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How to Become a Teacher

Teachers play an essential role in facilitating the education and social growth of children and adolescents. They are also critical to the advancement of entire communities, as excellent educators tend to produce capable, intelligent students who have the potential to become influential citizens. The steps and requirements for becoming a teacher can vary depending on elements such as years of experience, certifications, level of education, and the grade in which the teacher wants to work. But for many teachers, the first step in determining how to become a teacher often starts with earning a bachelor’s degree.

A smiling teacher works with an elementary student

Individuals who are wondering how to become a teacher should explore the online bachelor’s in liberal studies degree program at Maryville University. For those interested in making a positive difference in students’ lives, here’s a deeper look at this rewarding position.

What Does a Teacher Do?

Teachers are responsible for managing classrooms, creating lesson plans, grading assignments, and providing a positive learning environment for students. They usually specialize in educating students of a particular grade level — elementary school, middle school, or high school. Each state also has its own specific credentialing, licensure, and preparation requirements for prospective teachers.

In the classroom, teachers must articulately convey knowledge to students in a manner that is easy to understand. They typically must draw their lesson content from an approved curriculum, but often can use creativity and improvisation to improve the effectiveness of their lessons.

Teachers also manage the learning environment, which includes not only the physical classroom, but also the emotional state of the students in the class. Ideally, they create a warm, comfortable, positive workspace for everyone. If teachers present negative emotions, students may emulate those emotions themselves. Therefore, aspiring teachers should learn how to navigate a classroom’s social situations through communication techniques and interpersonal conflict resolution.

The nature of a teacher’s work depends primarily on the grade level of the students they teach. Because elementary school teachers work with very young students, their responsibilities can focus on helping children develop strong academic habits and supporting their emotional growth. For middle school students — sixth, seventh, and eighth graders — it is important to provide motivation, emotional support, and guidance, as children of this age may face more difficult personal and emotional challenges than elementary school students. High school students are fast approaching adulthood, and they often need teachers who can facilitate a more focused and in-depth educational experience. High school students can also be quite autonomous, so teachers may set higher expectations for certain students.

Steps to Become a Teacher

Those who are interested in learning how to become a teacher will discover a fulfilling but challenging process that often begins with earning a bachelor’s degree. Additional certifications may also come into play. The requirements to earn a teaching certificate vary significantly by state.

What Should I Major in to Become a Teacher?

Every state requires public school teachers at all grade levels to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Elementary school teachers often have degrees in elementary education. Most states require public high school teachers to hold degrees in the subject areas they plan to teach; however, this is not always the case.

Well-rounded degree programs — such as an online bachelor’s in liberal studies degree program or an online bachelor’s in English degree program — can provide aspiring educators with a broad base of knowledge that can serve them well as they pursue teaching careers at the high school level. Some of these undergraduate programs enable students to concentrate within subject areas they would like to teach. Graduates must be sure to complete any additional subject-specific education required to meet the teaching certification requirements in their state.

Become Certified

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree, those who are interested in how to become a teacher must complete a teacher preparation program and pass a general certification test. Some states also require prospective teachers to pass an additional exam that demonstrates competency to teach a certain subject.

The grade level in which a prospective teacher wants to work also determines the type of credentialing they need. For example, in California, prospective teachers must receive a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential to teach at an elementary school level. For someone who wants to teach elementary education in New York, they would need to earn an Initial Certificate in Childhood Education (grades 1-6).

Some school districts may prefer or require that teachers who work in an even more specialized area, such as special education or pre-kindergarten, to obtain a more specialized degree or additional certifications.

Required Skills for Becoming a Teacher

Through earning a bachelor’s degree, completing a teacher preparation program, gaining classroom experience, and passing a certification test, prospective teachers develop a robust skill set. To be effective in their classrooms, teachers should demonstrate a strong foundation of knowledge as well as the following essential skills.

  • Patience: A high level of patience is essential, as teachers work with large numbers of students who have different needs and behaviors. Teachers also need to take time to explain difficult concepts to students.
  • Resourcefulness: Since teachers work with students who have different learning styles and abilities, they need to be resourceful in adapting their teaching methods.
  • Communication: Teachers not only need to effectively communicate with their students, but also with parents, other teachers, and school administrators.
  • Stamina: Since teachers are actively teaching all day long, they need to be physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to fully engage with their students every day.
  • Ability to inspire: Good teachers motivate and encourage their students with their studies and on other levels.

Teacher Salaries

Teacher salaries fluctuate based on various factors. These include geographic location, the complexity of the subject being taught, the age of the students, the level of the teacher’s education, and the teacher’s professional experience. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), high school teachers earned a median annual salary of $61,660 in 2019. However, the lowest 10% earned less than $40,540, and the top 10% earned more than $99,660.

Middle school teachers earned an annual median salary of $59,600 in 2019, according to the BLS.  Kindergarten and elementary school teachers made a median annual salary of $59,420.

The decision to work in public or private schools may also impact teachers’ potential earnings. For example, in 2019, kindergarten and elementary school teachers at private elementary and secondary schools earned approximately $11,320 less in median annual salary than public school teachers.

Future Outlook for Teaching Careers

Employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is on pace to grow 3% from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS. The number of jobs for middle and high school teachers is also expected to increase 3% in the same period. The job outlook for high school teachers is predicted to grow 4% between 2018 and 2028.

The growth of teaching jobs has kept up with the average rate for all occupations nationwide, and ample opportunities for employment are available. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 3.2 million public school teachers and 50.8 million public school students. This student-to-teacher ratio represents a massive gap that limits the effectiveness of the education system. It’s apparent that the U.S. has a real need for skilled and dedicated educators.

Technology and the internet have also played a role in expanding job opportunities for teachers. As technology advances, online education is becoming increasingly common. It used to be that only postsecondary students took online classes, but now online learning is an option for K-12 students.

Most K-12 online schools offer a variety of options for students, providing different job opportunities for teachers. Some teachers work entirely in virtual academies, where they teach fully online after state certification. Others work in blended environments, where students attend school for a few days each week and complete coursework from home during the rest of the week. Teachers may also work at charter schools that provide a variety of hybrid learning options for their K-12 students.

Explore Possible Career Opportunities

While many wonder how to become a teacher, even more are concerned with what separates great educators from the rest. One of the hallmarks of many successful teachers is their ability to incorporate diverse viewpoints and educational subject matter in ways students can appreciate.

The Maryville University online bachelor’s in liberal studies degree program can provide students with a strong background in literature, philosophy, art history, and social sciences. This offers graduates and prospective teachers a deep understanding of culture and the humanities that they can translate into engaging lessons and activities for students.

Explore the program’s curriculum and possible career paths to learn how Maryville University can help you seek a rewarding career focused on changing students’ lives through education.

Recommended Reading:
Careers in Writing: Opportunities from Books to Blogs
Future Education Technology: How Digital Trends Are Shaping Teaching
Trends and Skills for the Future of Research

Sources:
Commission on Teacher Credentialing, “Become an Elementary School Teacher in California”
Forbes, “Disrupting Education: The Rise of K-12 Online and the Entrepreneurial Opportunities”
National Center for Education Statistics, “Back to School Statistics”
National Center for Education Statistics, “Common Core of Data”
NYSED, Types of Certificates and Licenses
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, High School Teachers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Middle School Teachers