Search form

How Much Do I Tell Them?


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program.

I have a dilemma I'm hoping to sort out as I write this. You see, this week, in my Exploring Teaching class at the University of North Dakota, my students, most of whom are sophomores and juniors, have to list the pros and cons of choosing teaching as a profession. I'm not sure how much of the truth to tell them.

Oh, I'll let them start their lists themselves. I know that, right away, they'll include on their list of pros "the joy of seeing the spark in students' eyes when they finally get a concept they've been struggling with." Do I tell them that that spark wasn't powerful enough, or frequent enough, to persuade my beloved niece Jennie to return to her New York City classroom after her very long first year of teaching?

I know too that the first item on the con lists will be the low pay because prospective teachers are well aware of that. Do I tell them that with a master's degree and 27 years of teaching experience, this is the first year I will earn more than $40,000?

They'll tell me that money isn't that important to them. Do I try to explain how important it's become to me as I try to figure out how I'm going to pay for three sons' college tuition next fall? Do I mention that Jennie is now working as a nanny in Chicago, caring for one delightful three-year-old, lunching at "the Club" after his swimming lessons, and making several thousand dollars more than I earn? Can I describe the nagging sense of guilt she feels because, having forsaken teaching, she loves this job so much?

Perhaps my students will point out that teachers work shorter hours -- and only nine months a year. Do I tell them that a colleague and I worked for several hours after school on Friday afternoon planning a book study that our faculty will attend (on their own time) to learn how to help students improve their reading comprehension? Do I mention that I spent five hours last night grading, and responding to, their case study presentations or that I'll spend at least another three hours of my "free" time working on their other papers. Do I explain that my $41,000 annual salary includes teaching a graduate course and working with resident teachers throughout the summer? I wonder how much of the truth I can share without driving these eager, talented young men and women away from teaching?

Dare I reveal that the more clearly the education community identifies exactly what makes a good teacher, the harder it is for beginning teachers to feel as though they are doing it well? Do I tell them how terrifically hard it is when a student you're finally making progress with stops in to tell you that his mom is moving him out of town and he's not sure where he'll be going to school next week? Do I mention that the student who disrupts your class and is making no progress whatsoever never moves, never stays at home for even a single day?

Well, of course it's clear to me that the answer to my question is "yes." I will share some of that with them. They are good young people, and I have grown to love and respect them in our short time together. I love them for even considering teaching as a career. I love them for wanting students to have the same wonderful experiences their teachers gave them or, conversely, for wanting to spare as many kids as possible the difficulties they faced in school. I want them to make the right decisions for themselves because I know that I never wanted my own kids to have teachers who were unhappy with their career choice.

I also want them to know that good teachers are never, ever bored because kids are so interesting -- because there's always something new to learn and try. Even when I'm in the midst of a "pity party," I can never completely convince myself that what teachers do isn't really, really important.

Then I wonder: Should I make sure they know how uncomfortable it is to go many hours without a bathroom break, how difficult some parents can be, how ...?

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Join Discussion

Do you have comments, questions, or advice for Laurie and Kim? Would you like to talk about your own experiences with mentoring? Share your thoughts on "The First 180 Days: A Teacher and Her Mentor."

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
Education World®
Copyright © 2001 Education World