Many teachers call their work a labor of love. Those who choose to enter the teaching profession are looking forward to a long career of educating students and possibly moving up into administrative positions, where they can have a sizable impact on curriculum development and school system planning. Once the degree is in hand and a teacher has earned licensure or certification, what can she or he expect from the career? This guide focuses on possible career and degree paths, expected salaries, job outlook in the profession and much more.
Teachers and professors have a wide variety of responsibilities, including developing classroom curricula, teaching courses, proctoring exams and helping guide students toward academic success. Although all teachers have the same basic work functions, their jobs may vary significantly depending on their classroom placement and specialty.
Teachers can choose between several classroom settings, and the students’ age helps determine the direction of their instruction. The most common teaching levels are elementary, middle school, high school, early education, special education and post-secondary education. Some teachers might also choose to work with students in online courses.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers help their students with basic skills, such as reading, math and writing. Some incorporate art and interactive activities to help their young students comprehend subjects. They also teach students basic personal skills, study habits and interpersonal communication skills.
Middle school teachers work with children from the sixth through eighth grades. Most schools have middle school teachers with specific expertise areas such as biology or music. Because children are becoming more advanced and sophisticated learners at this stage, middle school teachers continue to supervise their students and teach them essential life skills, but may push their students a bit harder.
High school teachers almost always teach a specific area of study. They work to challenge their students and expand their knowledge, especially because many of their students may be preparing to go to college. Some high school teachers act as mentors, helping their students with SAT study or with college admissions essays.
Most kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school teachers are employed during regular school hours. In most areas, they have two to three months off during the summer. College professors, however, have varied schedules depending on when they teach classes and whether they’re taking on research. College professors may have summers free or may teach college classes during that time.
Most teachers enjoy their work because it makes a difference in the lives of others; for many, the income is a secondary consideration. However, that doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked. Salaries vary widely between states and regions. Teachers can make different salaries depending upon whether they work in a private or public school, whether they teach summer school, what subject they teach, what kind of experience they have, the level they teach at, and the degree they hold. However, one of the greatest variables in salary is the state in which a teacher works. Below are the average annual wages for a variety of teachers as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.
Highest-paid teaching positions at the post-secondary level:
|Health specialties teachers||$112,950|
Elementary school teachers:
Highest-paid teaching positions at the post-secondary level:
High school teachers:
Use the map below to compare teaching salary estimates by state:
Teachers’ incomes depend on several factors. The amount of education they have earned, the years of experience they have under their belt and where they work all play a role in the final paycheck. Here is a look at how the salaries in various teaching occupations differ:
Though there will always be a demand for teachers, some teaching positions are expected to grow more than others in the coming years. Post-secondary teachers will have some of the highest growth at 19 percent nationwide. This is attributed to an increase in the number of people who will choose to go to college within the next several years. Post-secondary teaching jobs in health care education will grow particularly fast, as the industry has a strong need for graduates with health care training.
Another example of high growth in the teaching field can be found with preschool teachers, who can expect job growth of 17 percent from 2012 to 2022. A higher demand for early education is behind the growth. Those who have earned a bachelor’s degree and become certified on the preschool level are expected to lead the pack when hiring time comes.
Job growth potential also depends strongly on where a person chooses to work. Some states have higher demand than others, as seen in the chart below. Furthermore, teachers who choose to work in the inner city or rural areas might also have more employment possibilities.
According to Projections Central, the following states will see the most robust growth for teachers from 2012 to 2022:
Curious about growth in your state for this career? Select a state below for more information about employment and job growth for teachers.
All states require K-12 public school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Though a preschool teacher might begin work with an associate degree, there is a push toward a bachelor’s degree requirement for this grade level as well. Some school systems require K-6 teachers to major in a content area such as math or science. High school teachers are also often required to have majored in a particular subject area.
Gaining classroom experience is a must for teachers. Aspiring teachers must have a certain number of hours of supervised educational experience in order to sit for licensure; the amount of experience required depends on the state. Student teaching can be performed during the pursuit of the bachelor’s degree, completed during an internship, or finished during the months after graduation before moving into full-time employment.
Those who intend to teach in public schools must be licensed or certified. Certification typically follows grade level, with separate licensures for preschool through third grade, first through sixth (or first through eighth) and seventh through twelfth. Regulations vary from state to state, though, so it is crucial that prospective teachers check their home state’s specific rules. Keep in mind that all states require the completion of a teacher preparatory program and a minimum amount of supervised teaching experience, which is typically obtained through student teaching. Most states also require applicants to successfully pass a general teaching certification test as well as tests in the individual subjects they will be teaching.
All states offer alternative routes to certification for prospective teachers who hold a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses necessary for immediate certification. These alternative programs often allow candidates to begin teaching immediately under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Candidates are awarded full certification upon completion of the alternative program.
Private school teachers are not required to be licensed by the state. However, many private schools require their teachers to hold valid state certification. Whether required or not, all teachers should obtain the appropriate license or certification of their state so that they will not be limited in their employment options.
