24 Teaching – a Declining Profession

Avantika Manikandan

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In the essay “Teaching – a Declining Profession,” Avantika Manikandan examines why fewer people seem to be interested in pursuing teaching as a career. Along with relevant data from a variety of sources, Manikandan includes excerpts from an interview she conducted with her aunt who is a teacher in India. Throughout her essay, Manikandan not only clarifies the occupational challenges that teachers have faced, especially since the pandemic, but focuses on efforts in Michigan and elsewhere to address some of the primary obstacles. Manikandan closes with suggestions about what could and should be done.

Avantika Manikandan


ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing

Day Month Year

Teaching – a Declining Profession

High school was a very competitive environment while I was growing up in India. I was often surrounded by future engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. Career day approached – an event in my school where students get the opportunity to interact and engage in activities led by experts in their selected fields. As students flocked to different stalls that were set up, I was lost, unable to find a single professional with whom I could discuss my ambition to pursue a career as a teacher. I was even unable to find other students who shared my career ambition. I questioned why teaching is not a sought-after career. Why is it perceived as unglamorous?

Valerie Strauss, mentions in her article, “Why Today’s College Students Don’t Want to Be Teachers.” that:

Today’s college students, including those currently marching on campus, are significantly less likely than their parents to see teaching as a viable way to become agents of social change. Of all age groups, voters 18-29 are the most pessimistic about the teaching profession. Only 24 percent are “very likely” to encourage a friend or family member to become a K-12 teacher today.

This is an unfortunate trend that is not solely seen in America. Instead of entering the teaching profession, bright students who are desperately needed, choose to pursue other career alternatives. Why are students discouraged from becoming teachers?

Strauss contests the idea that today’s college students are simply indifferent. She contends, “Critics like to argue that today’s generation is too selfish, impatient, apathetic, or distracted for the kind of committed public service required of teaching professionals. I am unconvinced.” Strauss does not believe that students are heartless as she meets several enthusiastic, driven students from prestigious universities in America like MIT and Berkeley who are eager to volunteer their time and embark on unpaid internships. But often, this is only to gain experience before entering other lucrative fields and not teaching.

After interviewing Sakshi Anand, my aunt who has been a teacher in India for 15 years now, I learned that it was a lack of self-confidence that posed the issue, not one’s indifference. One of her students stated, “Although I like the idea of teaching, I feel like I wouldn’t be a good teacher since I won’t be able to control a handful of restless children and at the same time don’t have the expertise to engage a bunch of bored teenagers. It takes a lot of patience and I’m not willing to risk their future if I fail as a teacher.” As the world moves forward, confidence is what many students lack these days. Only a few educational institutes incorporate activities into the curriculum to boost morale. By not doing so, are teachers ironically causing the decline of their own profession?

It is no secret that teachers are overworked and undervalued. It is evident that despite their enormous efforts to prepare students for success, teachers do not receive the respect or appreciation they deserve. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why students today are disinterested in pursuing teaching as a profession. A toxic work environment causes teacher burnout, and this is a serious issue. Leaders of some institutions can be difficult to work with and may not value their employees enough, and only view running a school as a money-making scheme. Teachers are sometimes never taken into consideration when decisions are made, they have little to no say. This lack of autonomy disrupts the creative process of teachers causing them to feel restricted. Repeated bad student behavior and no action being taken by higher authorities despite teachers reaching out several times only adds to this toxic environment. Teacher burnout is more than just a couple of frustrating days at school. Strauss’ article collates data from various research papers and polls addressing the decline of teaching as a career in America alone. This is evident through a comparison that was drawn across 14 professions and teaching ranked last in terms of “an environment that is trusting and open.” Reshawna Chapple, a therapist, a Licensed Certified Social Worker, and an associate professor in the School of Social Work, University of Central Florida, highlights in her blog- TalkSpace that “Burnout can cause a teacher’s optimism and positive demeanor to change slowly over time.” Sadly, this in turn can cause students to react negatively, which could further disrupt classes, only to make the burnout worse. Anand also says, “If I come into class from a rough meeting or a stressful morning and I bring those feelings into the classroom environment, the kids realize.” She has noticed how sensitive her students are to her mood.

