So You Want My Job: High School Teacher

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 28, 2009 · 31 comments

in Money & Career, So You Want My Job

teacherkurtz.jpg

Today we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable man jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream. We’ve been running this series every other week, but the response to it has been awesome, with many men volunteering to share advice about their job. It’s created quite a backlog of interviews in the queue, so we’re going to run them every week for awhile …

If you’re a man that values time and personal satisfaction over moola, there may be no better job for you than being a teacher. Today Aaron Kurtz walks us through the ins and outs of being a high school teacher. AoM really appreciates how thorough Aaron was in his answers; this info will surely help many a man who is thinking about the education profession for himself.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? Where did you go to school? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc).

I’m 26 years old and from Miami, FL.  I graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Anthropology.  So nope, I wasn’t an education major, and I didn’t go through any formal student teaching.

I didn’t go through the usual route of majoring in education because I hadn’t originally intended on becoming a teacher, and my university didn’t offer it as a concentration.  To be completely honest, I hadn’t originally intended on becoming anything, and I majored in Anthropology because, at the time, it was probably the coolest approach to sociocultural study I’d come across.  But once graduation hit, I had to make a decision: go to grad school in Anthropology or take some time off from school.  Truth be told, I was pretty burned out by the time I graduated, so I opted to start working instead.

I’ve taught in the third- and fourth-largest districts in the US (Chicago and Miami-Dade, respectively).  Initially, I taught for three years in Miami.  I taught freshman English and 10th-12th grade Journalism and Yearbook (another story in itself).  Currently, since moving to Chicago, I teach Urban Studies and IB European History to juniors and seniors.  However, I’m currently temporarily assigned to another teacher’s classes while she is on leave.  If I secure a more permanent position next year, I will probably be teaching world history to freshmen.

2. Why did you want to become a high school teacher? When did you know that it was what you wanted to do?

I’ve found myself working with kids for a good portion of my life, but until I became a proper teacher in a classroom with lesson plans and detentions and all that business, I was mostly a camp counselor and tutor.  I’d always been good at interacting with kids and teenagers, getting them to focus on one activity or another and being a source of support for them.  It was my comfort zone for a long time, a job or activity I could always fall back on to make some summer cash or earn some community service hours.  In college, tutoring became a big part of how I kept myself involved in things outside of studying and more studying.  When I graduated, I decided I would bite the bullet and get a job before tackling any notions of graduate school.  Given my experience, becoming a teacher seemed like the obvious choice.

I was able to become a teacher without an education major under my belt because at the time, the state of Florida needed teachers.  Specifically, they needed reading and math teachers (which explains how I was able to teach English even though I majored in Anthropology).  When I began teaching, policies related to No Child Left Behind had been implemented in full.  Schools in Florida were subject to a grading system where schools would have to demonstrate “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP), and this level of AYP would determine what level of funding a school would earn.  In Florida, as in many other states, AYP is based upon standardized test scores; and in Florida, as in many other states, reading and math skills were a primary focus of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Exam (FCAT).

I was assigned to teach a class called “Intensive Reading,” which was meant to serve students who had not scored well on the reading portion of the FCAT.  I became certified by the state and hired on to teach the class because of the increased demand for reading teachers.  Given the English classes I did take and the support of the other teachers at my school, I was able to teach the Intensive Reading class well, and my students ended up performing pretty well the next cycle.

When I moved to Chicago, though, the Illinois State Board of Education basically asked, “Wait, why you were teaching English? Go teach History and Sociology instead.”  I can’t say I disagree with them.

I never had any interest working in elementary/grade school (too much babysitting) or middle school (too hormonal).  I love teaching high school because the kids are capable of conversation and critical thinking, and it’s a lot of fun trying to foster that in young adults.  High school teenagers are at this intersection of teenage exploration and adult expectation.  I enjoy helping them maneuver their way through what can be a messy, messy time for many of them, fostering critical thought and feeding their minds with many perspectives from which I hope they can form some semblance of independent, informed opinion.

