Public schools: intimidating, demanding, and rewarding

Beverly Arzu-Guerrero teaches at Duggan Middle School in Springfield while completing her graduate degree.
Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe
Beverly Arzu-Guerrero teaches at Duggan Middle School in Springfield while completing her graduate degree.

Teaching is a demanding, time-consuming, and often thankless job. If you think you could be happy in another career, some longtime educators advise, then don’t teach.

“Teaching is a type of calling,” said Linda Griffin, an associate dean at the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Those drawn to the profession are committed to the idea of teaching.”

The demographics of the classroom are changing, with more students speaking English as a second language. Some public schools are underfunded. New state and federal accountability standards are placing increasing demands on teachers.


But for those passionate about education, there are few things more rewarding than working with students and making a difference in their lives.

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“Public school jobs offer more of a challenge and more of a pleasure,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.

There are also plenty of opportunities in public education, especially in urban areas where teacher turnover is high. The subject areas in the highest demand: math and sciences.

“Even with a tight budget, Boston public schools are still hiring hundreds of teachers a year,” said Jesse Solomon, executive director of Boston Teacher Residency, a nonprofit teacher training organization.

To get a job in K-12 public education, candidates must pass the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure and receive a license in the age group and subject area they want to teach.


The preliminary license is valid for five years. During that time, teachers are expected to complete a master’s degree in education or attend another state-approved program.

The starting salary for teachers in Massachusetts tends to range from $45,000 to $50,000. The average salary is between $65,000 and $90,000, depending on the district.

Although teachers get several weeklong breaks during the school year and two months off in summer, teaching is not an easy gig, said Solomon.

“Don’t go into this profession thinking your going to have free time,” said Solomon, who spent 10 years teaching in Boston public schools. “Most kids come from all over the place and your job is to figure out how to help each one.”

One in three students in Boston public schools doesn’t speak English or speaks English as a second language. One in five is classified with some kind of disability.


Other challenges for educators include managing packed classrooms that average 25 to 30 students and dealing with an array of behavioral issues.

So if you’re thinking about a career teaching in public schools, do some research to get a sense of what the demands and satisfactions are. Talk to working teachers. Sit in on a class if you can.

Public schools, meanwhile, have started implementing more teacher mentorship programs to support new teachers and combat high turnover rates in the first five years of teaching.

Beverly Arzu-Guerrero, 27, is completing her master’s degree in education at UMass Amherst. She is part of an immersion program, teaching full time in the Springfield school system during the day and taking classes in the evening.

“We know that this career isn’t for the fainthearted,” Arzu-Guerrero said. “And we understand that it is not going to be easy, but it’s worth it if you’re passionate about education.”