Joseph Addison, an 18th-century essayist, poet, playwright and politician once said, "What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul." That is, education is at the core of forming who we are. And those who bring education into our lives—our teachers—are therefore responsible for one of the defining experiences of our lives. It's a hefty responsibility. But if teaching is something that excites you, it can also be one of the most rewarding professions out there.
As an undergraduate education major you will study the management, methods and principles of teaching students from elementary to secondary school. You may also explore the history and theory of education, the policies, social structures and institutions that impact student outcomes and the unique needs of diverse student groups like English language learners or those who live in under-resourced communities. Depending on your program, you can often specialize in a certain area like English, math, early childhood or special education.
Successful teachers not only find ways to share knowledge. They can also inspire and motivate their students. They are great communicators, well organized and sticklers for detail. They also happen, by the way, to have healthy doses of patience.
During your final semester at college, you may have the opportunity to student teach in a classroom. This experience is often a required component of teacher preparation programs.
In most states, you'll also need to take The Praxis, created by the Educational Test Service (ETS), which measures the knowledge and skills of future teacher candidates and is used for the state licensing and certification processes. There are several types of Praxis exams, so you'll need to check with the state you would like to teach in to see which test(s) you'll need to take as well as the passing score requirements. Visit ets.org/praxis for more information.
No matter where you end up teaching, you will need a teaching license and/or certificate. According to Teacher Certification Degrees, all states require a bachelor's degree (at a minimum), the completion of a traditional or alternative teacher preparation program and a background check. Many states also require student teaching experience. Teacher candidates all need to take a certification exam, although exactly what kind and how many, as noted earlier, varies by state. Visit Teacher Certification Degrees or your state's department of education to see what the requirements include.
As an education major, you have options when it comes to deciding what type of teacher you want to be. Possible job titles include kindergarten and elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, high school teacher, English/science/math teacher, preschool teacher and special education teacher.
Where You Could End Up Living
As a teacher, you likely can find job opportunities all over the country. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2019 some of the most populated states also have the highest levels of employment for secondary school teachers. Those include:
- California (109,840)
- Texas (107,190)
- New York (75,360)
- Florida (50,640)
- Ohio (47,510)
The list is similar for elementary school teachers except that Ohio is replaced by Illinois.
The highest paying states for secondary school teachers include New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey. Elementary school teachers are paid the most in New York, California, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and Connecticut.
How Much Do Teachers Make?
According to the BLS, as of May 2019, the median annual wage (the midway point, not the average) for high school teachers was $61,660. But salaries varied from a low of less than $40,540 for the bottom 10 percent to more than $99,660 for the top 10 percent.
Elementary school teachers, excluding special education, earned similar amounts. Their median annual wage as of May 2019 was $59,670 with the bottom 10 percent of earners taking home less than $39,020, and the top 10 percent bringing in more than $97,900.
In both case public school teachers earned slightly more than private school teachers.
Job Outlook for Teachers
At 4 percent, job growth for high school teachers from 2019-2029 is expected to be about the same as the average for all occupations. For elementary school teachers during that same time period, growth is expected to be the same, at 4 percent. In both cases, while enrollment should increase, the number of jobs will largely be dictated by state and local government budgets.
At the high school level, teachers who specialize in math, science, English as a second language, and special education should have the best job prospects as these are often hard-to-fill subject areas for many schools.