Todd Johnson worries about today's problems in education, but not enough to convince him that teaching isn't the right career for him.

Johnson, who is a student teacher at Crescent Elementary School, is confident that things will get better.At the same time, he keeps his expectations in check. "I know I'm never going to get rich. That concerns me somewhat, but I hope it will get better. I'm already planning on other income. I'll probably farm a little on the side - help my dad."

The elder Johnson lives in Star Valley, Wyo. His teacher son may return to Wyoming eventually, but he expects to begin his teaching career in Utah, where he has received his training at Utah State University. In December, he will finish his courses and be ready to dive into the real world of teaching.

At Crescent, he is getting a good dose of reality. "I felt I was prepared to teach until I got into the classroom. It's just not the same. There are things that can't be taught at college," he said.

The practical experience gave him an idea what he is in for as a teacher.

The Sandy elementary school has a good mentor program, however, to support student teachers.

Interacting with students is something that doesn't occur when the teacher is still a student himself. Perceptions about youngsters may change in the transition from abstract to reality.

"Most kids are like I thought they would be, but some of them can't get along and need to be worked with."

His sixth-grade "practice" class is small by some standards _ 25 students. Still, he finds "it's more work than I thought it would be _ correcting papers and preparing."

"I haven't felt as if I was left to my own resources. And I've learned a lot," Johnson said. "If I'd just been dropped into a classroom with no practice, I'd be lost."

Student teachers are phased into the classroom, first observing, then taking over the class for a few subjects and finally assuming the whole load.

Walking students through the puzzling new concept of decimals, Johnson uses an overhead projector and the blackboard to give his sixth-graders a visual image of how 100 breaks down into decimal units.

Teacher Pauline Ballif stays in the background, offering a hand to students only when Johnson isn't able to get to them all.

"Todd is extremely good," she commented. "He has great control and he's sensitive to the kids."

Johnson is not particularly representative of the teachers moving from higher education into the classroom these days. The majority are women, and many have shifted from another career to education. The mean age upon becoming a teacher is 33 years.

Johnson, in his mid-20s, chose education for a career after taking a preliminary step in the direction of architecture.

"I had a drafting teacher in high school that I really admired. I like children, especially elementary school-age children. I felt I could get along with them better."

From his fresh new perspective, what would Johnson change about education if he could? "I would get parents more involved. Some of them send their kids to school just to get rid of them. Not all, but some."

Already, he said, he has learned about what makes teaching rewarding. "When a kid who has been having a problem comes up and says, `Thank you. Because of you, I finally understand this.' "