Education Careers

Entering the education field is a great way to make a positive impact on students of all ages. As older teachers retire and school districts work to comply with state and national curriculum standards, more jobs will be available for qualified educators. The demand is especially high for teachers who are certified in science and mathematics.

Teaching jobs are ideal for people who are enthusiastic, creative, patient, and encouraging. As a teacher, you must be able to juggle competing priorities, remain calm when you are frustrated, and manage your classroom in a way that makes learning fun without letting things get out of hand. Although teachers plan their lessons carefully, it’s important to be flexible. Teaching may not be for you if you dislike interruptions or prefer to follow a step-by-step plan for each task.

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Employment of teachers varies by state, but every state employs tens of thousands of teachers, education administrators, teaching assistants, and other education professionals. This map shows the average salary for each state as well as salary data for educational administrators, elementary teachers, secondary teachers, and postsecondary teachers.

Education Employment Snapshot

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most teaching jobs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but you don’t have to major in education to get a teaching certificate. Some educators major in a subject area, such as biology or literature, then complete a post-baccalaureate teacher training program. If you are interested in studying educational theory, completing a bachelor’s degree in elementary or secondary education gives you a solid foundation for starting your teaching career. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you may even be able to apply for an emergency teaching certification if there is a shortage of teachers in your state.

Bachelor of Education

A bachelor’s degree in education prepares you to teach children at the primary, middle, and secondary levels. Introductory courses focus on the history of education, basic educational theory, and effective learning strategies. Psychology and human development courses help entry-level teachers understand how children approach unfamiliar topics and learn new things. Upper-level courses typically focus on teaching methods and learning theories. Some programs have a technology requirement to introduce students to the use of multimedia materials in an educational setting.

After completing a bachelor’s in education graduates either move into entry-level teaching jobs or take graduate courses. It usually takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in education, but it may take longer if you plan to attend school part-time.

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Master of Education (MEd)

A master’s degree in education builds on the basic concepts you learned in your undergraduate program and gives you a chance to explore additional career opportunities. The curriculum varies by program, but it’s common for master’s programs to include coursework in instructional design, educational psychology, educational leadership, curriculum development, and classroom technology.

Depending on the type of degree you pursue, you may be required to conduct research and write a thesis before you graduate from a master’s program. If your program has a thesis requirement, expect to spend two semesters conducting research, writing a first draft, and working with your advisor to polish the finished product. It typically takes two to three years to complete a master’s degree in education, but it may take as little as 18 months if you take several classes each semester.

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Doctor of Education (EdD)

EdD programs are designed for people who are interested in the practical applications of educational theory. Students in this type of program typically have several years of experience in the education field. Although a doctorate is not required for most teaching jobs, obtaining a doctorate early in your career can help you advance into administrative roles.

The first few courses in a doctoral program typically focus on leadership theory, research methods, human development, and curriculum development. As you advance in the program, you’ll have the opportunity to choose an area of concentration aligned with your career goals. It may take up to six years to complete a doctoral degree depending on how many credits you complete each term and how long it takes to complete your final research project.

Once you complete the minimum educational requirements to become a teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to choose a specialization that matches your interests. Education majors have many options; below are some of the most common specializations they can choose from. It’s important to remember that not every school has the same programs.

Early Childhood Education

The early childhood education specialization prepares teachers to work with students in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school. Coursework includes children’s literature, early childhood literacy, child development, and creative play.

Educational Leadership

Educational leadership prepares students to fill administrative roles in public and private schools. You may have to complete a capstone project or practicum after completing courses in strategic planning, organizational leadership, process management, and knowledge management.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology courses can make you a more effective teacher, but they can also prepare you for a career in educational research. You’ll complete courses in psychological research, human development, instructional design, and the psychological foundations of education.

Educational Technology

Classroom technology is always changing, creating a demand for education professionals who know how to build online courses and help students use technology tools. If you specialize in educational technology, expect to complete coursework in education theory, multimedia technology, online curriculum development, and online teaching strategies.

Literacy

The literacy specialization is ideal for educators who want to work as reading teachers or reading specialists. Core courses include children’s literature, young adult literature, literacy instruction, elementary and secondary reading assessment, and language diversity.

