Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers you can choose; it also offers many opportunities for personal growth and professional development.
However, there’s no doubt that teaching is a challenging and demanding profession. So, is it worth it?
Here are some experts’ insights if being a teacher is worth it and why:
“Yes: It gives you an opportunity to spark change”
I challenge you to ask yourself, who mentored the minds of some of the most outstanding physicians, orators, authors, artists, activists, advocates, and leaders we know today?
The answer is their teachers — those who have sparked change throughout history to create this dynamic world we live in.
A teacher does more than provide students with the academic knowledge to be successful in content, but an opportunity to inspire the next generation.
Being a teacher is revolutionary
For leaders such as Muhammad Ali, Socrates, Desmond Tutu, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, Malala Yousafzai, John Lewis, Barack Obama, and countless others, there was an educator throughout their educational journey that motivated them to be all they could be and gave them the tools to transform a generation.
Being an educator is one of the most fulfilling jobs one could imagine. It is revolutionary.
The challenge as an educator is creating an equitable experience for every student that allows them to explore their cultural, racial, and ethnic identity.
This will enable them to be enlightened by the world around them and have their voices elevated louder than the educator in the room, no matter what they hear or see reflected in society.
Teachers are those superheroes who help cultivate a student’s dreams into reality. Being an educator is most definitely worth it.
Students deserve an education responsive to who they’re becoming; teachers create that
Teachers can craft meaningful learning experiences for all students. Those that look like us and those that do not.
Because we know that our students thrive in different environments, we are responsible for creating that space for them to succeed.
The magic that teachers have an opportunity to create will stick with a student forever.
- Teachers who believe every student can succeed and find ways to incorporate students’ cultural backgrounds into the instruction.
- Teachers who address their own biases and know how they may or may not impact classroom instruction.
That is the impact we should all strive to have as teachers and why being a teacher is more than worth it.
High School English Teacher | Author, “The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom“
“Absolutely; unfortunately, being in the education profession right now is not”
Twenty years into my career as a high school English teacher, I connected with a former student on Facebook named Anna.
In catching up, she mentioned in passing, “At that time, the only place I felt safe was in your class.” Looking back, I had zero idea that Anna had been struggling with any kind of personal challenges in her life. But her comment left me speechless.
For years, I had been teaching The Great Gatsby, the proper use of commas, the short story plot arc, and, naturally, the multi-paragraph essay year after year.
I knew that I was making a difference in my students’ lives, but Anna’s comment made me feel that I was doing something profound, meaningful, and terribly important with my life.
Fast forward five years, and I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands while our vice principal sat across from me, wondering how she could help.
“What’s wrong, Dan?” she said. “I just feel so stressed out,” I said and started rattling off a litany of the challenges I’d been facing.
“I’m working all the time, and it never seems to be enough.
- There’s always more to do,
- There are too many kids in my classes,
- The parents are always so critical, and
- None of us are getting the support we need from the districts and even the admin team.
The vice-principal leaned in and lowered her voice. “We have an EAP program, you know,” she said.
The Employee Assistance Program was the mental health arm of our health insurance plan. The vice-principal was a very nice lady, and she was trying to help, but her comment made me angry.
Make no mistake: I have no problem with therapy. I think everyone should be in therapy. But it was infuriating that she was insinuating that I was the one who was broken when we both knew it was the system that was broken, not me.
Wondering how I was going to make it to retirement (I had about ten years left at that point), I started writing “The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom.” I wrote it out of a need for survival. I wrote it as a series of reminders for me.
I was at a crisis point, and I needed some insurance that would make it through. The fact that I’m now doing workshops at school districts across the country and seeing it help other teachers is gravy. I confess that I did it all selfishly, for me.
Knowing that I didn’t have the bandwidth to change the system, I decided the only thing I could change was me. The good news is that now I know I’m going to make it to the finish line.
“My impact has had a positive ripple effect in the lives of thousands of young people”
I found strategies that worked. I’ll be fine. I will nibble on that slice of retirement cake, secure in the knowledge that my impact has had a positive ripple effect in the lives of thousands of young people. There are certainly worse ways to spend your life on this Big Blue Marble, to be sure.
But it is the young folks, the ones who are going into teaching now and who — unless somewhere along the line join the current Great Education Resignation that’s currently happening — will emerge decades from now, wondering if it was all worth it.
- Where will they find the money to persevere?
- Where will they find the will to endure?
- Where will they find the materials, the support, the money, the time, and the respect to put in the effort for what is a profoundly fulfilling but also extraordinarily challenging job?
At this particular moment in history, your guess is as good as mine.
The truth is: I’ve been a public school teacher for over 30 years, and I’ve loved every minute of it. That’s why it is so heartbreaking to realize that—at least in its current state — I cannot recommend this profession, even to my own daughters.
The low pay, lack of respect, and excessive and unreasonable expectations make currently beginning this career unsustainable for young people who only want to make a positive difference in the world.
Could things change? Certainly, and I always say that teaching is the ultimate act of hope. Teaching is an investment in a future that you know can be better. That’s one of the big reasons we do it.
So is being a teacher worth it? Absolutely. Always.
Unfortunately, though, being in the education profession right now is not.
Dr. Kirsten L. Stein, Ed.D.
Doctor in Educational Leadership | M.A. in Education Degree | Founder & Instructor, Athena’s Advanced Academy
“Yes: When they tell you how much it meant to them to have you for a teacher”
It takes a lot of effort to be an effective, dedicated teacher.
Oftentimes, educators take their work home with them, put in long, extra hours, and get little pay in return. It is a profession that is often undervalued and misunderstood.
Frequently you ask yourself: “Is it worth it?”
And then you get that moment.
- That moment when you see the spark in a child’s eye, or
- you hear the gasp when the student realizes, “I got it!”
- That moment when it all clicks and your student’s mind expands right before your eyes.
You don’t even need to see the child to know it has happened — you can hear it in their voice, see it in their writing, and dare I say, feel it in the air. That moment is so powerful, it can be life-changing. And being able to witness that magic makes it all worth it.
Those instant moments are the ones most people know about, even if they don’t teach. But there is another moment that eclipses them all.
They share the words that touch your soul and make you weep
It is the moment not everyone gets a chance to experience, but the one most hope will happen: The moment when former students return to share with you the impact you had on their lives.
And what a moment that is. When they share with you the memories they had of being in your class, recognizing the little things you did — things you didn’t think they noticed.
Then they tell you how much your care, guidance, support, and dedication changed their lives and how much it meant to them to have you for a teacher.
They share the words that touch your soul and make you weep. That is a feeling that is worth more than anyone can imagine.
Louel Gibbons, PhD
Adjunct Associate Professor | Author, “To Kill a Mockingbird in the Classroom: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes“
“No: The growing teacher shortage provides irrefutable proof”
Increasingly, teachers are answering “no,” and the growing teacher shortage provides irrefutable proof that teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers.
My blog article, “So You Want to Be an Educator for a Day? Good Luck!” provides a lengthy discussion of some of the daily challenges teachers face.
The teacher shortage continues to grow, indicating that teachers have had enough
Since 2010, overall enrollment in teacher education programs has fallen by 40%. With so many teachers retiring and others exiting the profession for many reasons, teacher shortages are expected to reach the 200,000 mark by 2025.
Without question, the COVID pandemic has driven — and continues to drive — increased numbers of teachers from the profession through retirement or changing careers.
The teacher exodus continues to happen in waves.
- The 2019-2020 school year
The first part of the wave occurred in 2020. Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, when schools across the country closed in mid-March 2020, many retirement-eligible teachers and teachers with health problems opted not to return to teaching for the upcoming school year because of COVID-related concerns.
- The 2020-2021 school year
The 2020-2021 school year presented new and greater challenges, requiring many teachers with no previous online teaching experience to transition to the virtual environment.
Some of the biggest problems occurred when school systems required teachers to provide virtual as well as in-person instruction, a nearly impossible task.
