There is no career that's more important than teaching. While you might make more money or gain greater respect in another field, earning an education degree has more important benefits. Teachers change lives for the better every single day. If you want to be a teacher, it's very likely because you had a teacher who changed yours.
The first step in earning an education degree is deciding what kind of teacher you'd like to be. Some people are naturals with the little guys, while others like the spunk of middle school students. For some teachers, high school is where the satisfaction lies. Perhaps you want to teach on the college level. Do you have a particular talent or skill, a deep love of art, music or literature, or a fascination with fossils? Are you drawn to helping children with special challenges, or those with unique gifts? Consider pursuing an education degree that will allow you to teach in the field of your choice. Spend some time online investigating all the different types of teaching careers before deciding upon a school; you'll want to attend a school that will offer the kinds of learning you'll need for the path you intend to pursue.
Consider researching the type of education degree you'll need by sitting down with some teachers and asking questions. Interview long- time teachers as well as teachers who have recently earned their education degrees. Make a list of questions so you don't forget something important. Your list might include some of the following:
- What do you find most satisfying about teaching?
- What do you find most frustrating?
- How do the teachers in your building interact on grade level and between grade levels?
- What responsibilities, in addition to classroom teaching, are expected of you?
- How do you deal with different types of learners?
- How did your education degree prepare you to handle discipline problems?
- What types of issues are you expected to resolve on your own?
- To what degree do your administrators allow you to make decisions independently?
- How do you address the different types of parenting styles?
- How much time outside of work do the teachers in your building spend preparing for lessons, grading papers, attending conferences?
- What kinds of continuing education is offered or required by the district?
It's important to recognize that district policies affect the teaching environment in schools; even so, two schools in the same district might be very different due to the types of administrative personalities. Be sure to speak with teachers at different grade levels, in different schools and, if possible, in different districts in order to get a realistic sense of what teaching involves. This will help you determine what type of teaching or teaching environment will suit you best.
Of course, becoming a teacher means first becoming a student yourself. For most types of teaching positions, a bachelor's education degree is required. Without the degree, you cannot become certified; without certification, you cannot teach in a public school or most colleges. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full- time study to complete. By now, you should have a pretty clear idea of the type of education degree is right for you.
Next, it's time to investigate teacher education programs that focus on your preferred area. Not all programs are equal; there are two very practical reasons for wanting to select the best school you can find. First, of course, is that you want an education degree that reflects a high level of quality in your own education. Unless you're trained to be excellent, it can take time to develop the kinds of classroom skills you'll need. Also, bear in mind that for employers, certain schools are considered more prestigious. This can make the difference in whether or not you land that perfect teaching position or have to settle for second best.
Make sure the teacher program you select is accredited. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the major accrediting organization for teacher education programs in the United States.
Once you've earned your education degree, you'll need to learn about state certification requirements. While many qualification requirements are common to every state, each state sets its own certification prerequisites. Make sure the sources you check are current, as states frequently adjust their requirements to meet the needs of their students.
Once you've found the best program for you, studied hard and earned your education degree, you're almost there! Before obtaining your teaching license or certificate, your state will require you to pass one or more tests to demonstrate you have a sufficient understanding of the content area in which you will teach, and the basic skills required to successfully meet the needs of your students.
While your education degree will give you many of the skills and much of the knowledge you'll need, you'll discover that once on the job, you'll continue to learn from other teachers and the students themselves.
Choosing the Right Education Degree Program
You know you were made to teach, but how should you go about choosing the right education degree program? Options abound, and because there are so many, it's important to know what each type of degree will offer in terms of future job security, advancement, income, and most importantly, personal satisfaction. Keep in mind that there are many ways to go about pursuing your dream. If you've got your heart set on a career that will require a higher level of education degree, it will cost more and take longer to get there. But you can build to your ultimate goal by attending school part- time or participating in a distance learning program so you can continue to earn an income and schedule your class time around your current job.
