Imparting wisdom onto students, fostering relationships about learning and supporting shared knowledge in and outside of the classroom making being a a teacher can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. Teachers not only learn the material they’re teaching but also learn about their students’ interests, lives and unique thoughts — ones that bring diversity and new life into the learning environment.
This profession takes on multiple roles across age groups, schools, universities, subjects and even teaching platforms (electronic and online teaching helps educate students remotely worldwide). At a basic level, teachers are responsible for instructing the subject they’re supposed to be educating their students on; teachers can also have the ability to develop their own curriculum, create and administer tests, hold administrative power and even conduct research on the educational system as a whole.
What are the qualities of a good teacher?
Perhaps the most obvious of characteristics, but a good teacher is dedicated to their work and educating their students. “Love” and “passion” are often tossed around when considering how much a teacher puts their heart into their work, but dedication takes the cake. A dedicated teacher not only has a passion for their job and loves to teach, but also consistently works to make their classroom a better place for all.
Not every student arrives at school ready and motivated to learn. Good teachers understand the different needs and skills that each student brings to the table and works to help each of them attain their goals. They willingly alter instruction depending on who they’re working with and appreciate each student’s developmental level, and also inspire and motivate students to improve with every day, even if progress looks different across the classroom board.
Good teachers care about their students and put their needs in front of their own. Teachers who are kind are sensitive to students’ holistic learning experiences and understand how education fits into their specific life circumstances. They're also compassionate above all else and genuinely care about their students’ wellbeing.
Supportive teachers uplift and encourage their students to do their best despite any obstacles in a student’s learning path. They foster a love of learning and motivate their students to not only complete their work, but to enjoy doing it. Teachers also understand how different learners are motivated in academic contexts and diversify their classroom tactics to accommodate numerous learning and teaching styles. They want all of their students to learn to the best of their ability and mentor them in their educational journey.
While a good teacher might be great to begin with, the best teachers know how to reflect on their classroom experiences and adapt their teaching style as needed. They do this by listening to feedback from their students and students’ families to make the best educational experience for everyone, and are creative and unafraid to try new things. They can also uplift the educational system they work for, and aren’t hesitant to rebel against tradition and change what needs to fixed.
An organized teacher runs a scheduled and structured classroom. These teachers foster a sense of responsibility and commitment in their learning environment, and in order to run a classroom efficiently, expect students to comply with a strict set of rules with their assignments. Organized teachers are also on top of what’s happening outside of their classroom. They’re communicative with parents and administrators and always are on the lookout for what’s happening next.
Good teachers may have a sense of pride in their work, while maintaining humility when working with others. They can be confident in their ideas while acknowledging and understanding the opinions of others. They also welcome feedback and criticism because it drives them to improve. Teachers work not only with their fellow faculty members, but also their students to better their teaching style, curriculum or even classroom methods. And they understand the importance of working together.
6 steps to becoming a teacher.
1. Decide what kind of teaching is right for you.
Because there are numerous teaching opportunities available, it’s important to decide what kind of teaching you’d like to do. Working with younger students in a public school requires a different set of credentials and experience than working with high school students at a charter school. Some teachers may wish to specialize in a select subject or two subjects, while others desire to instruct within broader areas like reading, writing and math.
2. Earn a bachelor’s degree.
Every state in the U.S. requires public school teachers to have graduated from a college with a bachelor’s degree; while private schools do not require this degree, they often prefer it when hiring new teachers. Requirements for what this degree is in depend on what age group you’d like to teach. Teachers working with younger students, such as kindergarteners or elementary school students, should earn a degree in elementary education. As education in higher levels of school — middle and high school — has teachers split up into subjects, those who wish to teach in these age groups may be required to major in a content area.
3. Gain classroom experience.
Even if you’ve studied what you’ll need to know to teach, getting tested on the content with a pencil and paper doesn’t exactly translate to real-life teaching scenarios. Engaging in student teaching gives you the opportunity to work with students in the classroom and get a sense of what working with a group of students every day is like. Student teaching experiences must be supervised and can be completed during or after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring teachers need a certain amount of supervised hours of student teaching before they can sit for the licensing or certification exam.
4. Get licensed or certified.
Each state requires a different license or certification to teach, so make sure to decide on your location before you earn either. If you decide to move after you’ve gotten your license or certification in one place, you must meet the requirements of your new state in order to be able to teach. All states require formal education like a bachelor’s degree, as well as the completion of a teacher preparation program. After this education and a period of student teaching, you have to pass a test. These tests often include a general section on education and a section on the specific area in which you’re looking to get certification.
5. Add an endorsement.
Once you’ve passed your exam and received your certification, you’ll have a list of your endorsements that details that grade levels and subjects you’re able to teach. If you meet the right qualifications, you can add more endorsements by completing coursework or an exam in the endorsement area. Like the requirements for general certification, the requirements for these endorsements vary by state. Adding more endorsements means you’re qualified to teach more subjects; you’ll become more hirable if you can fill more than one school position.
6. Pursue higher education.
While a bachelor’s degree is the only formal education requirement to get teaching certification, many schools are now encouraging teachers to earn higher degrees. With a master’s degree, teachers can get paid a higher salary and gain easier professional development with job flexibility and the opportunity for administrative positions. Those with a doctorate can also participate in reforming the inner workings of the educational system, conducting research on testing and school performance.
Teacher salary and job prospects.
Because there’s a wide variety of teaching opportunities, teacher pay varies depending on what kind of school you work for and what grade you’re teaching. As the requirements for certification differ widely across states, salary and job prospects have similar variation. Pay and career opportunities open up with more advanced degrees and endorsements.
Between age groups, salaries remain someone similar, with increases in pay with each school grade. Kindergarten school teachers make an average of $55,470 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); elementary school teachers make an average of $58,230 per year; middle school teachers make $58,600 per year; high school teachers make $60,320 per year.
Public vs. private.
When it comes to the dollar, public schools tend to come out on top. Base pay for public school teachers is more than 35 percent higher than base pay for private school teachers, according to Chron; while private school teachers are not required to have the same qualifications or teaching expectations as other school districts, they often live with lower income and fewer benefits.
The east coast continues to reign in the highest salaries for teachers, with average salaries elementary school teachers, post-secondary level teachers and high school teachers all taking the top in New York. States like New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut also consistently make the top five of the list. California and Alaska round off the rest of the highest paying competitors.
Regardless of the grade level or location, the teaching industry is growing and expanding; job opportunities are expected to multiply over the next five to ten years. Post-secondary teachers can expect some of the highest growth among the career pack.
Choosing to become a teacher is an exciting, fulfilling decision if you’re dedicated to learning and the students who do it. There are opportunities for numerous types of educators, whether you prefer to teach kindergarteners how to add or high school students pre-college physics. With the right degrees and certification, you can move up the ladder into administrative positions or even begin to alter the education system yourself. The options are limitless, and they’ll keep on coming for as long as teachers and students love to learn.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.