3. If man wants to become a high school teacher, how should he best prepare? What’s the best route into the job?

In all fairness to the actual education majors, the easiest way to become a teacher is to major in education and go through the usual route.  Obviously not all good teachers are education majors, and not all education majors are good teachers; but if you know enough early on that you want to teach, get that education major.  It’s not as limiting as it may seem because, if you get bored of the classroom, there is plenty of room for former teachers in administration, policy, and academia.  I have known many teachers to drop the classroom, grab an E.D. or a Ph.D. in education or public policy, and become effective school administrators, policy makers, and researchers.

If you decide you want to teach and you’ve already gotten your major in something else, you’ll have to contact the board of education for the state in which you want to teach.  Some states offer temporary certificates issued upon passing general knowledge and subject-area exams (such as Florida), with which you can teach for three years without having to get fully certified.  Of course, as those years come up, prepare to engage in some very, very intensive alternative certification programs that exist to make up for your lack of an education degree.  Other states, such as Illinois, are much stricter and may have you take a number of college courses and complete a number of alternative certification benchmarks before allowing you into a classroom.  I was lucky, I will admit, because without Florida’s certification system and high demand for teachers (at the time), I never would have earned the proper certification and work experience I needed to eventually secure certification and a job in Illinois.

I will throw this out there, though: there is the impression that male teachers are more likely to get hired than female teachers.  There are many more female than male teachers in the arena, and male teachers are always welcome candidates for positions because of what seems like a saturation of female teachers.  However, I don’t have the actual numbers to back this up, and I’d be a terrible social studies teacher if I pretended to.

One could also always try for jobs at smaller, more flexible private schools that aren’t subject to state standards and enjoy doing things their own way.  These schools may not care if you are certified or not, and some of them may actually prefer that you are not.  However, public school salaries tend to be higher, and many positions are tenured officially or unofficially after a number of years.  Not necessarily a policy I agree with, but that’s how it is for the most part (see D.C. public schools as a possible exception to the tenure issue).

4. How competitive is it to get a job as a high school teacher?

These days, it’s very competitive.  It wasn’t as competitive when I first started because there was more money and a higher demand.  But recently, because everyone is suffering the economic downturn and because public schools receive the majority of their funding from property taxes, education budgets that may not have been managed all that well in the first place have taken quite a hit as well.  Also, given that many teacher positions are tenured after a number of years of good service (depends on the school district; Washington D.C., again, is experimenting with doing away with tenure), it’s a very desirable job to have.

A year ago, April 2008, I attended a job fair for the Chicago Public Schools.  There were at least 2500 job seekers there.  You know things are bad when teachers can’t find work, especially in the third-largest district in the country.

5. When applying for a job, what sets a candidate apart from the others?

Compassion. I’m bothered by my coworkers who seem to be more concerned with their job security than how well their students are doing.  Demonstrate that your reason for being there is your students’ ability to succeed by any measure.  I won’t pretend that every principal and assistant principal is a benevolent soul looking out only for your and your student’s best interests.  Some of them are downright abusive.  But so long as your ability to get your job done is unimpeded, do everything you can.

Compassion. If you’re already working, head up an extracurricular or two.  Teach night school or summer school if the positions are available.  Stay a few minutes after school.  Don’t turn students away if they approach you in the hall with concerns.  Be there for them because, no, your job does not stop when the bell rings.

Compassion.  If you’re not yet in the school system, prepare lessons and activities to demonstrate how you intend to do your job.  Assure your hirers that you will be a leader, that you understand your role in the community and that you are eager to work with parents and students.  Assure your hirers that you will take on extra roles outside of your simple classroom duties.  Offer any experience or hobbies you have in other areas as a jumping-off point for putting yourself out there.  Love baseball?  Maybe they need an assistant coach.  Enjoy chess?  You may be surprised at how many students in my inner-city Chicago school are in the chess club.

Compassion. Demonstrable, quantifiable compassion will set a candidate apart from the others.

6. What is the best part of the job?

Watching your students walk down the aisle to retrieve their diploma.  Seeing all those years amount to something.

Parents saying “thank you” and meaning it.

And if you’re in the right place at the right time and involved in the right activities, those trips to New York for journalism conventions, New Orleans for housing rebuilding, and Chicago for debate tournaments aren’t shabby either.  So long as you don’t mind bearing the responsibility for arranging the trips yourself.

