that was a huge problem for my friend when she was student teaching: If you don't have a rock-solid immune system, working with elementary school kids will knock you out. In the course of one month, my friend got a cold, the flu, and pink eye in BOTH eyes. You have to load up on your vitamins and Airborne!
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2007

I will third Thorzdad. My mother is a teacher. She works as a Bi-Lingual 3rd grader in a low socioeconomic area. She is very much the parent, counselor, teacher, translator and tutor to many children. I don't think I know anyone else who loves their job as much as she does.
She hates the standardized tests that she must teach these kids, on top of everyday grammar, math, science and english. So if you don't have to deal with that, then you're lucky.
posted by dearest at 11:01 AM on February 12, 2007

My mom is a retired second-grade teacher. She loved working with the kids, helping them to learn, delighting in their sense of wonder at the world. She loved it when her former kids kept in touch to tell her how they were doing.

The downsides: the endless paperwork, the non-teaching administrative type duties, and, nthing Thorzdad, having to be a combination parent/Miss Manners/social worker/juvie cop to kids who may as well have been raised by wolves. (And this was in a "nice" middle-to-upper-middle class suburban district.)

Seconding Sarahsynonymous on the germ factor, too. Load up on Airborne (which was invented by an elementary school teacher, btw), and wash your hands as if you were Lady MacBeth.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:05 AM on February 12, 2007

Airborne Baloney
posted by nimsey lou at 12:21 PM on February 12, 2007

I taught third grade, and now teach gifted kids (1st - 6th grade). The best part of teaching is the 'ah-ha' moment: when you introduce your students to something totally new or particularly interesting. They get a look on their face that shows they are amazed at what they're learning - it's worth all the hassle with parents and administration. Also, if you work hard to be a good teacher, the parents really appreciate the effort you put into it. Granted, you can't please everyone, but most of the time parents are supportive.

As for illnesses, I was sick basically my entire first year of teaching, but from them on I'm nearly never sick.

There are plenty of cons to teaching, but the pros vastly outweigh them. It's an exhausting job, but totally worth it. Just remember that first year to take naps after school, make sure your classroom and papers are organized, and try not to take work home - get it done at school.

Good luck!
posted by true at 12:41 PM on February 12, 2007

My mom did a stint as a teacher's aid in a suburban public school. The things she loved were predictable: cherubic smiles, interesting coworkers, "Wow, Billy was able to sound out that big word," etc. The things she hated are surprising. She absolutely hated the bad parents she had to deal with. Parents who would come in to complain that their children were assigned homework, and it wasn't their job to help their kids with schoolwork, it was her job. Or how the same few kids would disturb class every day, and their parents didn't particularly care and were in fact annoyed that they were being interrupted with yet another phone call from school. She was also a little terrified about the no-touching-kids rules, either when it came to breaking up fights (choose between letting the kids pound each other and becoming liable should she injure a child by breaking it up), and affectionate touching (picture a little kid coming running with open arms to hug her around the legs, and Mom's reaction is to be freaked out about sexual harrassment lawsuits, so she wouldn't so much as pat them on the back).
posted by textilephile at 1:00 PM on February 12, 2007

I'm in my 20th year of teaching, having taught 13 of those at the elementary level, so here's my quick rundown:

-The already mentioned "a-ha" moment. Priceless
-Sense of accomplishment, that you're making a difference
-June, July, August (seriously)
-I don't know about your state, but we've got great retirement benefits
-Most schools reimburse you for your grad work/continued education
-Lots of laughs and fun with the kids, celebrating holidays, birthdays
-Snow days - can't think of many jobs that call you while you're still in bed and say, "stay home, it's too dangerous to come to work."
-Exposure to lots of different types of children with lots of different perspectives on this world
-Opportunities to share my talents with students by sponsoring afterschool clubs (sports, drama, newspaper, music)
-Teacher Association/Union - it's really almost impossible to fire a teacher unless they do something really, really, stupid
-Stability and flexibility - there will always be a need for teachers, so you'll always have a job, and if you don't like the school you're in, most districts will let you transfer (as openings become available of course) to another elementary school if you want to

-Uncooperative and apathetic parents
-Over-involved and 'helicopter' parents (who hover over their kiddies)
-Having to bring work home sometimes
-Being expected to be a teacher all the time....including at the mall, at the grocery store, whe you're out to dinner, etc. You're a public figure now.
-NCLB and mandatory state testing that you are accountable for
-Again, don't know about your state, but some require so many hours of coursework/credits every so many years to keep your certification(s)
-Varies by district, but I personally hated working with so many women, there wasn't a good balance of genders. (In high schools it's much more even)
-The younger the grade you teach, the more high maintence (think runny noses, tying shoes)

And finally, it can be a pro or a con, but you tend to live a lot through your students and 'bring stuff home with you'. Not paperwork stuff, but emotional stuff. Some of it is great like a student winning a writing contest, but mostly it's bad stuff that makes your heart ache. It helps to know your limits and leave some at school, or you'd never sleep at nights.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:17 PM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

Allow me to paraphrase my mother, who has taught elementary school for over 20 years:

"No matter how good I am at my job, I never get to teach anything beyond subtraction, and that gets old pretty fast."
posted by baho at 6:29 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mom has been teaching in the good old LAUSD for 10ish years now - and she actually finished her master's in library science! You two might hit it off. She never used her MLS.

