If they haven’t done so already, seniors in colleges and universities across the country will soon decide the kind of work they intend to do after graduation. I’m glad there will be some who choose to teach in public schools. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I’d like to offer them a bit of advice in the same spirit that it is given to new principals (“The First Year: 10 Tips for New Principals,” ASCD Edge, Nov. 4).
The most important thing is to have realistic expectations. Yet when asked why they want to teach, seniors typically respond with such platitudes as “making a difference.” There’s nothing at all wrong with that goal, except reality soon tests the idealism and dedication of graduates from even the most prestigious institutions. Unless novice teachers have made a commitment to be in the classroom during these turbulent times, they will experience frustration and anger, which over a protracted period result in burnout.
I’ve seen this phenomenon time and again. It has little to do with knowledge of subject matter or pedagogy, as reformers have charged. Instead, it has almost everything to do with a system that demands too much of teachers while supporting them too little. This does not mean there will not be exceptions. I’ve known a few teachers who manage to retain their idealism in the face of appalling conditions. But teaching in public schools today is a far cry from teaching in public schools when I began my career in 1964 in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and even more dramatically so than when I was a student in public schools. <Read more.>