Multicultural Education

Specializing in multicultural education is a great way to learn how to help students of all races and ethnic backgrounds. This specialization is also ideal if you want to assume a leadership role in an institution that has diversity or race-relations initiatives. After completing basic courses in education theory, you’ll focus on ethnic diversity and multicultural education.

TESOL/ ESL/ Bilingual

If you are interested in teaching abroad, the TESOL/ESL specialization gives you the skills you need to teach English to speakers of other languages. This specialization includes coursework in curriculum design, English structure, language analysis, and sociolinguistics.

Special Education

The special education certification prepares teachers to work with students in special populations. Depending on your interests, you may take courses in autism spectrum disorders, general special education, emotional disturbances, teaching gifted and exceptional children, and learning disabilities.

STEM Education

There is an increased demand for teachers who know how to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The STEM specialization includes coursework in STEM instruction, learning technologies in STEM, and STEM educational standards.

Student Teaching

Student teaching gives you a chance to put everything you have learned into practice before you apply for jobs in education. As a student teacher, you have the opportunity to work closely with experienced educators as you learn how to write lesson plans, assess student achievement, and deliver lessons to a classroom full of students.

Most student teaching experiences last for a minimum of eight weeks. You may be assigned to one classroom for the entire eight weeks, or you may have to split your time between two classrooms. Doing the latter gives you exposure to different student populations and helps you build stronger connections in the education field. In addition to preparing and delivering lessons, you are responsible for acting as a role model for your students. Therefore, you must show up on time, follow all of the school rules, and set a good example with your words and actions.

Teaching Certifications

Obtaining a teaching certification is a necessary step on the path to a job in education. Certification requirements vary by state, but certification is required in all public schools. If you aren’t sure what your state requires, look up the requirements before you register for any certification exams.

Praxis

The Praxis core test includes reading, writing, and mathematics assessments for educators. Subject assessments are also available in teaching foundations, subject-specific teaching skills, and principles of learning and teaching. If your state requires these tests, you need to take and pass them before you apply for a teaching license. Some colleges and universities also use Praxis scores to determine if students have the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in undergraduate education programs. Once you register for an exam, take time to complete several practice tests. The more you practice, the more prepared you’ll be to answer the multiple-choice questions and essay prompts typically found on Praxis exams.

American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence

The American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence offers an alternative path to certification for people who already have a bachelor’s degree and don’t have the time or money to go back to school for a degree in education. The training program is approved in Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Idaho, New Hampshire, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Utah. ABCTE also certifies teachers in subject areas such as biology, general science, physics, mathematics, and English language arts. It typically takes eight to 10 months to complete this self-paced program. If you want to teach at a private school, check to see if your local school accepts ABCTE certification.

National Board Certifications

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers an advanced certification for experienced teachers. This voluntary certification exceeds state standards and serves as a mark of excellence for teaching professionals. Certification is available in several disciplines, including career and technical education, world languages, science, physical education, art, and English as a new language. Each certification is based on standards developed by committee members. Obtaining this certification has several benefits, but check with your state department of education before registering. The NBC is not intended to replace state certification, so you may not be able to teach unless you also pass a state certification exam.

Continuing Education

Continuing-education courses help teachers keep their skills fresh, learn new teaching strategies, and network with other educators. Every state requires some form of continuing education to maintain your teaching license, but the requirements vary. In some states, completing graduate coursework counts toward the CEU requirement; in other states, you have to complete courses offered by an approved provider.

General courses are available in classroom management, student motivation, project-based learning, and creative writing. Some providers also offer subject-specific courses in mathematics, literacy education, science, and world languages. If you do not complete the required number of continuing-education units, you may lose the opportunity to teach in your state.

Distance Learning Opportunities

Many institutions offer education programs that are entirely online, making it easy to keep up with continuing-education requirements, obtain relevant certificates in your area of interest, and even pursue a master’s or doctorate in education. Distance learning is ideal for people with careers in education because you don’t have to worry about commuting to campus or leaving work early to make it to class. Enrolling in an online program makes it easier to balance the demands of a degree or certificate program with the demands of a full-time job.