Teachers already run on limited time to finish lessons, due to the numerous athletic meets and fests hosted by schools as well as so many other activities that are taking place simultaneously. Anand complains that she invariably carries bundles of papers and notebooks home to grade every day. Furthermore, she also must prepare eighty questions long exams every few weeks to keep the class average from dropping in the finals. Preparing a lesson plan for class the next day is also a time-consuming process. Holidays never feel like a time to relax, but rather a time to catch up on work to make ends meet. She also says, “Despite my efforts to reach out to a child struggling or uncomfortable in class, difficult parents take offense, make rude comments, and have unfair expectations.” She is not alone. Such experiences have often led many teachers to rethink their career decisions.

Chapple also briefly examines the effect of the pandemic on teachers across the country. A startling 69% of teachers in 2022 claimed that they had to spend more time regaining students’ lost ground after quarantine. In addition to dealing with technical difficulties and the constant headaches from increased screen time, teachers have also had to effectively communicate lessons over online platforms and engage with students who are probably not paying attention. There is no denying the stress that has resulted from this setback. In the last six months of 2020 – after the pandemic began – there were 5,644 teacher retirements, a 26% increase from the same period the previous year, according to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Despite putting in so much effort, they receive less appreciation and recognition for the work they do. Discrepancies in salaries make it so much worse. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for High School Teachers in the year 2021 was $61,820 as opposed to engineers, doctors, or scientists earning almost double the amount per year. While professionals in some big companies and firms earn overtime, teachers who probably put in much more hours compared to them hardly get paid enough. There is no standard for a base salary. They are paid irrespective of their qualifications. What is the point in pursuing and investing so much money in a degree in education in good schools? Getting Students to become teachers is only half the battle. Nearly half of the teachers surveyed by a team from The Teacher Salary Project reported that their salary was insufficient to retain them in the classroom. 82% of respondents currently or previously worked multiple jobs to make ends meet as a teacher.

It’s not rocket science, paying teachers more will automatically help us solve this problem. Governments should allocate specific funds to improve pay. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Food Program, MDG Advocates, the Global Partnership for Education, and UNESCO are collaborating and teaming up with private organizations to raise funds for and improve access to quality education globally by recruiting trained, well-paid teachers (NCEE). The Detroit district Public schools boosted starting salaries by 33 percent, from $38,000 in 2017 to more than $51,000 in the fall. It offered $3,000 in hazard pay to work during the pandemic and is now offering $15,000 annual recurring bonuses for teachers in hard-to-fill areas such as special education (Bridge Michigan). Roughly 100 of the district’s 140 teacher openings had now been filled. Detroit has been able to pick and choose from more than 1,000 applicants for those 140 positions that year.

But this alone is not enough. It is a common perspective that the teaching profession is not attracting new teachers as it is not on par with other “high-status” lucrative professions. Let’s look at how Finland and Singapore dealt with this issue. Annual national opinion polls in Finland consistently show that teaching is the most admired profession in the country. The competitive selection process contributes significantly to the profession’s attractiveness. It was harder to gain entry to the University of Helsinki’s teacher education program compared to the law program or the medical school in 2016. Finland has created an appealing job modeled after other high-status professions, in which teachers have the freedom to be autonomous, communicate more effectively with their colleagues, and engage in educational research, development, and design. Teachers are also recognized for their efforts by receiving awards. Even Singapore has put into action a similar strategy. Teaching is a highly desirable profession in Singapore, thanks to starting salaries nearly equivalent to those of accountants and engineers. Because the profession is highly respected, Singapore admits only one out of every eight applicants to teacher education programs. Schools have been able to reduce class sizes at lower primary levels to around 30 pupils. As a result, teachers get more opportunities to develop professionally. Singapore’s Ministry of Education closely monitors teacher supply and demand and collaborates with the National Institute of Education, Singapore’s sole teacher education institution, to meet the needs of schools. According to a UNESCO report, countries like Indonesia and Benin have raised teachers’ status to civil services, hiking the teacher’s pay in this manner developing decent gains in student attainment. Implementing a similar approach globally will help us see positive results. Establishing more teacher-apprenticeship programs so that students get work experience and a paycheck while training to become teachers will also yield desired results with time. Actively spreading awareness will help people realize what teachers really go through and they may advocate for better pay by voting for leaders who make new or redesign existing policies to reverse this crisis.

