Teaching-Related Careers in Education: Answers to 6 Popular Questions
Have you imagined what it might feel like to become part of a new generation of education professionals? America needs additional teachers, childcare pros, and educational leaders who are dedicated, creative, and inspiring. You could help make positive and lasting impacts that shape the future for individuals, your community, and the nation.
After all, professionals in the field of education have some of the most important jobs in the world. They help ensure that people have the knowledge, social tools, and practical abilities to discover and pursue their greatest potential. And that benefits all of us. Education is what drives society's progress.
So take this opportunity to get answers to a few of your biggest questions about the fields of teaching, education, and childhood development. Start with these six common questions:
1. What Are the Most Fulfilling Education Careers?
Getting to be part of something truly worthwhile is a gift. Not everyone is able to experience that. But people who have jobs in this career sector often get to experience a rewarding sense of meaning each day. Their work involves touching other people's lives in ways that nurture growth and fresh possibilities. As a result, they often feel a deep connection to that work and put their hearts into it.
In fact, according to one survey of 20,000 American public school teachers, 88 percent of them agreed that the challenges of the profession are outweighed by the rewards. And 89 percent said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their careers.*
Here are some of the roles in education that are especially fulfilling:
- Childcare worker—This occupation isn't just about attending to fundamental needs like meals, safety, and personal hygiene. Frequently, it also involves organizing play activities that help kids follow their curiosities and learn about themselves, the world around them, and how to solve problems.
- Teacher aide or assistant—A lot of teachers need help with monitoring their students and carrying out lessons. In fact, a typical teacher assistant job description might include tasks such as enforcing classroom rules, tracking attendance, preparing lesson materials, keeping an eye on students outside of class, and providing personalized help and attention to students under a teacher's supervision.
- Preschool teacher—Before kids enter kindergarten, they often get to spend some time in special programs that help them develop basic skills for a better head start. That's why a preschool teacher job description will generally include more than just routine childcare duties. It will also usually include tasks like planning and carrying out activities that help children identify colors, shapes, letters, and numbers, help them develop their social, communication, and motor skills, and help them discover and explore their own interests.
- Childcare or preschool center director—Being the person who oversees all of the day-to-day activities of a preschool, daycare, or other type of childcare center can be greatly satisfying. You not only get to interact with children, parents, and staff, but also get to plan budgets and design the overall curriculum for lessons and activities.
- Kindergarten or elementary school teacher—At this level, it's all about getting kids off to a good start as they begin attaining the foundational abilities and knowledge that they'll need throughout their many years of schooling. For the early grades, a teacher job description generally includes duties such as evaluating kids' abilities, meeting with parents, and creating and enacting lessons for essential subject areas like reading, math, social studies, and science. Many teachers also specialize in leading classes in physical education, music, art, or English as a second language (ESL).
- Special education teacher—Many students have physical or developmental disabilities that make it more challenging for them to learn and develop essential skills. As a result, special education teachers are needed to assess such students, create individualized learning plans for them, and carry out special lessons in various subject areas while adapting to each of their distinctive needs.
- Middle school teacher—This role is about helping to transition kids from the basics of elementary school to the more advanced curricula that they'll be taught in high school. As a result, most middle school teachers conduct classes for students between the sixth and eighth grades. In a lot of cases, they specialize in teaching just one or two general subject areas, although some of them teach many subjects.
- High school teacher—For this level of teaching, educators generally specialize in one subject (e.g., math, English, history, art, music, biology, etc.). Their role involves getting teenagers ready for college or adulthood. Like other teachers, they assess their students, plan effective lessons, track the progress of their pupils, and watch for any signs of problems that might get in the way of their learning.
- Elementary or secondary school principal—As the professionals who manage and oversee all aspects of school activities and operations, principals get to enjoy the rewards that come with major responsibility. Their work often results in the creation of learning environments that are safe, comfortable, fun, and productive for students, teachers, and other school staff.
