Teaching shouldn't be the 'worst job'

Teaching shouldn’t be the worst job on Earth, writes Elena Silva on The Quick and the Ed, responding to an Education Week commentary by Teach for America veteran  Kerry Kretchmar, who’s now working on a doctorate in teacher education.

Kretchmar starts out by recalling her first year teaching 32 kids in a rat-infested South Bronx basement. This is exactly the type of call-to-action that attracts young well-educated service-minded people to make a difference in the lives of poor children.

. . . the problem of public education – reforming teaching in particular – is not solved by describing the horrors of teaching in the worst schools, or by convincing individuals to join the cause. It will be solved by changing the conditions of one of the most complex occupations, and the largest public service workforce in the nation– most comparable in size to the U.S. military, so we don’t have to try so hard to convince and compel people to be great teachers.

A TFA first-grade teacher in Chicago finds an Onion parody — “Teach for America Chews Up, Spits Out Another Ethnic Studies Major” — is way too close to reality.

Every week I’m exhausted to a level of exhaustion that, before four months ago, I did not know existed.

And, yet, “the hardest job I could ever imagine” is “also incredibly rewarding. The feeling I get when my students learn something, or remember something I taught them, is priceless.”

Raising pay but allowing horrible working conditions will not persuade good people to stay in teaching.

About Joanne


  1. Too many of these schools accept the dreadful working conditions as the norm. It wasn’t until I taught for 2 years at a NOT-horrible school that I realized that:

    – you could actually ask the school secretary for pencils, pens, or markers, and not be disrespected
    – you could leave school without referring a fight
    – you could have days when you actually were able to finish a lab not interrupted by a fire alarm
    – administrators would come into your classroom without having to, and would stay to actually evaluate you (I once went 12 years without an evaluation – it would have been nice to have feedback)
    – the expected student response to a direction wasn’t “FU”
    – you could meet with parents/family members who didn’t have ankle bracelets/were not detained by the metal detector/were not chemically impaired
    – kids came in with some skills/knowledge, not just entered because they were too big for the middle school
    – a referral to special ed was handled, not filed in the terminal file
    – assaults were taken care of, not swept under the rug

    The plus side? You actually started to feel like a teacher.
    The minus side? You were held accountable for the first time in your career.
    The plus side? Tremendous growth as a teacher.
    The minus side? A lot more oversight in the classroom. The days of closing the door and doing whatever you wanted were over.

    For teachers who have had it with the ridiculously large bureaucracy of over-paid overlords who did squat, it could be great.

    For rebels and renegades, not necessarily. In poor schools, you could carve out a tiny kingdom, and do what you thought best. Some thrived in that autonomy. Others withered.

  2. “the largest public service workforce in the nation– most comparable in size to the U.S. military”

    Where I come from, we’re taught to divide the problem into smaller parts, then subdivide as necessary, then solve the smallest problems first. Perhaps each school should be independent. Abolish all the large, cumbersome, unreformable national and state schools, agencies, departments, etc., allowing each school to decide all things for itself. Perhaps several real solutions will arise that can be copied. Just imagine: no more teacher’s colleges; no more departments of education; no more education departments, no more state school boards… it’s win-win.

  3. Tehag, if the military tried it, it would be worthless. No other country that has a good education system does that: they do the opposite.

    Your idea is profoundly stupid.

  4. The problems don’t easily disappear, but if you like to teach, you learn to work your way around them and make the best of things. The happiest teachers I know depend on administration for nothing whatsoever. In your spare time, you can try to climb the mountain that is improving the system. In your classroom, you have to control things and give kids a good place to learn.

    It’s certainly true, I suppose, that you’d lose fewer teachers if you didn’t treat them like chattel. It’s also true, perhaps, that people who can tough it through the awful conditions might have a little something extra to offer kids.

  5. I agree with NYC Educator and I have operated that way for over 20 years in an inner city high school. The district office, however, sees the subjects I teach (business) as unnecessary as they cannot be tested and the results printed in the local paper. Therefore, it has become harder and harder to get supplies and equipment to do what I do so well. It’s time for my next career.

  6. Mike Curtis says:


    Become an administrator…they don’t need any supplies and they never have to care about educating kids. I heard the pay is better, especially if you can find a building to work in that doesn’t have to put up with students or those annoying bells.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: Teaching shouldn't be the 'worst job' http://www.joannejacobs.com/2009/12/teaching-shouldnt-be-the-worst-job/ […]

  2. […] Joanne Jacobs tells us why Teaching Shouldn’t Be the Worst Job. […]