Dear Auntie Siobhan: Should I Become a Teacher?

Hi Siobhan,
First, let me say that your blog is a great resource. I stumbled on it a few weeks ago and have read almost all of the entries. Your writing is refreshingly articulate, and I have enjoyed reading it.

I’m considering a career in CEGEP teaching down the line. At this stage I have the qualifications (an MA in English), but no teaching experience. My own CEGEP experience was fantastic. I was a Liberal Arts student at — College, where we addressed our teachers by first name and were intimately acquainted with everybody in the program. Knowledge for its own sake was celebrated, and a general atmosphere of intellectual freedom and exploration was encouraged.

I have to admit that while reading your blog has been great, it has contrasted a lot with my own CEGEP experience. When you speak about your students, who call you “miss”, they seem more child-like. It makes me a bit nervous about entering into this career! How much of your job is disciplinary? Would you recommend a career as a CEGEP teacher?

Thanks so much for writing your blog.

-Sonia

Dear Sonia:

Thanks so much for your note.  It’s great to hear that you’ve been reading my blog and getting something out of it.

I enjoy my job as a CEGEP teacher, but I find it very challenging.  There are indeed disciplinary issues, and some of them are serious.  There are also students who struggle a lot with academic challenges.  A Liberal Arts program at — College is not at all representative of the general CEGEP population; I regularly deal with students who can barely read and write in English (or, I suspect, in any language) and whose levels of maturity vary wildly.  In order to really enjoy teaching CEGEP, I think it’s necessary to embrace the challenges of working with such students.

Most of the CEGEP teachers I know who truly enjoy their jobs are people who have previous teaching experience or education degrees.  Working with high school students, in particular, is excellent preparation.  Most of the teachers I know who quickly burn out are those who come to the job  straight out of graduate school and expect to be working with the equivalent of university English majors.   It’s important to remember that English is a core subject at CEGEP – all students must take it, regardless of their program, and many have little interest and weak skills.

I taught in other venues for a number of years before becoming a CEGEP teacher.  CEGEP teaching has many advantages over other teaching jobs – we have long holidays, we have a lighter workload than secondary teachers, and we are not expected to research or publish like university professors (although our colleagues are usually excited and proud when we do!)  But as far as the teaching itself is concerned, most of my satisfaction  comes, not from the celebration of “knowledge for its own sake” or opportunities to encourage “intellectual freedom and exploration” – most of my students have little interest in these concepts – but from seeing students in difficulty overcome obstacles, or from seeing the occasional talented student really shine.

All CEGEPs are different, so you might be able to find a place with a similar atmosphere to the one you experienced as a student.  If your general goal is to become a CEGEP teacher, however, I think it’s important to examine whether the challenges of CEGEP teaching really interest you.

If you’d like to know more about some of the stages I went through in relation to my job, you might want to check out a series I wrote for the TimesOnline’s education blog, called “How I Saved My Teaching Career.” 

Good luck!  I hope you’ll think it over some more and come to the conclusion that’s right for you.  Any job is hard, and a CEGEP teaching job is a really good deal as jobs go, if teaching is what you want to do.  I’d be happy to know about the decision you come to, or any other questions you have.

Yours,
Siobhan

Image by srbichara

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3 responses

  1. As a personal friend of Siobhan’s and a trained teacher myself – I, however, never had the pleasure of teaching at the CEGEP level – must tell you that school in general has changed quite a bit, especially over the last 5+ years or so. I left teaching 7 years ago (I was a high school teacher and loved it) not because of all the hell most teachers live today, but simply because I got another job opportunity that was in the field of education, I became an editor and have made textbooks for the high school level.

    I tried going back teaching 4 years later ( I severely missed the classroom) and got what-on-paper seemed like the ‘perfect’ job – Sec 5, private school with a great reputation….I was shocked to realize, after but a few short months, how much I hated it. Not the teaching per se, but I never seemed to be able to ‘teach’ enough – not like I had done previously. I had discipline to do, and students who thought they knew everything. Their parents defended everything they did and were often oblivious to who their children really were…at first I thought it was me, having lived outside of the classroom for a few years.. But no; to this day I don’t believe so because I have and always will be a teacher…the rush I got when kids ‘got’ it or outdid themselves was better than any drug out there. I still miss that.

    I ultimately left teaching only to get another job in the education field – teachers will always find a job, especially English teachers in QC – and work at the CEGEP level however not in the classroom. I have discovered that CEGEP teachers have it good – longer vacations, less teaching time, and fewer students than at high school, (I had on average at least 200 students every year).

    And while I agree with Siobhan, it’s not perfect there either…but if I had to, I would definitely give CEGEP a try…however, I have learned that CEGEP today is not like it used to be either. Disciplining students is now part of the norm, and alot of them only give a minimal effort. However, those that take advantage of what CEGEP offers and who WORK at it will definitely get something worthwhile out of it and may even come out on the other side thinking like you. I hope so, at least.

    But society’s view of education has changed, and in my opinion, not for the better. So if you are ready, dedicated and open to the ups-and-downs of this wonderful and important profession, then go for it. God knows we need all the good teachers we can get.

    I wish you lots of luck…

    Gen X

  2. I enjoy your blog. I’ve been considering going back to school to earn a teaching certificate and your posts are giving me a glimpse into what my real experience would be like. Thanks!

  3. It’s interesting to hear how it’s changed. Thanks both to Siobhan and to Gen X.

    I went to Cegep in 1990, and there was the occasional annoying student whom the teacher would ask to leave the classroom, but that’s all I really remember. I don’t remember there being disciplinary issues on par with high school.

    And even sec V high school rowdiness wasn’t that bad back then–I even remember the feeling of relief in my last year of high school, that everyone had finally matured a bit.

    I can only imagine it’s this shift in parenting–the “there’s nothing wrong with my child” school of thought–that’s made the key difference? Surely someone’s done an academic study of this by now. Hmm hmmmm.

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