In addition to classroom instruction, teaching careers include administrative, research, and consulting positions. As a classroom teacher, you can pursue individual passions by specializing in an area like special education or integrated STEM.
This guide helps you prepare for a career in teaching by providing information about job requirements and professional development opportunities. You can also gain insight into the different levels and types of education degrees.
Why Pursue a Career in Teaching?
Teaching careers may be challenging, but they are also highly rewarding. Educators help diverse learners develop lifelong skills and make connections with the world around them. Additionally, teachers in leadership roles conduct research and shape policy that enable schools to offer more equitable learning opportunities.
Patience and creativity are crucial characteristics of an effective educator. Teachers offer daily support to their students, identifying complex learning difficulties and altering their instructional strategies to meet the distinct needs of each student. Interpersonal communication skills are also important, since teachers must cultivate positive relationships with students and their families.
Teaching Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that education, training, and library occupations will grow by 5% between 2018 and 2028. Middle school and special education teachers stand to benefit from 3% projected growth, while high school teachers are projected to see 4% growth. The BLS also projects 7% growth for preschool teachers.
According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), every state is experiencing teacher shortages for the 2020-2021 academic year. Additionally, the growing diversity of the U.S. population has led to high demand for English as a second language (ESL) specialists.
Special education, career/technical education teachers, and support staff (e.g., librarians, social workers, and school counselors) are also in demand.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
|Preschool, Kindergarten, or Elementary School Special Education Teacher||$40,420||$42,780||$48,630||$53,590|
|High School Teacher||$40,940||$43,560||$48,990||$55,700|
Skills Gained With a Degree in Education
This section details five crucial skills students learn by enrolling in an accredited education program.
Effective communication skills allow teachers to make their lessons clear. In addition to verbal and written communication, educators must use body language to their advantage. Good posture and consistent eye contact are indications of confidence and empathy in many cultures, which can help teachers engage with a variety of students.
- Critical Thinking
Critical thinking helps educators address student questions, resolve classroom conflicts, and navigate issues among colleagues and school administrators. The ability to think critically also comes into play when teachers need to create exams and lesson plans to meet institutional goals and governmental standards.
Experienced teachers are expert multitaskers who can adapt to changing educational standards and best practices. This skill helps teachers alter their lessons, assignments, and instructional techniques to meet the needs of different students and learning settings. Adaptability also helps educators use new technologies to enhance their lessons.
In addition to teaching, educators also act as role models. Students look to their teachers for examples of how to behave in and out of school. Strong leadership skills allow teachers to engage students in lessons and tackle behavioral problems.
Teacher leaders are also more likely to receive job promotions, advancing into roles as researchers, curriculum evaluators, and academic scholars.
- Technology Integration
Educators must be able to integrate new tools into their teaching styles to reach their students. Through specialized training in instructional technology, teachers gain the ability to use computer hardware and software, as well as websites and social media platforms, to help their students understand difficult concepts and solve problems.
Teaching Career Paths
Most secondary educators teach a single content area. The following section contains overviews of five education subfields. Depending on their chosen subfield, professionals may need to obtain different types of state licensure to work in public schools.
- Reading Intervention
Reading intervention programs cover policy development; applied research skills; and instructional strategies for literacy, cognition, and certain learning disabilities. Teachers can usually pursue this career specialization as part of a graduate program. Graduates can earn the reading specialist endorsement for their teaching license after passing relevant Praxis exams.
- Special Education
Special education teachers can work in schools, government agencies, and educational research centers. They teach students with complex physical, emotional, behavioral, and developmental disabilities.
- Adult Education and Training
With an emphasis on lifelong learning, this specialization prepares teachers to work in community and postsecondary settings. Educators may also focus their training on the corporate sector, learning how to facilitate human resource development, evaluate employee work habits, and implement professional development programs.
The ESL career track allows teachers to work in community centers with diverse immigrant communities. They may also pursue careers abroad, since English is an important tool for socioeconomic development in many foreign countries. This specialization emphasizes how culture and family life impact an individual's second language acquisition.
- Curriculum and Instruction
This specialization emphasizes the theories and frameworks used to create effective school curricula. Participants learn how to align curricula with government standards and adjust lessons to meet the needs of different learners. They also learn how to evaluate curricula, instructional techniques, and learning materials.
