How I Barely Escaped Becoming a School Teacher

3:45 PM Katy 10 Comments

This is a good story because I think it sheds some light on public education, and why spending a gazillion dollars on it probably isn't going to change anything. And why you should take this personality test before you decide to waste lots of money on college, too.

After my husband left and I was struggling to get back on my feet, I faced unemployment as the first (and biggest) obstacle. The unemployment situation was already dire for everyone, but to me it seemed cataclysmic.

A college nearby was offering grants to engineers & science professionals who were interested in teaching. Public schools were suffering from a lack of expert math and science instruction at the high school level. I was feeling desperate enough to consider this, even though I had never before in my life been attracted to traditional classroom teaching. In fact, sitting in a classroom makes me want to die. (This may give you an indication of my suitability to be a traditional teacher. But "desperate times/desperate measures" and all that. I should have known better.)

I interviewed. I gave a presentation to the college on how I would teach a hands-on engineering problem using algebra skills & a fun application. That part was easy and I got the grant.

What followed scared the caca out of me and led me to abandon the program.

I was informed that it would take two years of sitting in a classroom again to get my teaching certificate. Two years of learning the language of the political and highly-regulated world of public school teaching. Jumping through hoops and regurgitating a lot of crap that I don't really believe.

A mechanical engineer wasn't prepared to teach mathematics to a bunch of teens. Not until I'd had my worldview and philosophy of teaching properly calibrated. So I took the first class on multicultural classrooms. The textbook was sprinkled with bigoted social theory like "Black students aren't capable of sitting still in class so you have to be sensitive to that" - stuff that made my head spin. Wow, I thought. I'll have to tell that to the Black girls who graduated from engineering school with me. Maybe I'll post it on facebook and get their reactions! lolz!

The text was controversial, so I had to listen to my fellow 19-year-old student teachers debate at length on managing cultural differences. Which was entertaining given that their only life experience at that point was outgrowing their own "Goth stage".

And then: whoopsie -- the grant's not going to cover all of your costs. You'll have to pitch in a few thousand after all. And you have to teach in a high risk school district for at least 5 years after you graduate. {Translated: you get the kids with crackhead parents, and all the fun that comes with that.}

As my official start date into the program loomed, I started having nightmares. Nightmares about trying to teach math and engineering concepts to kids on drugs, and dealing with a political environment where I wouldn't fit in. Being forced to join a union. Raising my 3 kids on less than $29k/year. The only bright spot was that I would have the summers off with them (but I would have to get another job during the summer, so nevermind.)

I started praying very hard that God would give me a way out. I knew that I did not have the patience to sit in a classroom all day or deal with that kind of control. I knew it; God surely knew it too.

One week before my doom was sealed, I got a call from a manufacturing company that wanted to know if I'd like to be an engineer again.

I called the college and dropped them like a hot rock. I felt really bad about it for 2 seconds. Then I laid down on the floor and thanked God for sparing me. It felt like a stay of execution.

Years later I wonder. What kind of teacher would I have been?  The answer is that I would have been the kind of teacher that a student like me would love: we would be outside building a treefort out of chemically-modified textbooks that we "borrowed" from the Civics teacher. (and maybe naptime if we had a rainy day.)  Therefore as a teacher, I would not have lasted very long.

I think public school educators recognize that they could use people like me, if only because we're not boring and we know our material really well. That much was clear when I gave my little algebra presentation.

But they are blocking the doorway. And even if I could squeeze past the guards ... would I even want to be there?

The answer is probably no. I took that Meyers-Briggs personality test when I entered the teaching program, which identified me as a pretty hardcore ISTP. There is a reason that people like me aren't found in education (but we are found in engineering. Even though we get bored with that, too. trust me.) Supposedly SPs make up about 90% of the school dropouts and only 2% of the teachers.

This probably explains why I break into hives when I'm sitting at my kids' school listening to long curriculum seminars. I actually start hallucinating that I'm digging an escape route through the walls with a spork and a chair leg.

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  1. Ha! I'm a former ChemE who now teaches Physics & loves it! I actually figured out this week that the last time I was paid this little was when I had a part-time job in college. Yes, I made more 20 years ago as an Chemist (pre-engineering degree) than I do now.

    On the other hand, I get students with poor self-esteems, who can barely solve 3x=9, and by the end of the year, they are getting above National level ACT scores. Plus, I get to show girls that they can be successful in Math & Science. That is probably the best part. I like the challenge of getting the students to learn something they think they are not good at, the challenge of students who talk back, the challenge of girls who think they need to get married & work in a factory instead of going on to further their education... I get a lot of "my mom works in a factory, so I will do" and by the end of a year with me, they have dreams. Real dreams that I know they can achieve.