7. What is the worst part of the job?

For most public school positions, salaries are capped kind of low.  There is almost no impetus to earn your Ph.D. and remain in the classroom given how little it raises your actual salary (at least where I have worked).  It’s difficult to hold on to teachers, especially at schools with problems.  Also, meetings, meetings, meetings; paperwork paperwork, paperwork; working for a notoriously convoluted bureaucracy can be disillusioning.  It can be even more disillusioning when you realize how much faulty policy there is and how little you can actually do to change it.

8. What is the biggest misconception people have about the job?

The biggest misconception people have is that teachers are idiots.  People love throwing around the whole, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” and of course there is nothing more absurd in the world.  There are bad teachers, and there are good teachers; and there are the people who blame their problems on their teachers.  Teaching is a four-way intersection of teachers, students, parents, and government.  It’s difficult to get all of these elements working at the same time, and you’re lucky if three out of the four are doing what needs to be done.

I know that there is no short supply of people-parents, students, tax-payers, and even administrators and teachers themselves-disillusioned with the public school system.  But there are a lot of us who are trying very hard.

Also, take a look at your office, your law firm, your emergency room, your lab, your research firm, your construction crew… are 100% of your coworkers flawless individuals who excel at every element of their job?  Of course not.

9. What is the work/family balance like?

I don’t have a family of my own yet, but the impression I get from those who do is that teaching is one of the best possible jobs a man can have if he wants to take an active role in his children’s lives. You have every holiday off, two-and-a-half months during the summer, and incredible health and life insurance benefits.  The salary probably won’t be enough by itself, so extra income will be need to be brought in by either you or your significant other, but it is definitely possible to raise a family on two teachers’ salaries.  Plus, all that free time to spend with your family pays itself back in ways both measurable and immeasurable.

10. Unfortunately, it seems like men who decide to be teachers take some flak for it. Have you ever experienced this? If so, how do you respond?

Actually, I have never experienced it to the extent that I was a male teacher.  I have gotten some flak before for being a teacher, but that’s been independent of my being a man.  I don’t doubt that many men do take flak for the job, or that many other (insecure) men give male teachers flak; but teaching can be one of the more manly jobs out there if it’s done right.  Respect yourself, respect your students, communicate with your students’ parents, jump at opportunities to collaborate professionally, and get your job done right.  Men make great teachers when men make great leaders.

I’ve also met no shortage of women appreciate a teachin’ man.

11. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

It’s rough out there for us.  You’ll ask yourself why you’re doing this job at least once a week.  But always remember that, as a teacher, there is always somebody relying on you.  Those students looking at you have expectations.  They may not like you and may not want to be there, but they have expectations nonetheless.  If you decide to teach, don’t forget to be a man about it.  You’re there for them; not for yourself.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jack May 28, 2009 at 10:28 am

My girlfriend’s #1 complaint about teaching: bureaucracy

And speaking to my old teachers that was more or less their complaint as well. Between that and the relatively low pay for what you put into the class (assuming you really care about teaching) teachers got it hard.

What sad is all the stories I hear about my girl’s peers talking about just being there to collect a check. Or moving to Special Education JSUT because it pays more and has a lower class size.

2 Chris May 28, 2009 at 11:00 am

Jack: My wife did the special ed thing for a couple of years in a country high school and, let me tell ya, it’s no cup of tea. People have this vision that the inner city schools have all the problems and that it must be easy in the country. That’s not the case at all. She had 15 year olds who have seen more bad stuff in their lives and most people would ever see.

Now, it still wasn’t the worst job in the world. The hours were great and the summers/holidays are wonderful, but during the school year, they don’t get paid what they deserve. Plus, they are pulled by teachers, students, administration, and parents in different directions, so if they make one group happy, another group begins griping.

Finally, the worst part for her had to be the BS politics in the school. It was a nightmare for her.

3 Melina May 28, 2009 at 11:07 am

Aaron and I went to school together at the U of C. Glad to see more graduates are going into education! (No offense, consultants) I taught an after-school program in video to high schoolers for a year after graduating, which is an alternative to becoming a full-fledged teacher. It was a great experience for a recent grad.

4 Dan May 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Thanks for this Aaron. I’m an undergraduate right now majoring in history and thinking about switching to an education major. I personally find the whole teaching certification thing pretty ridiculous. As you mentioned it doesn’t really correlate to better teaching. I personally don’t think teaching can be taught-you either have it or you don’t. But I guess I’m eventually going to have to jump through the hoops to be able to land a job.

