Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Focused Career Choices: How Teacher Educators Can Assist Students with Purposeful Career Decision-Making throughout a Teacher Education Program

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Focused Career Choices: How Teacher Educators Can Assist Students with Purposeful Career Decision-Making throughout a Teacher Education Program

Article excerpt

Each semester in my teacher education classes, I explain some career facts to my students. I ask them to take a good look at each other, because the reality is that they will not all be graduating together and becoming teachers. (1) One or two in the room will never make it to student teaching, some will start to student teach and hate it, others will finish, but never pursue teaching. Many who complete the degree will be so disheartened from subbing or from trying to compete in saturated job markets that they will give up and find another line of work. Some graduates will complete one year in a full-time position, others two or even five, but very few will complete 30.

I do not tell my students this to scare them or to weed out the class. I tell them this because I want to give them permission not to be teachers. I have found that students put so much pressure on themselves to finish a degree that they oftentimes do not stop to think if they will enjoy the work they have nearly prepared themselves to do. Others simply do not want to admit that they truly do not like the work because they "just want to be done." For many, they already have a good idea that they do not want to be teachers, but they believe they have invested too much time and money and so they trudge on to graduation. Having no other employment prospects, they may begin subbing or teaching, many marking time until they "get a real job."

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2008), a recent longitudinal study of graduates from 1993 who pursued teaching careers revealed that 87% had either never taught or had left the profession. For those who did major in education (as opposed to a content area major, for example), 40% were no longer teaching. In urban environments, research tells us that the attrition rate is even higher. Annually, high-need schools, such as those with the majority of students receiving free and reduced lunch, replace 20% of their faculty (Ingersoll, 2001). Such turnover is a good thing neither for the teachers nor for the children in the schools. It is also a poor use of the institutional resources used to train, hire, and retain educators.

I understand students have opportunities for career counseling, and that as teacher educators, we are not career counselors. Nonetheless, many of us are charged with teaching and advising those seeking initial teacher licensure. We must make a concerted effort to have students reflect seriously on the meanings they are constructing of their work. We need to ask them to gauge continually their confidence in their career choice when they are engaged in learning what is required in the daily work of teaching. Not only would such a phenomenological approach enable us to help pre-service students consider whether their fears may be reality, but if there truly is a lack of fit, to enable students to begin the process of selecting another major long before the semester prior to graduation.

I believe that by adding more continuous and focused career instruction within our initial licensure programs, we can at least attempt to address whether our students' perceptions of their careers match their realities. For the sake of the children they will teach, we can also perform our function as gatekeepers of quality in the profession by ensuring as much as possible that students' career aspirations match their intentions to teach. We should determine if they truly understand, as best as is possible prior to spending significant time in the classroom, the nature of the work they will be called upon to perform. It is, of course, impossible to ensure that the students are positive about their career choices. Nonetheless, it seems prudent to consider that they are not. Teaching is difficult enough. We need to be in the business of preparing teachers who show up everyday focused on the task at hand, on the children, and not on planning for how they will get their "real job. …

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