Other than a parent, there is no one who plays a more important role in the intellectual and social development of children during their formative years than a teacher. There is hardly a more challenging occupation or a more rewarding one. Teachers are charged with the responsibility and challenge of providing the environment and the tools for students to develop into responsible adults. In doing this, they need to communicate, motivate, inspire, and educate; often encountering a variety of challenges along the way. Armed with the knowledge of the job and the various requirements one needs to fulfill to get there, an aspiring teacher can get started on the way to a long and successful career.
What does a teacher do?
Teachers typically use classroom instruction to impart knowledge to students and to help them learn and apply concepts in subjects such as science, mathematics, history, or English. Along the way, there are a wide variety of duties a teacher will need to be responsible for carrying out. To name just a very few, they must prepare and assign lessons; develop, administer, and grade tests; assess their students' performance and potential; regularly meet with parents and school staff; and maintain classroom discipline. In addition to regular classroom activities, teachers are also responsible for supervising extracurricular activities, accompanying students on field trips, assisting students with college or career choices, identifying students with physical or mental problems and referring them to the proper authorities, providing oversight to study halls and/or lunchrooms, and participating in education conferences and workshops.
Teachers exist at both the public and private school level. Most pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers are assigned one class and they teach a variety of subjects to this class. Most middle school and high school teachers, on the other hand, focus on one subject (e.g., English, science, math, or history) and teach this subject to different classes at different times during the school day. Teachers at this higher level will also be inclined help students delve more deeply into subjects and to expose them to more facets of the subject material.
Teaching can be a rewarding profession but is often frustrating as well. Motivated students who develop new skills and show an appreciation of knowledge and learning can provide a great deal of satisfaction to their teachers. On the other hand, frustration can set in when teachers are forced to deal with unmotivated or disrespectful students, or even worse, with unruly or violent ones. Large class sizes, heavy workloads, unreasonable parents, and lack of control over many situations are other factors that contribute to teacher frustration. As a general rule, teachers in private schools generally enjoy smaller class sizes and more control over the curriculum and performance standards. Private school students sometimes tend to be more motivated, due to the fact that the schools can be selective in their admissions processes. The individual work environment for a teacher is highly dependent upon factors such as school location, management policies, educational benchmarks, etc. A typical teacher will work more than 40 hours a week, if school duties performed outside the classroom are factored in.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual wages for preschool teachers in 2010 was $25,700. In the same year, elementary school teachers made $51,380 in median annual earnings, middle school teachers earned $51,960, and secondary school teachers earned $53,230. An important point to keep in mind when looking at these figures is that school teachers enjoy summers off and long holiday breaks. Consequently, their work-year averages over 600 hours (or about 30%) less than the average worker in the United States. As a result, many teachers earn extra money during the summer by doing other jobs.
What steps should one follow to become a teacher?
- Get involved in an educational environment at an early age as possible. Try to gain early experience working within a classroom. Check with local community schools for volunteer opportunities such as tutoring programs. Coaching a sports team, giving tennis lessons, or becoming a camp counselor are excellent ways to start.
- Research the licensing requirements applicable to your situation. All fifty states and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed, although licensure is generally not a requirement for teachers in private schools. Licensing is also a function of the subject that will be taught. Nearly all states today offer less stringent alternative licensure programs for teachers of certain subjects (usually math and science) for which there are teacher shortages. The specific requirements for teacher licensure/certification are set by each state and can be found here.
- Get the proper education. For those who need to be licensed, this is the first requirement to becoming licensed to teach. A teacher will need a bachelor's, and in some states a master's or higher degree. For secondary school teachers, the degree should be in the area they wish to teach. If the degree is in a discipline other than education, it will need to be supplemented by a sufficient number of education credits to satisfy the licensing requirements of the state.
- (For those who need to be licensed) Take required exams or tests. As a condition for licensure, most states require that applicants pass a specialized state test and/or a standard national exam. One of the most widely recognized of the latter category is the PRAXIS exam, a two-part test which measures basic academic skills as well as general and subject-specific knowledge and teaching skills.
- (If needed for licensure) Complete an approved teacher training program. Very often, this is done while in a university as an internship component of a degree program. Student-teachers undergo observation and monitoring while developing and refining their first set of teaching skills.
How you can stand out as a teacher
- Constantly strive to be adaptable. The needs of one class may not be exactly the same as the needs of another. Never be afraid to make adjustments and modifications to fit the individual makeup of your students. A good teacher will always prepare a daily plan but will also be flexible enough to adjust it as necessary. Variety can be one of the most valuable components of a teaching style.
- Join a professional association in your teaching specialty. Doing this will keep a teacher up-to-date with the latest advances and trends in the specialty and in the overall profession. Two examples are the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).
- Continuously enhance teaching credentials. Strive for a master's degree even if it is not a requirement. Another beneficial move would be to obtain professional certification. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a voluntary national certification and there are many specialized certifications relating to particular subjects and particular age groups. The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is the most common type of national certification for preschool teachers.
Teachers have a very important job and a very challenging one. They must be able to communicate with students, motivate them, and earn their trust. In addition, they must possess enough knowledge and teaching skill in one or more subjects to be looked upon as "experts" by their students. Individuals who are truly motivated to take on the challenge of becoming a teacher and know not only what to expect in the job but also the steps they will need to take to become one are well-poised for future success in an exciting career.
Resources for Teachers
- American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
- Teacher Education Accreditation Council
- National Center for Alternative Certification
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
- Association for Career and Technical Education
- American Federation of Teachers
- National Education Association