Virtually all public school teachers are required to complete a minimum number of continuing education or professional development course hours in order to maintain their state license or certification. Though teachers can begin their work with a bachelor’s degree, many public schools encourage their teachers to earn a master’s. Those who earn the master’s degree might also see the possibility of higher pay, greater job flexibility and easier advancement into administration positions.
Further, teachers who wish to be recognized as standing atop their profession should consider obtaining National Board Certification, a voluntary, advanced teaching credential that goes beyond state licensure. To obtain National Board Certification, teachers must complete a rigorous peer-reviewed certification process that includes submission of videos of their teaching and student work samples as well as pass a three-hour examination.
When it comes to teaching, there are numerous academic paths for prospective students. Those who have earned a postsecondary certificate or on-the-job training might qualify as teaching assistants, while those who have earned an associate degree could qualify to become preschool teachers. Anyone teaching from kindergarten through high school needs at least a bachelor’s degree, but some school systems now require a master’s degree. Students who want to teach at the postsecondary level need anything from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate, depending upon the subject and the college that hires them. A doctoral degree is a must for those who intend on entering higher administration, research, or performing a management role in a school system.
|Career Goal and/or educational needs||Associate||Bachelor’s||Master’s||Doctorate||Online|
|I think I want to be a teacher, but I’m not sure. I need a degree that offers flexibility and allows me to either start teaching upon graduation or pursue further education if I enjoy the field.|
|I want to teach in an elementary school and possibly move up to middle school when my own kids are older.|
|I want to become a high school teacher, but I have a family and other obligations that make it tough to complete a traditional degree.|
|I have a job in education right now, but I really want to teach others on the college level.|
|I have worked as a teacher for years. Now I want to move into administration, but I need to stand out from the pack.|
|I’m curious about behind-the-scenes research that leads to fundamental change in the educational system. I want to move into a position that allows me to work directly with surveys, testing, and research.|
Students who enter an associate degree program have one of two goals: They want to earn a degree that will allow them to begin working immediately upon graduation, or they aim to build up their educational credits and then transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. Aspiring teachers often choose this particular degree if they intend to work with preschool students or if they want to gain the basic knowledge necessary to begin work in the teaching field, with the potential of continuing on to a bachelor’s degree in the future.
The associate degree exposes students to a variety of general education courses as well as core education and teaching courses. The curricula included here are basic studies that either prepare the student for work in the educational system or provide a strong foundation for moving into a bachelor’s degree program.
Introduces students to preparing curricula for students of various ages.
Provides an overview of the historical and philosophical development of various teaching methods, including effective teaching strategies.
Focuses on practices that enhance health awareness and provide an overview of the teacher’s role in this important developmental stage.
Gives an overview of the challenges, beliefs, cultural mores and morals of various populations and covers how to accommodate those varying beliefs and lifestyles in the classroom.
For most teaching careers, the bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement. This four-year degree not only offers students the opportunity to specialize their education in order to pursue a particular career path, but also prepares students to earn their teaching certificate, which is a requirement for teachers in most states. Graduates of a bachelor’s degree program are prepared to enter the classroom and teach students from kindergarten to high school level. In some cases, a bachelor’s degree is also required to teach at the preschool level.
Focuses on various teaching methods for most grade levels, from elementary through secondary.
Provides an overview of the modern technologies that are changing today’s classroom, including practical studies on the use of mobile devices and computer systems.
Focuses on methods to provide students with extra help in the classroom, including curriculum adjustments, instruction access, and accommodation.
Focuses strongly on the topics that teachers need to understand in order to teach effectively, including social studies, mathematics, reading and literacy, English and sciences.
The master’s degree is a much more targeted degree for teachers. It allows those who have already earned their bachelor’s degree to further their education in order to enter a specific area of teaching or administration. A master’s degree is required to teach in some high schools and middle schools. In other schools, a master’s degree opens the door to administration positions such as principal or assistant principal. Most master’s degree programs take between one and three years to complete.
Graduate level education is for students who have already completed general education requirements through the bachelor’s degree and worked in education in some capacity. As a result, the classes are much more targeted. The following is a sampling of master’s level courses that can be found in an educational leadership track.
Focuses on the relationship between schools and populations in the community. Also looks at information collection, communications, collaboration, and resources.
Illustrates the legal, ethical, and moral dilemmas that face those in the education system; includes discussions on a wide variety of topics, including bullying and harassment, regulations, due process hearings, and truancy.
Discusses potential resources for funding, government grants, federal issues with funding across the nation and in specific states, and basic points on accounting and statistics for use in school finances
Focuses on various curriculum issues for a school system as a whole, including development and planning, current research, social factors, accountability, use of student data, and student assessment
A doctoral degree is often the goal of students who want to enter the highest administration levels of education, including superintendent. They might also opt for this degree in order to teach at the postsecondary level, where they can instruct college students in their specific area of expertise. The doctoral degree could also work well for individuals who want to enter into research, curriculum development, or high-level governmental positions. The doctoral degree can take several years beyond the master’s degree. The time to completion often depends upon how long the student takes to complete his or her research project or dissertation, which he or she must also defend before a panel.