I’ve had a couple people look at me funny when I’ve talked about wanting to be a high school teacher. They ask me how I’m going to support a family. I guess that will be a concern when I get married. But right now I’m more concerned about being stuck in a cubicle all day.

5 Jack May 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Chris: Oh I know. Looking back, I see how you interpreted that as me saying that Special Ed in general is easier. I’m at work and I tend to rush my thoughts out.

I don’t remember the exact terms but you’re most likely aware of the different levels of Special Education. The lower end being called something like “LH” or something. Pretty much kids who can function but have learning disabilities. And the other end being “severely handicapped”.

The type of Special Ed I should of specified was a “severely handicapped” type class composed of five children and two aids. At the time my girlfriend was doing long term subing for the “LH” class. With the aids tending the to children the teacher was saying some sad stuff. She was practically bragging how good she had it.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I wasn’t trying to diss the Special Ed teachers. My girlfriend has met some really good ones too!

6 A. Kurtz May 28, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Honestly, when you put together the benefits, the night school, Saturday school, and summer school teaching opportunities, the money isn’t outright terrible. You can get an idea of base pay in the Chicago Public Schools by simply visiting their human resources website; just add on a couple thousand here and there for the after-hours/after-semester programs. http://www.cps-humanresources.org/Employee/Forms/SalAdm/FTTeachers38.6.pdf

Still, as you can imagine, competition for these positions are competitive. They usually go towards more senior and favored teacher, so expect it to take about 3-5 years before you can take part in these opportunities.

Unless you teach math or science. Those guys pretty much have free range because those subjects are in pretty high demand.

7 A. Kurtz May 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Oh and hey Melina

8 Chris May 28, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Aaron,
Thanks very much for the input.
I’ll be retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps next year after I get back from Afghanistan and everything you wrote reinforces why I want to teach as my second career. I’m used to not making a lot of money, and I enjoy being a part of other people’s success. I’ve already spent nearly two decades teaching young Marines everything from basic rifleman skills to journalism and photography as a combat correspondent.
I expect a different life after I put off the uniform, but how much different can it be? You are teaching high school students, right?
Good luck to you and thanks again.

9 Pat May 29, 2009 at 5:14 am

Nothing to add, really, but I want to thank Aaron for this interview. This edition of SYWMJ was especially nice to read, and while my job is pretty far from teaching I have an immense respect for those who do. Keep up the great work!

10 Lynn M May 29, 2009 at 9:12 am

This is an excellent article and it definitely covers a lot of bases for anyone looking to go into a teaching job. I was especially pleased to see Aaron note the importance of compassion (3x!) I think that is something that is often very much lacking in our schools. A teacher’s compassion is essential on the job because they are in a career where impact really matters and affects many. If you’re a salesperson and aren’t passionate about your job….no harm done….maybe you move on or the company decides to send you on your way. If you don’t bring passion to teaching on a daily basis you’re depriving your students of the necessary learning and leadership they need and often crave.

11 Jason May 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I just finished my first year teaching-it went by rally fast! There is definitely a need for Math/Science teachers. My degree is in History Teaching and I just taught Algebra…it was a challenge at first, but I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. Teaching is one of those jobs that will definitely not fill your pocket, but will have a lot of intrinsic rewards to see the “light bulb” go off in students heads is very pleasing to see and makes you feel like you did a job well done.

No to toot my own horn, but I think educators are some of the more under appreciated professions out there…we also need good teachers who make education fun and interesting and that is the difference between a good teacher and one that is not-how do they excite the kids for learning and make it relevant to them so they will try their hardest and succeed.

Great “So You Want My Job” post…I wonder if we could get a Professional Athlete’s response to this-minor leauge baseball player or someone who isn’t a “star…”

12 Tim May 30, 2009 at 2:59 am

As a male teacher myself here in New Zealand, I was looking forward to reading this interview, to my mind, teaching is a noble profession. Society needs men who have these attributes to stand in front of our children, and be their teachers and mentors.

I do take exception to one of Aaron’s comments, namely – “elementary/grade school (too much babysitting) or middle school (too hormonal).