When you enroll in a distance-learning program, expect to spend a lot of time reading the course materials and communicating with other students via email or discussion groups. Your instructor may ask you to respond to discussion questions, giving you a chance to network with other teachers and learn new strategies for managing your classroom. If an online-only program isn’t for you, look for a school that offers hybrid programs. A hybrid program is a blend of traditional classroom instruction and online courses.

There are dozens of education jobs at every level of the career path, from Spanish teachers to physics teachers. Although there are many opportunities for specialization, these are the general teaching levels available for qualified educators. All information below is based on facts and figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Education Careers

Adult Literacy and Diploma Equivalency Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $50,280
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 77,500

Adult literacy and diploma equivalency teachers help adult students develop the skills needed to obtain employment or pass the GED exam. Duties include assessing students, teaching lessons to adult students, monitoring student progress, emphasizing skills needed in the workplace, and helping students develop study skills. Adult literacy teachers are usually employed by public schools, nonprofit organizations, and community colleges.

Career and Technical Education Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $52,800
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 4%
  • Number of People Employed: 231,800

Career and technical instructors help students prepare for entry-level careers in fields such as health care, cosmetology, horticulture, marketing, and welding. In addition to preparing and delivering lesson plans, career and technical education teachers must be able to demonstrate how to use a variety of equipment. The majority of these education jobs are available in public schools, but technical schools and junior colleges also hire career and technical education teachers.

Elementary School Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $54,550
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,517,400

This career is ideal for a teacher who is patient and enthusiastic. Elementary school teachers are responsible for creating lesson plans, observing students, grading assignments, providing individual assistance to students who need academic help, and enforcing classroom rules. As an elementary school teacher, you may also be required to supervise recess or serve as a lunch monitor.

High School Teachers (Secondary)
  • Mean Annual Salary: $57,200
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 961,600

As a high school teacher, you have the power to influence young adults as they enter the working world or go off to college. Responsibilities include planning and delivering lessons, evaluating students based on their strengths and weaknesses, grading assignments, providing individualized help to students who need it, and helping students prepare for state-mandated standardized tests. Secondary school teachers typically teach grades nine through 12.

Middle School Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $55,860
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 627,500

Middle school teachers focus on teaching students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. The job duties of a middle school teacher are similar to those of a high school teacher, except classroom activities are tailored to younger students. Middle school teachers may also be asked to advise student clubs or serve as chaperones on school-sponsored trips.

Special Education Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $56,800
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 450,700

As a special education teacher, you work with students who have a variety of physical, emotional, mental, and learning disabilities. For most special education jobs, you need to adapt lesson plans based on the learning abilities of your students. Special education jobs also involve developing individualized education plans, supervising teaching assistants, organizing student activities, and providing one-on-one assistance to students with disabilities.

Preschool Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $28,570
  • Degree/Certification Required: Associate
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 441,000

Preschool teacher is one of the few careers in education that does not require a bachelor’s degree. Depending on where you are employed, your duties may include planning the curriculum, organizing student activities, teaching young children how to recognize shapes and colors, and monitoring the progress of each student. Parents rely on preschool teachers to take note of milestones and watch for signs of developmental problems.

Postsecondary Teachers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $72,470
  • Degree/Certification Required: Master’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 13%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,313,000

Postsecondary teachers are employed by colleges, universities, technical schools, and two-year colleges. In addition to teaching college-level courses, postsecondary teachers are usually expected to conduct research and publish papers in their areas of expertise. The duties of a postsecondary teacher include teaching college courses, developing instructional plans, grading exams and papers, supervising graduate students, and serving on academic committees. You may also be asked to serve as a student advisor.

Teacher Assistants
  • Mean Annual Salary: $24,900
  • Degree/Certification Required: None
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,234,100

Under the supervision of a teacher, teaching assistants provide individualized attention to students who need extra help mastering new material. Teaching assistants also enforce classroom rules, track attendance, supervise students when the teacher is out of the classroom, and prepare materials in advance of each lesson. Some teaching assistants are assigned to one student, while others work with several students in the same classroom.

Alternative Education Careers

There are several jobs in education that don’t require you to spend all of your time in the classroom. Some of these jobs are ideal for experienced teachers, while other careers require a different set of credentials. Here are a few examples of non-classroom careers in education.

