Why I Teach: A Conversation with High School Students

Nick Greer discusses benefits of teaching with juniors at Montgomery Blair High School.

Low pay.   Annoying kids.  Disrespect.  Long hours.  These are some of the reasons eleventh-grade journalism students gave me for why they don’t consider teaching as a career option.

This discussion with high school students took place yesterday when I joined U.S. Education Secretary Duncan, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel at Maryland’s Montgomery Blair High School to celebrate American Education Week and encourage young people to think about careers in education.

As a teacher who now temporarily works in the policy world as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I felt invigorated to walk the halls of a school again and to spend time talking with students. While the energy that the students provided reminded me of the joys of teaching, I was disheartened to hear their reasons for rejecting education as a career option.

The students’ remarks remind of how challenging it is to recruit new teachers.  My decision to become a teacher was an extremely personal one. I knew I would have to give up many of the amenities available to my friends. When I chose to teach, I relinquished the high salaries that typically come with a science degree, the flexibility to be present for many evening and weekend social events, and the ability to work from home on days when I am sick.

What I gained from this decision—and what I told the students at Montgomery Blair—was the ability to alter the lives of others permanently.

I think of a student, Miles, who came to my class in ninth-grade without the skills necessary to succeed in school, including the ability to sit still, read for extended periods of time, and get organized. Through persistence and hard work, Miles made it to his senior year, and he has picked out a few colleges that we will visit over the winter. Will Miles make a success of his life? Only he can answer that. I can, however, say that I have helped to develop the skills within him to allow him to be successful.

When I’m asked why I chose teaching over a career in science – I draw from one of over 500 Miles’ stories that I have from eight years in the classroom. I urge people of all ages to become teachers and begin cataloging their own stories of inspiration. Perhaps through telling our personal stories we will recruit the next generation of teachers.

View Nick’s video describing the need for male teachers.

Nicholas Greer is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and science on loan from the Baltimore City Schools to work for one year in the U.S. Department of Education.  He currently serves in the Office of the Secretary where he is involved in a campaign to recruit teachers.

3 Comments

  1. Disrespect is the key word here for why schools are unable to attract teachers. It doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that being respected for the job you do means more than the long hours and low pay. If we want to recruit new and highly qualified teachers, two things need to happen: First and foremost, we have to figure out a way to popularize the notion that good teachers are important, not only for individual students but also for the nation. Second, we need to improve our training of teachers to reduce the number of teachers who enter classrooms without the skills they will be transmitting to students. As an educator of educators, I have seen more than my share of poor writing skills in pre-service teachers, and math phobics continue to abound. This is the fault of the college and university programs who have allowed less than stellar work from their students, and–worse–have not provided services to improve these skills in young teachers. When we improve the quality of work produced by pre-service teachers in their postsecondary work, we will begin to see an improvement in the skills of grade school teachers. In this case, “trickle down” works.

  2. I am an intelligent, highly educated, very experienced math teacher. I hold a teaching credential in mathematics and taught high school for many years. I find it baffling that Secretary Duncan is so focused on recruiting new teachers to teach math and science, when no one in a public school will even consider interviewing me. Sure, teaching is rewarding…when you can ignore the adults.

  3. It is quite a contrast to my peers, many of who became teachers. Unfortunately, you can hardly come by a teaching job in Michigan right now, so it seems strange to try to recruit more people to become teachers.

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