How to Start Your Career in Teaching
Although you can work as a teaching assistant with only an associate degree in education, most teaching careers require at least a bachelor's degree. The traditional academic route includes enrolling in a bachelor's program that qualifies as a state-approved teacher preparation program.
After graduation, public school teachers must fulfill requirements established by their state board of education, which typically include passing relevant Praxis exams.
Graduates with bachelor's degrees in an unrelated field can pursue alternative teacher preparation programs like Teach For America or state-specific initiatives like the teachNOLA fellowship program. Graduates may also enroll in master's programs, many of which lead to initial teacher licensure.
Associate Degree in Education
Associate programs in education require students to complete about 60 credits, which usually takes full-time learners two years. However, students who enroll in accelerated online tracks can expedite graduation.
Core coursework covers topics like educational psychology, foundations of education, and child development. Depending on the program, students may also receive an introduction to special education and English language learning.
Many associate programs provide direct transfer opportunities to state universities. These partnerships let students apply all of their earned credits toward a bachelor's degree in education or teaching.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Education?
- Childcare Worker
Like other child development professionals, childcare workers attend to the needs of kids, helping them eat, dress, and maintain good hygiene. They also organize enrichment activities, oversee play, and track progress. In addition to schools, these professionals can work for daycare services and private employers. Alternatively, they can pursue self-employment.
- Preschool Teacher
These educators care for and instruct children under the age of five. They develop and implement curricula that focus on childhood development, including motor, language, and social skills. Preschool teachers also keep detailed records of a student's behavior to identify signs of development or emotional problems.
- Teacher Assistant
Working under the guidance of a licensed teacher, these professionals give students additional guidance and support. They reinforce lessons by working with students individually or in small groups. Teacher assistants also help with grading and attendance, prepare necessary learning materials and equipment, and monitor students outside the classroom.
Bachelor's Degree in Education
A bachelor's program in education prepares students to earn their teaching license or pursue a career in administration and management.
To earn their degrees, students must complete approximately 120 credits. Full-time students generally take four years to graduate, but many schools offer accelerated options (such as through online bachelor's programs) that allow participants to graduate in significantly less time.
Career opportunities for teaching majors vary based on their focus area. Depending on where they live, a student's specialization can also affect what endorsement they can add on to their initial teaching licensure. No matter the specialization, most bachelor's programs cover classroom management, family literacy and the young adult, and instructional decision-making.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Education?
- ESL Teacher
ESL teachers help non-native English speakers strengthen their reading, speaking, and writing skills. These educators also create activities that enable their students to understand American culture and customs. ESL teachers can work for K-12 schools, vocational schools, adult education programs, and community centers.
- High School Teacher
By earning a bachelor's in secondary education, graduates can teach grades 9-12 in core subjects like history, math, and science. High school teachers plan lessons with their students' particular needs in mind. Beyond instruction, these educators grade assignments, meet with colleagues and parents, and prepare their students for standardized testing.
- Kindergarten/Elementary School Teacher
With a bachelor's degree in elementary education, professionals can teach in K-5 classrooms. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers help students learn basic math, science, and reading skills. Their instruction usually includes demonstrations, experiments, and group projects to help young learners understand abstract concepts.
- Middle School Teacher
Bachelor's in secondary education programs also prepare graduates to teach grades 6-8. Middle school teachers build on elementary fundamentals to prepare students for high school. They often specialize in a particular content area.
- Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers adapt general lesson plans to fit the needs of students with mild to moderate emotional, learning, mental, and physical disabilities. They may also help learners with severe disabilities develop basic skills. Special education professionals who work with adults typically help their students live more independently.
Master's Degree in Education
Midcareer teachers can earn a master's degree in education to qualify for leadership roles within their schools or transition into an administrative or research profession. Enrolling in an online master's program in education allows working educators to keep their current jobs while taking classes.
Most master's programs require about 30 credits and take two years to finish. Students complete core courses in topics like child and adolescent development, literacy development and instruction, and educational assessment. Many programs culminate in a capstone experience, such as a research paper or community project.
Careers with a teaching degree are diverse, with options based on a worker's professional experience and academic focus. Master's specializations include adult and continuing education, e-learning and instructional design, and higher education administration.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Education?
