While just about all professions have been touched by the uneven economy, job opportunities for qualified educators have held up fairly well, and actually look to improve in the next few years. Public schools across the country did less hiring last year across the country as voters became less willing to approve school budget increases. But because teachers in public schools are protected to a degree by powerful unions and the population of school children keeps growing in so many areas, school districts have faced some pressure to avoid cutting teachers. Add to that the fact that federal stimulus money is beginning to flow into state education systems this year, and it looks like teachers at all levels will have a positive job picture and remain be well-paid in the coming years. If you’re the kind of person who truly enjoys helping young people grow and develop, it can be rewarding work.
Who Needs A Degree To Teach?
For a successful career in education anywhere from kindergarten to high school, the answer is: just about everyone. While there are some opportunities to teach in private schools without a teaching license, virtually every public school system in the US requires teachers to have a bachelors or associates degree, complete a teaching education program and get a teaching license to even apply for a teaching job. Most states now also require teachers to pass competency tests in key subjects like math and writing (though it’s possible in many cases to start as a teacher’s aid or assistant without taking such a test). In order to move up from classroom teaching into a job as a principal, assistant principal or program director in a school’s administration, you will virtually always need to invest in a masters degree in education. And if you’re looking to become a college or university profession and teach others how to teach, a PhD may be in order.
Looking Down the Road
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 3.5 million teachers in kindergarten, primary, middle and high schools positions in 2008, the most recent year measured. Overall, education careers are expected to grow at a rate that’s in line with other occupations in the U.S. The “hot” areas where careers in education will grow most rapidly include math, science, special education and bi-lingual learning, with jobs in less attractive city or rural areas often being open to new teachers starting out. Here’s a look at the degree requirements, job opportunities and salary information for a future career in education:
Education Career Levels
Though many children attend pre-school programs nowadays, the kindergarten teacher still offers the first formalized education that many young students ever get. Kindergarten teachers engage young children with teaching that’s often based on games or other “fun” exercises, but they need to be highly aware of how to assess students’ needs and progress toward specific goals. It’s a field where techniques and technologies are in constant change, and a high level of personal attention and understanding is critical. A kindergarten teacher salary can run anywhere from $26,000 to $60,000, depending on the location, and the individual teacher’s experience level.
Elementary School Teacher
In elementary school, the teacher generally handles teaching the class all the year’s subjects. In many districts, a “double” sized class is taught by two teachers, where one is more science and math focused and the other concentrates on English, writing, social studies and like subjects. Average class size can run anywhere from twenty to thirty students, depending on the district. Learning goals become more specific and more important with each year, as students grow and advance toward middle school. The elementary school environment can be fun – because the students are still relatively young – but challenging as the teacher works to keep students engaged in more formal learning processes. Elementary school teachers often start at a salary of about $29,000, about the same as a kindergarten teachers’, but can earn up to $69,000 with experience.
Middle School Teacher
Middle school is often viewed as the most challenging part of the system to pursue education as a career. That’s grades 6 – 8, called middle school or “junior high,” tend to be a time when students are dealing with the first challenges of their teenage years. As such, teachers need to have “a huge sense of humor and a small ego,” in the words of one middle school teacher interviewed by The New York Times. Discipline is often one of the most challenging issues in middle school.
At this level, students generally begin to move from class to class during the day, to take classes from a variety of teachers who specialize in math, government, social studies, health, or one of about five other subjects. Teachers are required to have a more in-depth knowledge of their specific subject than elementary school teachers, who teach a more generalized curriculum. Middle school teacher salaries are generally in the same range as elementary teachers; from about $29,000 to $69,000.
High School Teacher
High school or secondary school is the level where students begin to look toward career options, and where achievement testing becomes more frequent. Teenage issues exist in high school just as they do in middle school, but students gradually gain in maturity, and at least a good number of them become focused on getting into college. The teacher needs to develop plans that meet education requirements, but which also engage students and encourage them to think critically and discuss and debate key concepts. As in middle school, the teacher specializes in teaching a specific subject, in which he or she has a high level of expertise. Even subjects like math are generally split into sub specialties like geometry and trigonometry at this level. High school teacher salaries run just a bit higher than in middle school – from about $30,000 to $71,000 with experience.
Administrators may be principals, assistant principals or supervisors in charge of overseeing academic programs like math or science. Alternatively, they may oversee a school’s psychology or athletic program, or work on curriculum development with teachers in all departments. Many administrators get their masters degrees while they are working as teachers, but others get a masters after college and start their education career in school administration. Administrator salaries are at the top level in education careers, and can run from $40,000 up to over $100,000 for a school principal.
Beyond the degree and salary considerations, it’s important to assess whether or not your own personal talents and interests fit the job. Many teachers are driven by a desire to “change the world.” But being successful at that requires some very specific skills. As you will be getting up in front of a class five days a week, you’ll need to have a passion for helping your students learn, and for working hard at keeping up your own knowledge in the subject(s) you teach.
Because students have not just diverse backgrounds but also varied ways of learning, an ability to tailor your style – at least to a degree – to the needs of each student is critical. Teachers often don’t get full credit for the time they spend on their own trying to come up with ways to reach individual students or dealing with their concerned parents, but there can be a huge level of satisfaction in the job when a student responds to your efforts. Last but not least, you’ll love the job if you’re a bit of a performer, and enjoy getting a reaction of 20 – 30 kids looking back across the room at you every morning.