Third Year to 30
The challenges in education may not change too much over the years, but an educator does.
By Amy Buffenbarger
The teaching profession has always appealed to Pat Byrne. “I had teachers that truly cared and helped me gain confidence in my ability to succeed socially and academically,” says Byrne.
So nine years ago Byrne began a teaching career at Wheaton Woods Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland.
Before his first day in the classroom, Byrne thought his biggest challenge would be his readiness to be a good teacher. “I wanted to make sure I was planned and prepped so that I could focus on my students and provide what they need,” says Byrne.
Being in front of his students is what made him the most nervous. Now, that’s where he’s most comfortable.
It’s safe to say that people begin a career in education because they are passionate about helping children gain the skills they need to learn and succeed. It’s a stressful, exhausting profession, but the reward of shaping a student’s future makes it all worth it.
Megan Lutz was one of those students who loved all of her teachers. Not surprisingly, she decided to become one herself. “I wanted to be a positive influence and pass on the love of learning to children like my teachers did with me,” says Lutz.
Similar to Byrne, Lutz was most worried about classroom management when she started teaching at Ogden Elementary School in Ogden, Kansas. Three years later, her biggest concern became funding cuts to education programs.
“I already work with a tight budget to get the supplies my students need in the classroom,” says Lutz. “My students could also lose those dynamic classes such as art, music, and physical education.”
Education funding is just one of many on a list of challenges teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) deal with every day. Experience doesn’t change what matters most to educators, but it does change how educators see themselves as part of a larger system.
For Byrne, that shift came as he realized how hard it is to keep up with all the shifting priorities dictated to teachers—constantly changing curriculums, grading standards, and school committees, for example.
“It seems as soon as a program is adopted and I feel confident with it, it all changes as a new program rolls down the line,” says Byrne.
With 37 years of experience under her belt, Peggy Brookins has found the same three issues affecting public education. “The first is student performance, then teacher compensation, and third is the recognition and perception of the profession,” says Brookins.
When Brookins, a math teacher and the program director for the Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida, first started teaching, she worried about how she would reach all her students. But she quickly became more concerned with the fact that people who didn’t work in her school were making unhelpful decisions for her students.
Brookins believes that is still one of the biggest issues affecting teachers.
“We are one of the only professions that allows people from the outside to tell us how to do our job,” says Brookins. “The main thing I’ve learned is that if you’re going to become a better teacher, it’s up to you to take control of your profession.”
Empowering educators to be part of the decision-making process is a key to student success. After all, educators are the ones working with students every day, and they know best what they need.
For Donna West, empowerment came with experience.
West has worked in child nutrition at Brownwood Elementary School in Scottsboro, Alabama, for 10 years. She is a child nutrition manager with responsibilities ranging from making sure recipes are followed to reporting to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the food they served, how much, and how many students got meals, for example. Her goals have shifted from just making sure she followed all the rules and regulations at the beginning of her career to helping students make better decisions about both nutrition and manners. “We help them become an overall better citizen,” West explains.
West has also come to feel a greater value with her role at school. “I see my career differently now that I have come to understand that education support professionals are part of the education process,” says West. “I realized that my role in the cafeteria and trying to help the students learn nutrition is just as important as what’s happening in the classrooms.”
Quick Stats Teachers
*Data from a survey of 1,000 NEA member teachers
- Teachers put students first. 76 percent of teachers think advocating for the broad interests of children should be a top priority for NEA.
- 79 percent of teachers are “totally satisfied” with their job; however only 35 percent are “totally satisfied” with their working conditions.
- 93 percent of teachers agree that the best way to improve student learning is for teachers to have a real say on how they are prepared, trained, evaluated, supported, and held accountable.
Quick Stats Education Support Professionals
*Findings from NEA Research
- ESPs consistently rate the personal fulfillment they get from their job as the characteristic with which they feel most satisfied, with 95 percent satisfied in 2012.
- More than four in five ESP members (85 percent) intend to stay in the education support field.
- ESP earnings, adjusted for inflation, have not increased over 20 years.