What drew me to EDUC 104: “Introduction to the Profession of Teaching” was the internship component of the class. To supplement in-class learning about student-teacher dynamics, students participate in a teaching internship at a local elementary, middle or high school where they can shadow a teacher in a field they are interested in. Nine weeks into this internship and something has clicked for me — something that didn’t really sink in my 12 years of school before starting college — teachers really, truly have a hard job.
Multiple class periods a day, up to 40 students per class, each with different backgrounds and learning styles and ways of participating — not to mention all of the grading, angry parents and after-school meetings — teachers have a lot to keep up with. And their paychecks don’t usually reflect that.
The Washington Post reported that “in 2015, the weekly wages of public school teachers in the United States were 17 percent lower than comparable college-educated professionals.”
Even relative to itself, the education sector is experiencing a decline according to the same data set: “Average weekly wages (inflation adjusted) of public-sector teachers decreased $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, from $1,122 to $1,092 (in 2015 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of all college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416 over this period.”
If a job that demands an often taxing devotion to students and their learning does not pay enough for the time and energy, it makes sense that a study found that “only five percent of the students in a recent survey of college-bound students were interested in pursuing a career in education, a decrease of 16 percent between 2010 and 2014.” Not to mention, the recently proposed cuts would eliminate $3.6 billion by doing away with a program “that [funds] after-school activities for needy children and another that covers teacher training” might serve to further constrain interest in the field.
In EDUC 104, I learned what makes good teachers so effective — what makes the content they are teaching “stick” with their students. It’s called pedagogical content knowledge. Take a fifth-grade math teacher for example. The idea is that a good one will know not only how to teach math and not only how to teach fifth graders, but will know how to teach fifth-graders math. Think about your favorite professor here. Odds are, they 1) know their stuff and 2) know how to teach 20-year-olds.
I have been lucky enough to shadow a teacher who has both the content and the pedagogy down, and thus has an incredible capacity to engage meaningfully with students. In the class, she helps her students by giving them clues on how to approach content (for example, giving them mnemonics they can use). They often engage in art projects to solidify the day’s lecture — both a welcome break from the drone of textbooks and a new way to process information. In her interactions with her students, she realizes that many of them come from middle schools with varying degrees of preparation for the rigor of high school coursework, and thus uses pre-assessments to gauge prior knowledge.
Teachers deserve more for what they do. They taught us what we know.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at ‘amariz’ at stanford.edu.