Teaching: But At What Cost?

by Elise Sutter

 “Why don’t you just go into business or something? “Oh, you must not be very smart.” Was this your backup plan?” These are just some of the responses I have received when I tell people I want to be a teacher. Luckily for me, I feel very strongly that I have made the right choice in career paths. I am so passionate about teaching the younger generations. I aspire to mold kindness, love, and critical thinking into the minds and hearts of the next generation. As much as I’m sure this is where I’m supposed to be, that doesn’t mean I don’t have doubts, or things don’t get to me.

Don’t do it; you’ll regret it. 

I have heard this statement from countless naysayers and other educators. I know that this is my passion; however, there is anxiety that arises pertaining to this topic. We, as people, live our lives trying to avoid fear. We stay relative to our comfort zones and do things that keep us feeling safe. Safety is something I desire, which is why there is some anxiety and doubt that arises regarding education. The number one thing that shakes me to my core about becoming a teacher is based upon something that should not be happening in the first place.  There have been 377 school shootings across America since the Columbine shooting in 1999, with 13 shootings happening in 2023 alone. School no longer feels like a safe and inviting learning environment anymore. It can be an anxiety-riddled place with people wondering if death will be knocking on my own door one day. Yet we, as teachers, go to school with a smile on our faces, silently praying that we make it through the day. 

God bless you; it takes a special person for that. 

Through fear, teachers persist for the sake of their students. The moment that your fear and nervousness show, it affects your whole classroom environment. I think teachers also subconsciously put on a smile for themselves. If we allow the fear to sink in, we would never see the inside of a school again. We make decisions about what we value more: fear or our students. The Florida legislature was passed in 2019, post-Marjory Stoneman-Douglass shooting, to help create a safer school environment. According to The Florida Department of Education, the Implementation of Legislative Recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission was passed and includes the following: created a standardized behavioral threat assessment tool, created compliance monitoring for the Office of Safe Schools, requires districts to promote suspicious activity reporting tools, expedited transfer student records, clarification of school safety responsibilities at the district level. Since this bill passed into law, there have been roughly 30 school shootings in Florida. 

Aren’t you afraid of everything happening right now to teach in this climate?

 The fear can take hold of me every now and again. From Uvalde to Nashville these events definitely hit home for me. I don’t think it’s ever caused me to question that this was the path I wanted to take. I try not to dwell on the ideas of what I would do in this scenario. My feelings and ideas about what I would do would come from the training I would get at my school. I don’t think it’s fair that teachers have to endure the possibility of losing their lives for their students or their jobs. However, I don’t think school shooters are pondering the idea of fairness when they purchase their guns and make their plans of attack. This is a career that I chose. I assume the responsibilities come at my may. I choose to focus on my students and their learning.  It is evident we need new ideas, but I am not sure what the solution is to this problem of epic proportions. However I do know, the national teacher shortage is heavily affected by this problem and won’t resolve until the issue does: even just a little.

You are never going to make any money. 

A heavily made comment, when telling someone you want to become a teacher, is how poor you’ll be as an educator. People often tell me personally how I’ll be broke and that I should “marry rich”–a real vote of confidence. As a teacher, at least I hope, you’re likely not going into this profession for the money. You’re doing it for the kids; if you’re like me, it’s for the kids and the fun crafts. Money to me isn’t everything. However, I would probably prefer not to be flat-broke. Florida legislators and Governor Ron Desantis have been continually increasing teacher salaries over the past few years. I would assume that this is an attempt to entice former teachers back into the profession and encourage new ones to stick around. In 2022 Governor Desantis and the FLDOE (Florida Department of Education) funneled 800 million dollars to increase teacher salaries. We were originally 26th in the nation for the highest starting salary at $40,000. Last year’s increase moved us from 26th all the way to 9th in the nation with a starting salary of $47,000. In Governor Desantis’ budget proposal for 2023, he proposed millions more for educators. There is real potential for the Save Our Teachers Act; some lawmakers are even filing this act with the intention of raising Florida Teachers’ starting salary to $65,000. This would likely make Florida the state with the highest-paying starting salary for teachers in the United States. Take that naysayers!

Teaching, just like any profession, is going to have its pros and cons. Some cons may be a bit more extreme than other jobs, but they’re contentions nonetheless. It fulfills so many of my desires that are impossible to fulfill working in a 9-5 office or worse: a cubicle. If that’s your dream, I applaud you; it’s just not mine.  I absolutely fill with joy at the thought of graduating and getting my own classroom. As much work as the education system needs, I choose to see the good: summers and holidays off, working with kids, and constant change. So to those who make snide comments to future (or current) educators, remember where you came from. Those people who chose to teach you over a “fat paycheck” or the “work from home” dream: you would be absolutely nothing without them. To all future or current educators, you are valued whether you know it or not. You are leaders, friends, mentors, inspirations, and sometimes the only person to believe in your students. To every rude and undermining comment I say, don’t let them make you second guess yourself. They might be selling new products or coding for cool new software, but you’re molding the future. No insulting or degrading comment can take that away from you.