What Future Teachers Can Tell Us About Why People Enter the Profession Today

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For the last year, EdSurge has been showcasing students enrolled in teacher preparation programs to understand who is going into teaching today — and why.

In each profile, we hand the mic over to an aspiring educator, letting them explain, in their own words, what drew them into this career path and why they’ve stuck with it.

The series, called “America’s Future Teachers,” comes at a time when the teaching profession is in turmoil. Many current teachers report high levels of stress and dissatisfaction in their roles. Some have left the field. School districts are often not able to fill every open position, or not able to fill them with qualified candidates. And the rate of individuals enrolling in teacher preparation programs has dropped precipitously in the last couple of decades, resulting in too few incoming teachers to serve the student population. The U.S. Education Department even started airing TV ads to encourage people to enter the profession.

That complex landscape only makes the perspectives of those who have decided to pursue a career in teaching anyway all the more interesting.

The 10 future teachers we interviewed span different geographies, backgrounds, education experiences and motivations. Each story — each person — is unique. Some took a traditional path, from high school straight to college and then the classroom. Others found teaching as a second career, after trying out baking, or corporate America, or mental health fields. Many have long known this was their calling, while others needed more time and perspective to realize it.

Yet several themes emerged. Many of these takeaways, which we outline below, align with those found in a recent study of what it would take to attract Generation Z to the teaching profession. That tracks, since the majority — though not all — of the individuals we interviewed for this series are part of Gen Z.

1. Relationships Are Key

Again and again, future teachers told us that they are drawn to the field because of the relationships they get to build and maintain with students. They view that student-teacher connection as core to their work and critical to helping students succeed.

AJ Jacobs, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, shared that the quotation, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship,” is what drives him.

Sarah Cardoza, of Eagle River, Alaska, talked about how, for her, the “outcome” matters far more than the “income.”

“The golden thread of all of it,” said Joshua Davenport, of Knoxville, Tennessee, “is making connections.”

2. Many Set Their Sights on Teaching Early

When we asked aspiring educators to pinpoint the moment they realized they wanted to become a teacher, most shared a memory from their childhood or adolescence that cemented it. Even those who didn’t become teachers right away — starting their careers in other fields for a host of reasons — had identified teaching as their preferred career path early on.

Pricila Cano Padron, of Dallas, Texas, remembers her “wake-up call” in middle school, when she helped tutor English-learning classmates in math and reading (she is bilingual). Janae Montgomery, of Brusly, Louisiana, can’t recall a singular moment but says she always remembers wanting to be a teacher when she grew up. Jacobs said he decided in elementary school, after seeing the passion that his mother — another teacher — had for her students.

Indeed, many of the teacher candidates we interviewed have close relatives in the field, and that exposure seems to have made a positive impression on them.

3. Alternative Pathways Expand Access

About half of the people we interviewed were taking advantage of one of the growing number of flexible, alternative pathways to teaching.

Several were turning to teaching as a second career. Davenport had worked for over a decade in mental health and was enrolled in a Grow Your Own program that allowed him to earn his teaching license while working at a school. Annie Talley Ochoa, of Cupertino, California, pursued her degree while substitute teaching, after years in the Marine Corps and then a retail company. Cardoza was taking online classes to finish her undergraduate teaching degree after stints as a pastry chef and orthodontic assistant. Montgomery was able to continue in her paraprofessional role at her school while earning her degree.

The expansion of earn-while-you-learn options for entering teaching is making the career available to many people for whom time and money would not have been available otherwise.

4. Lifelong Learners Become Teachers

Most of the aspiring teachers we talked to loved school and consider themselves lifelong learners. And they want to impart that same passion for learning to their students.

“I want to reignite the fire — or ignite the fire, for some people — of education,” said Riley Campbell, of Washington, D.C.. “If students find joy in learning at a very young age, then they’ll find joy in learning when they’re older, and then we can continue the cycle of learning.”

Caleb Brown, of Clemson, South Carolina, believes that viewing himself as a “forever student” will only help him better serve the kids in his classes: “Even as an educator, the process of learning never stops. I can learn from students as much as they can learn from me.”

5. Their Worries Run the Gamut

We asked each future teacher what worries them or gives them pause about their chosen profession. On this question, more than any other, their answers varied widely.

Some noted that they do worry about the low pay, and that they’ve been around teachers during their student teaching experiences who are burned out and ready to leave. They wonder about the sustainability of the profession long-term.

A couple of teacher candidates, including Brown, pointed to the politicization of education and book bans as concerns. Cardoza worried about the unpredictable funding for schools and how cuts not only impact teachers’ jobs but the quality of students’ instructional experiences, too.

Several teacher candidates are concerned about technology — not so much its applications in teaching and learning, but its impact on kids’ learning and development, especially rampant screen time and social media use.

“It could come to a point where I’m competing with their iPad to see who can give them the biggest dopamine rush,” noted Zachary Farley, of Corona, California. “I think about that pretty often.”

Cano Padron mentioned that she fears for the safety of her students, with gun violence going unchecked. A few, including Viridiana Martinez, of Berkeley, California, noted that even during semesters student teaching, they could see that students are struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Those concerns, however, pale in comparison to the hope that the students give them. And that’s what’s driving them forward.

“At the end of the day, kids are kids, and they need teachers and they need guidance and they need people who are gonna put in the time and the effort for them,” said Cardoza. “And it’s worth it. Like you can see it in the classroom when you make those breakthroughs. It’s worth it.”



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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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