Education Administrator
  • Mean Annual Salary: $92,940
  • Degree/Certification Required: Master’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 235,110

Education administrators perform a variety of administrative functions at elementary schools, secondary schools, universities, and two-year colleges. In elementary and secondary schools, education administrators usually have the title of principal or vice-principal. College administrators are often referred to as deans. An administrator’s responsibilities include training and supervising faculty members, managing departmental budgets, maintaining positive relationships with students and parents, creating and implementing policies, and organizing educational activities.

Instructional Coordinators
  • Mean Annual Salary: $62,270
  • Degree/Certification Required: Master’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 151,100

Instructional coordinators develop school curricula and help faculty and staff members implement new programs. This job involves analyzing student test scores, conducting teacher training workshops, recommending educational materials, mentoring teachers, assessing curriculum implementation, and recommending new teaching techniques. Instructional coordinators are employed by colleges, private schools, public schools, and technical schools.

Librarians
  • Mean Annual Salary: $56,880
  • Degree/Certification Required: Master’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 2%
  • Number of People Employed: 143,100

Librarians assist people with academic and personal research by teaching classes, organizing library materials, and developing library databases. A librarian is also responsible for administering budgets, training library assistants, ordering new materials, and helping students conduct research. School librarians usually work for elementary schools, high schools, and universities, but they are also employed by technical colleges and career centers.

School Counselor
  • Mean Annual Salary: $53,660
  • Degree/Certification Required: Master’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 8%
  • Number of People Employed: 273,400

School counselors use their skills to help students of all ages succeed in school. A school counselor works directly with teachers and school administrators to evaluate student performance, identify areas for improvement, and help students overcome emotional and behavioral problems. School counselors also provide one-on-one counseling; help students develop strong study skills; and administer programs on harassment, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, and life skills.

School Nurse
  • Mean Annual Salary: $67,490*
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 2,751,000*
  • Number of People Employed: 67,464

School nurses work for public and private schools, hospitals, boards of education, nonprofit organizations, universities, and public health agencies. In addition to providing basic first aid in the event of an illness or injury, school nurses educate students about health and wellness. School nurses are often involved in campaigns aimed at reducing illegal drug use and underage drinking.

* data is for all registered nurses

The Importance of Substitute Teachers

Substitute teachers play an important role in elementary school and secondary schools. If a teacher is absent, a substitute sits in on all of the teacher’s classes for the day, ensuring students have proper supervision at all times. Because there is such a shortage of qualified substitute teachers, some schools are having a difficult time trying to arrange coverage for absent educators.

The requirements to become a substitute teacher vary by state, but most states require that you have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. A few states have such severe shortages that they are willing to accept substitute teachers who have not yet completed college. If you meet the minimum education requirements, the next step is usually a background check and fingerprinting. Once you have been cleared for jobs in education, you have to obtain a substitute teacher certification. Some school districts require that you take training courses or pass an exam, but others are willing to grant emergency certification due to a shortage of substitutes.

Edward Steinhauser High School Teacher

Please summarize your academic and professional experience

I come from a family of educators, and before I was even aware of it, education was the field I was meant to be in. I graduated from Boston College in 2009 with a BA in history and a minor in education. After graduation, I earned my teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach in 2011 and my MAEd in curriculum and instruction in 2013. Currently, I am working towards an administrative credential and an MA in education administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills. I have been teaching for four years and have had the privilege of working with some of the most innovative and professional educators in the country. I started my teaching career at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), where I developed a high school preparatory curriculum called Skills Obtained for Academic Readiness (SOAR) and taught AP United States history. While at OCSA, I quickly saw the importance of getting involved in order to work towards improving the academic experience of the students. I was part of the Technology Committee as well as the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Committee, and was co-facilitator of our history/social science curriculum team. This year I returned to my alma mater, Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA, to teach AP United States history and AP seminar. Over the course of the year, my career path has taken me in new and exciting directions, including becoming the Chromebook/Edtech Coordinator and Linked Learning Pathways Coordinator for my school in addition to teaching AP research next year.

What factors should students take into account when considering a degree in education?

