9 Things to Know About Becoming a Teacher

Elementary students listening to teacher read in classroom
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You may think you know what it's like to become a teacher. After all, you were likely a public or private school student at some point. But as a student, even now as a college or grad student, you may not really know all that is involved in being a teacher. For example, summer "vacation" is not always what students and parents think—it's often not much of a vacation. Learn about what teachers do, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of a career as an educator.

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Basic Duties

A teacher has to do quite a bit of work before and after every class. Among other duties, 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.
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Advantages

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 and make a difference by reaching their students.

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Disadvantages

As with any job, there are downsides to becoming a teacher. Some of the challenges include:

  • 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: Ensuring that students make the grade while helping them learn something apart from the test is a daily challenge.
  • Difficult 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, red tape, and guidelines: Managing the changing and often conflicting directives or principals, school boards, and parent-teacher associations can be difficult.
  • Homework: It's not just students who have homework—as a teacher, you'll have to plan it and grade it, nearly every day.
  • Funding issues: 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
  • Additional schooling: Teachers are often required to earn a master’s degree. School districts may or may not pay for it.
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Average Earnings

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage nationally for teachers in 2018—the most recent year for which figures are available—was as follows:

The BLS also projects that job growth for the profession will be between 3 percent and 4 percent through 2028.

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Public Schools

It’s not just salary that differs by public or private school. The advantages and 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.

Disadvantages of public schools tend to include larger class sizes, lack of resources (such as potentially outdated books, and equipment), and decaying or inadequate school facilities. Of course, this varies greatly from district to district. Schools in affluent neighborhoods often have a wealth of resources. Schools in distressed neighborhoods, just as often, lack those resources.

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Private Schools

Private schools are known to hire noncertified teachers. Although skipping certification and teaching in private school may seem an attractive choice to some, the pay scale is generally 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. These vary by school, however.

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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 three)
  • Elementary (grades one through six or eight)
  • Special subjects (generally high school)
  • 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.

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Obtaining Certification

A bachelor's degree, particularly a degree in education, will prepare you for certification. However, a bachelor's degree in nearly any subject area is acceptable for most teaching programs. Some states require that education students seek an additional content major, effectively completing a double major.

Another 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.

Other Options

Some candidates opt to enter a master's degree program in education (with or without a prior education degree) to earn teaching certification. Earning a master's 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 obtaining 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.

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Emergency Credentials

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 condition 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). Alternatively, some states offer intensive programs over a period of months.