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There may be no other career as polarizing as teaching -- for every teacher who loves their job and savors the rewards, there seems to be another teacher grumbling about low salaries and the horror of some students. It’s true that teaching can be a job with ups and downs, but for those who enjoy changing the lives of children on a daily basis, teaching can be the perfect career choice. If you’ve been thinking about a future as a teacher, here are ten tips to help solidify your plans and make sure that you’ve chosen the right career for you.

1. Understand why you’re drawn to teaching. This is important, because it’s what you will reflect back upon when the going gets rough.

2. Make a list of pros and cons. If you’re on the fence about becoming a teacher, making a list of pros and cons can be helpful because it will force you to consider the possibility in great detail. You should be able to think of plenty for both columns, but the effect the list has on your final decision should be based upon what is most important to you. For example, can you put up with a lower salary and necessary take-home work in exchange for a Summer of freedom?

3. Decide what age you are interested in teaching. The age range you choose to teach will affect your own education. Are you more interested in shaping the minds of very young children, or do you prefer that your students have fully formed ideas and opinions of their own? If the latter, are middle schoolers more appealing than high schoolers, or vice versa? Thinking about things likes ages and grades will also force you to envision yourself as a teacher, an important step in choosing a career.

4. Volunteer as much as possible. Spend as much time in classrooms as you can to fully experience what it’s like. Great volunteer opportunities include classroom help, volunteer reading programs, or after-school programs.

5. Shadow a teacher to experience a normal day in the classroom. If you don’t have access to any volunteer programs, ask a former teacher of yours if you can spend a day or two shadowing them. The purpose is to get as genuine a feel for a day in the classroom as possible.

6. Have an honest conversation with a teacher you know and respect. Having a conversation with a teacher you respect can yield invaluable advice that you’re unlikely to find in teacher guides and text books. Listen to what they have to say and ask your own questions. Insist they tell you about the challenges and the rewards.

7. Reflect. Have an honest conversation with yourself and think about if you really feel you have what it takes to be a teacher. Do you want it for the right reasons? Are you patient? Do you have the ability to explain things? Do you need a career where you will feel valued and appreciated?

8. Take a couple of education classes. Before you officially declare Education or teaching as your major, take a couple of education classes that interest you. This is a good way to get your feet wet and see what your future could look like without fully committing to something you may be unsure about.

9. Listen to your friends and family. Tell your friends and family about your interest in teaching and listen to what they have to say. They might see things in you that you don’t see.

10. Follow your gut instinct. If teaching is something that you can’t get out of your mind, then just go for it. Give it a try with some education classes, an internship or volunteer work, or an interview at a private school. If, after a year, you decide it’s not for you, then you can pursue something else without having any regrets.

Kelsey F. graduated from Hillsdale College with degrees in Politics and French, and is currently a 5th grade teacher and freelance writer. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky