a.studentToday an opinion piece in The Washington Post bothered me. A lot.

A freshman at Columbia University described the summer job she had last year as the best experience of her life. Teaching middle-school students full-time was “exhausting, yet also rewarding and meaningful,” inspiring her to consider becoming a K-12 teacher.


But after her first year of college, her resolve has begun to crumble.

Working at the alumni office, she spoke with many Columbia alumni. Those who were teachers asked her whether she really wanted to teach or was ready to put up with the disrespect, lower pay, long hours, and lack of autonomy on the job.

“How will I face my classmates at our 20th reunion, when they’re all rich lawyers or important people in New York?” she wondered. Teaching was beginning to seem not impressive enough.

You can count on disrespect, long hours, and lack of autonomy at many jobs. But yes, teaching is not linked to as much social cachet among the hoi polloi as something like law or business.

I understand that from an earnings standpoint, teaching, especially in the earlier years, may not be all that lucrative. You won’t be raking in bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars or more, like those who go into finance. Nor will you enjoy the perks of more money than you can spend. Being a teacher involves sacrifice. I get that.

But my main reaction is this. When you decide what to pursue at the outset of your career or later, you should not worry about what the outside world thinks. What matters is whether you enjoy working those 40+ hours a week. They’re not doing the work. You are.

If you have the soul of a teacher and enjoy the challenge of teaching sometimes lazy, often clueless students how to grapple with ideas or think through a problem, don’t let others scare you away from a potentially rewarding job or career. They are not you.

Don’t assume their criteria apply to you. Some of them care more about  “seeming impressive” and flashing bling. That’s how they measure a person’s worth. That’s a choice they make.

Some teachers see teaching a child to read or a teenager to use higher level critical thinking as highly rewarding. Some people see this as more valuable than earning zillions of dollars through some financial wizardry.

I’ve had more jobs than most. And along the way, at just about every job, I’ve come across people who loved their work and those who hated it. The latter are often toxic types who focus on the negatives. They often seem to corrode from the inside out. But that’s another article for another day. It’s possible many of the teachers among the alumni you spoke with were burnt out.

Maybe you should seek out and talk to teachers who love what they’re doing–and excel at it. Find out what makes their jobs different from those who are festering with complaints. This will take some digging, but could help you make a better, more informed decision about your path beyond college.

Just because some teachers hate their jobs doesn’t mean you have to. Whether you’re researching teaching or any other careers, do a little due diligence. And you’ll figure out what separates those who like their jobs from those who hate them. Then follow the model set by the people who love their jobs. Maybe, for example, people working in smaller firms get more autonomy. But on the flip side, they may take on more work, because they play a bigger role in the life of the company.

Whatever you do, don’t assume one person’s truth is your truth–just as what’s true for one teacher may not be true for another.

Got that?



Photo: Tom Wang, CanStockPhoto.