The day to day demands of a career in teaching have evolved along with the rest of the world, in ways that can make the teacher’s life both more satisfying and more challenging. Many of the old-time learning methods of rote memorization and drills have given way to classroom and multimedia tools designed to help students think in abstract terms and develop critical through processes.
But for every teacher, career skills that have been used to centuries also remain important. It’s as important as ever that a teacher have a good knowledge of the subject or subjects being covered in class, an understanding of how children at different ages think and learn, strong communication skills both for dealing with students and their parents, and an ability to plan out a variety of engaging lesson plans.
“A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.”
– Patricia Neal
You can learn the basic tactics of how to work in a classroom environment, including student motivation, testing methods and dealing with learning disabilities, in an accredited teaching degree program. But intangibles like creativity and an enjoyment of getting up in front of a class and performing can also serve you well in a career in teaching. Finally, one thing that never changes is the need for a teaching professional to be able to control a large classroom.
Although many teachers change their specialties as they grow and advance, it can be helpful to start your journey in teaching by thinking about what level you want to teach at. The four key areas today are:
- Pre-school & kindergarten, where teachers use storytelling, games, arts and other somewhat less structured approaches to give young children their first exposure to basic concepts of vocabulary and mathematics, and a very important early understanding of getting along socially.
- Elementary school, where one teacher generally covers a variety of subjects (sometimes acting as a team mate with another teacher), and increases student’s ability to work and learn more rapidly as they move from one grade to another.
- Middle school and high school, where the teacher will generally specialize in a single topic that he or she has an in-depth knowledge of. Teachers at this level begin to teach subjects that are career-oriented, or which will help students get into a college program. Middle school, in particular, is an area where a teacher who can effectively deal with teenagers is extremely valuable.
- Special education. Recent “No Child Left Behind” and other rules have put much more responsibility on schools to educate children effectively, regardless of whether they come with special challenges or special skills. As a result, special ed teachers are in demand to teach children with learning disabilities of many different types, and, at the other end of the spectrum, to provide advanced teaching for high-performing students.
“I touch the future. I teach.” – Christa McAuliffe
Teacher Career Requirements
Every state in the U.S. requires public school teachers to have certification or a license to teach (private schools often do not require this). The rules differ from state to state, but generally speaking, to get started in your career in teaching, you need certification in the particular area you will be working in: elementary, early childhood, K–12 or special ed. A bachelors degree will, in most cases, provide you with certification upon graduating. Make sure, however, that you will be certified in the state you intend to teach in. If your school doesn’t give you a teaching certificate, you will probably be required to take a state certification test before you can even apply for a teaching job.
“To me the sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching.” – George Bernard Shaw
Teaching certificates can be a complex matter, because pay scales are often tagged to the specific level of your certification. In New York State, for example, a new teacher out of school will receive an “initial certificate,” based on completing certain specific classes in a college bachelor degree program. (An associates degree can qualify you to teach certain career-skill classes in New York such as cosmetology and auto repair). Working teachers are then required to perform a certain number of paid teaching hours and take certain specific training courses within five years to receive the more advanced “professional certificate.” Failure to complete this work in five years can result in you losing your certification to teach, though it is possible to apply for a time extension. Finally, New York also issues temporary certificates to teachers who specialize in subjects it’s hard to find qualified teachers. Your state government can provide certification rules for your state.
Master’s in Education
A masters degree can be helpful in terms of distinguishing you from other teaching job applicants. It isn’t necessarily required for employment in many schools, but the school district may require you to be in the process of getting your masters degree to continue teaching there long term.
There are well over 4 million teachers in the U.S. today, and opportunities are expected to grow in the field as the population continues to grow. For the aspiring teacher, career opportunities should only get better in the coming decades.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de St. Exupery