Students who take PhD courses can expect to learn the most up-to-date research and information on every aspect of education. This in-depth learning provides students with an impressive set of skills that will hold them in good stead when they enter new positions or gain new responsibilities. The following is a toolbox of skills that PhD students can expect to gain through their time in the doctoral program.
Students will gain experience and knowledge about ensuring the quality and accuracy of curricula, including how to meet accountability standards for all students throughout a school system.
Students will be able to decipher, analyze, and understand various research in education in the form of data sheets, survey responses, research papers, white papers, journal publications, and much more.
Students will gain the knowledge necessary to make goals for the school system, implement strategies to achieve those goals, assess progress, and, if necessary, change the plans to best meet the requirements for students and teachers.
Questions of accountability are an important issue in schools today. Students who graduate from a PhD program will be prepared to assess the curriculum, instruction, long-term plans, and short-term goals of a school system to ensure compliance with accountability rules.
Students will learn how to manage the enormous amounts of data that are collected on a regular basis through classrooms, community engagement, parental surveys, and much more. They will also understand how to use the data, in conjunction with various computer systems and programs, to create visual representations of where the school system is and where it is going.
While a teaching career can begin with as little as a high school diploma or associate degree, those who want to teach at the kindergarten level or higher will need at least a bachelor’s degree. In addition, those who pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher can tailoring their education to suit a particular career goal or interest. Below are some of the most popular teaching degrees for aspiring teachers.
Working with children with special needs requires unique education and training. Those who pursue a special education degree are prepared to handle the unique needs of students with learning or developmental disabilities as well as emotional, behavioral, or physical disabilities.
Those who teach physical education, coach athletic programs or otherwise help develop the athletic and physical capabilities of students might want to pursue a degree that focuses strongly on athletic training. A degree in physical education coupled with a teaching certificate might be a great path for those who choose to work in physical education at any level.
Distance learning offers many benefits, including the ability to work at a comfortable pace, an opportunity to successfully juggle work and family obligations while earning a degree, and the chance to become familiar with new technologies, which can benefit graduates when they enter the classroom and help students work with the technologies that are so prevalent in schools today. In many cases, online degree programs allow students to attend courses virtually while working with local schools to gain the hands-on experience and supervised teaching hours they need to complete their program and earn their teaching certificate or license.
However, keep in mind that not all online teaching degrees are created equal. Students should start by viewing a ranking of the best online teaching programs, and then carefully evaluate each degree program to find the one that is the best fit. Here are four key points that students should consider when choosing an online teaching degree.
When pursuing a teaching degree, students should be aware that licensure or certification will likely be required in order to begin teaching in a classroom. Many programs prepare students for certification throughout each class, and they also offer numerous optional prep classes that prepare students to sit for certification and licensure exams. Students should choose a school that prepares them to teach in the state they intend to practice in. This is vitally important to ensure that one’s hard work doesn’t go to waste.
Students who choose to enter college are paying good money to work with the best faculty available. Those pursuing a teaching degree should look for faculty members who are well-versed in teaching. Faculty should have several years of experience, publications in pertinent teaching journals, and an active presence in educational conferences or seminars. Students should be able to learn a great deal about faculty right on the school’s website. If only given names of faculty members, students should take the time to research them thoroughly to understand the kind of teachers they will have when they enter the program.
It is vitally important for online students to choose schools that have earned accreditation. Accreditation means that the school or program has been evaluated by an independent body and has determined that the curriculum meets quality standards. Though most schools will have national or regional accreditation, aspiring teachers should look for schools that also have accreditation through particular organizations, including the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Online schools can make it easy to earn a degree without setting foot in a classroom. When it comes to a teaching degree, however, being in a classroom is a requirement for certification. Fortunately, online colleges have found ways to do this through partnering with local schools and communities to ensure online learners are able to meet the requirements for in-person instruction and supervision. Seek out schools that are flexible about where these in-person hours can be earned.
To be successful in their field, teachers should:
Those who want to go even further can earn the National Board Certification. This certification is for teachers who demonstrate exemplary knowledge in a particular subject. It can lead to better advancement and salary opportunities. The test is administered through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Teachers in elementary school might use the following during class time:
High school teachers might:
Teachers across all grade levels will handle constantly evolving technology designed to make their job easier, including:
After several years in the classroom, some teachers choose to spread their wings and look at related careers. These careers are often a logical next step for teachers who want to move out of the classroom, enhance their résumé or take on more administrative responsibilities. The following are some of the most common related professions that teachers might enjoy, as well as 2014 salary numbers, expected growth and the education required for each.
Students who want to enroll in a teaching degree program can find help with the following search tool. The degree programs listed below focus on teaching degrees at every level and can be filtered by state, specific subject, and even school name.