Teaching is similar to every other job, in the sense that there’s a reason why people do it. Sometimes it’s a life-long goal, sometimes you fall into it.
I interviewed teachers at different levels and figure out why and how they got to be where they are: an a elementary school teacher, Trisha Pollack; a middle school teacher, Chris Vandenberg; two high school teachers, Dawn Putnam and Laura Lutz, and; a college professor, Howard Bossen, and asked them three questions: Why teaching? Why your specific grade? How they got to their school?
Pollack: I just always loved being around kids. I worked at a daycare when I was in high school and throughout college and I just always loved being around kids.
Vandenberg: I think I picked teaching mostly because I mostly enjoy watching them learn, the ‘a-ha’ moments. I had one teacher for second grade and fourth grade that I just loved. I used to play teacher when I was little, I just thought it was the coolest job.
Putnam: I mean I think there are a lot of reasons. I always liked school. I liked learning and I had good experiences in classrooms and with teachers. I think when you have teachers in your life that have been really influential to you, you think, ‘I want to do that, I want to be that for somebody.’ I think that was a big part of it.
Lutz: I didn’t initially think I was going to be a teacher. I started out in business and I thought that was kind of the direction I wanted to go. Once I got into it, I did not enjoy it and I didn’t think my job mattered. Some friends of mine and people in my life were going into teaching and that seemed like something that I could use my education for and do something I thought that mattered.
Bossen: There were two reasons. I was making my living as a freelance photographer in Philadelphia, primarily doing news assignments and the bottom fell out of the market and suddenly there was no freelance work. So I thought, ‘Hmm, do I want to spend my life doing this kind of cyclic of thing, or do I want something a bit more stable as a way of making a living?’ So I decided that I’d get a graduate degree and see what the academic life was like.
Why your specific grade?
Pollack: Originally, I wanted to go into early childhood. I actually prefered kindergarten, first, second [grade]. I thought I’d like that and then I ended up switching when I was at Eastern. I guess I liked teaching them reading, I liked the age group. I like how you can have fun with them. I like their personalities. I just like that age better.
Vandenberg: I got talked into middle school. I did not pick middle school. I taught elementary for 11 years and then a bunch of girls from Pierce came over and talked me into coming over there. They needed somebody who was reading and talked me into coming up. I hated it for three years and then loved it. Once I hit that third year, it was much better. The schedule is nice because you kind of flip into every hour, you don’t have the same kids all day.
Putnam: Again, it was the teachers I had and the experiences I had and I loved it and I wanted to do that more. It was one of those things where you don’t want to grow up. You just want to stay. I grew up in the thumb and I didn’t know of a lot of different things. You look at kids now and they don’t go into teaching because there are so many other opportunities to choose from. Teaching seemed pretty awesome and it was something that I was familiar with.
Lutz: I think it was mainly because of the experiences I had a student. I had a teacher who was my AP U.S. history and my AP econ teacher, which were my degrees in college. He really influenced me in terms of feeling like I understood the world more and gave me self-confidence and so it was kind of the age I gravitated towards because of that.
Bossen: I really never had any desire to teach at the elementary or high school level. It’s just not me. My wife was an elementary school teacher and she has a personality that meshes with doing that and I don’t. It’s an extremely important thing to be doing, but you need to have the right disposition.
How’d you get here?
Pollack: I just did a radius around where I was living and applied all over. I had a couple of interviews and then I saw that Chelsea was looking for a second grade teacher. It was actually a job share my first year, so I only taught half of the time.
Vandenberg: Well, I went to Waterford. I went to Kettering [Waterford’s high school]. It was where I interviewed first and got the job. I ended up student teaching in Waterford so then it was just kind of natural to apply to the district. I got the interview and ended up getting the job.
Putnam: It was the end of my student teaching. I did all of my student teaching in the Mid-Michigan area and I student taught at Frankenmuth High School. When I student taught there I was really, really into drama. I had a theatre scholarship at Central. I really wanted to direct plays. I wanted to go to Frankenmuth because I knew their coach there and their speech department. I asked to be placed there; it was a great experience. I was looking for schools that wanted a drama program, that were looking for a drama teacher. I wanted something that was going to give me an opportunity to do what I loved. At the end of student teaching, I was looking for jobs that are posted and stuff and I saw this. It was for English and speech communication and they wanted a drama person. I was like, “That sounds like it’s right up my alley.” I applied for the job and got offered the job. It was the only interview I went on and I took the job.
Lutz: Totally randomly. I moved here to go to the Masters of Arts program at Michigan. The plan was to leave at the end of the year and go to Colorado. That was the plan. In April and in May a job opened up here, it was one of the only jobs that was open at the time. So, I was like, ‘I’ll just apply and see what happens.’ It was my one and only interview and I ended up getting the job.
Bossen: Because it was a job. When I was getting through with graduate school, you look around and see what jobs are available that year and you apply to the ones that you think you are competitive for and places you might want to be. MSU was one of the places I applied for and I actually got two job offers, one here and one at another institution, but this offer was a better offer so we came here.
When you look at the breakdown, it makes sense that middle schools have the least amount of teachers with only three grades so there are less openings. It also makes sense elementary schools have the most employees. More elementary schools are in a district than middle and high schools. Plus K-5 consists of six grades.
Going into these interviews I knew teaching was going to be a personal choice. I wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school, and I was influenced by the people who taught me. However, I was expecting decisions would be more financially driven.
What was a surprise though is the modest difference in salaries. Moreover, elementary school teachers, on average, make more money than a middle school teacher. I figured the higher level you teach the more money you get paid, but that’s not the case.
Bossen said it best, “I don’t think people go into education to make a ton of money.”