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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Poor, pitiful me' message discourages would-be teachers

The "underpaid-teacher meme" is discouraging college students interested in teaching from pursuing the career, according to new studies at the University of Maryland, writes Madeline Will in Education Week.

"Only about a third of students said they received encouraging messages about teaching from the media," researchers found, while "63 percent said they received discouraging messages."

Friends and family often told them that a teaching career offers fulfillment and job security, the students said. However, they were also warned about low pay. "Do you want to be poor for the rest of your life?" one father asked.

Media messages stressed "low wages, poor working conditions, and a lack of societal respect," writes Will.

“I’ve heard that teaching is maybe not as prestigious — really, as respectable of a job as other jobs,” a student told researchers.

In a second study, researchers interviewed 16 Black students with an interest in teaching. They worried about pay, respect and the “invisible tax” on Black teachers, who are often expected to serve as uncompensated disciplinarians or mentors to students of color in addition to their teaching jobs.

“The participants valued K-12 teaching, and they valued teachers,” said Tifanee McCaskill, a former math teacher who is now a third year Ph.D. student at Maryland, in her presentation. “But they perceived that the opportunity cost — both social and economic — [was] just too high to go into teaching as a major or as a career.”

Students agreed that teaching is not a well-respected profession.

Teachers need to sell the profession to future teachers, McCaskill said. Of course, higher pay would help.

Ditch the doomsday narrative, writes Chad Aldeman on The 74. More young people want to become teachers: The number of enrollees in teacher preparation programs rose by 6 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to recent data. There are small increases (3 percent) in traditional teacher prep and large increases (20 to 22 percent) in alternative programs.

Public schools employ more teachers than ever, despite declining enrollment, he points out. Student-to-teacher ratios are "hitting all-time lows."

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