Those are the areas that I teach in and with all due to Mr Kurtz, if he considers that those who teach in those areas are simply “babysitters” dealing with “hormonal” children – may I kindly suggest he needs to man up even more. :-)

How does he imagine that his students who he sees walking up to get their diplomas actually got their start?

They’re able to read because a teacher sat with them and sounded out letters, or explained how a metaphor works, or corrected their spelling. They are able to see or imagine another world and feel like another, because a teacher read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to them. They have a grasp on some basic mathematical concepts because a teacher used some materials, corrected their work, and discussed some strategies over and over and over again. They hopefully have an ability to empathise with another student’s plight, because a teacher showed them that it isn’t a the cool thing to exclude another just because they look a bit different. They show up to class on time, and are proud of their efforts because a teacher modelled a high work ethic, and took the time to celebrate those same efforts.

Not a babysitter – but a teacher. A teacher who worked damn hard – with all the same compassion and skill and effort that you bring to your own game. A teacher that has to cover the entire curriculum, with the same amount of time as you.

I teach math, literacy, PE, health, arts, technology, science, social studies, alongside coaching 5 basketball teams and being responsible for the IT needs of our 450 students and staff. That doesn’t make me some kind of super teacher, or better than a high school teacher – it’s just what I do.

Again, with all due respect to Mr. Kurtz – what is destroying the teaching profession is the pissing contest between the high school and primary school sectors. We’re teachers – all of us – and our primary concern should be to our students and making sure they are better than us. As a primary teacher I guide them for a couple of years, giving them the basics, and then I hand them on to you – in good faith, to continue their development in high school and university.

To the person upthread in the comments who said “I personally find the whole teaching certification thing pretty ridiculous. As you mentioned it doesn’t really correlate to better teaching. I personally don’t think teaching can be taught-you either have it or you don’t. But I guess I’m eventually going to have to jump through the hoops to be able to land a job.”

Take your asshat off and if that’s your attitude to teaching – please don’t. Or if you do, please don’t teach anywhere near me.

Teaching has enough showboating slackers who think that because they watched Boston Public or Dangerous Minds – they can turn up and manage to teach a class of 30 students. Your comments demean a profession that demands professional standards – not just to create a better class of teacher – but to ensure that students are actually ready for the future – not just good friends with the “cool” teach guy.

For the record – forget any of the movies or TV shows you’ve seen about being a teacher – they’re about as accurate as doing anything because you’ve seen a Tom Cruise movie and think you can drive in NASCAR or make it to Top Gun.

I went back to teachers college at 31 to train as a teacher – after 10 years in the video production industry. I didn’t know what to expect from teachers college – some of it was indeed pretty ridiculous. The student teachers who scared me the most, were those who were only doing it for a laugh, in case they needed a job.

Students don’t deserve that attitude – they deserve and need committed teachers who want to be better at being teachers. Professional development is a constant as a teacher – as it should be. The days where you could learn one lesson and run with that are long gone – your pupils will know more than you about many things. And most of them will have access to Google – so it’s not like you’re going to know more than them.

Aaron, your points about compassion are superb. In NZ at least, and I’d imagine around the planet – our society needs compassionate men, who act and speak with strength and honour. I wrote these words to a fellow bloke teacher – who was just starting out. I leave them for anyone who’s considering to do the same.

“Max – welcome to the most noble pursuit on the planet. I use noble in the sense that teaching is a pursuit that is decent, unselfish, righteous and worthy. You will be frustrated, challenged and despairing at times. See through the paperwork, the politics, the constant planning.

Be there for your students.
Be the one positive, passionate, purposeful person in their lives.

Give them hope.
Give them dignity.
Believe in them.
Believe in the possibilities that they are.
Every day.

That might be in teaching them how to balance algebraic equations, how to make sense of a piece of text, or just be greeting them with a smile each day.

All that might sound like pablum and hokey to some. But we adults seem to have forgotten to believe in our young people. We reduce them to statistics or put them into boxes.

I showed Apple’s ‘Think Different’ TVC to my students today and we had a discussion about the vocabulary and what it meant. I didn’t think the challenge would come from explaining ’round peg in a square hole’ – but then how do you argue with a student who states: “You could do that if the peg was smaller than the hole.”