- Assistant Principal
Assistant principals ensure that the standards and guidelines established by the head principal and the school board are enforced. They collaborate with teachers on scheduling, buying supplies, and classroom management. Assistant principals also oversee training and development of faculty and staff.
- Career and Technical Education Teacher
These educators provide instruction in fields like culinary arts, auto repair, plumbing, and office administration. They help students develop practical skills that allow them to find jobs immediately after graduation. Although some technical education teachers work in K-12 schools, most of them find employment at junior and vocational colleges. Individuals can sometimes qualify for this position with a bachelor's degree, although a master's can help set them apart from the competition.
- Corporate Trainer
Corporate trainers work with a company to implement professional development programs for employees. They start by assessing the needs of a business before creating engaging seminars and workshops. Corporate trainers also track progress to evaluate the effectiveness of a training program, making changes as necessary.
- Instructional Coordinator
Educators with specialized training in curriculum and instruction qualify for administrative leadership roles. Instructional coordinators oversee a school's curriculum, including learning materials and teacher performance. They can work for a single school, as part of a government team, or for a consulting firm.
- Postsecondary Education Administrator
By enrolling in a master's education administration program, students gain the communication and management skills needed to work for colleges and universities. Education administrators work in student affairs, admissions, and human resources departments. They can also work within academic departments, helping coordinate events for faculty and students.
Doctoral Degree in Education
Doctoral degrees in education are terminal degrees that prepare teachers and administrators for the highest positions in their professions.
Schools increasingly offer online doctoral programs in education to accommodate the busy schedules of working educators. These programs often deliver coursework asynchronously and allow students to complete research and practicum requirements in their communities.
Practitioner-focused Ed.D. programs take 2-3 years to complete, while research-intensive Ph.D. tracks take 4-7 years, depending on each student's dissertation requirements. Doctoral programs usually require 50-90 credits.
Learners take classes like innovation in teaching and learning, quantitative and qualitative research methods, and student equity and success. They can specialize in areas like higher education leadership, health education, and instructional technology.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Education?
- Postsecondary Teacher
With a doctorate, college professors are eligible for tenured positions. These educators instruct students in their area of expertise through lectures, laboratory training, and field experiences. Postsecondary teachers help students pursue their academic and professional goals and conduct their own research for publication.
- School Principal
School principals oversee every aspect of their institution's operations, including daily activities like morning procedures, lunch and recess, and afterschool programs. Principals recruit staff, help develop curricula, and manage the school's budget. They also engage with the community — particularly parents of students. In addition to teaching experience, principals need a graduate degree.
- Training and Development Manager
Within the business management field, training and development professionals improve an organization's effectiveness. These managers create training and professional development programs for employees after assessing their performance and the company's long-term goals. They can work in healthcare, finance, and technical production. Although some of these roles only require a bachelor's degree, many employers prefer hiring workers with a master's or doctorate.
To work in public schools, teachers must obtain state licensure after earning their bachelor's degree. Private schools are free to set their own standards and may not require licensure. The initial licensure process differs by state, so make sure you confirm the requirements with your state board of education.
Students who enroll in a state-approved teacher preparation program complete prerequisite student teaching hours as part of their academic training. Candidates then sit for exams — either the national Praxis series or state-specific tests like the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators.
Teaching licensure does not automatically transfer across state borders. Many states require teachers to complete specific steps, such as passing an additional exam, before they can transfer their license. In general, teachers must renew their license every five years by completing a certain number of continuing education credits and a performance review.
How to Advance Your Career in Teaching
After earning initial state licensure, you can advance your teaching career by gaining classroom experience. You can strengthen your instruction and curriculum development skills by collaborating with colleagues and attending networking events.
To maintain your teacher license, you must fulfill continuing education requirements, which may include taking graduate courses. Earning a master's or doctoral degree opens the door to specialized endorsements and more employment opportunities.
Certifications and/or Licensure
In addition to the state licensure needed to work in public schools, educators can pursue optional credentials to boost their employability. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers nongovernmental certification in K-12 education. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree, a valid teaching license, and at least three years of classroom experience.