First, if you want to teach in a public school at a kindergarten through high school level, you'll need a bachelor's degree in education. This is typically a four- year program, following which you'll need to sit for a state certification or licensing exam before you're eligible for a teaching position in a public school. If you've already got a bachelor's in another field, you should research teacher certification programs which will build upon the degree you've currently got. Alternatively, there are a number of programs in most states that allow you to combine life- experience with a series of examinations to earn alternative certification. You can shape your degree to become a classroom teacher in an elementary education program if you like the idea of spending the day teaching your students a range of subjects. If you'd rather focus on one area, such as science or language arts, you'll work toward a degree that trains you for the middle and high school level.
Love words? If so, check out programs designed for English teachers. Some of the options include teaching language arts at any grade level, or teaching students for whom English is not their first language. If your intent is teaching at the college level, you'll most likely need at least a master's degree in addition to your bachelor's. You can take it a step further to earn a doctoral degree, as well. Not only will you graduate with an extremely solid background in how to teach English, you'll find better job opportunities.
Another specialized language-oriented field is literacy education. Becoming a reading teacher can be an incredibly rewarding experience. This exciting field has gone through a number of transformations in recent years and continues to evolve as the results of research shape the ways learning to read is approached.
Perhaps you are interesting in teaching adults who have returned to the classroom for further training in continuing education programs. You should look for specialized programs that focus on that segment of the population. Technological advances are occurring at such a rapid speed that the need for teachers who have education degrees specifically designed to work with adults will find this is a growing field.
Maybe it's the littlest learners that put the biggest smile on your face. In that case, you'll want to find an early childhood education program that will teach you how young minds think and reason, as well as how to tailor your instruction for the unique needs of preschoolers.
If you're a creative soul with an interest in visual art, consider going into a program in art education. As a specialist, you just might inspire a child who grows up to become a highly respected visual artist. You'll spend your days working with paint, paper, form, texture, multi-media and more. The best part about being a classroom art teacher is that in addition to inspiring your students, you'll find yourself equally inspired by them.
If you've got the kind of mind that combines innovation with organization, you might want to look into an education degree that specializes in business education. This is a very broad field with dozens of sub- specialties, and it is constantly evolving so you'll find yourself relatively secure in terms of work.
Earning an education degree in instructional technology will teach you to teach others using the latest media, including new computer programs and hardware, the internet, video, and social networking. This field is exploding with possibilities and will likely guarantee you a very successful future. A related area is library science; such programs teach you to use all manner of media to educate young minds.
Another rapidly growing area is special education. If you are interested in teaching learners with physical, emotional or learning challenges, this is the degree for you. If you are particularly interested in helping students who need emotional or psychological therapeutic support, look into an education degree in counseling.
If you are interested in becoming a building principal or school administrator, you'll want to find a school that offers an educational leadership program.
Regardless of the type of education degree you decide is right for you, there are very few career choices you could make that would be more satisfying. Without teachers, where would the world be?
Successful completion of a teaching program and receipt of an education degree doesn't mean you're qualified to take on the responsibilities of a classroom in a public school just quite yet. First, you'll need to earn your teacher certification. While all states require their public school teachers be certified, the prerequisites can vary from state to state, although some prerequisites are common to all.
In addition to a bachelor's degree from at an accredited institute of higher learning, one requirement common to all states is that a certain number of student teaching hours have been completed as part of the degree. The number of hours can vary from state to state, and are typically part of the work completed in order to be granted an education degree. Experiencing sufficient supervised classroom teaching practice is one of the ways future employers know you're really ready to take on the challenges of your own classroom or specialty area. When these prerequisites have been fulfilled, you'll sign up for the tests required by your state; this might include a national test in addition to or in lieu of a state test. It is also possible to gain teacher certification by alternative routes in which you successfully document and demonstrate through life experience and tests that you already have the necessary skills and knowledge.
Don't assume that the certification examination is simply a matter of protocol. While completing an accredited teacher program means you've been exposed to the skills and content necessary to teach, the certification exam is not just a formality. It's important to take test preparation very seriously. In most cases, you'll need to put in long study hours reviewing your understanding of English, science, social studies and math.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013