In one instance, teachers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, filed a Federal lawsuit alleging an untenable workload that was later dismissed in April 2022.
The prevalence of COVID-related illness and quarantine protocols during the 2020-2021 school year caused additional problems when the pool of available substitute teachers — always in short supply — shrunk even more due to the unwillingness of many subs to risk becoming infected with COVID by subbing in schools.
The declining availability of subs to cover an increasing number of teacher absences created an even greater workload for the teachers.
It’s because the absence of subs resulted in many teachers having to:
- Supervise the students of absent colleagues during their planning period,
- In some cases, take additional students into their existing classes so an adult can supervise the students.
In some areas, members of the National Guard served as substitute teachers as schools struggled to keep their doors open amidst a staffing crisis.
Numerous teachers have told me that 2020-2021 was the most challenging year of their teaching career, prompting many to investigate other career options or make retirement plans.
- The 2021-2022 school year
Although this school year witnessed a waning of the COVID pandemic, teacher stress and burnout were worse than ever, with teachers reeling to recover from the physical and emotional trauma of the previous two school years.
A March 2022 NEA survey found that 55% of educators plan to retire earlier than they had previously planned.
Compounding teachers’ existing burnout are the aftereffects of May 24, 2022, Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 21 lives were lost.
In the latest list of school shootings in the United States, the perceived inaction of some of the first responders has made many teachers feel less valued and supported than ever before.
Other reasons teachers are leaving their positions:
The politicization of education
Without question, the politicization of education, especially as it relates to Critical Race Theory and gender issues, is creating new obstacles to complicate the challenges teachers already face.
Minimal to no support from their school administration
Add to that the fact that many teachers feel they have minimal to no support from their school administration as it relates to their interactions with parents and virtually every other aspect of their job.
Concerns about school safety
Additionally, as I stated above, the circumstances surrounding the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, raise many new concerns about school safety.
In short, more and more teachers are saying, “Enough is enough,” and leaving the profession by retiring or taking jobs in other sectors.
Suggestions to improve teachers’ working conditions to keep them in the education profession
These are all measures that would help alleviate the teacher shortage.
- Providing teachers with more viable working conditions and support,
- Higher salaries, and
- Greater respect and autonomy.
Because our schools are a microcosm of our larger society, a multitude of factors have exacerbated the challenges teachers face, prompting many teachers to leave a job that is having too many ill effects on their health and well-being.
Adjunct Professor of Communication, University of Tampa
“Yes: The academia aspect can be frustrating, but the education aspect makes it all worthwhile”
The short answer to it is “Absolutely yes.”
As a college student myself trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, the thought of teaching was pretty firmly at the bottom of the list. Even though my first Bachelor of Arts degree was overwhelmingly focused on 18th-century British literature, it left a little leeway for anything other than an academic career.
Related: Why Become a Teacher?
A series of life experiences, thanks to the Vietnam War, brought about a dramatic change of perspective, though.
My very first classroom experience was as an Air Force English Language Instructor teaching “English as a Second Language” to Vietnamese military (enlisted and officer) with the goal of giving them enough of a grasp of the language that they could then come to the United States for advanced training in their particular career fields.
I can recall even today seeing the “light go on” in their eyes when they reached a point in the classroom where they were able to initiate basic conversations themselves.
After completing eight years of active-duty military service, I was fortunate enough to land a public affairs (civil service) internship with the U.S. Army. I spent the next five years honing my communication skills and getting a better focus on my future.
I then segued into private sector public relations, where I spent the next 20 years working with various organizations. Although I was a frequent guest speaker for college professor colleagues’ public relations classes, the thought of actually teaching never crossed my mind.
Flash forward to today, and things have changed dramatically. For the past 20 years now, I have been teaching college-level (undergraduate and graduate) public relations courses.
I bring my own love of public relations (more than 20 years of that as well!) into the classroom with the goal of getting them excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for them after graduation.
There is nothing more exhilarating than to hear from a student later on eagerly telling me either of a cool new job he or she has landed in the communications field or a well-deserved promotion, all thanks to what he or she learned in one or more of my courses.