Integrating more mandatory activities to boost confidence amongst students is also a baby step towards enabling students to pursue teaching. I personally enjoyed a flipped classroom approach that some of my teachers incorporated into the curriculum. There are various other types of this method, but to help students gain confidence, the most appropriate one would be role-reversal. The role-reversal concept is to flip the teacher. Here, students are also asked to create videos demonstrating their understanding. Students can film their group activities or can film themselves. The teacher can assess their progress in the subject through these videos. By explaining a concept to others, the student is forced to understand it inside-out. This role reversal gives the student a high motivation to learn the material and explain it well since the child has a specific achievable goal — to help others “learn”.

Undoubtedly, being a teacher is both rewarding and demanding. Anand acknowledged that despite her frequent complaints, she has had a handful of students who make her feel valued and makes her day. Through her interactions with students and experiences, she gains a great deal of knowledge that she uses to grow as a person. She makes sure she allocates a specific time for herself every weekend. Anand practices yoga and hits the gym and has now even ventured into journaling to channel her creative energy. Over time she has learned to balance work and personal life and draw a line when it starts to affect her negatively.

There are students willing to be “agents of change” and they must tap into what makes teaching still beautiful. As a career, teaching is tolerated as a convenient backup path for people and that should not be the case. Teaching is inspiring. To all prospective teachers, it is important to not be afraid of your career choice. There are ample resources to overcome challenges. Having a voice and encouraging peers to have one too may help set the right kind of changes and put an end to this cycle. I sincerely urge every one of you to consider a career in teaching and discover the bright side of it. Remember that without teachers, there will be no engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. Besides that, what can we as students do to help matters? Next time, when you find yourself giving your teacher a tough time, think about this essay, rethink your decisions and be considerate.

Works Cited

Anand, Sakshi. Personal interview. 26 October 2022.

“Detroit Schools Found a Way to Attract Teachers: Pay Them More.” Bridge Michigan, https://www.bridgemi.com/talent-education/detroit-schools-found-way-attract-teachers-pay-them more#:~:text=The%20district%20boosted%20starting%20salaries,areas%20such%20as%20special%20education.

“High School Teachers: Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 Oct. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm.

Lambert, Diana. “Covid Challenges, Bad Student Behavior Push Teachers to Limit, out the Door.” EdSource, EdSource, 16 June 2022, https://edsource.org/2022/covid-challenges-bad-student-behavior-push-teachers-to-the-limit-and-out-the-door/673124

Reshawna Chapple, PhD. “Teacher Burnout: A Growing Problem in Schools.” Talkspace, 15 Sept. 2022, https://www.talkspace.com/blog/teacher-burnout/.

“Salaries Shortages Report.” THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT, https://www.teachersalaryproject.org/salaries-shortages-report.html.

“Solving the Teacher Shortage Crisis: How Some Countries Are Working to It.” NCEE, 7 Apr. 2021, https://ncee.org/quick-read/solving-the-teacher-shortage-crisis/.

Strauss, Valerie. “Why Today’s College Students Don’t Want to Be Teachers.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Nov. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/20/why-todays-college-students-dont-want-to-be-teachers/.

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