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Thinking of becoming a teacher? If you’re looking to make a difference (and love apples!) a teacher career path might be right for you. In this article we’ll discuss how to become a teacher, which teaching jobs are most in demand, and if a career in teaching is really worth it.
Most of us have fairly vivid memories from our school days, both good and bad, and many of those memories are associated with a particular teacher we encountered. You may even have had thoughts of becoming a teacher yourself, with the noble goal of inspiring the youth of tomorrow. If you’ve decided that a career path in education is something you want to pursue, with a little work and determination, it is possible to become the teacher you always wanted to be.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to become a teacher, including:
Is teaching a good career path?
Steps to becoming a teacher
What teaching jobs are most in demand?
How do you know if teaching is for you?
Well, it depends on how you define “good.” It can certainly be fulfilling and challenging, but it can also be frustrating, tiring, and sometimes feel like a thankless job. You will work with a wide range of students, all with different needs and abilities, establish solid classroom management guidelines, deal with administrative challenges, interact with parents/guardians, and often feel like you’re falling short in inspiring and educating your students. Despite all this, most teachers still find the field rewarding and worthwhile.
While there are pluses and minuses to every career, some of the benefits of a career path in teaching include:
Job stability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were almost 1.5 million teaching jobs in 2021, with a projected growth rate of four percent.
Adequate compensation. While teaching isn't the highest-paid profession, it usually comes with other benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, professional development opportunities, and tuition reimbursement for additional certifications and degrees.
There’s potential for advancement. There are other opportunities available after you've spent a few years in the classroom, such as school-level administration, technology integration, district administrator, consultant, or academic coach (although many of these will require an advanced degree and/or additional certifications).
It can fulfill your calling to teach children. If you feel compelled to change the lives of students for the better, and if you’re committed, caring, and dedicated, the teaching field may be a good fit for you.
How to become a teacher really depends on where you are in your academic or professional life. If you’re still in college, you’ll need to enroll in your school’s education program and complete your degree. While in school you’ll need to:
Decide what you want to teach — preschool, elementary, or secondary grades. If you want to teach secondary, what subject are you most interested in?
Complete your education coursework.
Perform student teaching, which will provide you with classroom instruction experience in a real-world setting.
Pass your state certification exams, based on the grade level and subject(s) you want to teach. These will include basic competency exams as well as subject area knowledge.
Keep in mind that a bachelor’s degree is the minimum amount of education that is required — for most states, you’ll need to also keep your certification current, which will include continuing professional development courses. Depending on your state, you may be required to attain a master's degree at some point.
What if you've been out of school for a few years, and decide you'd like to become a teacher? Are you out of luck? Not at all! As long as you have at least a bachelor’s degree, you can enroll in a state-approved education program that will lead to certification in your desired concentration, and often a master’s degree as well. In fact, if you have a few years of life experience under your belt, it may work to your advantage as a new teacher, says Dr. Alan Enomoto, associate dean at the University of Massachusetts Global: “Second-career teachers bring a wealth of experience and background into the classroom — much more than a 22-year-old…they are able to draw on real life to engage students, and that enthusiasm makes education come alive.”
There are a few you’ll need to do to change your career path into teaching:
Spend time in a classroom (if possible) and connect with other teachers. The profession of teaching and the school environment have most likely changed since you were in school, and it's helpful to get a first-hand account of the day-to-day tasks and challenges a teacher faces.
Determine your motivation for making a change. Why do you want to teach? What did you like about your own academic experience? And what do you want to teach? What type of environment would you like to work in — a suburban school? A high-needs area? Or do you want to work in a more rural setting? Figuring out where you want to be is an important step towards getting there.
Find a good teacher credential program. A program that offers a teacher certification as well as a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree is a good choice for people who already have a bachelor’s degree, and is geared specifically toward people making a career change into teaching. Most programs will focus on things like learning theory, research, educational psychology, and curriculum design.
Regardless of whether you're an education undergrad or a career changer, prepare to perform at least three months of full-time student teaching in the grade level that corresponds to your certification. You can't work full-time while doing this, so make sure that you can afford to take time away from your job.
While teachers are needed in all areas and grade levels, there are a few areas of specialization that are more in demand:
English as a Second Language (ESL or TESOL). According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 67.3 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, which means that up to 21% of students in a public school classroom may have difficulty with the language. ESL teachers assist students who may not speak English (or have limited English skills) in learning the basics of the language and increase their overall comprehension.
STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). As society becomes more intertwined with technology, there is an increasing need for teachers who can provide students with the required expertise and competency in these areas. Far from being needed only at the college level, STEM teachers are needed in elementary school through high school.
Special Education. As more schools move towards inclusive education and placing students in the “least restrictive environment,” teachers are needed to help meet the needs of students with diverse learning abilities. Special Education teachers work with students with physical, emotional, and learning disabilities, modify general education lessons, and/or instruct students in a self-contained, specialized classroom environment.
The demand for qualified teachers isn’t limited to the United States. The United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has determined that nearly 69 million new teachers will be needed to supply "quality universal primary and secondary education by 2030." If you want to make a difference on a global scale, your talents will surely be welcomed.
Let’s be frank: teaching is not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate his or her life to the education of today’s youth. If you’re considering it as a career path, here are a few attributes that might help you determine if teaching is the right career path for you:
Learning and sharing knowledge is important to you
You like learning something new and facing different challenges every day
You honestly want to make a difference in the world and our future
You have strong leadership abilities
You’re patient, flexible, optimistic, and super-organized
You truly care about kids
You may wonder if teaching is harder than other jobs, or if it’s “worth it” to be a teacher. In some ways, yes — it might be harder than some other professions, depending on your standards or parameters (not to say other jobs aren’t incredibly difficult!). It requires long hours (and teachers don't actually all get summers off!), the pay is lower than in other fields, the paperwork seems endless, and sometimes, it seems like teachers receive the blame for everything. But is it worth it? Most teachers would agree that it is, as long as you’re willing to work hard and are dedicated to educating students and helping them learn and grow into thoughtful, productive people.
Ready to make a career change? Our Explore Careers tool will help you find the right fit for you.
Teaching can be frustrating and tiring, but most teachers feel it is a fulfilling and challenging career.
If you’re still in college and want to be a teacher, you’ll need to decide on a grade level, complete your education coursework, perform your student teaching, and pass your certification exams.
The most in-demand teaching positions include Special Education, ESL, and STEM.
Teaching might be a good career path for you if you’re passionate about learning, are patient and organized, and care about children.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator. A former public school teacher, she has expertise with English literature, writing, and public speaking, as well as an extensive professional background in advertising and media analysis. Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in Theater and a master’s degree in Education, and is the author of two published novels.