Education is much more than summer vacation. Educators have the privilege of working with the next generation of students to help them grow to be involved citizens, innovators, and compassionate human beings. If you are thinking about becoming a teacher, first ask yourself why you want to become a teacher. While the benefits are good and guaranteed breaks are nice, those things will not make the day-to-day experience enjoyable. If you are someone who wants to make a difference in the lives of others and be a positive role model in the lives of children, many of whom are looking to you for guidance, then you are on the right path. The next question to ask yourself is what you are passionate about. Whether you teach elementary or secondary school, you should enjoy the content that you are paid to teach. However, school is much more than just content acquisition. Think about what made school memorable for you. How can you promote a culture of learning and a growth mindset in your students? Take classes that inspire you and help you grow as a learner. If you are not a learner you can’t expect your students to be.

What do you find most fulfilling about teaching?

It is hard to narrow it down to just one thing, but I will provide two aspects; one professional and one personal. Professionally, it may seem cliche, but it is really something when the students “get it”. To see their growth over the course of the year and see them become self-directed learners is a beautiful thing. One of my main objectives as a teacher is to have my students become educated consumers of information and have the critical thinking skills and information gathering skills to be able to come to their own conclusions. As students get better at this skill, the class environment completely changes and they are flying on their own. Personally, teaching gives me the opportunity to get to know my students as human beings. I work with teenagers, and as much as they like to think that they are adults, there is still so much “child” in them, and to see them smile and laugh and be a kid is an amazing feeling. The students are the reason why I go to work every day and if I ever get to a place where that isn’t the case, I need to find a new career.

What’s the greatest day-to-day challenge you face as an educator?

The greatest challenge I have had to face as an educator is that change does not happen fast; change in the classroom, change in the school, or change in the system. As a “newer” teacher, I have many ideas and philosophies that I would like to share and implement and it can be frustrating to work against a system that sometimes is hesitant to change or doesn’t work as fast as I would like. What I have learned is that I need to figure out how to navigate these waters, build consensus amongst my peers, and work with my administration and district staff to help them see my perspective and remain positive. As long as we continue to do what is best for students we will always be on the right path.

What type of person excels as a teacher?

The world of education needs people who are passionate about working with children and helping promote future generations to be more successful than us. A strong educator is someone who values failure as an opportunity to learn, is a learner themselves, is technologically aware and active user (it’s the way of the future), and ultimately has a good soul. Despite the data, testing, standards, grades, and everything that make education very corporate, it is still a social profession where the number one responsibility you have is to be responsible for the well-being of another human being.

What additional advice can you give to someone pursuing a teaching career?

Don’t be afraid to fail or be discouraged by a challenge. You will hear about the statistics of new teachers who change careers within the first five years of teaching, but don’t let that deter you. In many cases, I believe, those are people who did not truthfully answer why they wanted to become a teacher and what they are passionate about. The system also can be a challenge but just like we tell our students, challenges are opportunities for growth, and successful people have failed more times than they have achieved. I welcome you to a career in education and I look forward to your success!

Education Career Job Sites

  • SchoolSpring: Create a profile and browse thousands of job postings from schools all over the United States. Search jobs by state, keyword, grade level, and category.
  • U.S. Department of Education: Use the Department of Education website to search for public and private schools, colleges, universities, charter schools, and libraries in your area. The site also has information to help mid-career professionals make the transition into a teaching career.
  • TeachingJobs.com: View K-12 job lists for public, charter, and private schools.
  • Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae: Search for job openings at colleges and universities throughout the United States.
  • Teach for America: Search for job opportunities in areas where teachers are needed the most.

Continuing Education for Teachers

  • A Teacher CEU Toolbox: Access continuing-education courses created by other education professionals.
  • Learners Edge: Enroll in courses on topics such as literacy, instructional strategies, online teaching and learning technologies.
  • Advancement Courses: Register for one of more than 150 courses designed to help you meet your state’s continuing-education requirements.
  • Virtual Education Software: Maintain your teaching license by enrolling in one or more continuing-education courses on classroom management, reading, mathematics, and strategies for teaching special populations.
  • TeachME Professional Development: Search for continuing-education courses approved by your state board of education.

Professional Organization for Teachers