June 13, 2021

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Would You Want to Be a Teacher Someday?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

When you think about your future career, do you ever consider teaching? If so, what grade level or subject area appeals to you the most? Why?

What qualities do you think good teachers share? When do you think teachers find their work the most rewarding? What about the most challenging?

Over the past year or so, how have your teachers had to change or adjust the way they run their classrooms? What did they have to do to adapt to things like remote or hybrid learning? Did you gain any new insights into what it might be like to be a teacher? If so, did it make you more inclined or less inclined to consider a career in education, if you have interest in this field?

In “As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It,” Emma Goldberg writes about how the past year’s school disruptions have made many potential future educators consider other careers. The article begins:

Kianna Ameni-Melvin’s parents used to tell her that there wasn’t much money to be made in education. But it was easy enough for her to tune them out as she enrolled in an education studies program, with her mind set on teaching high school special education.

Then the coronavirus shut down her campus at Towson University in Maryland, and she sat home watching her twin brother, who has autism, as he struggled through online classes. She began to question how the profession’s low pay could impact the challenges of pandemic teaching.

She asked her classmates whether they, too, were considering other fields. Some of them were. Then she began researching roles with transferable skills, like human resources. “I didn’t want to start despising a career I had a passion for because of the salary,” Ms. Ameni-Melvin, 21, said.

Few professions have been more upended by the pandemic than teaching, as school districts have vacillated between in-person, remote and hybrid models of learning, leaving teachers concerned for their health and scrambling to do their jobs effectively.

For students considering a profession in turmoil, the disruptions have seeded doubts, which can be seen in declining enrollment numbers.

A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that 19 percent of undergraduate-level and 11 percent of graduate-level teaching programs saw a significant drop in enrollment this year. And Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools across the country, said it had received fewer applications for its fall 2021 corps compared with this period last year.

Many program leaders believe enrollment fell because of the perceived hazards posed by in-person teaching and the difficulties of remote learning, combined with longstanding frustrations over low pay compared with professions that require similar levels of education. (The national average for a public-school teacher’s salary is roughly $61,000.) Some are hopeful that enrollment will return to its prepandemic level as vaccines roll out and schools resume in-person learning.

The author states that in some places, interest in teacher preparation programs has not decreased. The article ends:

Not all teacher preparation programs are experiencing a decrease in interest. California State University in Long Beach saw enrollment climb 15 percent this year, according to the system’s preliminary data. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, the assistant vice chancellor for the university system, attributes this partly to an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom, which temporarily allowed candidates to enter preparation programs without meeting basic skill requirements because of the state’s teacher shortage.

Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City also saw an increase in applications this year, according to a spokesman, who noted that teaching has historically been a “recession-proof profession” that sometimes attracts more young people in times of crisis.

Even some of those with doubts have chosen to stick with their plans. Ms. Ameni-Melvin, the Towson student, said she would continue her education program for now because she felt invested after three years there.

Maria Ízunza Barba also decided to put aside her doubts and started an education studies program at the Wheelock College of Education at Boston University last fall. Earlier in the pandemic, as she watched her parents, both teachers, stumble through the difficulties of preparing for remote class, she wondered: Was it too late to choose law school instead?

Ms. Ízunza Barba, 19, had promised to help her mother with any technical difficulties that arose during her first class, so she crawled under the desk, out of the students’ sight, and showed her mother which buttons to press in order to share her screen.

Then she watched her mother, anxious about holding the students’ attention, perform a Spanish song about economics.

Ms. Ízunza Barba said she realized then that there was no other career path that could prove as meaningful. “Seeing her make her students laugh made me realize how much a teacher can impact someone’s day,” she said. “I was like, whoa, that’s something I want to do.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Would you want to be a teacher someday? What would you find appealing about the career? What do you think you wouldn’t like about being a teacher?

  • What aspects of teaching during the pandemic do you think teachers have found most challenging?

  • In your opinion, how concerned should we be about the drop in enrollment at many graduate-level teaching programs this year? Do you think the numbers will rise again after the pandemic ends? Or, do you think other issues, such as low compensation and poor working conditions, will continue to make it difficult to recruit teachers?

  • Do you think your teachers are generally happy in their career choice? Explain.

  • In a related article that was published in November, Mircea Arsenie, an environmental science teacher at a Chicago public school, said of teaching online:

“I won’t lie,” he said. “It’s been a challenge.”

But his most strenuous endeavor, he said, is more emotional: summoning the energy every day to project a calming, can-do attitude during live video classes, even when he is worried about his students’ health, home lives and educational progress.

“I’m just exhausted today, trying to maintain a sense of optimism and a sense of normalcy,” Mr. Arsenie said, adding that two of his students had just tested positive for Covid-19. “In the greater context of the pandemic, who cares about photosynthesis?”

Describe your teachers’ efforts to “maintain a sense of optimism and a sense of normalcy.” Did they ever seem exhausted, as Mr. Arsenie described himself, or seem like they were working hard to stay on task when they were worried about the pandemic? Over the past year, did you gain any new insights about your teachers, their lives outside of school — or maybe even why they became teachers in the first place? If so, how did this insight affect you? Do you think that, for some students, the experience of remote learning could make them want to become teachers? Why or why not?

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