What it means to be a new teacher in 2022: “I’m a student teaching students”

Stephanie Hughes Dec 1, 2022
Heard on:
New teachers are navigating the start of their careers in the wake of the pandemic. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

What it means to be a new teacher in 2022: “I’m a student teaching students”

Stephanie Hughes Dec 1, 2022
Heard on:
New teachers are navigating the start of their careers in the wake of the pandemic. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

It’s 7 a.m., and 23-year-old Maria D’Angelo is in her car in New York City, waiting for street parking to open up outside the school where she’s a student teacher.

“Granted, there is a parking lot there that I could pay for,” said D’Angelo. “But it makes me wake up early to look for parking every single day.”

Like you might expect from someone willing to wait 20 minutes to parallel park, D’Angelo, who majored in economics, is very budget-minded, and first considered a job in finance.

“I had to have an internal talk with myself and realize that ‘you do love teaching. The money really doesn’t matter,’” D’Angelo said.

D’Angelo starts her first job teaching preschool in Queens later this month. She expects to make around $65,000. That’s a bit higher than the median wage for elementary school teachers across the U.S., which is $61,400, and more than double the median wage for preschool teachers, which is $30,210.

D’Angelo eventually hopes to specialize in special education, but now, she says: bring on the four-year-olds. 

“I’m confident in my stuff, and once I’m in the classroom, I just need to let it happen,” said D’Angelo.

“There’s an adage that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses, and I think we see this in teaching as well.”

Chad Aldeman, policy director at Georgetown’s Edunomics Lab

There are just under 7.8 million people working in American public schools, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes roles like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, as well as teachers. The education workforce is still much lower than where it was in February 2020. Districts, flush with cash from federal Covid relief funds, are looking to hire, and new teachers are figuring out what it means to work in schools in the wake of a pandemic. 

There’s a lot at stake early in a teacher’s career. According to an analysis of pre-pandemic data by the non-profit Learning Policy Institute, at least 19% of teachers quit within their first five years.

“They quit at higher rates when they’re not well prepared,” said Maria Hyler, who directs the EdPrepLab at the Learning Policy Institute. “You can’t just learn how to teach generally, there’s a specific way to teach mathematics, there’s a specific way to teach history.” 

Teachers are also more likely to leave if they don’t have good mentoring or reliable school leadership. 

“There’s an adage that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses, and I think we see this in teaching as well,” said Chad Aldeman, policy director at the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown.

Increasing pay earlier in a teacher’s career, along with offering signing and retention bonuses, can help.

“Get them in and get them staying, and people tend to stay in a profession once they’re there,” said Aldeman. 

Turnover, he points out, is similar to well-educated workers in other professions

“Teachers leave teaching at about the same rate that nurses leave nursing and accountants leave accounting,” said Aldeman. 

Which may actually be to districts’ advantage. 

Knox County Schools in Tennessee hired registered nurse Griffin Vann to teach high school students about nursing. It’s mid-morning, and she’s in her classroom at Fulton High School, where she just finished a lesson in CPR. 

“I’ve been CPR certified for 20 years, but I’ve never taught it until now,” said Vann. “How’d I do guys? Did I do okay?” 

Yeah, the chorus of students responds in a mumbled unison.

“All right. They said I did good,” Vann said.

As a nurse, Vann worked a lot with adolescents and their families, and this year, made the decision to change careers. She likes having the same schedule as her two kids, who are seven and eight, even though she took about a 15% pay cut in her new role.

She’s also getting her teaching license while working in the classroom. 

“I feel like it’s gonna take me a few years to really feel like, okay, I’m rolling with this, and I’m really digging it. Because right now, I’m a student. Basically, I’m a student teaching students,” Vann said.

One of the things she’s learning is how much things cost. Part of her job is to acquire medical supplies for her classroom. Prices for those have gone up 5.1% since this time last year.

“(It’s) unbelievably high. I’m used to working in a hospital where they kind of take care of it for you. Now I have to get on and try to find medical supplies for us to use in the lab,” Vann said.

Griffin Vann, who just switched careers from nursing to teaching, uses mannequins to instruct students in CPR at Fulton High School in Knox County, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Griffin Vann.

In lots of ways, the responsibilities that fall on teachers are changing. At Crawford Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky, 30-year-old Cameo Raglin, a new Spanish teacher, Zooms from her now-empty classroom at the end of the school day. 

She says helping kids re-learn how to learn and socialize in person is a lot. 

“It is tiring,” said Raglin. “Teacher tired is real, like tired to the point where you can’t do anything but just cry because you’re so tired.”

But Raglin, who identifies as Afro-Latina and white, and was a single mom for years, said she feels a connection with the kids in her class. 

“We really get each other, me and these hot mess express middle school students,” said Raglin.

Raglin spent the last two years working for the National Education Association, a teachers union. She eventually plans to work in education policy to address the system as a whole. 

“Not just the students that I have and will have,” said Raglin. “But the students that I will never have, that I will never know, that live in states and in scenarios that I will never really know or be in.”

In her current classroom, the loudspeaker has been interrupting Raglin, telling students, and now her, that it’s time to go. 

“All right, everybody. It is now general dismissal,” the voice says. “Teachers, one more day. We got this.”

So, that’s where Raglin is going. She tries not to take grading or lesson planning with her, to prevent burning out.

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