Majoring in Elementary Education: Is it worth it?

Jessica Shearin

Photo of Jessica Shearin from her Facebook, with permission.

Bent over a wooden table littered with textbooks and sheets of tattered instructions, a Western Carolina senior clicks incessantly on her keyboard, eyes glazing over from looking at the same computer screen for hours—or is it sleep deprivation that is causing her eyes to cross? Creating lesson plan after lesson plan, Jessica Shearin, an Elementary Education Major, leans back in the uncomfortable library seat and cracks her neck, a round of loud pops ripple down her spine and she sighs with exhaustion.

As an education major, Jessica Shearin has already endured a full day of her teaching internship at Scott’s Creek Elementary, late afternoon classes, and a six-hour shift at her full-time waitressing job. It is now 2 a.m. and she is in the library, hunched over her laptop, cranking out as much homework as possible before her 6 a.m. wakeup call to do it all over again.

“They [the Education Dept.] expect a lot out of us,” she explains as she shoves her gathered materials into the bag at her feet. “With a full-time internship, a full-time job, and at least 3 hours of homework a night, I hardly have time to sleep.”

Even her friends are concerned about her mental and physical health due to the amount of work she does.

“I don’t know how she’s alive,” Michelle Colecio, an English Literature Major and friend of Jessica, comments, shaking her head in disbelief. “I thought I had a lot of work, reading a bunch of literature and a thousand papers a week, but it’s nothing compared to what Jessie does every day.”

Michelle Colecio also added that it takes a special kind of person to be a teacher, and she clarifies that Jessica is definitely the person for the job, explaining that the way she handles children is “admirable.” Michelle first noticed Jessica’s ability to connect with children at the East Woodmen youth summer camp they both work at, which houses 8-15 year olds for the whole month of July.

“Kids love her,” Michelle explains. “At camp, you walk into the canteen and all you hear is little kids chanting Jessie’s name, it’s wild!”

Although she works well with children, the worn out 21-year-old can’t help but wonder if an education degree is really worth all the stress, especially in the state of North Carolina.

According to a recent WalletHub study, North Carolina is the second-worst state for teachers in the country, with West Virginia on the bottom, and it’s becoming a deterrent for many education majors throughout the entire state.


Jessica posing with a camper after playing Fear Factor at East Camp Woodmen Youth Summer Camp. Photo by Kayla Brookshire.

“Honestly, what’s the point in becoming a teacher in North Carolina when I will be making more money at my waitressing job than on a teacher’s salary?” Jessica asks rhetorically. “I know that I’m not in this profession for the money, and I love giving kids the opportunity to learn, but what incentive do I have to practically raise the upcoming generations in my classroom, when I can’t even afford to pay off half my student loans?”

Let’s not forget about the multiple required tests, each ranging from $150 to $200, that she has to take and pass, with exceptional scores, in order to be accepted into the teaching program and then to receive her overall teaching license. These tests include subject matter from all academic areas including math, science, social studies, English, and fine arts.

Apart from the multiple course studies that she must endure, she is also a part of the new teaching generation that is required to learn the new idea of “Common Core.”

Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy that outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. It is said to be one of the most controversial topics in the education system and it will be brand new to rising teachers.

“I want to teach,” Jessica says passionately. “It’s what I’ve always loved to do. Even when I was little, instead of playing doctor or house, my friends and I always played school.”

To continue on with her passion for teaching, Jessica has been researching different states and teacher salaries across the nation to figure out which would be best suited for her, matching pay grade with her work ability, and she’s straying away from southern states altogether.

She has decided that, after graduation in May, she is going to stay in North Carolina and substitute teach for a few months to figure out if teaching really is what she wants to do, and if it is, she will apply to different graduate schools in states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Colorado to work toward her Master’s degree in English.