James V. Shuls

There is a growing chorus of voices claiming that teaching is a terrible job. Over the past two years, teachers have gone on strike in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina and Los Angeles. There is increasing sentiment that now is a terrible time to be a teacher. A 2018 Phi Delta Kappan poll found that, for the first time in the history of the poll, the majority of people don’t want their children to become teachers. Sixty-seven percent of respondents to an Education Next poll believe teachers should be paid more. And across the nation we are seeing discussions about teacher shortages.

We are in danger as a society of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. We tell everyone that teaching is a thankless, underpaid job and then we wonder why we see declining rates of people going into teaching. 

It is time for us to engage in a little positivity. Teaching is a great profession.

Take for evidence the results of a recent working paper by Alberto Jacinto and Seth Gershenson. Using survey data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY) and the attached Child and Young Adults Supplement (CYA), they examine whether children pursue a career in the same field as their mothers. Their data include jobs of 4,572 children and 2,488 mothers.

Interestingly, they find that children of teachers are significantly more likely to go into teaching than children of nonteachers. They write, “19% of the children of teachers go on to become teachers, compared to only 8% of the children of nonteachers.” While they see some similar trends in other comparable jobs, such as nursing, the relationship between mothers and their children’s jobs is not as strong anywhere as it is in teaching. As Jacinto and Gershenson note, “there is something unique about teaching, as there is relatively strong inter-generational transmission of the profession, even when compared to “similar” professions.”

Jacinto and Gershenson don’t have an explanation for why this is so. They wonder, “Does the transmission of teaching occur because of parental pressure, network membership, information and choice set, or a combination of factors?”

I have a hypothesis: teaching is a great job and the kids of teachers know it!

Sure, there are challenges; it’s work and all work has its thorns and thistles. Nevertheless, teaching as a profession has many redeeming qualities.

Teaching is a job with purpose. As Justin Tarte, the executive director of human resources in the Union R-XI School District wrote on Twitter: “What most adults will never experience in their jobs: A student visiting them years later to say thanks for being there when nobody else was. A parent writing an email saying you changed their child’s life & they can’t thank you enough. That’s why being a teacher is awesome.”  

Teaching provides a stable middle class income. People think teachers make much less than they actually do, typically underestimating the average amount by nearly $19,000. Plus, benefits for teachers are nearly twice as generous as they are for workers in the private sector.

Teaching provides a family-friendly schedule. There are few other jobs where you get winter break, spring break, summers off, plus an additional allotment of “sick” or “personal” days throughout the year.

I could go on, but I think you are getting the point—teaching is a great profession. It’s time we said so.



About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.