Teaching is a notoriously difficult profession. It’s a constant challenge, both emotionally and intellectually. I haven’t even started my teaching program yet, and I know that truth. Just read Robert Rose’s beautiful and humbling essay, “Complexity of Teaching,” for a little taste.
Generally, teaching doesn’t pay well. The teaching profession also doesn’t enjoy particularly high social stature, though everyone can probably think of a teacher that changed their own life.
Given those hurdles (difficulty, low pay, low-ish social status), how hard should it be to become a teacher? In essence, what should it cost?
Some might say, given those realities, it shouldn’t cost much. Right now, as I’ve written before, most American states are in dire need of teachers. States like Arizona and Utah, are making emergency modifications to their teaching requirements to get new teachers into the classroom as fast as possible. They are lowering the barrier of entry in terms of financial cost and time required.
These changes face a lot of criticism, as they should. Are we willing to sacrifice teacher quality just to get someone in the classroom? I ran into an old high school teacher when spending time this week with family in Tucson. He said in jest, “If you just want to teach, why Stanford? At this point, they’re just looking for warm bodies.”
We all want the brightest and best teaching our children. Opponents of emergency/alternative credentials argue that they affect the actual or perceived value of other teachers’ standard credentials, cheapening the blood, sweat, and tears those other teachers put in to get vetted and certified the “right way.” On the other hand, these new pathways might get talented individuals to teach who otherwise would not have considered teaching.
There are valid arguments on both sides of the alt credential debate. Regardless, the reality exists: we need teachers, fast.
I’ve chosen an expensive route to become a teacher, but I’m ecstatic about the Stanford Teacher Education Program. Stanford has a great reputation, and I’m hoping its teachings will likely pay lifelong dividends to both myself and my students. The master’s degree is a big perk, too.
I want to take time to thoroughly study, reflect, and practice before jumping into a classroom. I’m grateful to have the privilege to take a year off to do so.
Still, I do wonder about my program’s cost in relation to the tangible reward of being a teacher. Like most, I’m not going into teaching for the money, but I can’t help but ask myself whether it would be prudent to pursue a more economical or expedient credentialing path.
Regardless, I’m moving forward with the STEP. In the interest of developing an informed opinion on credential cost vs. value, I’ve also decided to track some relevant personal data.
To start, I’ve created a public Google sheet where I’m tracking my expenses. Right now, it’s just financial expenses; I’m not marking how much time (or energy) each item consumed. I also try to indicate which costs are specific to STEP as opposed to requirements required of all California teaching candidates.
For prospective STEP applicants, I’ve also listed the fellowship/grants I was offered through Stanford’s financial aid office. I haven’t listed loans — those don’t offset costs but rather increase them in exchange for shifting the payment period.
I know it’s sometimes easier to quantify cost than value. I’m not tracking these expenses to criticize Stanford’s tuition or make a claim about California teaching credential rules. Rather, I am hoping that collecting data like this will help me better reflect on the realities of becoming a teacher, perhaps providing insights to others considering a similar path.
Tl;dr: I created a spreadsheet with the financial costs of my teaching program.
Photo Credit: Thomas Galvez