The “academia” aspect of teaching can be frustrating from time to time, but the “education” aspect makes it all worthwhile. Seeing others succeed thanks to your own ability to share and explain your experiences is and always will be your reward!
Stacy Johnson, BA English, ME Secondary Education
Instructor | Writer, I Want My Diploma
“Yes: I’m teaching them skills that will last them a lifetime”
The definition of worth, according to dictionary.com, is “good or important enough to justify.” While there have been many moments when I doubted if it was worth it, they are heavily offset by moments that remind me that it is.
If I could get paid in light bulb moments, that would be something. When I explain to a student how to write a thesis statement, recognize a theme, or even write a complete sentence, and it finally clicks, that light bulb turns on for the student — that makes it worth it.
When a student writes an essay to persuade me to believe that a singer and lyricist should (or should not) have gotten the Nobel Prize for literature, that is the same student who will raise their voice against injustices in the world and will influence others to be better.
That student knows that word choice, reasons, and evidence will strengthen their argument, and the world will be a better place because of them. That makes it worth it.
When I’ve introduced a student to a book that reminds them that they aren’t alone in the world or that there is hope in the future and that book keeps them pushing forward, then that makes it worth it.
Teaching a child to read and write will change his future. Teaching them how to read and write well, will change his family’s future as well.
When I think about the many students who will eventually become doctors, lawyers, business owners, music producers, artists, and more, I know that it will be partly because of something they learned from me. The thought of that happening makes it worth it.
And while it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, having a student write me an email long after graduation, just to say, “you were the best coach/teacher the class of 2021 had”, then that simple thank you makes it worth it.
Doing any of these things require a ton of effort on my part and the student. When the student’s effort doesn’t match mine, it can be discouraging to continue teaching. But, for every student who does not want my help, then others do, which makes it worth it.
If we put our worth into dollar amounts, I’m confident that very few teachers out there are getting their worth.
I have been teaching for many years and have a Master’s degree in education, but my salary hardly pays my bills, don’t even ask me when my student loans will get paid off because the answer is most likely, never. I’m ok with that.
But I’m not just teaching a student for an hour, a semester, or even a year — I’m teaching them skills that will last them a lifetime and benefit them and their families forever.
So, even after my paychecks come to an end, there will be students out there who do what they do because I was their teacher. And you can’t measure that kind of worth.
Related: The Benefits of Being a Teacher
Valerie D. Johnson
Author | Instructional leader | Mathematics Specialist | Educator, West Oak Lane Kids, LLC
“Yes: I am following my dreams and living my passion”
Is being a teacher worth it? Am I passionate about teaching and learning? These questions made me think of the article, 7 Questions to Ask to Discover Your Passion, by Jessica Dowches-Wheeler.
Here are my top 5 from the article (some questions have been modified):
- Does teaching make me forget to eat and go to the bathroom? In other words, do I get so lost in teaching and learning that I lose track of time?
- Can I talk about teaching for hours that when I talk about it, I light up?
- If I were financially secure, would I do this for free?
- Do I find this fulfilling, meaningful, enjoyable, and important?
- What would I want my legacy to be? Would I want to be remembered for inspiring, educating, and empowering young hearts and minds?
Thirty years ago, the answers to these questions were “yes,” and they are still “yes” today. I know being a teacher is worth it!
Growing up, I always thought I would work in corporate America for a Fortune 500 company. However, things didn’t quite turn out exactly as I had envisioned them.
During and after college, I worked in corporate America in various management and professional positions. I wasn’t passionate about my career choices, and I didn’t enjoy going to work every day.
So, I decided to make a change: I entered graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, earned a master’s degree in education, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Being a teacher has many advantages and disadvantages, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Top 5 advantages of being a teacher:
- Impact the lives of young thinkers and learners
- The sense of community with parents and other educators
- Summers off
- Continuous professional development and growth
- The flowers and Starbucks during Teacher Appreciation Week
Top 5 disadvantages of being a teacher:
- The pay
- The long hours
- A short summer break
- The workload
- Funny smells
During my tenure as a classroom teacher, I noticed that students often exhibited math anxiety or expressed how much they disliked math.
