Life lessons from a trip to the hospital

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A few weeks ago, I ended up in the hospital with a severe bout of vertigo. The busy ER doctor (has anyone ever met an ER doctor who wasn't busy?) gave me a pill to keep my head from spinning and sent me packing. Too ill to argue, I obliged him.

Only after I couldn't answer a single question from my family about what had happened, such as why the doctor hadn't tried some balancing maneuver in lieu of a pill or what might have caused the vertigo, I realized I had forgotten a lesson I learned long ago: no matter how much I am inclined to trust someone else's expertise, I need to be my own best advocate.

This is a lesson that has proven true in almost every aspect of life—well beyond healthcare. In fact, it's why NCTQ is out with our first book this week, Start Here to Become a Teacher. Each year hundreds of thousands of people decide they may want to teach and find themselves entrusting that decision to the experts. Given that there are over 1,400 institutions of higher education purporting to train teachers, that the field of teacher education remains effectively ungoverned, that it is the only field of study that considers accreditation an option (and which most decline), and that we are faced with evidence that many still do not prepare teachers to teach early reading—perhaps, just perhaps, future teachers need to take the bull by the horns.

Start Here to Become a Teacher is a guidebook that provides concrete, practical advice needed not only to select a high-quality teacher prep program, but also to get the most value out of the experience and even land a first teaching job. Believe it or not, with as much emphasis as there is on persuading people to become teachers, until now there has been no such guidance, which likely helps explain why currently half of all people who graduate with a teacher degree don't take a teaching job once they're done.

The book describes the 120 top undergrad programs in the country (with plans in our next edition to focus on the top graduate programs). We also give voice to real teachers, courtesy of Teach Plus, who address the wrong and right reasons to consider teaching, expose some of the myths about teaching (e.g. "teachers make no money" or "teaching is easy, so smart people should try something more stimulating), and share what they love about teaching. There are even some great retorts for those well-meaning family and friends who tell aspiring teachers that they're crazy to go down that road.

The book also includes advice on how to land the first teaching job, from understanding the critical importance of the student teaching experience in terms of future job prospects to our 'affordability index' that lists the places where renting a one-bedroom apartment is a feasible goal for someone on a teacher's salary—and where it isn't.

Luckily for me, my vertigo passed quickly—no lasting repercussions from my lack of a guidebook. But for aspiring teachers, they're making a decision that could change their lives.

From the start of our work in teacher preparation, our primary concern has been that aspiring teachers have no information by which to make more informed choices, dedicating years and thousands of dollars in tuition believing that all teacher prep programs are roughly comparable. They're not. We hope this book will provide aspiring teachers with actionable information that puts them in the driver's seat, allowing them to steer their own career paths. We also hope that we will inspire more programs to attend to what matters most when preparing teachers. We'll look forward to including them in future editions.