Many states offer multiple levels of licensure to reflect a teacher's skill and experience. Educators can also obtain endorsements in specific areas (e.g., special education, ESL, and physical education) to further highlight their expertise.
To transition into an administrative role, professionals usually need to complete a separate licensure process as mandated by their state board of education.
After earning initial licensure, teachers usually have about five years before they need to renew their license. If their state operates a tiered licensure system, teachers can advance to the next level when they renew. This process differs by state, so consult your school and board of education to learn about relevant details.
Renewal criteria usually include a positive employer assessment and sufficient continuing education or professional development. Teachers can meet these requirements by taking classes from approved universities and private vendors, which they may be able to use to fulfill graduate program requirements.
Most states also let educators meet continuing education requirements by completing extracurricular school activities, community service, and professional certifications.
Professionals can advance their teaching careers by pursuing specialized coursework, which they also need to renew state licensure. In addition to traditional classes, teachers can take self-paced online courses, which can make it easier to juggle a busy school schedule and personal responsibilities.
Teachers can take advantage of networking opportunities offered by professional organizations, which also fund scholarships and research projects. Educators can also connect with colleagues through online platforms like BetterLesson and Edmodo, discussing classroom management strategies and sharing lesson plan ideas.
Furthermore, teachers may attend national conventions, including those hosted by SXSW EDU and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
How to Switch Your Career to Teaching
Professionals with bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields can start their teaching career by completing a master's program. In addition to elementary and secondary education programs, many graduate schools offer tracks in specialized subfields like educational leadership, instructional technology and design, and adult education and training.
If their graduate program does not lead to initial licensure, students can pursue alternative routes through state-specific initiatives or national programs, such as the New Teacher Project.
Alternatively, professionals can transition into a teaching career by applying for positions with private schools, since these institutions usually do not require a license. Depending on their education level, prospective educators can teach at community and technical colleges or pursue adjunct roles at four-year universities.
Where Can You Work as a Teaching Professional?
Many K-12 teachers, including special education professionals, work in local schools. They benefit from set schedules that allow them to take time off during the summer. Additionally, many K-12 institutions maintain tenure policies that provide job security to outstanding teachers.
For administrators, setting varies based on their skills. About 60% of instructional coordinators work in schools, while the remainder find employment with government agencies and other support service organizations.
Education professionals in the business sector, like training and development managers, can find work with multinational corporations, healthcare providers, and finance and insurance firms.
Interview With a Teacher
Stephanie Luchetta has worked with children for more than a decade. After earning her BA in humanities for teaching in 2017, she pursued a master of elementary education at the University of Southern California. After graduating in 2018, she began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
- Why did you choose to study elementary education? Was it something you were always interested in?
Teaching and pursuing a degree in education has always been a dream for me. When I was in the second grade, my teacher instilled a love of learning in me. From her influence and genuine compassion for teaching, I found joy in learning.
Growing up, I spent hours in the kitchen creating my own make-believe classroom. From that moment on, I knew what my calling in life was to become a teacher and study elementary education.
- What was your job search like after earning a bachelor's degree? Was it easy to find a job?
After earning my bachelor's degree I decided to pursue my master's degree that following school year. After earning my master's degree, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work in the school I student taught in.
Making relationships and connections, especially during student teaching placements, was very beneficial in securing my job at my current school.
- Has earning a master's degree in elementary education advanced your career? If yes, how so?
Earning a master's degree in elementary education has advanced my career and helped me continue to develop and understand what it means to be an educator.
Not only was I taught theories and principles of teaching, but I was able to apply what I learned in an elementary setting through my practicums and reflect on my teaching throughout my classwork and class discussions.
My professors were able to mentor and prepare me to work in education, specifically in the high-need area of Los Angeles. After earning my master's degree, I felt more prepared and equipped to teach and inspire the next generation of leaders.
- What advice would you give to students considering a degree in elementary education?
My advice for students who are considering a degree in elementary education would be to take the time to shadow a teacher, volunteer in a classroom setting, and talk to a teacher about the process.
I think it is really important to understand going into earning a degree in elementary education that it's not always easy.
I think it is also important to never give up. It can be very easy to say certain tests are "too hard" or that you can't do all the classwork while teaching, but reminding yourself to never give up is something that is so important.
Once you finish your degree and step inside the classroom, it's all worth it.
