Aspiring teachers discuss the career’s importance

February 4, 2022 — by Sanjoli Gupta
Students want to pursue this rewarding job, despite a lack of prestige and compensation

Last summer, senior Casey Gilligan worked as a teacher’s assistant for Saratoga Elementary kindergarten teacher Julie Kwok.

One day, as she waited for the children to finish writing, she saw a boy struggling to write simple sentences on his paper. 

Gilligan was able to recognize his frustration. Rather than having him dread the task of writing, she wanted him to have fun while learning to write quickly and effectively. So, she pulled him aside and asked him about his favorite sports and animals, calming him as they practiced writing sentences. 

Gilligan has a lot of experience teaching besides being a TA for multiple elementary school teachers, such as coaching for the All Stars United Soccer Club. In all her mentorship positions, she has focused on helping kids who are falling behind their peers, and forming one-on-one connections. She is one of a small minority of current students who are planning to become teachers someday. In college, she will major in elementary education with a minor in special education and history.

“Teachers really go out of their way to connect with every student, and learn their way of learning because every student learns differently,” she said. “That’s a major thing that I’m gonna incorporate as a teacher later on.”

Helping young kids strikes a personal chord with Gilligan.  She fondly remembers her own education experience growing up. When her elder brother was in Kwok’s class, Gilligan found herself welcomed into the classroom. She was allowed to sit through the beginning part of class, and always felt welcome even though she was still in preschool. Rather than solely focusing on traditional lessons, her kindergarten teacher taught her about morals and life lessons.

The experiences that she gained through these classes, specifically what adapting to different children’s needs looked like, coupled with her passion for helping others, led her to consider pursuing a degree in education. 

She said that her teachers such as  Kwok have been her main inspirations, since they emphasized kindness and giving back to the community.

“[I want to do] anything that can help future generations move to the right path,” Gilligan said. “I want to help these little kids out, and get them to where they want to be when they’re older.” 

While some teens like Gilligan are excited still to become a teacher one day, the profession is fading in popularity. In fact, according to MarketWatch, only 4.6% of college freshmen in the U.S. plan to major in education today, a drastic decrease from the 22% of college students in the U.S. who majored in teaching in 1975. 

The New York Times reported that the number of U.S. graduates earning education degrees dropped by 22% between 2006 and 2019, despite an overall increase of U.S. students earning graduate degrees. 

In addition, a survey of over a thousand adults in Education Week found that 61% of people have “trust and confidence in public school teachers,” but a little over 50% said they don’t want their children to be teachers — 29% cited “inadequate pay and benefits” as the main reason for their hesitation. Despite these concerns, however, Gilligan’s parents are proud of her decision to take up teaching.

I feel like a lot of people, no matter if they love their job or hate their job, will go to a job they don’t want to be in just because of money,” Gilligan said. “Teachers don’t get paid as much as they should, but I still think it’s worth it because you’re teaching the younger generation.”

 

Equipping students to bolster democracy

Another student focused on teaching as a career is  sophomore Medha Ravi, who wants to teach art or mathematics. She believes that the future of young generations is in teachers’ hands because they mold the minds of their students. 

After the Jan. 6, 2021, riots, where an angry group of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, Ravi realized many of her fellow citizens have a “skewed perspective” of the nation. Ravi’s friend in Texas told her about a teacher who denounced the idea of young people spelling out their pronouns such as he/him, she/her and they/them in identifying information such as emails or screen names.  Ravi found such a perspective stunningly misinformed. The fact that this teacher would reject students’ identities and ignore their comfort in the classroom appalled her and inspired to want to do better.  

Ravi believes that teachers need to be of the best quality. The best way of doing that is by becoming a teacher. 

She added that when it comes to connecting with students, she believes it’s easier for younger teachers to understand the atmosphere of the classroom. 

“I feel like people fresh out of college remember how it was when they were a student, and the culture hasn’t really changed too much since,” Ravi said, “They’ve just come out of that environment, so they know exactly how students interact with one another today.”

Despite Ravi’s desire to become a teacher, her parents would rather she become a doctor or lawyer due to the higher pay of those professions. 

However, Ravi said that she still wishes to pursue teaching after going into a higher paying profession and building up enough savings for her to be able to support herself on a teacher’s salary. 

“Especially in the Bay Area, people put importance on [money] because it’s a very competitive community and people want to be the best without having any certain end goal in mind,” she said. “I think overall, people are really concerned about their social image and overall success and they forget what is truly important to themselves”

English teacher Natasha Ritchie faced a similar conundrum. Ritchie initially applied as a law major, before she realized that the career was not for her, and instead began a path to become a teacher. She said that, even after 19 years of teaching, she loves her job and finds it invigorating. 

I think teaching allows you to be a lifelong learner in a way that a lot of other professions don’t,” she said. “I learn a ton from my students every year. Especially when it comes to teaching English, the world is such a complicated place and being a human is difficult. Having an opportunity to read books about it, to write about it, to talk to each other about it feels like a very valuable thing to do.” 

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