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Ten Questions for Prospective Teachers

Thinking about going into education or know someone interested in the field? It’s not a decision to be made lightly. Get ready for one of the most exhausting, yet fulfilling jobs on the planet! Today, Education World shares some of the important questions you might want to ask yourself in order to see if it’d be the right fit for you!

Can you manage customer service? Long gone are the days where the teacher, master of content, reclusive in nature, sitting high upon their mountain cave, only descending 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to share the wisdom of the ages. Teaching is a customer service job like no other. Ultimately, you are a public servant. Concerned parents will call. Your data will be shared. You will be asked to report upon classes, individuals, reports on progress, the status of your curriculum, mediating between student and student, student and parent, parent and administration. Everyone is the customer. And so, everyone is right. Developing and nurturing these relationships is the key to establishing a healthy and supportive community for your students.

Are you willing to face the politics? No one likes this part. The real question here is are you willing to take a stand? For your students. For your school. Teaching is never simply about what happens in the classroom (unfortunately). It’s also about fighting for what is right for your students, the values of your community, and sometimes in defense of knowledge itself. Education is political, and everyone has a stake in the decisions you make in your classroom, as well as the decisions your school, district, and state make. More than once you will be asked to defend what you do to a larger concerned party.

Do you love problem-solving? Rapid-fire problem-solving is the epitome of the educator’s life. And comes at you from all sides, all day long. How do you reach each student with this one lesson? What are their barriers? How can we mediate emotional trauma? How should I adjust this lesson, mid-flight? What does this student need? What is this community looking for? How can I fit it all into one day, one period, one mini-lesson? Teachers have to be decisive. You can’t expect to make the right decision every time, but you are certainly expected to make some tough calls with a moment’s notice.

Do you love the community? Surely, you don’t have to live in the community you serve as an educator, although it certainly has its benefits. But you must be willing to engage fully in the town, city, or neighborhood you work for. What are their values? What are the local pastimes? Where’s the best pizza? What other types of community support systems are already in place? Go to the block parties, carnivals, markets, shows, and town hall meetings. To fully understand what your students need, you absolutely have to know where they are coming from.

Can you make it your life? Of course, there’s time for family and friends, but once you become a teacher like it or not you are always a teacher, 24/7/365. Some claim that they can “leave it at school,” but that takes a lot of practice and a lot of personal discipline. Most teachers never feel like they “clock out.”  When you enter the field, you are in many ways expanding your family to include your students, their families, and the entire community. You will stay up late, worrying about them. You will struggle with their problems. You will be there to watch them in their successes, and be a shoulder when they need it the most. Teaching is much more than a job. It’s a way of life.

Can you retain focus for long periods of time? This one is no joke. Between grading paper after paper, compiling and analyzing data, crafting formal lesson plans, sitting through meeting after meeting after meeting.… There is little time in the day for you to space out. You need to stay focused, stay organized, and stay awake. You’ll quickly learn that in education everything is important, and everything is a priority. Your ability to stay “on” for extended periods of time could be your saving grace.

Can you stay centered in the heart of chaos? Sometimes learning is messy. Sometimes it is loud. Sometimes frustrating, confusing, or even absurd. The work day is quick-paced, and you never really get to take a full breath. Class, questions, hallway, prep time, data team, questions, class.… It all shoots by like a wild Willy Wonka cave. And you? You need to be able to stay centered. Because your students need that consistency in their lives. You need to be the calm in the storm, despite it all. A rock in often unsteady waters.

Do you love performing? Are you a former actor? Amateur standup? Do you periodically yearn for the limelight? Understand that mastery of your discipline alone will not lead to success in the classroom. Teachers are performers, from the moment they walk into the school until they step foot in their car in the afternoon. It’s not really about the content, but how you teach the content. How you present it. Performance is perhaps 85% of the job, as you are always on stage, whether in front of a classroom or meandering through the hallway. All eyes are on you. Make it good.

Are you willing to change? The great and perhaps terrifying thing about teaching is that as soon as you feel like you “got it,” the game changes. When you decide to teach, you decide to take on a profession that you can never quite master: you will always be improving, always learning, always growing and adapting to the ever-changing educational landscape. You might not ever know if you’re doing it right, but you’ll certainly never be bored.

Are you looking to make money? All kidding aside, teaching will never be about the money. And obviously, no one goes into the profession looking to make bank. Still, it needs to be a consideration. The benefit is that most teachers have the unique opportunity to wake up every morning, loving what they do. The challenge is that the funding that creates your paycheck is subject to the whimsy of the political landscape. “Financial comfort” is relative, but many teachers hold side jobs after school and during the summer just to make ends meet.

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.