Teachers, why do you teach at the school level you do?

I’d imagine most people here who are teachers teach at the high school level, but I’m interested in hearing all perspectives. I wanna know why those who are teachers are teaching at the school level (elementary, middle, high, college) that they do.

I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up and teaching has always been a nagging thought in the back of my head for as long as I can remember. To be honest, I can’t think of anything more fun to do with my career than to run an engineering school like Amir Abo-Shaeer does with Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, but I know that’s a bit of a reach. While I’m still not dead-set on the idea of teaching, something that I always come back to is teaching high school vs. college. Teaching college sounds more fun to me because the requirements are different and I feel like a college instructor has more freedom over what they teach and how they teach it than a high school instructor does, but I want to hear from actual teachers why they chose the schoo level they did instead of any others.

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Hi! I’m in my 8th year of teaching high school students (mostly physics). My background is actually in engineering and I worked in industry briefly, but I pretty much knew as I was wrapping up my PhD work in Materials Science that I needed to teach.

High school appealed to me much more than teaching college. College students are great, but my feeling was that late middle school/early high school was a place where I personally could have an impact. I wanted to be able to encourage kids to pursue STEM fields who may not have seen themselves as capable. I wanted to help students see how science was applicable in their daily lives and a topic they could access. For me, the high school age group felt right for that kind of an impact.

There is a tradeoff - I’m certainly not teaching the type of advanced topics I could at the college level. But I don’t really find that that has mattered to me. I teach summer camps and robotics activities for elementary ages and enjoy that (almost) as much as I enjoy teaching calulus-based physics. I’m teaching at an independent school, so have not had as much difficulty with lack of freedom designing course curriculum

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I started tutoring math while in college. Worked at my old high school tutoring for an academic program there. They had lunch, after school, and in-class tutoring. So I got an opportunity to be in the HS classroom working with students who needed help with the material. At that point I had ZERO interest in being a teacher. I had just finished working for a professor over a couple of summers doing polymer modeling, and got a paper published. I just assumed I’d be going on to grad school at some point.

I got the tutoring job because one of my fellow physics major friends was doing it and he said it was “easy”. I slowly realized I liked helping kids figure things out, and this eventually led to me considering becoming a math teacher… until I realized how many extra math classes I’d need to get my credential. Since I was graduating with a physics degree, I figured it might be a good idea to consider teacher physics! That was almost 20 years ago now.

It hasn’t always been easy. And there have been many times early on I had considered leaving the profession to go back to school. Poorly managed districts, lack of funding, etc. can wear you down.

But in 2010, a coworker brought up this thing called the FIRST Robotics Competition. While FRC hasn’t made my job any easier (I think it might be the opposite…) it has definitely made it interesting.

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My whole life I was told not to be a teacher and still ended up being one lol.

I currently teach 1st grade and have also taught 3rd and am licensed to teach Middle School Math and Science.

The best part about teaching elementary school is that you never know what you are going to get. Every single day is different and unexpected. The students are the best part of the job because they are so young and silly and full of life. Even on my worst days, I can check my own baggage at the door and be in a space full of 25ish little humans who I get to love and grow and laugh with.

I didn’t ever want to teach 1st grade, but I wanted a job and now I am more and more comfortable with it. I would still teach upper elementary and middle school if the opportunity and situation was right for me.

Like every job, teaching has its pros and cons. Before I became a teacher, I wish someone had told me that it is just a job. It does not have to be your whole life. You do not have to sacrifice your well-being for the job. You are a professional and ought to be treated as such.

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I teach high school because that’s something that fits with me as a person. I know, 100%, that I would be absolutely awful working with small children (elementary age). I have no patience for them and just… no. I substitute taught a few times in an elementary class and while I made it through the day, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Middle school is also those awkward years and really, I could conceivably do it, it’s just not high school.

I teach computer science, engineering and manufacturing. Some of the things I enjoy teaching the most, engineering content, wouldn’t be doable at the middle school level because the kids don’t have the prerequisite math skills yet. I love math and it’d be sad (to me) if I couldn’t teach it in additional to my engineering/technology subjects.

