The Road to Becoming a Teacher
Senior Project Research Paper
January 8, 2002
The Road to Becoming a Teacher
Teachers bear the heavy responsibility of molding the minds of our nation’s most precious resource, its children. The road to becoming a teacher is a long one, involving post-high school education, people skills, and a desire to change lives. These traits, when accompanied by experience and good techniques, form the foundation for an effective, life-altering educator.
Before anything else, teachers must have a desire to impact the lives of their students (Education). Some teachers teach because they want to help children learn and grow and would like to make a contribution to society. Others have an intellectual fascination with a certain subject (such as math or history), have been inspired by one of their own teachers, or feel they have a sense of commitment to their country (Recruit). One thing is certain, teachers that go into the profession for selfish reasons will find it hard to commit to their career. The salary for a teacher is not likely to make a person rich, so their motives must be based on helping improve the minds of future generations (Kizlik).
If there is a desire to be a teacher, it must also be coupled with education, training, and preparation. To serve as a public school educator, one must have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, completed an approved teacher education program, and be licensed (School Teachers). These qualifications are universal for all fifty States and the District of Columbia. Instructors may be licensed to teach the early childhood grades (usually nursery school through grade 3); the elementary grades (grades 1 through 6 or 8); the middle grades (grades 5 through 8); a secondary education subject area (usually grades 7 through 12); or a special subject, such as reading or music (usually grades K through 12) (School Teachers).
The requirements for licensing differ from state to state. However, it is a necessity to complete an approved teacher-training program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits as well as practiced teaching, supervised by an official. In addition, nearly all States demand applicants for teacher licensure to be tested for competency in basic skills such as reading, math, teaching, and subject matter proficiency (School Teachers). Most states use a standardized version of this test, known as the PRAXIS exam (Recruit).
It is recommended that prospective teachers take 24 to 36 credits in an area of specialization and 18 to 24 credits in teaching courses (Princeton). Teachers also must be able to communicate, inspire trust and confidence, motivate, and understand the educational and emotional needs of their students (School Teachers). Potential educators are advised to gain skills in communications, organization, and time management (Princeton).
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education accredits more than 500 teacher education programs in the United States. In most cases, four-year colleges require students to wait until their sophomore year before applying for admission to teacher education programs. The traditional education programs for kindergarten and elementary teachers include courses in mathematics, physical science, social science, music, art, and literature, as well as prescribed professional education courses such as philosophy of education, psychology of learning, and teaching methods. Hopeful secondary school teachers have two options. They may either major in the subject they plan to teach while also taking education courses, or major in education while taking their subject courses (School Teachers).
In addition to traditional licensure, some states offer what is called “Emergency Licensure”. These licenses bypass state licensing requirements. They are usually granted to individuals who teach in high-need subject areas, such as mathematics, science, special education, or bilingual education, or for high-need geographic areas such as urban schools (Recruit).
There are several programs for future teachers who have received their bachelor’s degree. One of the major ones, known as a “Professional Development School”, is a partnership between a university and a secondary school. Students enter the program and receive the privilege of merging the theory they have learned with practice by teaching a yearlong class first-hand (School Teachers).
After receiving their education and license, a potential teacher must work to get a job. Though the need for teachers has risen in the past years, finding a job as an instructor can prove to be difficult. The process of identifying and applying for teaching positions requires knowledge, research, organizational and interpersonal skills, determination, creativity, and patience (Recruit).
Teachers can apply for teaching positions through their college’s placement office or directly to their chosen school district (Princeton). Some suggested ways of finding employment as a teacher include searching the Internet to find districts with job openings or looking for work in geographic areas like the South or Southwest where the population is growing rapidly. They may also use the more traditional method of answering ads in newspapers (Recruit).
Before accepting any position, soon-to-be teachers should be aware of the responsibilities of their job. Teachers are expected to serve as more than just instructors. They must fill the shoes of a communicator, a disciplinarian, a conveyor of information, an evaluator, a classroom manager, a counselor, a member of many teams and groups, a decision-maker, a role-model, and a surrogate parent, to name a few (Kizlik).
Teachers must be ready to deal with an array of students with different needs. Their day usually begins around 8 a.m. where they face the difficult task of waking up their tired students and getting them ready to learn. They must find interesting ways of presenting the subjects that students often find tedious (Princeton). Affective teachers use interactive discussion and “hands on” learning to help students understand the material (School Teachers).
A teacher’s day does not hardly end when the school bell rings. Active teachers are usually involved in after school meetings, committees, assisting students, grading homework, assignments, and projects, and calling parents. These tasks all require a certain amount of personal sacrifice (Kizlik).
There have been many changes in education. Even today, the face of education is being changed and refined. Classes are becoming more and more less structured with students working in their own groups. The idea is to prepare students to enter the workforce by teaching them the skills to interact with others, adapt to new technology, and logically think through problems (School Teachers).
Even with the experience of the teacher-training programs mentioned earlier, nothing can fully prepare a person to become a teacher. According to Dr. Bob Kizlik, “Each of the roles [a teacher plays] requires practice and skills that are often not taught in teacher preparation programs. Not all who want to be teachers should invest the time and resources in preparation programs if they do not have the appropriate temperament, skills, and personality. Teaching has a very high attrition rate. Depending on whose statistics you trust, around forty percent of new teachers leave teaching within the first five years. It is obviously not what they thought it would be.”
Elementary school teachers usually are responsible for teaching the same group of children in all subjects. In some cases, two or three teachers all take responsibility for the same group of students. Teachers in secondary schools, however, focus on one subject and dive more deeply into the foundation set during elementary school (School Teachers).
The outlook for jobs in the field of education is very good. The number of teachers needed is growing more and more. As stated earlier, nearly forty percent of all teachers will quit within their first five years of educating (Kizlik). This year alone, experts estimate there will be 150,000 to 250,000 openings in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools. It is also predicted that there will be a need for 2.2 million teachers over the next ten years (Recruit).
The greatest need for teachers occurs in rural and urban areas. There is also a great shortage of teachers in specific subjects, such as math, science, bilingual education, and English as a second language (Recruit).
Despite this need, teaching is still considered to be one of the most underpaid professions for college-graduates. The average salary for a teacher in the United States in 1998 was $39,347.00 per year. California, however, is the eighth-highest paid state for teachers, receiving an average of $44,585.00 per year (Salary).
Though the pay is not high, the rewards of being an instructor are like no other. Teaching provides a person with the opportunity to give back to their community and to impact a significant number of lives. Teachers have a great responsibility laid at their feet. But, with a desire to change lives, a likeable temperament, and the proper education there is now doubt that one can find true success in the field of education.