Becoming a Teacher

For eight to ten months of the year, parents trust teachers to care for and instruct their children.  That's a tremendously important role they play in our society, especially when children are in their formative years.  It's also why becoming a teacher is such a rewarding profession.

In this article, we're going to talk about what it takes to become a teacher.  As part of that discussion, we'll talk about the size of the workforce, employment trends, and their working conditions.  We'll also discuss the certifications and educational requirements as well as the attributes of a good teacher.

Teaching Students

Generally, the teaching profession can be categorized in two ways.  The first has to do with the age or range of grades taught.  This category includes:

  • Preschool:  nurture, instruct, and care for children that have not yet entered kindergarten.  These are usually children that are 3 to 5 years old.
  • Kindergarten:  includes natural and social science, personal hygiene, music, art, and literature to children from 4 to 6 years old.
  • Elementary:  instill academic, social, and other formative skills.  While the strict definition of grades may vary between states, elementary school teachers usually instruct children from 6 to 11 years old or grades 1 through 5.
  • Middle:  also referred to as junior high or intermediate, includes a variety of subjects taught to children ages 12 to 14 years old or grades 6 through 8.
  • Secondary:  includes subjects such as mathematics, history, social studies and English.

The second way to categorize teachers is by the topic, or subject taught.  Generally, as a teacher moves up in grade level, they tend to specialize in a smaller range of subjects.  Examples include mathematics (algebra, trigonometry, pre-calculus), sciences (chemistry, biology, botany, physics), foreign languages (Spanish, Italian, German, French), history (American, European), English (grammar, literature), physical education, health, geography, and social studies.

Working Conditions

While teaching students new skills can be a very rewarding job, it can be equally frustrating when children are disrespectful and unmotivated.  At the extreme, instructors may even be exposed to violent behavior at school.

In recent years, financial pressure has resulted in larger classrooms, heavier workloads, and schools that lack modern technologies.  Pressure is also placed on teachers to produce students that perform well on standardized tests.

During the school year, work will average more than 40 hours per week.  This includes both classroom duties as well as responsibilities outside the classroom including topic preparation / pre-work, and social activities such as fundraisers.

One of the more attractive benefits of the profession is the school calendar.  Many teachers work a 10-month school year, and enjoy a 2-month vacation during the summer season.  Winter and Spring breaks as well as conventions and conferences provide breaks during the school year.

Tenure is obtained after a probationary period of three to five years.  While tenure does not guarantee employment, it does provide additional job security.

Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teaching jobs are expected to grow at about the same pace as all other occupations.  This means that preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school jobs are expected to grow around 13% from 2008 through 2018.

Demand for teachers will vary according to population growth in the United States.  Increases are expected to occur in the South and West, while jobs in the Northeast are likely to decline.  State and local budgets will also be a key driver of employment growth.  Above average demand will continue for specialized skills in the sciences, mathematics, and foreign languages.  Demand will also be higher in school districts offering more challenging assignments, such as those in urban areas.

Salary information can be found in our publication on High Paying Careers.  Teachers also have opportunities to increase their annual earnings by coaching students in sports, mentoring them in extracurricular activities, or by seeking temporary employment during the summer months.

Certifications and Licensing

Entering the profession typically involves completing a bachelor's program and subsequently obtaining a teaching license.  That said, most states now offer alternative routes to licensing when a college degree has been obtained.

Educational programs for elementary school teachers often mimic a liberal arts curriculum; including a wide range of course study such as mathematics, science, art and literature in addition to instructing methods.  Professionals wishing to instruct at the secondary school level will likely need to major in the subject they will teach.  Many programs now include technology courses too.

College programs are accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.  While it's not a requirement to attend an accredited program, it does make obtaining a license easier.

Teaching Licenses

A license is required to teach in public schools.  Licenses are usually granted by a State Board of Education or an advisory committee.  In addition to college study, obtaining a license may also require the applicant to pass a test in basic skills such as reading and writing.  Provisional licensing is also becoming more common.  Where required, teachers will need to demonstrate satisfactory performance over a period of time.  Continuing education may also be required.

Alternative licensing programs were designed to meet the need in high-demand subjects such as science and math.  They're also aimed at urban and rural schools that have difficulty attracting teachers.  Some programs are designed to allow alternate route individuals to instruct under provisional licensure.  Successful progress can lead to full licensing in less than two years.

Another approach is to allow college graduates to take required courses over several semesters of full-time study.  In this case, the alternate route individual may even be rewarded with a Master's degree.

Attributes of a Good Teacher

In addition to licensing and certifications, becoming a good teacher requires the individual to possess certain attributes.  Some of the more important skills include:

  • Communication:  the ability to communicate effectively, and in a manner that motivates students.
  • Patience:  treating students in a fair, equitable, and easygoing manner.
  • Organization:  since one of the objectives is to thoroughly cover the topic or subject taught, a good teacher must have a well-organized course curriculum and planning calendar.
  • Teamwork:  working cooperatively with other teachers as well as parents.
  • Emotional Intelligence:  recognizing, managing, and controlling one's emotions as well as those of students.
  • Flexibility:  applying a variety of methods to effectively respond to the intellectual needs and abilities of their students.

About the Author - Becoming a Teacher - Copyright © 2010 - 2015 (Last Reviewed on May 30, 2015)