Also, robots. We also do FTC, which can be middle school level, but… my initial connection with my school is because of the FRC team. I have been mentoring for the robotics team since I started college and continued on now that I work there. That connection with the school and the students was established so it really was a no brainer.

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In high school, I wanted to be a teacher. A math teacher, specifically. I helped my classmates understand homework during study hall, and found a lot of pleasure in doing so.
When I talked to my guidance counselor about it, he told me no. There’s no money in teaching, no jobs in teaching, I’ve got the grades to be an engineer, I should go do that.
So I did.
And halfway through sophomore year, I got out. Because I got burnt out on the math. Not because it was challenging, or I couldn’t do it, I just got tired of it. And I loved math.
So I CODO-ed into the School of Liberal Arts and graduated with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Philosophy.
Worked in radio for a couple years, got to party like a rock star with rock stars, came to the realization that the life I was living was not compatible with raising a family, so I went back to school and got my teaching license in 6-12 Mathematics.
After a year of teaching, my administration sent me to Summer Training Institutes for PLTW and made me the head coach of the FIRST Robotics team. I had previously never heard of either of those.
That was 16 years ago.
Now I try to inspire students to pursue the career I abandoned, because I didn’t have the foresight or the understanding of what a STEM career really could be. I work with both high school and middle school students, and my focus is preparing the students for the next level, whatever that may be.
At this point in my job (and as @pnwprincessnatalie said, it really is only a job), I teach so that I can continue coaching robots. If robots wasn’t around, I probably would have left the profession by now.

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Well if you are collecting atypical career paths, I’ve got one for you. I think my real destiny would have been to teach history. I’ve always been fascinated by it and had it as a minor in undergrad. But I went into medicine instead. It did pay the bills. And, it must be said, did a better job of it than most teaching gigs. But along the course of raising a family (which to be fair was split about 70/30 in favor of my wife) one of our kids was a gadgetboy. He and I drifted into robotics and when he was in middle school I started running a DIY robotics class/event in the afterschool program. 20 plus years later I’m retiring the program, or to be fair, taking it in new directions. But for the past six years I’ve also been Mentor to a FIRST team that formed out of alumni of the middle school program. Doing teaching on an Irregular basis does not pay, but there are very few meetings and if you have a good District administration you get way more creative control. So if you have an alternate “pays the bills” path you can certainly still be a teacher, either via the indirect route or by going back later and taking it up. Best of luck with whatever road you walk.

TW

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I could write a novel but I chose to teach High School because I wanted to help students figure out what they wanted to for their careers and I wanted to make an impact during the time they are making that decision.

I know my passion is teaching people stuff. I know the benefits of having found a passion and entering a profession that allows me to pursue that passion. High Schoolers need that guidance as they make those life decisions.

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I teach high school primarily because that is where the subjects I enjoy the most are housed. I have made it through more programs than most in 17 years having taught Small Engines, Foundry, Welding, Automotive, Woodshop, Furniture and Cabinetry, Design, Graphic Design, Photography, 6-8th grade Technology, Architecture, Robotics, Mechanical Drawing, and 3d Modeling and CAD. Being Vocationally Certified makes me a rarity in the teaching world and while jobs are not everywhere, there are more of them then there are people with my certification.

I have found that elementary aged kids don’t get my jokes, middle school kids take them too seriously, and high school kids seem to get my sarcasm just enough. College might be a better fit for me, but I like a set work day that ends when my kids school day does. I’m not sure I’d be cut out for night classes or labs at this point in my life. But honestly, high school is where you can save a kid from making a decision that will cost them 10s of thousands of dollars to figure out. If they choose the wrong program, it is hard to do an about face at the university level. The number of kids in our yearbooks that say they want to be an engineer or an architect but never took any of my classes is frightening. I have helped just as many kids realize that they have no desire to be in STEM as I have helped towards STEM. I’m proud of both of those accomplishments.

I worked in an office drawing parts for a few years, it wasn’t more stressful than teaching but it was a different kind of stress. For me it was no good, and I’ve been happy with where I am for almost half of my life now. That, and someday, my son and daughter will have to take my class and that makes me smile.

