Despite Drawbacks, Teaching Is In

By Yaffa Klugerman
January 7, 2010

Elementary school teachers complain of stress, frustration, low wages, and more recently, a lack of job opportunities. Nevertheless, the work is so rewarding that recent college graduates who never considered going into education are now competing for teaching positions, and older workers have taken pay cuts in order to pursue teaching as a second career.

"Most teachers aren't in it for the money," says Tim Wei, a third-grade teacher and creator of several Web sites for teachers including,, and "They generally have a love for learning and working with students. Many have a passion for a particular subject area. Others enjoy the unique, unpredictable challenges that teachers face on a daily basis. There are many immeasurable rewards beyond the paycheck."

His words echo the many voices of elementary school teachers in's new eBook, Being an Elementary School Teacher: Real-World Tips and Stories from Working Teachers. The eBook acknowledges that the job outlook for teachers has worsened in some states as a result of the recession, and that American elementary school teachers are typically paid less than their counterparts with equivalent educational levels in other fields. But those in the profession say that educating kids can be the greatest reward of all.

"The best part of my job is also the worst part: The children," noted a second-grade teacher from Boston who was quoted in the eBook. "It is an awesome responsibility working with small children who can be so easily crushed, but not necessarily so easily motivated. The sum total of their needs is a heavy burden. Yet when one of them really gets something (the "ah-ha!" moment), there is not a better feeling in the world."

Wei says that he regularly receives e-mails from teachers struggling to land jobs because there is so much competition. "I think the recession has forced many people in the private sector to change careers," he notes. "People are attracted to teaching for its general job stability and benefits, as well as the intangible rewards of working with students."

Indeed, The New York Times reported earlier this year that according to the National Center for Education Information, more than half of the 60,000 teachers hired in 2008 came from a different line of work. The majority switched careers by enrolling in fast-track programs which place teachers in classrooms quickly.

Paula Lopez Crespin is one such example: She gave up a career in banking and took a $32,000 pay cut to teach in a Denver urban elementary school through Teach for America, which recruits college graduates to teach in low-income communities. At age 50, Crispin was older than the typical TFA applicant. But she told the Times that the career change was a way to do something meaningful with her life.

"This is beyond what you get paid for," she was quoted as saying in the Times. "You have to really want to make change, or you'll regret it quickly."

Judging from the popularity of programs such as Teach for America, many college graduates and career-switchers agree. According to TFA's Web site, over 35,000 people applied for approximately 4,000 positions in the program this year. The recession has clearly bolstered TFA's appeal, as more college grads facing a brutal job market search for career alternatives. But others say that being given the opportunity to teach has allowed them to consider a field they might never have otherwise.

The Gainesville Sun in Florida reports that Nydia Simon, for example, originally planned on becoming an attorney, but decided to become a teacher instead after one year in TFA. She teaches second grade in Atlanta while pursuing a teaching certification and a master's degree in urban teacher leadership at Georgia State University.

Simon told the Sun that she became more aware of social issues and inequalities while attending Florida State University. "I wanted to be an attorney to do something about these inequalities," she noted, but after one year of teaching, she realized she "could make positive changes in education, where inequalities begin."

Other teachers concur. "It's a tough job," said a fourth-grade teacher who was quoted in Being an Elementary School Teacher, "but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

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