How to become a teacher
Pursuing a teaching career requires more than just earning the appropriate degrees and teaching certificate — it takes quite a bit of soul-searching, too. Here, a seasoned educator shares tips on what you need to do before stepping in front of a class:
Understand your passions.
“Teaching is a complex, demanding and essential profession — it is not just a job,” says Connie Lorthridge, EdD, a veteran teacher and administrator who now serves as regional assistant dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education.
She recommends that anyone considering teaching carefully weigh their likes and dislikes, as well as their motivations for wanting to enter the field.
“Have a conversation with yourself and others about your personal strengths, interests and passions,” she says. “Are you interested in teaching the whole child, like in elementary education — or are you more subject-oriented, as in high school?”
Spend some time with kids.
“You’d be surprised how many people I encounter who say they want to be teachers but don’t really know if they like working with children,” Lorthridge notes.
The best way to know if you have the right temperament for education is to spend time with kids, she explains. She recommends volunteering at local schools, perhaps as a room parent or aide. If that’s not an option, she suggests getting involved in children’s activities in your area, like Little League or teaching Sunday school.
Research your state’s licensing requirements.
Requirements for teaching in the public school system vary greatly by state, so it’s crucial to research your state’s rules and plan accordingly. Most states also require that you have your state teaching certificate in hand before applying for jobs, according to Lorthridge.
“I always recommend that prospective teachers begin by visiting their state’s Department of Education website,” she says. “A degree alone doesn’t qualify you to teach; the certificate will.” Obtaining your certificate can require a specific combination of degrees, student teaching hours, background checks and passing standardized tests, depending on your state’s rules.
Prepare for and pass teacher exams.
Like licensing requirements, teaching examinations vary by state, but there are some general similarities, according to Lorthridge. “Most states require three exams: general knowledge, subject area and a professional educator exam,” she explains, noting that your state’s Department of Education can connect you with preparation resources.
Explore the job market.
Aspiring educators should also consider the demand in a given area, and whether their skills and interests match up with available openings, Lorthridge advises.
“Right now, there is huge national demand for science, technology and math teachers, as well as English as a second language (ESL) teachers,” Lorthridge notes, adding that many states are seeking teachers with credentials in reading or special education. “State Department of Education websites have good information about each state’s need for teachers,” she adds.
Be open to alternative career paths.
In a seniority-driven profession like teaching, your first job might not be your ideal one, Lorthridge cautions. “While your dream might be to teach kindergarten, the only available opening could be sixth grade.”
As in other respected professions, she notes, experience and professional networking will open up opportunities for advancement and attainment of your ideal placement.