Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mr. Nowling....should I be a teacher when I grow up?

In my 10 years of working as a school librarian, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever had a student come up to me and tell me they want to be a teacher. I’ve had kids want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, rap stars, basketball stars (one currently plays in the NBA and is damned good), welders, IT people…but never a teacher. I don’t dissuade them from the notion, I just don’t think it occurs to them. I work in a very urban inner city school, and I think that when my students think about growing up, going to college and picking a career that they think much bigger than being a teacher…and rightly so. Teaching is for the altruistic…not those who are trying to get into a higher tax bracket than the one they grew up in.

In full disclosure, after 10 years in education I make $44,000 a year. I have an Associate’s degree, two Bachelor’s degrees, a Master’s and enough credit hours for a second Master’s. I am well educated in my field and I’d say pretty well respected and accomplished at what I do. At 43 years old, I think it’s fair to say that I wish I made more. It is tough knowing that I make about $10k less than a right out of college starting engineer or only $5k more than a fresh off the turnip truck teacher.

To put into perspective where my salary falls…if I had joined the Army ten years ago and had only been remotely proficient at my job and managed a normal promotion schedule…I’d be making about $54,000 a year, plus excellent insurance…without a college degree. If I’d gone in with a college degree as an officer I’d be making about $90,000 a year. If I were a police officer with 10 years of experience I’d be making in the mid $60k range at very least. Yes…both can be dangerous jobs, but honestly, so can teaching. Only 20% of jobs in the military are combat related and I applaud them all, but 80% have jobs that are probably no more demanding or dangerous than teaching, but that is a whole other story.

So the question recently came up “Would you recommend teaching to one of your students based on the salary?” As I’ve thought about this through the course of the day, I’ve come to the conclusion of no. Absolutely not. If a student was hell bent on wanting to change the world and be the type of educator that they had when they were a student, I would never discourage that. Follow your heart, even if it means being poor. Not that making $40k a year is poor, but it’s tight. There is much more to life than money. I didn’t choose to be a teacher because of the salary, I chose it because it was what I wanted to do. That being said, I couldn’t recommend teaching as a way to make a living.

To become a teacher you need a minimum of a four year teaching degree. I needed a graduate degree to become a librarian. Between the two I’m over $100k in debt with student loans. Starting salary in Indianapolis for a teacher is around $38,000 a year. A starting welder can make $35,000 a year and have no college debt. A dental assistant makes around $40,000 a year and hair stylist at Great Clips makes about $34,000 a year. These are all trades that a high school student can learn while in high school, and graduate with no debt. If it’s all about the money, I’d highly suggest a student learn a trade, get out of school debt free and start earning nearly the same kind of money a teacher makes. The income potential in all of those fields is about the same as that as a teacher.

That all being said, it’s never just about the money. Teachers don’t recommend students to join the education field for the hundred other factors that beat them up daily. It’s breaking up fights, being cursed at, being threatened, working 6-7 days a week during the school year, not getting paid time off, not being able to use sick days, being unappreciated by your supervisors, constantly being worried about losing your job due to enrollment or cutbacks. Sure, everyone deals with some of that, but having those issues doesn’t make people want to encourage others to join the field. I’m pretty fortunate to like where I work and like who I work with, but I’ll be honest, it’s a tough gig. It’s heart wrenching, it’s expensive to pay for all of those supplies out of your own pocket and it is a lot of unpaid time. Between the extra hours, weekends of grading papers, holiday breaks, weeks of writing curriculum….all unpaid it becomes a regular 12 month job.

So do teachers get paid a decent salary? Sure I suppose…but it’s not nearly enough to recommend anyone else doing it, especially for the money. If you are bound and determined to be a teacher then I say do it, but if it is ever for a second about the money, do something else, anything else, because it’s not worth the salary.