Better teachers lead to better economic outcomes, higher attendance at better universities and lower teenage birth rates for the students they teach, and the benefits talented teachers provide to society are considerably greater than what is recouped by their salary. This is the common-sense and widely held view, though there are some dissenting voices on the impact of schooling, at least at the tertiary level.
However, we generally do not recommend teaching as the best career path to maximize your social impact: if you’re working in a rich country, the impact you have as a teacher is by improving the lives of people who are almost all going to end up in the richest 15% of the world’s population. Moreover, teaching is an area that is already extremely popular among the socially-motivated, so it’s unlikely that you’ll make as big a difference on the margin within education as you could elsewhere. Further, even the most talented classroom teacher can only impact around 30 students at a time, less than is possible using other approaches.
As with all careers, if you think you could be truly exceptional within this career, but not at others, you should strongly consider it.
- • Rewarding to be interacting directly with the beneficiaries of your work
- • You may have the opportunity to advocate for important issues with your students
- • Significant vacations, which allow you to pursue other projects on the side
- • If you want to become a teacher, you are relatively likely to be able to do so, since there are so many teaching positions available
- • If you are an outstanding teacher, you may get the opportunity to teach the next generation of your country’s leaders, a group that it is very important have good values and strong skills
- • If working in a rich country, your direct impact accrues to people who are among the richest in the world
- • It’s perhaps the most common path for socially motivated people to pursue, so harder to make a big difference
- • Weaker than other paths at building general-purpose skills that are in demand in other fields
- • Salaries are low for the level of skill and commitment required to be a good teacher
Key facts on fit
Must be happy with constant social interaction; able to maintain control of the classroom; a positive disposition
If you want to enter teaching, we’d recommend applying to TeachFirst in the UK, or Teach for America in the USA. These organizations enable you to get a taste for teaching over two years in a demanding position, while at the same time making you an attractive candidate for other careers in case you decide to move to a different career area. (We would rate these programs as providing 3/5 for ‘career capital’, rather than 1/5.)