Why Would Anyone Choose to Teach?


Written by Bryce Covert, Roosevelt Institute

This country is in desperate need of more teachers. The U.S. ranks a pathetic 24th in reading, 30th in science, and 32nd in math when our students are compared to those in other countries.

But we seem to be hell-bent on keeping college graduates from going into the profession. From the debt they take on before school, to the job prospects they face when they graduate, to the way we treat teachers if they actually do sign up, any sane person would steer clear.

Total student debt now stands at $870 billion, more than total credit card debt. That’s a big number, and it’s important to keep in mind that it has some concrete real life consequences for the people carrying it. A study in 2007 found that “an extra $10,000 in student debt reduces the likelihood that an individual will take a job in nonprofits, government, or education by about 5 to 6 percentage points.”

That’s not too hard to grasp: if you have thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars in outstanding debt to pay off after graduating, a job that pays more than a measly $40,000 a year will look that much more temping. And in fact the data bears that out. The study found that the same $10,000 in additional student debt will reduce the likelihood that graduates take a job that pays less than $41,000 by six percentage points. Elementary and secondary school teachers make under $48,000 at the median — starting pay is usually a good deal lower.

The job prospects for grads trying to enter education are just as bleak. The economy has shed 584,000 public sector jobs since the recovery began in 2009, and 236,500, or about 40 percent, were in local education — in other words, public school teachers. Even worse, the unemployment rate for education grads is extremely high. Mike Konczal recently pointed out, “Education and social work graduates have a huge, statistically significant, 13.5% unemployment rate.” Compare that to an 8.3 percent rate for the general population. Even if you felt okay paying through the nose for college tuition just to scrape by on low pay, you’d be at risk for even finding a job in the first place.

But those who do have a job aren’t so lucky these days either. After a huge public debate, controversial value-added scores for teachers were recently released, dubbing teachers “good” and “bad.” And they’re already damaging teachers’ morale. A recent survey showed that it’s at its lowest point in more than 20 years. One in three teachers say they’re likely to find a different job in the next five years, up from one in four just three years ago. Their concerns? Job security, increased class sizes, and budget cuts. Little wonder: more than three quarters said their schools had undergone budget cuts, including layoffs.

I went into teaching directly out of college, and even then I felt like I was making a foolish choice. Now with student debt burdens skyrocketing, budgets shrinking, and unemployment ballooning, I can’t imagine I’d make the same choice.

This post was originally published by the Roosevelt Institute.


Related Stories:

Louisiana Lawmaker Wants Evolution Taught in Science Classes

Survey Shows Teacher Satisfaction Plummeting

Why Are The Presidential Hopefuls Ignoring Education?


Photo from Thinkstock

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

its a calling and here in the US it is a calling that pays very little

ii q.
g d c.3 years ago


Paul M.
Paul M.3 years ago

Check out PASI SAHLBERG, FINNISH DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF EDUCATION to see how to move forward, and what can be done.

Well worth the look.

Gina P.
Gina P.3 years ago

I'm a social worker with an MSW in Childrens Services. Teachers make more, get more time off, get more pay for higher education (I don't), don't have to go to court and aren't treated like garbage for trying to help children. If I had it to do over, I would definitely teach!

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P.3 years ago

Teachers get paid well in Canada..so partly the pay and maybe they enjoy it

C.M Padget
Selkie Paget3 years ago

To better the world.

Too bad they do not get the recognition they deserve. It would be a demanding job, and I know I would not be able to stand up to the pressures.

Heather D.
Heather D.3 years ago

Don't forget that there are income-sensitive repayment plans for student loans, AND loan forgiveness for those who work in teaching and the non-profit world for 10 years. These are critical programs that many, even in these industries, don't seem to be aware of.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.3 years ago

Seemed a good idea at the time. For years I loved the job.

Mark S.
Mark S.3 years ago

Teaching is a noble profession. I could never do it, because I am not educated or motivated enough, plus all the stress ( partly from difficult students). I applaud teachers that do it to help others.

JW H.3 years ago

In my county in Florida the avg teacher makes $46K and a 22 year old out of college starts at 36K. More time off at Christmas than most of you get all year (not to mention spring break and summer plus holidays and not being called in on weekends) and retire when you are in your mid 50's with a very nice pension. My wife and I are both teachers and put 2 kids through college without any student debt. Also there are many teacher appreciation events at sporting events and store sales. I havent seen a plumber or accountant appreciation day in a while. It is a rewarding career but not for everyone.