- Post-secondary teacher—Colleges, universities, and trade schools represent the final destinations for many students in their educational journeys. So professors and other types of post-secondary instructors and faculty have some of the most vital careers in higher education. Most of them are specialists in a single academic subject or have a lot of real-world experience in a particular field.
2. What's Involved in Becoming a Teacher or Childcare Professional?
This answer depends on the particular role that you want to have. And it also depends on the state where you intend to work as well as on whether you want to have a career in the public or private sector. In general, though, you will need some kind of relevant degree in order to become a teacher or to work in a leadership role.
So, what degree do you need to be a teacher? In almost all cases, you need a bachelor's degree, at minimum. However, if you want to know how to become a teacher at a trade, technical, or vocational school, then you might require different guidance. That's because instructors at trade schools oftentimes only need a degree at the level that they are teaching as well as some professional experience in the occupational field that they're helping students prepare for. As an example, an experienced graphic designer might be able to teach an associate's degree program in graphic design at a career college or art school as long he or she has earned at least an associate's degree in the field.
For other types of teaching positions, the requirements are a little more complex, especially at the elementary and secondary levels. For starters, all public school teachers in the U.S. need to be state licensed or certified. Yet, private school teachers usually don't need to meet any such requirements. Either way, however, you'll first need to earn at least a bachelor's degree. It can be in almost anything. However, you might have the best opportunities if your degree is related to education or to a subject that you want to teach.
Then, if you want to know how to become a kindergarten teacher or how to become an elementary school teacher in the public sector, you'll need to learn what the teacher certification process involves in your state. The same is true if you want to know how to become a high school teacher or middle school teacher in a public institution. Aside from the need to obtain a bachelor's degree, requirements vary. But here are the most important things to know about:
- You generally need to finish a teacher preparation program that incorporates some supervised teaching experience in a real classroom. Many graduate and undergraduate programs in education include this fieldwork component. But even if your bachelor's program didn't include any education courses, you can still get teacher training through your state's alternative teacher certification program. In fact, you might be able to start training as a student teacher soon after getting your degree.
- You will likely need to pass one or more certification exams. You'll be tested on your general teaching knowledge. And in some states, or for certain levels of teaching, you may be tested on your knowledge of the specific subjects that you're hoping to teach.
- Most states conduct background checks on aspiring teachers who apply for certification.
- A lot of states require you to take yearly professional development classes after becoming certified. And some states require every public school teacher to earn a master's degree within a certain timeframe after achieving certification.
So, how long does it take to become a teacher? At the elementary and secondary school levels, the whole process generally takes between four to six years, depending on all of the factors already mentioned. If you already have a degree, then it might take less time. But what about other roles? Here are some of the basics to know:
- Requirements for childcare workers vary from state to state and employer to employer. But the best opportunities usually go to people who have some formal training in early childhood education (ECE). Many employers, and some states, also require that you earn a recognized national credential such as Child Development Associate (CDA) or Certified Childcare Professional (CCP). In addition, you may need to pass a background check and become certified in first aid and CPR.
- Teacher assistants often have at least two years of college training in an area related to education or child development. In some states and municipalities, they need to pass a knowledge assessment.
- If you'd like to know how to become a preschool teacher, then it's a good idea to inquire about the regulations in your state. At minimum, you'll probably need an associate's degree. But, more commonly, you'll need a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as early childhood education. That's particularly true if you want to work in a public school. In that case, you'll also need to become licensed by passing an exam. And you may need to earn the CDA or CPP credential.
- Public school principals generally have to be licensed in their states as school administrators. That usually means they've earned master's degrees related to educational leadership or administration. But to become a principal, you also need several years of professional teaching experience. And you also need to pass a background check and state exam.
- Becoming a professor at a traditional college or university usually requires a doctorate degree (PhD). What is a doctorate degree? Simply put, it's the highest credential in post-secondary education. You often need to have a bachelor's or master's degree before starting a doctorate program. However, many community colleges hire instructors who have master's degrees.
