Teaching is a career centered around educating and shaping the minds of the future generation, and the barriers to becoming a teacher can be quite difficult to pass, as befitting such an important job. Teachers are licensed professionals and must maintain good standing in order to keep that license, but while having a license is essential, there’s more to being a successful teacher than that alone. Here are a few steps you can take to get your teaching career started on the right foot.
1. Education and Training
First, we have to deal with the essentials. Teaching is a special skill set, but it’s also one that must be learned, and that’s primarily done through educational degree programs at universities across the nation. Degree programs in education focus on pedagogy (the philosophy of teaching), lesson creation, classroom management, and grading, and may also contain aspects of psychology and leadership, among others. Additionally, a degree in education will include further instruction in the material you’ll be teaching, to ensure that you as a teacher have a solid understanding of the material and are capable of answering questions that students may have. Just what that material consists of will vary depending on the age of the children you intend to teach—early childhood education, for example, deals with the absolute basics being taught in kindergarten or even earlier, while a secondary school teacher typically specializes in a single subject area, such as mathematics or literature. At the undergraduate level, education degree programs typically take 4-5 years to complete, culminating in a student teaching experience where the teacher-to-be will take charge of a classroom under the supervision of a veteran teacher. It’s also possible to become a teacher via graduate school education programs, for those who have a bachelor’s degree in another area, or even through non-degree paths to licensure in some states and for certain subjects.
Once you’ve completed the necessary education, it’s time to start working towards that license. The requirements to be a teacher are different in every state, so be sure to check carefully what requirements you’ll need to meet. Educational training of one of the varieties listed above is commonly needed, as well as successful completion of a guided student teaching experience. Most states also require teachers to pass certain standardized licensing exams, such as the PRAXIS tests, or state licensing exams created by that state’s department of education. These exams are designed to check whether teachers have acquired an adequate understanding of the subject matter they’ll be teaching. Clean background checks are also usually needed to be hired at public schools, which are the only schools that are legally required to have licensed teachers.
Like with other licensed and certified professions, teachers must maintain their licensure through continuing education. The term of renewal varies, but is often around 3-5 years. One of the more common ways of obtaining that continuing education is by completing a master’s degree program, which can also help teachers see a raise in pay. Some states, like Massachusetts, even require that teachers obtain a master’s degree within 5 years of obtaining their initial license. Individual courses, symposiums, and conferences can also meet continuing education requirements in some states.
3. Going Beyond
Once licensed, teachers can obtain a position at a school and begin putting their passion to work. Early years in a teaching career are often still a learning experience, as the realities of a classroom environment become apparent and teachers learn to handle unexpected situations. Your more experienced coworkers may be willing to lend guidance and support, and schools sometimes pair teachers up in this manner deliberately. Once a teacher has found their footing, they may want to try to achieve greater levels of excellence for the sake of their students. Those who aren’t required to earn a master’s degree may decide to pursue one anyway, hoping to glean further insight into the discipline of teaching. Another option which many teachers consider is earning National Board certification, which is seen as a mark of quality. National Board certification is a difficult process to undergo, requiring video of lessons, computer assessments, and assembled portfolios. As with earning a master’s, National Board certified teachers may see higher pay and greater recognition of their accomplishments.
4. More than Titles and Awards
At this point, we have largely discussed awards that you can or must earn to be seen as a successful teacher, but there is yet another aspect of teaching success that must be mentioned. Teachers aren’t just educators, after all; they’re role models for their students, and trusted adults that students may turn to in times of crisis. A truly great teacher is able to build an emotional connection with their students, regarding them almost as if they were their own children. This kind of relationship and trust can be fostered in the classroom, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Extracurricular activities at schools, for example, often require teachers to be responsible overseers for the activities that are occurring. By taking part in these activities outside of your regular duties, you can further build the bonds of trust with your students and allow them to see another side of you, which can alter relationship dynamics for the better. Ensuring that students feel safe, that they can turn to you for advice, and that each and every one has the opportunity to fully understand what’s being taught are the key markers of success for teachers.