My 12 year olds only recognized Muhammed Ali and Mahatma Gandhi, but when I asked which individual did they think was the most important, several considered, then answered carefully: “The little girl at the end … because that’s us.”

The kids are alright.

13 Daniel May 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Thanks for this great post. I’m a male, 26 year old, 5th grade teacher at a public school in SoCal, and I love my job for many of the same reasons Aaron brought up (although, I bristled at the implication that elementary teaching resembles “babysitting”—How many babysitters do you know who are expected to teach pre-algebra to 10 and 11 year olds? I concede, it’s not an AP class, but still…).
Even so, with the stakes so high (what we do is rather important) and with so many burned out people around us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s been valuable for me to find inspiration from other teachers who are passionate about the work we do, and who continue to be motivated by the same ideals that brought me to teaching in the first place. In that spirit, thanks for the great post, it’ll help me look forward to Monday morning.

14 A. Kurtz May 30, 2009 at 6:17 pm

@Tim:

I find your post overly defensive at what was simply a tongue-and-cheek explanation of my personal preferences.

The fact remains is that there are good and bad teachers at all levels of the game. But I don’t sit here and blame primary teachers because Harold, a 10th-grader from a low-incoming area of the district, reads at a 2nd-grade reading level with no perceptible learning disabilities. I think there are more fundamental processes at work than the quality of communication between primary and secondary levels (my Miami high school’s English department did a stellar job of coordinating curriculum with our feeder middle schools, by the way). You’ve simply pointed out one issue that is endemic of larger policy and structure problems.

At least here in the States. I can’t comment on the bureaucratic structure of NZ’s public schools.

15 A. Kurtz May 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm

@Daniel

You’re right, and so is Tim (albeit dramatically). I take back my implication that primary education is akin to babysitting. I was just being tongue-and-cheek about my personal preferences.

16 Tim May 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm

@ Aaron

My apologies if my comment came across as defensive. I only meant the remark about (baby-sitting). I should have made it clearer – I really did enjoy the rest of the article, and as stated, your triple statement of “Compassion” was excellent.

Here in NZ the secondary and primary sectors are quite separate. To the extent that we’re represented by separate teacher unions. It’s unfortunate IMO – and we need to talk to each other more.

One of the coolest things for me is learning from teachers from around the globe – there’s some excellent teaching and learning being done, and being able to tap into it via blogs, iTunes U and various wikis is great. Our government is in the process of bringing in a system of “National Standards” – ala NCLB. It seems we’ve not learned from the failings of that project.

Thank you for taking the time to write the post Aaron – I apologize for jumping on the one minor negative I saw. I hope you – and other teachers in the Northern Hemisphere have an excellent summer break. I know you’ll all be deserving of it.

17 Ammon May 31, 2009 at 5:27 am

It’s always been my goal to go back and teach after I retire (I plan on retiring relatively young). In your experience, do you see that as at all realistic?

18 A. Kurtz May 31, 2009 at 6:23 am

@Ammon:

Entirely realistic. And you wouldn’t be the first.

Just be prepared to engage in a fairly rigorous alternative certification program through your state that’ll have you engaging in some combination of college coursework and testing. Some states, such as Florida (and specifically, Miami-Dade County Public Schools), even offer alternative certification programs that allow you to completely circumvent any need to acquire college credits via “in-house” classes taught by seasoned educators. Check with your state’s department of education. Almost every website has a section that explains alternative certification procedures.

Also, in most states you can substitute without needing regular teacher certification while you earn your certificate, though some may states require you to acquire a relatively easy-to-get substitute certificate (Illinois does, for example). This is a good way to get a general introduction to the classroom.

And if you’re lucky enough to work consistently at a particular school, you’ll increases your chances of getting hired there once you do have your actual certificate. But this all depends on how your school district distributes their substitutes. Chicago, for example, uses a general pool of substitutes that are available to work system-wide. Many schools in the district, though, don’t use this general sub pool and prefer to keep their own army of day-to-day subs to themselves (my current school does this).

Good luck!

@Tim

No harm, no foul. And did you mean separate unions, or separate bargaining groups? Either way, that’s a little silly and doesn’t unreasonably account for a lot of your frustrations.

