And teach well? Thinking about studying to become a teacher? Contemplating switching careers? Believe teachers are just glorified babysitters? If any of these applies to you, read on to see if you really have what it takes to make it in this profession.
Requirement 1: Content Knowledge
This one is obvious and probably the only requirement both teachers and non-teachers can agree is essential to the job. You may think it’s impossible to know every single thing there is to know about a particular subject or that vast knowledge isn’t necessary in primary and secondary education. And then some kid will ask you about an obscure Roman goddess whose step-brother ate his own sister, the product of which resulted in a hundred year drought, and you’d better know the answer to his question. Trust me.
Requirement 2: Grasp of Human Psychology
Not interested in becoming a psychology teacher or school professional? Doesn’t matter. You’d better study up on your Skinner, your Freud, and your Piaget, because you’re going to need to execute about a dozen behavioral interventions at a single time if you have any hope of even one student learning what you’re trying to teach.
Requirement 3: A Bladder the Size of Kentucky
Like using the restroom whenever you have to go? How about snacking at your desk when you’re hungry? Not possible when you’re a teacher. You have 5 minutes between classes to pee and 25 minutes in the middle of the day to shove something down your throat. That’s it. You’re responsible for overseeing everything that goes on in the classroom from the time the bell rings to the time it signals dismissal. You can’t step away — not even for a second — without risking liability should a fight ensue or a student fall ill.
Requirement 4: While We’re on the Subject of States, a Heart the Size of Texas
The heartbreak and need for empathy teachers experience is heavy. You will encounter students with Reactive Attachment Disorder, those whose parents are prostitutes and drug dealers, those who are charged with the sole care of their siblings, those dying from cancer, those who die in tragic car accidents and robberies gone wrong, and those whose atrocious behavior is simply a manifestation of their shitty home lives, to name just a few. Never in your life has your heart swelled with pain, worry, and understanding the way it does in teaching. Get used to it. It never goes away.
Requirement 5: Thick Skin
You and your hard work will be called stupid, worthless, pointless, incompetent, bitchy, and asshole-ish, and that’s just the stuff before lunch. Students, parents, and the public will be quick to criticize, and you will be required to endure it all with an understanding nod and an aura of diplomacy. If you like putting people in their place, this is not the profession for you.
Requirement 6: Tolerance for Body Fluids and Other Unpleasantries
In addition to ensuring mastery of content, you’re also charged with dodging vomit, helping clean up after poopy pants, bandaging bloody fingers, fumigating lice, stomaching B.O., and wiping snot off desks. Glamorous, right? But necessary. Part of the gig.
Requirement 7: Medical Proficiency
You may not be a doctor or a nurse, but that means squat when a student’s blood sugar drops to dangerous levels or someone brings a PB and J into a nut-free environment. You need to know how to administer a Glucagon shot, how to facilitate an EpiPen injection, and how to protect a student having a seizure from injury regardless of whether or not it’s in your job description. Lives depend on it.
Requirement 8: A Poker Face That’d Make a Vegas High Roller Jealous
You may be a humorist or a straight shooter by night, but when a student makes a dirty joke or another one viciously insults you in front of the class, you’ve got to be able to hide the fact that you’re smirking inside and/or murdering the offender in your head.
Requirement 9: A Willingness to Work for Nothing
Contrary to popular lore, teachers do not get holidays and summers off. They’re simply not paid for those, much like a landscaper or a swimming pool technician is not paid for work during the winter in northern states. In fact, many teachers seek supplementary income through second jobs like this here blog or that there book I wrote during their time off.
Teachers’ contracts only cover work for a certain number of hours per day for a certain number of weeks per year. Anything they do outside those hours is strictly voluntary and uncompensated. That means heading into the classroom during spring break, chaperoning the prom, helping students after school, restructuring curriculum, participating on interview and school improvement teams, attending IEP and 504 meetings, and presenting at professional development seminars are all unpaid yet expected activities.
Requirement 10: A Readiness to Shell Out One’s Own Dough
Budgets are tight these days, which means purchasing tissues, pencils, paper, binders, folders, and craft supplies for the classroom rests with teachers and their willingness to reach into their own pockets. Additionally, there will be kids who do not have a winter coat, a backpack, much-needed ADHD medication, or even laundry detergent for whom you will have to (not professionally but morally) pick up the tab. Students’ needs extend beyond learning to include guidance and, sometimes, basic care.
Requirement 11: Eagerness to Pursue an Advanced Degree on One’s Own Dime
Teaching also requires continuous education. Most teachers love to learn. What they don’t love, however, is going into debt getting those additional credentials. Many states require teachers to obtain Master’s, Specialist’s, and even higher degrees (or equivalent credit hours) to maintain certification, yet few (if any) actually help teachers with the cost. The benefit of having such degrees is that many teachers receive a modest yet welcome salary increase, but the reality is, even with that, repaying student loans remains a burden.
Requirement 12: Tolerance for Compromising Time with Loved Ones
As a teacher, you must prepare lesson plans and provide students with feedback and attend curriculum night and run parent/teacher conferences regardless of whether you can get to it during your contractual hours or not. This means you may find yourself calling parents or updating the grade book when you should be having dinner with your family or catching a movie with your friends. Working beyond the time for which you’re paid is not an option; it’s an expectation.
Requirement 13: A Knack for Interpersonal Communication
As a teacher, communication is the name of the game. You may know a whole hell of a lot about your subject area, but if you can’t express concerns and offer alternative solutions to students, parents, and administrators, you might as well seal your own career coffin before you even begin.
Requirement 14: A willingness to repeat. A willingness to repeat. A willingness to repeat.
The same thing over and over and over and over again. You could make something as clear as the sky is blue, but you better believe there is at least one person (and often more) who wasn’t listening or didn’t get your simple instructions the first time around. You will find yourself dreaming about how to complete a task merely because you’ve had to explain it 100 times over. No, you’re not on hallucinogens (though it sure seems like it sometimes.) That’s just par for the course, my friends.
Requirement 15: The Ability to Differentiate
“Differentiated instruction” is one of those terms that makes teachers scream internally. But it’s a very real aspect of the profession. You must know how to reach each and every kid’s unique learning requirements in a single lesson. This means focusing the kid with ADHD while respecting the sensory issues of another while catering to the physical limitations of a third. Imagine having to accomplish 30+ tasks in one fell swoop. That’s what teaching’s like.
Requirement 16: The Confidence to Act a Fool
In addition to being a beacon of knowledge, you’re also a stand-up comedian whether you want to be or not. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and to make students comfortable enough to laugh at themselves as well. It’s your job to make mistakes the pathway to success rather than the direct route to failure.
Sound appealing? If you’re ready to take on the task, we’re ready to welcome you!
Teachers: What other requirements do you think are essential to good teaching?