    Yea, the pay sucks. The pay really sucks. And I work 6:30-6 every day during the school year, and probably put in 12 hours on weekends. I'm also fired every year & rehire by August. That is the worst. I do a fabulous job, and in most places, doing a fabulous job = job security, but not in education. I also can only take a bathroom break at set schedules, and must not swear or lose my temper, no matter how stressful the situation. But for some stupid reason, I love it.

  2. Kathy, do you know your Myers Briggs type? Just curious! If I had to deal with people all day and never cuss I would get fired in a week. lol!

    I was thinking that it might be much more fun to teach at an alternative charter school that isn't run by the government ;)

  3. I taught in public school for 12 years. I don't miss the problems either but I do miss the little paycheck. I am a homeschool mom now and have brilliant, wonderful, handsome, ... students. They are 13, 9, & 7. We are learning Latin, sign language, algebra, physics and read a lot. We play pool in the living room and skateboard in the hall. We build quilt forts and zip line in the yard. I don't buy special school uniforms or notebooks. It's great! You should try it!

  4. The issues regarding education in America are extremely multi-layered and complex, rooted in poverty, race, class, culture, habits, politics, etc.

    Americans overall are proud to be intellectually incurious. They like to be dumb. Look at our last President and the pride most Americans had about his simple black-and-white view of the world. The fact is, American education is a mess because Americans don't value it. The average corporate CEO in the USA makes 450% more than the lowest paid employee. That's what America values.

    Teaching sucks. The pay stinks. Society treats you like garbage. Now whatever benefits existed are largely gone: pensions, time off (they've chipped away it at considerably), job security. It will be interesting to see who goes into teaching a generation from now. People think it's bad now?

  5. Americans do value education. But Americans value their liberty and independence MORE. That's the problem, for me at least. I certainly am not intellectually incurious, and my children are avid learners naturally.
    But if I had other options than public school at this point I would consider it. I wish there was more *freedom* in education, not more rules and regulations. That's the part that I find frustrating and dumb.

    I am probably better qualified to teach teenagers math than a lot of the people actually doing it -- and yet I will never be able to get through the state-governed education roadblocks. There is a reason that homeschooling is exploding. I homeschooled for a while when I was in middle school, back before it was popular and accepted. That's how I got so good at math. ;)

  6. I wholeheartedly agree. We need a lot more work to certification programs for experienced professionals to transition into teaching. My brother-in-law, who retired from the military last year, wanted nothing more than to teach math to middle/high school kids. What a great opportunity for both him and the students, right? I think he found a program that let him take a couple of classes and then work to the certification with a school rather than having to complete a ridiculous 30 hours of busy work courses in Ed.

    I have to chuckle, too, because even after decades of teaching CS in college, professor title and everything, I still can't teach it to kids one year younger in high school.

  7. Katy, you are lucky you had an engineering degree to fall back on. Imagine a mother in your situation, only without a college degree, or even one with a college degree but unable to find a job in this market after staying home with her young kids. Now imagine she needs food stamps to feed her kids. Vote Republican and you are voting against this woman and many others. If you vote Republican you are also probably voting against your OWN economic interests, but you are definitely voting against the interests of most single moms.

  8. Please don't lecture me on single moms behind the anonymous internet handle, okay?

    You don't know my voting habits (or lack of voting, as it may be.)

    I'm not delusional enough to believe that any politicians (Democrats included) give a rat's ass about me and my survival. They certainly do not. All they care about is power.

    Come to think of it -- perhaps that's the problem with our education system as well? ;)

  9. Katy I'm a single dad of three (4,6, 9) who is an engineer. My local college has a similar "get your teaching certificate". I've thought a couple times about leaving my 11-year engineering job to become a teacher. Your post helped me realize that indeed, I'm better off. Thanks for the smile.

  10. i love what you said (blocking the doorway). yep. for me, it isn't what we learn, it's that we learn to think and stay curious. to explore and discover and create. if we just learn a list of facts, we will have to have our hand held for . . . how long? the type of teaching you would have done would have been wonderful! up here, because our state is sparsely populated, we have more latitude when it comes to trying things "outside the box". i have a feeling your kids are going to learn tons from you just because of the way you move through life.

    and i'm sorry anonymous came along and threw single-momhood political paint on this post. i'm a single mom and i don't fit inside any predefined demographic box.


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