19 Jonathan May 31, 2009 at 11:43 am

This article is extremely relevant to me, thanks! I’m a University of Chicago undergraduate first-year, looking to teach after college, either in Chicago or South Florida. I’m from Palm Beach County, but have been entertaining the idea of going to Miami-Dade to teach.

Mr Kurtz, thanks for your candid responses, it’s very helpful to me, at least.

I hope you can come to Alumni Weekend this week!
http://alumniweekend.uchicago.edu/

20 Tim May 31, 2009 at 2:48 pm

@Aaron

Separate unions. Primary teachers represented by NZEI, secondary teachers by the PPTA. Pay parity between primary and secondary wasn’t reached until 1998. This gives primary teachers and principals with the same experience and qualifications the same pay as secondary teachers and principals.

But there’s still misgivings and frustration between the groups. Secondary traditionally view primary teachers as generalists, while they are experts. Primary think that secondary teach only subjects – but not the whole student/child.

Personally I think it’s a failure – we’re all meant to be teachers and need to get on with that – not protecting our egos. If there’s a bad/slack teacher we need to call them out – help them get better. We shouldn’t protect those who aren’t doing the best job for our students.

@Ammon

In NZ, we have a teaching graduate diploma – a one year, post-grad course that allows you to get training as a teacher. It’s designed to get more people into teaching. It has some flaws – mainly as it never really prepares you for the amount of paperwork you’ll have to juggle! I went back at 31 to retrain as a teacher – it was a challenge, but it’s been worthwhile. I really enjoy my work, despite it being frustrating at times. Good luck if you do decide to become a teacher.

21 Jesse June 2, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Well, the only thing I would add is that having been both an actor and an EMT before deciding to enter education has been an amazing help. Many times I have been told by administrators that the non-education experience is what sets me apart as a teacher. It also helps keep your sense of perspective when in the classroom. It can be such a narrow view of the world in a room with our kids. Having experience to draw on outside of the educational field helps give my students a broader perspective on what we are studying.

22 Tess June 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm

I just want to say thanks for the perspective. I just finished my Senior year of undergrad work, and I’m set up to do my student teaching in the fall, but it’s overwhelming me. I have this fear that if I’m not 100% perfect, that I’m going to mess my students up for life or something. That’s kind of irrational, so thanks for saying that no one is perfect, and that’s okay. Keep up the good work!

23 Finnian June 11, 2009 at 4:23 pm

As a high school English teacher and a father of two boys, I want to add one small benefit to being a teacher. My summers are free to spend with my sons at my in-laws in Montana, teaching them to camp, to fish, to roam in the mountains and explore the woods. I am intimately involved in a unique way in their formation into men. I am blessed.

24 Chris June 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Thanks for doing this interview Aaron, its exactly what I needed to read. I’m a lower level undergraduate student at a community college working towards a transfer to university for a math major and teaching minor. The actual requirements for this minor seem pretty light to me but I don’t really know what to expect. Do you have any practical recommendations for extra-curricular activities or anything else I should focus on to become a better teacher and improve my chances of being hired after I graduate?

25 Eric August 20, 2009 at 3:29 pm

@Aaron
Thanks so much for this article, I am currently a Junior at a State University in NY.
I am a dual degree major is Psychology/Accounting. The reason for the double degree was to expand my options.
After finishing an Internship this summer at one of the Bigger Accounting Firms, I realize that Accounting may not be for me. I don’t want to be a “sellout”, or work in cubicle for the rest of my life. In my Teens, likewise i was a camp counselor and really enjoyed interacting with the kids. Many people have said to me that they thought I would be a great teacher out of the blue. My main concern is I’m not sure what i could teach. I want to teach something that I feel i am very strong at, i don’t want to cheat the kids . I also would love to be a high school teacher because there are so many personal hobbies i feel i can bring to after school activities.( I would love to coach volleyball/ run a chess or ping pong club.)

QUESTIONS:
My strongest subjects are psychology and economics what subjects would i be able to teach?
As a teacher, are you your own boss, do you have lots of freedom?
I’m still in Undergrad mode, what activities/jobs do you think would be helpful for a teaching career? ( i was thinking of tutoring subjects that i am very fond of at the university)

26 Michael January 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I found this post by searching for “so you want to be a high school teacher.”

Excellent post in an excellent blog.

