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Career Spotlight: Teachers

Employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers will grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022

Career Spotlight: Teachers

The problem of painting education with a broad brush stroke is it’s an incredibly complex field comprising stakeholders and issues ranging from taxpayers, government-mandated reforms, privately-owned testing companies, how to measure and benchmark results, the high cost of college and on and on.

In the eye of the storm lies the solution: teachers.

“Any principal knows that the most important ingredient for the school’s success is the teachers,” said Jim Liebman, former chief accountability officer at the New York City Department of Education in the spring 2014 edition of The District Management Journal. New York City has the nation’s largest public school district with 1.1 million students, 1,800 schools and 75,000 teachers as of 2014. The importance of great teachers is paramount. Powerful words from a man in a position of power.

I caught up with a few teachers, new and veteran, to talk about the joys and challenges they find in their jobs as educators and what to expect from a career in teaching.

Charlotte Agell, a middle school teacher who has worked in public education since 1981, cited the kids as the most rewarding part of her job.

“Laughing, growing, being real together. When someone ‘gets it.’ When someone takes off in a new (or deeper direction),” she said.

Two-year Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) second-grade teacher Adam Totman agrees.

“There are two most rewarding aspects. One is building positive relationships with kids and the other is witnessing an ‘a-ha’ moment — when the proverbial light bulb goes off and a kid truly masters a previously unknown skill (such as borrowing to subtract),” he said.

Challenges in and outside the classroom

While teaching offers many rewarding moments in the classroom, the position presents unique challenges as well.

First-grade student teacher Sam Nowak explains his biggest everyday challenge is “giving each student an opportunity to be heard every time they want to share. I want to hear all of their ideas, which feels impossible to do while also covering each lesson that needs to be taught.”

With a structured teaching schedule throughout the week, Totman also names time management as a specific challenge he faces.

“Managing a heavy workload with limited hours to complete the work. I need to lesson plan, analyze data, create individual behavior plans, etc., and I can't do any of this between 7:30 [a.m.] and 4:30 [p.m.] because I'm in front of kids during that time,“ he said.

For Agell, challenges originate outside the classroom.

“The most challenging aspect is keeping up with the pendulum of requirements developed by well-intentioned but remote entities, such as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) right now,” she said.

“Teachers are both the villains and heroes of the story and in a good position to do the impossible: save America's children. At heart, however, are deeper problems such as poverty. Trust teachers. That's what I say,” Agell added.

Salary expectations

The challenges of teaching are often unique to each educator’s environment but according to the National Education Association, the 2012-13 national average for starting teacher salary in the U.S. was $36,141. However, averages varied greatly by state. For example, in New Jersey the average starting salary was $48,631. In Montana? $27,274.

Job Outlook

Despite the expectation that student-teacher ratios will decline in the next decade (due mostly to budget constraints), employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Nowak is excited about his teaching career.

“I love the idea of learning something new every day from and with my students. I can only prepare so much for what will happen over the course of the day, which is both exciting and a bit scary,” he said.

Thirty years ahead of Nowak in her teaching career, Agell would also encourage people to pursue a teaching career.

“If you love learning and are interested in the very many expressions of humanity, YES. Also, the rhythm of a year is may work at something else in the summer, but (in most districts) there's a large stretch off. Even in districts with year-round school, there is time away from the room. You'll need it,” she said. 

Teachers are content experts, mentors and leaders in the community, helping kids learn to love learning. They are some of our nation’s finest heroes and our country’s long-term success depends on them.

Perhaps Henry Adams said it best, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

Interested in a career in teaching? See what opportunities are available in your area. 

Monster Wants to Know: Teachers, what are some of the most rewarding aspects or moments in your career? Share with us in the comment section.

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