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How To Become a Teacher

Updated : July 12th, 2022

Many people who experience unemployment decide to try a new career. Have you ever considered becoming a teacher? Some of those people find that sharing their skills and knowledge with other people is the most fulfilling thing of all. But how exactly do you go about becoming a teacher?

Steps To Become a Teacher

  • Assess Your Teaching Interests
  • Choose a School
  • Secure Financial Aid for Tuition
  • Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Get Student Teaching Experience
  • Take State Licensing Exam
  • Obtain a Master’s Degree

The average American spends a significant portion of their lives inside a classroom until they graduate college. Some of your fondest memories may have something to do with a teacher who inspired you, cared about you, or was especially charismatic. Teachers make huge sacrifices for the sake of their students.

While most of us envision teachers as existing only between the hours of nine in the morning to three in the afternoon, they have lives outside of the classroom, just like the rest of us. Teachers continue working long after students go home for the day – creating lesson plans, grading papers, and attending seminars and workshops that will help them make more impact in the classroom.

How Much Does a Teacher Make?

Teachers are not known to make a lot of money, though this is actually somewhat of a misinterpretation. While it’s true that a novice teacher might not make more than $30,000 or $40,000 in some states, there are plenty of states in which an experienced or tenured teacher can make upwards of $70,000 or $80,000 in gross annual income – and a university professor with tenure can make a six-figure salary. That said, while younger teachers might make significantly less than someone in a different profession, older or tenured teachers can enjoy quite a comfortable standard of living. It just takes dedication and time.

In a related train of thought, teachers realize other ancillary benefits in the realm of personal finance. Teaching jobs are regarded as very stable by financial institutions that provide home mortgages and auto loans. Teachers applying for these loans may find them easier to get. Educators are generally regarded as responsible individuals whose classroom leadership, penchant for meeting deadlines, and ability to plan ahead are reflected in their good credit and debt management.

Of course, you’re probably not thinking about teaching for the money. If you’re like most teachers, you like working with children, you like sharing what you know, or you’re particularly passionate about a particular field of study.

How To Become a Teacher

Let’s take a look at the steps required to become a certified teacher.

Assess Your Teaching Interests

Not all teaching jobs are the same. In fact, they are all very different. A university professor needs a vastly different set of skill sets than a preschool teacher. A professor won’t be changing scheduling nap time, singing songs, or helping little hands develop fine motor skills. Instead, the college instructor will be immersed in research and teaching complicated concepts to adults. Each type of teacher is valuable and necessary.

In addition to the academics, you will have to consider the atmosphere created by the age group you’d like to teach. Dealing with teenagers in high school requires a much different set of skills and opens up conversations you won’t be having with elementary school children, for example. Assess your teaching interests – both in terms of the subject and the age group that interests you.

Choose a School

Now it’s time to choose a school. Most four-year colleges have a teaching program for primary and secondary education. If you plan on teaching in early education, elementary school, middle school, or high school, you will want to go down this path. If you plan on becoming a college professor, you should instead major in the field you want to teach and then move on to graduate school and a Ph.D.

There are several different lists ranking the best teaching schools but don’t assume you have to get into an ivy league school to become a teacher. Consider your local options, including community colleges and online schools. Pick what works for you in terms of location, reputation, and cost.

Secure Financial Aid for Tuition

It’s not easy paying off student loans when starting a career as a teacher. As much as you are possibly able to, you should avoid student loans and find grants and scholarships that can assist you with meeting your goals. Once you’re accepted to a school, you should talk to their financial aid or tuition office to see what forms of financial aid they can direct you to—whether they are scholarships offered by the university or federal programs like a Pell Grant. Community entities like a recreation center, house or worship, or fraternal organization are also great places to find grants.

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Now it’s time to put in the work for your bachelors degree. At many schools and universities, a teaching degree is actually sort of a double degree, because you will need to get some sort of bachelors in addition to your teaching certification. In many cases, the major you pick will need to relate to the subject you want to teach. If you want to be a language arts teacher, you will need to major in English or literature. If you want to teach math or science, a degree in either of those fields will be helpful.

If you don’t already have a bachelor’s degree, most university programs are going to take four years to complete. If you do already have a bachelor’s degree, you may be able to find a teaching program that takes less time to obtain a teaching certification, perhaps one to two years.

Get Student Teaching Experience

A big part of becoming a teacher and obtaining a teaching certification is gaining actual teaching experience. While the exact particulars of this program will vary from school to school, it will certainly involve going into a classroom to observe a teacher at work and even do some student teaching yourself.

The teaching experience is an opportunity to get some hands-on learning while you still have the support network of your own teachers, professors, and mentors guiding you toward certification. It can become a sort of laboratory to see the principles you are learning about at work. For those who are eager to teach, it can be one of the most fun parts of obtaining their degree.

Take State Licensing Exam

Once you have obtained your degree, your state might require a state licensing exam for teaching students under the age of 18. Part of getting a teachers license involves taking a long test that will gauge your general educational knowledge of basic educational material. If you want to teach a specific subject, there are exames to gauge your knowledge in that area as well.

While it is possible to teach without getting licensed in many locations – for example, at a private school – most public school systems in every state will require you to pass this exam and obtain your teaching license. There is also a National Board Certification beyond your state board. There could also be alternative certification for specific subjects or populations with special needs. These additional certs may not seem worth it, but they can create more job flexibility if you move states or school districts.

Obtain a Masters Degree

Once you’ve gotten your teaching degree, have become a licensed teacher, and found yourself a job teaching, you may want to get a masters degree. This is because employees with an MA can earn significantly more than their colleagues without one.

A masters degree might also open the door to additional career opportunities that can provide a better salary or more flexibility. For example, many teachers who end up getting married and starting families of their own, find that going into the administrative side of education pays a better salary that is commensurate with the needs of a growing family. While obtaining an MA is important perhaps, it is not necessarily something you should pursue as soon as you start teaching. You should get grounded in the profession and perhaps even wait a few years before pursuing additional degrees.

Do Teachers Get Unemployment Benefits?

Yes, teachers can qualify for unemployment benefits, just like any other professional – as long as they lose their job through no fault of their own. If a teacher is fired for misconduct, unemployment benefits will likely be denied. Teachers who wish to appeal should speak to the state department responsible for administering UI benefits for teachers.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, a teacher must pass a few tests (this varies by state). If a new job is offered concretely in writing, but pays less than 90% of the first job, a teacher can collect unemployment. If there is an offer but no contract, a teacher can collect unemployment. If there is going to be a break from work but no assurance that the job will continue after the break, they can collect unemployment as well.

Take note that summer break does not allow gainfully employed teachers to collect unemployment. In fact, most schools issue monthly paychecks even in months when teachers are not actually teaching, as long as the teacher is gainfully and contractually employed by the school in question. But if you are a teacher out of work, you can certainly collect unemployment.

Consider a Career in Teaching

Whether you want to be a high school teacher, elementary school teacher, or early childhood education, you need to go through some sort of teacher education program to get hired by a school district. The same thing is true if you want to go into special education or even education administration. Teacher preparation programs are often paired with an undergraduate degree in the single subject you wish to teach.

Becoming a certified teacher with a teaching credential is just one part of teacher preparation. But teacher education is a lifelong process, as any teacher will tell you. The pros and cons about teaching as a profession and the process of finding an approved educator preparation program is something you can discuss with a career coach, mentor, or family member who has your best interests at heart.

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