The good news for those who want to become teachers but are slightly worred about the apparently low pay: There are lots of ways to cover expenses beyond what you get paid for being in the classroom. There are a few examples listed above, and I personally know a fellow who lives and teaches in a very small town in Michigan who makes most of his money trading real estate. Another teacher I know spends summers overseas teaching and tutoring, which means basically traveling for free.

I encourage anyone who is interested in teaching to overcome their fear of math and science. Look into your past and find out why you think you aren’t good at either. Perhaps it was because you had a jock coach for trig and he gave all his athletes B’s just for showing up? Or you had an algebra teacher who was an English major and was angry at the class because she couldn’t teach you about the inner turmoil of Lord Byron?

Many studies show that the quality of the math and science teaching young kids (especailly young girls) get is an influencing factor in whether or not they go on to study math and science in HS and college.

If you want to “man-up,” learn to overcome your own math/science shortcomings and become comfortable with the wonderful ways of looking at the world through math and science. Don’t you agree that a person who did so would make an effective teacher to those students who are struggling with math and science?

27 LM February 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I have been struggling with a spouse who either “is about to lose his job” or “hates his job” or is unemployed (notice no quotes as it was/is real”) for the entire time we have been married. I married him with the understanding that I was not after a “sugar daddy” but I sure as heck did not want to wind up a “sugar mama”. We made a number of financial agreements based on this (full dual incomes). After numerous “career changes” now he is studying to be a high school teacher. Even though we had agreements on what he would do should he become unemployed, nothing has come to light (he has been unemployed for over 10% of the time we have been married, with me paying all of the bills and him using his unemployment to pay his car bill – I drive a 100,000 mile car which I paid off when it was 4 years old while he has 2 cars – and any other nice computer / school expenses which only he will see any benefit from). His momma will bail him out, I am sure, but only after I am bankrupt from supporting him. I am tired of his oh so many explanations of why he can’t keep his promises.
I guess it is true, those who can’t “do” -> “teach”

28 mario Ferrari July 13, 2010 at 2:03 am

This post drew my attention because there is not much mention of the classroom experience. Disregarding all issues about low pay, personal family problems, school politics, certification etc etc. The topic is about being man enough for the high school classroom. In California, where I teach, many schools are now focused on testing, preparing students for passing the exit exam and not towards careers; this being the case, I see an urgent need for not only men in the classroom, but a practical kind of man who has worked in the 9-5 world. My own experience was this, now with 20 + years in the class, I highly recommend that men become teachers from the private industry world. Why? Because many of the boys are so out of control in the schools due to no strong reinforcing male role models for them. Also a lot of the younger teachers use high school as a temporary stopping off point as they wait to get into graduate school, then disappear after 3-4 years! To me the key is, be confident, be willing to give up a lot of personal prejudices; and to stay the course so that you are a teacher for a long time. This was an issue for me because I came out of UC Berkeley with an MFA, most of my classmates either taught college, pursued their art, or did something else. I now teach computer graphics, and 3d animation, and its a class the kids enjoy – there is constant dialog, i dig in with the kids and forget about the lunchroom gossip, keep my room open at lunch; put in time for the students who fall back, and pay no attention to the complainers or students with a beef; they just are time suckers. Good luck to any blokes out there, teaching is great; you become a mentor for the students if you have the right approach and they need positive and focused men to get them unstuck from their boredom.

29 Joshua January 24, 2013 at 1:20 am

Thank you very much for this article! I recently started to think, and I also want to become a highschool teacher. I am currently in Korea, via the US ARMY. I am used to being paid terribly. I want to teach because I like working with people, and I think that if I put work in hard, I can become a great teacher. I have three years left in the military, I just got in, but I do not enjoy it. I want to be close to my family and I want to start a family. I plan on going to college while I’m in the military, so I can almost be completely done with my baccalaureate. I want to teach Highschool English, History, or Social studies/history. Any tips on becoming a coach as well to take part in the sports as an assistant?

30 Jim Weston July 21, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Great article. My dad is a high school teacher, and he loves every second of it!

31 Amy Sharpe January 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I know in my state, they want secondary teachers to have a degree in their subject area and take classes necessary for certification. I don’t know any secondary teachers that majored in education-that is more for elementary.

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