3. How Much Do Teachers Get Paid?
The average salary of a teacher can vary a lot from state to state. And the same is true for the wages of other education and childcare professionals. Even so, many people in these fields make respectable incomes, and they often receive good employer benefits on top of their pay. So how much do teachers make a year? According to nationwide estimates from 2018, it all breaks down like this:**
- The average preschool teacher salary was $34,410. How much do preschool teachers make at the top of their profession? The highest earners made over $55,350.
- Kindergarten teachers made $58,370, on average. Yet some of them earned more than $86,310.
- The average elementary teacher salary was $62,200 with the top earners making over $95,270.
- On average, middle school teachers made $62,030. The highest salaries were more than $93,180.
- The average high school teacher salary was $64,340. How much do high school teachers make at the height of their field? The top earners made more than $97,500.
- The average special education teacher salary was $63,110 for those who worked at the kindergarten or elementary level. The top earners made more than $95,730.
- Post-secondary teachers varied in what they earned depending on the subjects they taught. For example, the average math teacher salary at the college level was $87,140. In contrast, engineering teachers made $113,680, business teachers made $103,330, English teachers made $78,150, and teachers of art, music, and drama made $82,560, on average.
- Childcare workers earned $24,610, on average. But some of them made over $34,430.
- The average teacher assistant salary was $28,750 with the highest earners making more than $41,020.
- Preschool and childcare center directors made $53,990, on average. The highest salaries were over $83,730.
- Elementary and secondary school principals earned $98,750, on average. And some of them made more than $144,950.
4. What Is the Average Teacher Salary, By State?
America is a very large and diverse nation. As a result, incomes and living costs can vary a lot between different regions. And the same is true for teacher salaries.
So how much does a teacher make where you live, and how does that compare to other places? To get a better idea, check out this graphic showing the average elementary school teacher salary in each state:
5. What Makes a Good Teacher?
Over the years, many different ideas have emerged about what it takes to be a great teacher. Strategies have been implemented, changed, and tweaked repeatedly by school administrators as they try to create the best learning experiences for the students that they're responsible for. Ultimately, though, most teachers agree that being a good educator comes down to a common and time-tested set of skills.
So, what do teachers do consistently that makes them good at their jobs? Among other things, great teachers strive to:
- Create mutual respect between themselves and their students
- Set clear and attainable expectations for every student
- Effectively manage their classrooms, time, and resources
- Provide a safe environment for making mistakes
- Show kindness, compassion, and empathy
- Give students feedback that is timely and meaningful
- Stay organized and prepared for each lesson
- Demonstrate deep knowledge of what they're teaching
- Help students understand why it's important that they learn what's being taught
- Show interest in the lives of their students both inside and outside of class
- Make creative and effective use of technology
- Inspire their students through lessons that come to life
6. How Many Teaching and Childcare Jobs Are Available?
The future continues to look pretty good for educators and childcare professionals in America. In fact, projections indicate that, between 2016 and 2026, the number of job openings within these fields could total:***
- 197,800 for post-secondary teachers, professors, and other faculty
- 116,300 for kindergarten and elementary school teachers
- 109,500 for teacher assistants
- 84,300 for childcare workers
- 76,800 for high school teachers
- 47,300 for middle school teachers
- 33,300 for special education teachers
- 50,100 for preschool teachers
- 19,800 for elementary and secondary school principals
- 6,700 for childcare center and preschool directors
Start Reshaping Your Own Future
Education and child development are more than just fascinating career areas. They're also great areas of opportunity for anyone who wants to make a genuine and positive difference in the world. So follow your heart. By entering your zip code in the school finder below, you'll be able to discover nearby programs that can help you get your training underway!
* Primary Sources: America's Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change, Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, website last visited on December 14, 2017.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on May 29, 2019.
*** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, website last visited on October 4, 2018.