8 Things to Know About Becoming a Teacher

Elementary students listening to teacher read in classroom
Hero Images / Getty Images

Thinking about becoming a teacher? We all think we know what it's like to be a teacher. After all, we were all students at one point or another. But as a student, even now as a college or grad student, do you really know what your teacher's job is like? For example, summer "vacation" is not always what students and parents think—it's often not much of a vacation! So what exactly do they do? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a career as a teacher? What might you earn? Read on to learn more about becoming a teacher.

of 08

What Do Teachers Do?

Sure we have all spent time in a classroom but we’ve only seen one part of a teacher’s job. A whole lot of work goes on before and after every class. School teachers spend their time:

  • Planning lessons
  • Preparing activities
  • Grading papers and exams
  • Preparing the classroom
  • Attending school meetings
  • Holding parent-teacher conferences
  • Attending and leading  extracurricular activities
  • Developing their skills
  • Mentoring students.
of 08

Advantages of a Career as a Teacher

There are some major pluses of being a teacher. First is a solid paycheck that is less vulnerable to changes in the job market and economy. Teachers also have benefits such as health insurance and retirement accounts. Weekends off, as well as holidays and, to a certain extent, summers off, make for some important lifestyle advantages to a career as a teacher. Of course, the biggest advantage is that teachers can share their passion, share it with others, and make a difference by reaching their students.

of 08

Disadvantages of a Career as a Teacher

Just as with any job, it's not all roses and there are downsides to becoming a teacher. Some of the challenges include:

  • The challenge of meeting student needs. Class overcrowding, students with very different needs, and often poor resources can make it very difficult to do your job.
  • Standardized testing and the problem of ensuring that students make the grade while helping them learn something apart from the test.
  • Parents. Working with parents can be a pro and a con. Wonderful parents can make you feel like you're making a difference but overly critical parents can be a real challenge.
  • Bureaucracy of red tape, guidelines, and managing the changing and often conflicting directives or principals,  school boards,  and parent-teacher associations
  • Homework. It's not just students who have homework.
  • Many teachers spend their own money on materials to use in their classes.
  • Prep time. Teachers work outside of school hours, often in the evenings,  to prepare their lessons
  • Teachers are often required to earn a master’s degree. School districts may or may not pay for it.
of 08

Average Earnings

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median 2017 annual wage for teachers was as follows:

  • Kindergarten and Elementary school: $56,900
  • Middle school: $57,720
  • High school: $59,170
of 08

Pros and Cons of Teaching at a Public School

It’s not just salary that differs by public or private school. The advantages disadvantages of a career as a teacher vary with the type of school in which you’re hired.  For example, advantages of public schools often include higher salaries, diverse student populations, and job security (especially with tenure). There is a great deal of variability among public schools; that’s a plus and minus. It also means that these advantages and disadvantages will vary by the school system and don’t hold for all.

Disadvantages of public schools tend to include larger class, more varied resources—often a lack of resources, potentially outdated books, and equipment, and lack of facilities for teachers. Again, this varies radically with the school system. Schools in affluent neighborhoods often have a wealth of resources. One important point—whether advantage or disadvantage—is that teaching in a public school requires certification.

of 08

Pros and Cons of Teaching at a Private School

Private schools are known to hire non-certified teachers. Although skipping certification and teaching in private school may seem an attractive choice to some, the pay scale is lower. However, teaching at a private school allows you to gain experience before making any long-term career decisions. Additionally, you have the ability to work while earning a teaching certification. Once certified, you may choose to work at a public school, which will provide you with a higher salary. Advantages of private schools tend to include smaller class sizes, newer books and equipment, and other resources. Again, these vary by school, however.

of 08

What is Teaching Certification?

Certification is usually granted by the state board of education or a state certification advisory committee. You may seek certification to teach:

  • Early childhood (nursery school through grade 3)
  • Elementary (grades 1 through 6 or 8)
  • Special subjects
  • Special education (kindergarten through grade 12)

Each state has different requirements for certification, so the best way to proceed is to contact the education department in your state.

of 08

How to Get Certified

A bachelor's degree, a BA or BS in education, will prepare you for certification. Some states require that education students seek an additional content major, effectively completing a double major.

The second option for students who did not major in education or who are beginning a new career is to attend a post-college specialization program. Teacher training programs are typically one year in length or may be part of a master's program.

A third option is to enter a master's program in education (with or without a prior education degree) and you can earn teaching certification. Getting a masters degree in education isn't absolutely necessary to becoming a teacher, but some schools require that you either have one or are on your way to getting a master's in education or some specialty subject within a certain number of years after being hired. A master's degree is also the ticket to a career in school administration. Many teachers choose to work toward a master's after they've already been teaching for a few years.

Sometimes when states don't have enough qualified teachers, they offer emergency credentials to college graduates who want to teach but who have not yet met the state's minimum requirements for regular credentials. These are given under the pretense that the teacher will eventually take all of the required courses for valid certification (so the teacher must take classes outside of work while they are teaching). Or some states offer intensive programs over a period of months.