Some children did not like math because they had not mastered the foundational concepts, or they could not connect math to the real world. Others learned math anxiety from math-anxious moms and dads.
As an instructional leader for over thirty years, I’ve learned that all children can enjoy and learn at high levels if it’s connected to the real world, visual, hands-on, promote discussion—and is, most importantly, fun!
Truth be told, I never thought of myself as a “math person.” Now, I love math, and it is my mission to ignite a love of math in all children.
Now I hear from math-confident students:
- “Math is fun.”
- “I’ve been waiting all day to learn more math.”
- “I used the new strategy I learned when I played the math game.”
- “I saw different kinds of numbers and shapes in my neighborhood.”
- “I understand math, and I love Math.”
I know I am following my dreams. And I’m living my passion.
Founder, Lusa Language School
“Yes: Knowing you can contribute to your student’s growth offsets all your hard work”
Being a teacher is one of the most fulfilling careers, and being in this industry for as long as I can remember, I can definitely say it’s worth all the inches of effort.
Knowing that you are able to contribute to someone’s growth and learning abilities offsets all the hard work you have to do, such as lesson plans, activities, exams, etc.
Related: Does Hard Work Pay off in the End?
Teachers also learn a lot from their students
Unlike what most would expect, it’s not just the students who learn from a teacher. Teachers also learn a lot from their students.
As an educator, you deal with different types of students in different generations, which helps you adapt to the current trends as well. It’s very important for a teacher to learn how to adapt in all ways to make learning more comprehensible for their students.
Full-Time Teacher | Editor-in-Chief, Simple n’ Delight
“Yes: I feel young being around the vibrant energy of my younger students”
I have been teaching for over 15 years now. I have taught all ages: company workers, high school students, and elementary school students.
I have fallen in love with the high demands of teaching the primary grades. Not only am I entertained every day by their quirky nature, but I am forced to come up with creative solutions to keep them engaged and motivated.
I feel young in the presence of my younger students, having to adapt to their needs and being around their vibrant energy.
The best thing about being a teacher: Watching the children grow and learn
This year I was faced with the challenge of teaching grade 1 and 2 students after a harsh pandemic. Most came into the classroom unable to read, with little discipline, and limited social skills needed to resolve their problems independently.
Related: Why are Social Skills Important?
Although the path to success is rarely linear, by the end of the year, I was astounded by the progress we had made in all aspects.
Watching the children grow and learn has been a very gratifying experience.
Teaching is all about making connections
They say that in order to keep an aging brain young, socialization is very important. As a teacher, I am constantly making connections with the families, students, and colleagues within the school.
I feel as though these connections keep me feeling youthful. The connections I make also allow me to feel purposeful and helpful toward others.
I am in a position where I get to help others, and that makes me feel good about the work I do!
Texas Teacher | Founder, Outdoor Family HQ
“Yes: You live your life for the highest purpose by putting others before yourself”
In order for a person to determine if becoming a teacher will be worth it to them, they should do some serious soul-searching with the following considerations:
- Are people more important to me than money?
Investing in the minds and hearts of others is exhausting — mentally, emotionally, and physically. You will work longer and harder days than you ever have before, and your salary and benefits will not even come close to compensating you for it.
But, if using your skills and knowledge to improve and enrich the lives of others fulfills you and provides a solid sense of purpose, you won’t bat an eye at that meager salary provided by the state and district.
- Am I truly passionate about the craft?
Teaching should not be pursued as a profession or a vocation. It must be a passion.
The teacher who regards their position as just a job will quickly find that they are motivated only enough to meet the bare minimum requirements of that job. And the students will take notice.
It is these passionless teachers that soon lose the respect of their charges and find that their just-get-by approach has cost them the connection to their student’s minds via their hearts and, thus, have become utterly ineffective. Even harmful.
Furthermore, students who sense that their teacher does not genuinely and deeply care for them or their learning will lose their motivation to work hard and behave respectably and respectfully. The classroom will descend into chaos.