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I came into teaching via a different route. I received by bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering and worked as Manufacturing Engineer at Fiber Optics plant for a number of years out of college. It was a good experience but it was a lot of work. I worked right at the time of the tech bubble burst and before that we were working 70-80 hour mandatory weeks. Long story short we were bought out by a world competitor and were laid off after I trained my position away. At one point there were seven other people doing my job in Japan and Singapore.

Anyway, I found a fast track to get my Master’s Degree for Education. I’ve taught middle school technology for seven years. I was then asked to create a Intro to Nanotechnology course in a co-teaching environment with an Economics and English teacher. It’s been great and I love creating new curriculum.

During my first year of teaching I was asked to start up an FLL team for grades 6-8. I then expanded to grades 4-5 to the point where we no have five FLL teams. We also had a hs teacher coaching the FRC team during this time. After a couple years I decided it would be a good idea to switch things up and create an FTC team for grades 7-8 and keep FLL for 4-6 grade, It’s worked out great and we have a natural pipeline of kids coming through our programs.

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This is something I’ve been going through. I’m on a “more than 4 years” college schedule because math has made me change my major away from engineering, back to it, back away, and eventually to an engineering major that is more focused on hands-on skills than math-heavy ones and I’m much happier here. I love the math I do, but most of the math-heavy courses on the Mechanical Engineering pathway that I would have had to take seemed unrelated to anything I wanted to do in life and uninspiring to the point of making me question if engineering really was the thing for me.

I still think math is extremely important, but it’s reassuring to hear that someone else ran into a similar roadblock and was able to make it through.

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I think many of us have felt that way about math at some point in our training. As I teach physics to my high school students, I try and keep that front and center. When am I doing math on a topic just for the sake of doing math? If I find that to be the case, I cut it out and focus on a deeper understanding of the content. If you can solve a question simply by finding the right tool (equation) to complete the problem, I’m now teaching an applied math course.

But to get back to the OP’s question, I teach high school because this is where I think I can do the most good. I hope that I have guided a few of my students who weren’t going to study STEM to go down that path. If I didn’t succeed in that, at least give my students a better understanding of what good science is and how to apply it in everyday life choices.

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In that light I could say I’m a teacher because of Fluid Dynamics and possibly Thermal Dynamics. I loved math too, until those classes happened and now I have really good insurance, general happiness, and a much smaller paycheck.

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Retired college teacher’s perspective: Knew early on that I wanted to teach. Knew early on that I didn’t want to deal with disciplinary issues, and assumed that there would be less of that at the college level. Enrolled in a small liberal arts college where I planned to major in history (because I knew “for sure” that I wasn’t interested in science or math). Took a science course the first year only to get a distribution requirement out of the way. Did so well in it that I was asked to serve as a student lab assistant the following year. It was a paying job that involved some teaching (answering student questions during lab) and well as lab prep, so what the heck. Being a lab teaching assistant turned out to be a job that paid my way through to a graduate level degree in biology, Enjoyed teaching at the undergraduate level through retirement, especially hands on in the lab and with student participation in research. At the University level, teaching for professors can often take a back place to research efforts, and the reverse would be true for Community Colleges. I liked the mix I got at a small undergraduate college. After the first year, you become involved in committee work, and as you move up the ranks, could also become involved in administrative work, both of which I did (including work on the disciplinary committee - oh well). Unlike elementary or secondary school teachers, I never got, nor was I required to have teacher training/certification. You either get some hands on before (some more than others) or have a knack for it (some more than others). [Interest in FIRST prompted by my son who progressed his way through and currently does research & development with an electrical engineering degree]

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Andrew, this is my 27th year, all at the same school.
If you decide to become a teacher, dont burn yourself out at the beginning as it doesnt end well for most teachers, and they end up leaving the profession.
I’m just about the longest tenured teacher at our school (1 person before me retiring). Many have come and gone due to natural progression of life changes. i.e. family, want something new, tired of doing same thing, move closer to Honolulu (hate the long drive to Waialua), change careers, etc.
Robotics is the reason I didnt go back into engineering. Its also the reason why I havent moved into other positions such as admin, even though I’ve gotten a lot of experience running programs and understand how many schools are run and managed, including the entire State budget system.
Through our program we’ve expanded our offerings and related programming over the years. This is the main reason I enjoy doing it year after year. We try our best not to run the same things over and over again. Instead, build, improve, expand and try new things every year.
Traveling to different places every year, definitely keeps all of us motivated to continue building on our foundation.