She loves the time off for summer. She loves that she's not constantly supervised - she has always been the kind of person who worried phobically all the time that she'd be fired whenever her boss came in the room, but now the boss rarely-if-ever comes in the room. It's not only paranoia about being fired, although as others have mentioned teaching is one of the top jobs for job security - it's also just that when she's in her room, she's the boss and she likes the autonomy. Of course, kids are freaking hilarious and teaching can be very rewarding. If the other teachers she's working with are smart, working with them is a joy.

However, there are a lot of not-so-bright teachers out there, and working with them is scary. In Los Angeles especially, she gets the sense that a lot of the teachers are in it because they gave up finding any other audience. She's a union representative and has become pretty disillusioned about the function her union serves. Parents can be a nightmare. She has to report suspected cases of child abuse, by law, which can be pretty scary if you think the child might be taken away and the parent might retaliate (even though they don't tell the parents who reported it, how many people in most kids' lives are likely to report child abuse?). In the past ten years teaching has become much less creative as they've had to teach toward more and more standardized tests. You might want to read up on Open Court, the reading instruction system the LAUSD used the last time I checked. A family friend said she'd quit if she had to teach with Open Court - she found it that offensive. On the other hand, it makes the job incredibly easy, and my mom says that for a district with the high rates of transience that LA has, it's nice that when a new kid comes to school from elsewhere in the district they know where he is in Open Court within a few days' accuracy.

One thing that you might want to consider is that it's probably a pretty weird experience being one of only a small number of male teachers in an elementary school. This is an overwhelmingly female environment and the politics are, almost by definition, like nothing you've ever experienced before. In my mom's current school there are, I think, two male teachers, and she says they're absolutely doted upon by parents and other teachers. It makes her pretty resentful (you can't imagine how many times she hears "Oh, I hope my kid gets Mr. So-and-so next year, I think it'd be good for him/her to have a male teacher for a change" - yes, because a man teaching you 5th-grade American history is really going to make or break the educational experience). That might be fun for you, but as a token woman (I'm a software engineer by education and soon-to-be by employment as well) even if people think they're being considerate sometimes you still feel pretty awkward and singled out. My mom thinks the men in her school like it; YMMV.

Other things about teaching in LA...hmm. You know you like working with kids so that's not an issue. Unless you live in a pretty bad area, odds are you will have a pretty heinous commute to work for your first few years. If the district still has an emergency credentialing program, I recommend it; it's absolutely a ton of work, but you can earn your credential while getting paid to teach and if you decide teaching isn't for you after all, you didn't just spend several years as a student to do something you don't like.

I guess you should email me if you have any more questions, I think I've gone on long enough :)
posted by crinklebat at 8:21 PM on February 12, 2007

Best answer: I'm a young teacher in New York State but the learning curve is intense. I work with 3rd-8th graders. I'm leaving the program to have a kid and when I go back to work I will be looking for work in 9th-12th grade. I enjoy working with the little ones, they are more emotionally available and have less of an ego about forming a relationship with a teacher. They also get excited about things easier and can be very passionate.
For me though, I want to do more ambitious and challenging things. Reading Roald Dahl with the kids is fun but I really want to analyse Fitzgerald and discuss Animal Farm (is it obvious I'm an English teacher?).
I really don't recommend the emergency credential program and here's why: you are put in a classroom with high expectations and zero training. It's a recipie for disaster, which is what I've heard it mostly is. The first couple years of teaching are incredibly challenging and that's with two to four years of training. You have to know how to create and teach a curriculum that is age and level appropriate with allowances for a variety of levels. You have to understand professionalism and appropriate comportment, classroom management, paperwork management, grading and rubric management, interpersonal relationship management, conflict resolution, etc.. And you'd have to manage all of this while going to school in the evenings (first and second year teachers work an average of 50-60 hours per week).
Not that you'll know all this stuff after certification, but you'll be part way there and will have the invaluable student teaching experience.
If you would like to test the waters would recommend looking into a job at an afterschool program. Often you don't need to be certified and you work a couple hours a day. Great resume builder and experience, let's you see if it's what you want to do without making a huge commitment.
posted by Formiga at 6:37 PM on February 13, 2007

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