But, if you’re fueled by a passion for your kids, their hearts, and minds, your classroom will be a place they won’t want to leave, a refuge where they can grow and flourish, teaching you as much as you teach them.
And at the end of the year, seeing them go will hit you like seeing your own kids grow up and leave home.
- Am I willing to be an unsung hero?
It sounds glorious, but this isn’t a superhero movie, and more often than not, the miracles you achieve and the mountains you climb on a daily basis will be seen by no one. You will not be thanked or noticed except by other educators occasionally.
In fact, there will be times when you are criticized and harangued by the parents of your most difficult kids, even after you have poured your blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul into trying to help them.
Yes, sometimes, you will receive gratitude. But not near enough to fill your sails with wind. You must be fueled by an internal passion that does not waver with the weight of not being recognized or appreciated.
And that passion must remain ignited day after day, month after month, year after year.
- Can I be a shoulder to lean on, even when I’m on my knees?
Even the strongest teachers break at some point. You will be no exception.
I have seen a hardened military veteran who became a teacher after retirement break down into tears of exhausted frustration. I have seen teachers with 25+ years experience have panic attacks in the middle of their classroom.
You will be a shoulder to cry on and a sounding board to scream at by other teachers who have reached the end of their frayed rope.
You will cover for other teachers who could not bring themselves to show up to work and could not secure a substitute resulting in you managing two classrooms and 60 kids simultaneously.
You will paint a smile on your face and express much-needed gratitude to your colleagues and accolades to coworkers when internally, you’re falling apart. Because, at some point, you will need them to do the same for you.
So, is being a teacher worth it?
Yes. But only if you make a choice for it to be so, moment by moment, day by day, year by year. You will be one of the greatest life-savers and world-shakers in the history of mankind.
And although they will never host a parade in your honor, and most won’t even take notice, you will spend the waning years of your life looking back on a life lived for the highest purpose: Putting others before yourself.
MS in Spanish Language Education | Teacher | Blogger, Paper Heart Family
“Yes: I do, but I don’t think it’s for everyone”
Do I think being a teacher is worth it? I do, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.
Here are my thoughts. I think teaching is worth it if:
You like kids
This is an obvious one, but there are so many teachers out there who don’t like kids! It boggles my mind.
You like making a difference
Nothing makes me happier in my job than when I can make a difference in a student’s life, whether academically, socially, or emotionally. Being the “go-to” person for a student is an amazing feeling.
You love the subject that you teach
I teach Spanish, which is my passion, and I teach EL (English Learners). Teaching students how to succeed in a new country or culture is the most rewarding part of my job.
You have a family, and you value your time with them
My absolute favorite thing about being a teacher is that my schedule is the same as my children’s schedule. I can put my children on the bus in the morning, get them off the bus in the afternoon, and be with them during school holidays and summer break.
This is something that I wouldn’t get with any other job, and I’m so thankful for it.
I also think it’s important to note that I teach in Pennsylvania, which is ranked number 6 in the highest teacher salaries in the US. I might have a different outlook if I worked in a state with low teacher salaries.
Teacher | Founder, Best Case Parenting
“Yes: You have the opportunity to make a positive impact on students’ lives”
As a teacher, I can confidently say it is worth it.
These are just some of the reasons why being a teacher is so rewarding.
- The feeling of seeing students light up when they understand a concept they were struggling with,
- The look of pride on their faces when they receive good grades, and
- The hugs and high-fives when a student achieves success.
One of the best things about being a teacher is that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on students’ lives. You can help them learn and grow, both academically and personally.
Seeing students succeed — whether in the classroom or in life — is one of the most gratifying experiences a teacher can have.
Another great thing about teaching is the relationships you develop with your students.
Over time, you get to know them well and become invested in their lives. It’s wonderful to see them grow and change over the years, and it’s even more special when they keep in touch after they’ve graduated.
Of course, the job has challenging aspects, but the good far outweighs the bad. In my opinion, there is no greater job than being a teacher — it is a true labor of love.
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