So in a nutshell, if youre going to be an educator, its what you make of it. The DOE is one large compliance based system always telling you what you cannot do. So much like the FRC challenges, we just take those roadblocks and build responsible systemic paths around it. The ones who benefit are the kids.

Everything Team 359 does is about learning and having fun. I’d argue no team has more fun than we do. :slight_smile: Exposing students to things that inspire them and help them find their passions, is what matters imo. Repetitive “this is good for you” doesnt work in the long run if they arent enjoying it.

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My favorite thread of 2021.

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Not sure if this will be helpful for deciding between high school and college, but my mom has been an elementary school teacher for 15 years. She’s taught most grades K-5 at least once, and is currently happy teaching 3rd grade. At a high level, she says her preference is mostly based on what the kids are like at different ages. In her experience younger kids tend to be sweeter/cuter/less defiant, but are also more limited intellectually. Older kids are funnier, able to have more interesting conversations in the classroom, and are learning more interesting material, but tend to be more of a handful to deal with. At a more practical level, class sizes have been a huge factor for her. She absolutely loved teaching 5th grade when her school had a grant to reduce class sizes, but when that ended she found the increased class sizes untenable which is why she’s now in 3rd grade (the highest grade with small class sizes).

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Engineered for 10 years, inspecting power plants in the southeast and midwest.
Got to travel and have many adventures and then was stationed in Minnesota for three years.
Loved working with big machines that you could touch & feel while analyzing data and performance.
Moved to HQ in DC to do research in advanced power plants. Was in a cubicle in a big office. Was not happy and knew within a month that it was a good time to try a career change.

I thought, why not try teaching? It must be easier. Having an engineering degree and coupling it with a Masters in Education made me a prized commodity in a public school. So I did that. Summers off. Yay?

Whoops. A relevant difference between teaching and engineering is that you don’t fall in love with machines. Students are humans with feelings, hopes and plans for the future.

High school students are more interesting to me intellectually than middle school (yuck) or elementary (cute, but few clues). Unfortunately (as a Virgo) I can never do enough to meet my expectations so I work twice as hard as I probably need to crafting lessons and providing feedback for growth while imparting a positive outlook toward the future.

J&J Mid-Atlantic Regional held at a field house at Rutgers in March 1998. Sitting up in the stands, I broke into tears. Three of my favorite things in life; Engineering, Sports & Education in one place under one roof in one singular activity.
The hook was set.
Becoming a teacher was, as of that day, the best choice I have ever made in my life.

I teach high school because (sarcastically) these students are young adults (NOT kids) that are going to pay for my Social Security / Retirement.
I want them to be creative, optimistic, able to dance at the drop of a beat, celebrate gracious professionalism and leave the world a better place than my generation left them.

I often challenge new teachers in science that they should immediately seek employment in a different vocation that would compensate them better and free up their evenings and weekends. (yeah, summers off, but 12 hour days for the other 9 months, not to mention weekends.)

DO NOT choose teaching if you think it’s easy and want to feel successful most of the time. You have to expect to feel less than adequate in your profession and willing to put in a lot of hard work only to feel like there is always more that you can do for our next generation.

Remain in a constant state of becoming.

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If you’re willing to take the experience of a spanish teacher, @vmm wanna give it a shot?

Elementary aged students horrify me.
Middle school students are too emotional (okay, so are high school students).
High school students are on the cusp of adulthood. It is our last chance to make a difference…to hopefully change the trajectory of someone’s life.
We are successful when we aren’t conscious of our actions. Just listening and caring is all it takes.
And, there’s FIRE! in teaching science. :fire::fire::fire::fire:

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