We’ve previously noted that fewer students are enrolling in teaching programs. A report just released by the ACT shows that this trend is continuing. In the last 4 years, the number of students interested in pursuing teaching careers dropped by 16%.
In addition, the report shows that the academic level of students who express interest in teaching is lower than the average of ACT test takers in every potential education major except English. The report does not indicate whether this trend is getting worse or not, but it stands to reason that as teaching becomes more and more of a risky proposition, the people who have the most options will be less likely to pursue education.
This brings up an important question: How should we respond to students who are considering becoming teachers?
Teacher and author Nancie Atwell recently garnered some attention not only for being the winner of the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize, but for an interview with CNN about that award in which she said she would advise young people to go into the private sector rather than become public school teachers. Is this the right approach?
On the one hand, it certainly seems wrong. While studies show that teacher morale is continuing to fall, we still care deeply about the mission of public education and want it to succeed – and that means we want our best students to carry the torch forward. So of course, we should be encouraging them.
However, is it really fair to allow students to spend a great deal of time and money pursuing a career that may be very different from what they think it is, and which, unless things change drastically, is a very risky proposition? We’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. Setting a standard where for three out of their first four years, teachers have to be as good as veteran teachers (based on data that is unreliable), creates a situation where many very capable young teachers will be fired based on bad luck, random error, or just not having hit their stride yet.
Can we in good conscience allow them to take that risk for a career that many of us are feeling less and less enamored with?
For teachers of younger students, this is mostly a philosophical question. Of course you’re not going to tell a 9-year-old he/she shouldn’t be a teacher any more than you’d crush their dreams of being an astronaut, a professional dancer, or an actor. But students do seek advice from previous teachers, and high school teachers especially have to deal with this in a very real way.
So what do you think? Do we have a responsibility to share the reality with students who are giving serious thought to enrolling in education programs?
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