Teaching is one of the oldest professions, predating the lessons that Alexander the Great received from Aristotle by thousands of years. Of course, much has changed over the past century, with education now available to more people than ever before and increasingly linked to various technological advances. Still, the teaching profession’s enduring appeal is largely thanks to certain things that remain as true today as they have ever been. In this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not teaching is the right career for you.
Granted, this is an ideal, rather than a rule—we’ve all had teachers who weren’t particularly enthusiastic about entering the classrooms. But the best teachers—the ones who cultivate their students’ curiosity and prepare them for a fulfilling life—are almost always the ones who are passionate about their job. It could be that they love maths, or feel strongly about the importance of early childhood education, or want to help teenagers get through high school. Whatever the case may be, if you’re passionate about education, the welfare of young people, or even a specific subject, then you’ll find teaching to be a very fulfilling career.
Teachers belong to a profession that is relatively stable in the face of economic fluctuations—even the global financial crisis didn’t result in Australian students enjoying any extra days off. The public school systems are also generally eager to retain staff, offering numerous professional development opportunities to teachers who wish to move around in their career.
How would you like to take school holidays four times a year for the rest of working life? As a teacher, you can do just that. Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that teachers invariably have marking to do and classes to prepare—putting in an hour or two at home isn’t uncommon. You may also find it more difficult to take leave during the school term.
Teachers have access to a range of competitive industry superannuation funds. Those in the public system can also take advantage of benefits such as salary packaging, which allows you to spend part of your pre-tax income on approved items, and relocation subsidies.
For many teachers, this is the greatest reward of a career in education. Whether inspiring students, à la Dead Poets Society, befriending them, à la Sister Act, or helping them relate more effectively with each other and the world, à la Breakfast Club, teachers can play a vital role in the formative years of students at all stages of their education. This allows them to create strong bonds that may lead to lifelong connections with students. With many teachers choosing to stay for extended periods at individual schools, they are often also able to create close working relationships with their colleagues.
Given their influence (see above), it’s surprising (and, to many, frustrating) that teachers in Australia frequently aren’t accorded the same respect as those in more ‘prestigious’ vocations. This is in stark contrast to their treatment in countries like Finland and South Korea, where teaching positions are sought after and considered to reflect well on the people who fill them. There is no easy solution to this problem, but pundits generally agree that change is most likely to come from within the education system itself, as intelligent and committed graduates prove, through their successes in the classroom, that teaching is far from being a B-list job.
Teachers are primarily there to teach—but often other things can get in the way of pursuing this goal. Unruly students, students with learning difficulties, lesson plans, calls from parents, administrative responsibilities—sometimes these other responsibilities can leave precious little time for the teaching itself, or, at any rate, make it seem like a secondary aspect of being a teacher. Fortunately, classroom management is one of those things that gets easier as you gain more experience, and, with support from your colleagues, as well as new technological innovations, you can look forward to focusing on what matters to you most.
Let’s say you have 30 students in your class, and they each write an essay that takes about twenty minutes to mark (assuming that you intend to read it closely and provide constructive feedback). That’s ten solid hours of marking, and the chances are that it won’t always be possible to get it done during school hours. As a result, many teachers are familiar with setting aside time to get marking done at home, often on the weekend, whether that means concentrating on maths tests, Latin quizzes, English essays, science reports, or something else entirely.
About 64 per cent of Australian teachers works in government schools. For these educators, the pay is steady and reliable but tends not to rise far above average salaries for other professionals or equivalent experience. Salaries in education currently range from approximately $62,000 for first-year teachers to $160,000 for school principals.