- What advice would you give to students who are trying to decide whether to earn an elementary education degree online or on campus?
For me personally, I earned my undergraduate and master's degrees in elementary education on campus. However, I am currently taking additional early childhood education classes online.
For students who learn better from face-to-face discussions and conversations where it comes more naturally, I would say earn a degree on campus. Many "ah-ha" moments that I had in the physical classroom, whether learning about classroom management or debriefing on a lesson, were through a face-to-face conversation with my professor and colleagues.
However, if someone is able to learn better through technology and needs more flexible hours to attend school, I would say online would be the better decision.
Taking an online class for the first time, I enjoy being able to dedicate a specific amount of my own time when I am free to work on my classwork rather than plan my day around physically attending class.
Resources for Teaching Majors
The following section contains resources that can help you start and advance your career in teaching, including free massive open online courses (MOOCs) and influential books, journals, and magazines. You can also learn about professional organizations that provide career guidance, research opportunities, and financial awards to educators.
- Professional Organizations
National Education Association: NEA represents more than 3 million education professionals working in the United States. The association provides free lesson plans and classroom management tools, awards grants to aspiring and current teachers, and organizes research and networking conferences.
American Federation of Teachers: Originally founded in 1916, AFT now serves nearly 2 million teachers and educators across the country. While the federation primarily functions as a professional union, it also helps educators share lesson plans and classroom resources, publishes guides to help its members navigate professional development opportunities, and disseminates education news through a monthly magazine and a series of blogs.
ASCD: Formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ASCD supports educators as they design, refine, and implement learning systems. Members can review the latest research on topics such as differentiated instruction, social-emotional learning, and instructional leadership. They can also access a library of online professional development resources, including webinars, white papers, and full courses.
American Association of University Professors: AAUP elevates and enhances the practices of higher education faculty and other academic professionals. The association publishes multiple scholarly journals, gives awards for exemplary service to the field, and provides guidance on issues like collective bargaining and the sanctuary campus movement. AAUP also advertises job opportunities and provides career advice to doctoral students and new faculty.
- Open Courseware
Computational Thinking For K-12 Educators - University of California, San Diego: This course is part of a four-part specialization that trains students in block-based languages that make teaching computer programming easier. Covered topics include sequences of instructions, variables, and conditional loops and if/else statements. The class also helps teachers run classroom discussions and facilitate peer instruction.
Foundations for Excellence in Teaching Online - Arizona State University: In this introductory class, educators develop the skills needed to create engaging remote and hybrid learning environments. They explore community-building activities and tools for effective discussions. This class also covers course content alignment strategies, student evaluation frameworks, and action plans for teachers who want to cultivate an engaging presence across online platforms.
Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom - Columbia University: Learners in this course examine how their own assumptions about students affect their teaching practices. They then define the key components of inclusive classrooms, including content and assessment practices that contribute to an equitable course environment. The course features higher education experts who help participants understand research concerning microaggressions, student development, and the Universal Design for Learning.
Orchestrating Whole Classroom Discussion - University of Pennsylvania: Throughout four sessions, participants learn about leading productive class discussions. Topics include what is and is not discussion, setting goals and explicit norms, and guiding conversation with text-based questions.
American School Board Journal: Founded in 1891 by the National School Boards Association, ASBJ covers pertinent issues and changes to the U.S. public school landscape. Over 84,000 education leaders subscribe to the journal, which explores policy development, school governance, and student achievement. ASBJ also covers funding opportunities, like the Magna Awards for school programs that support underserved learners.
Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning: Published six times annually, this magazine covers all topics related to higher education. The publication offers accessible articles that analyze major and emerging educational practices, policies, and programs. Educators may submit essays for publication.
Educational Technology & Society: ET&S is an open-access academic journal published quarterly with the support of the National Yunlin University of Science. The publication focuses on articles that translate pedagogical and technological research into practical applications for teachers and school administrators. Recent topics include developments in STEM education and artificial intelligence models for teaching/learning.
Education Week: An independent news organization, Education Week delivers comprehensive news, analysis, and opinions on K-12 issues. Through the Research Center, readers can find statistical reports on topics like early reading instruction and gifted education. Education Week also maintains a section specifically for teachers, where instructors can explore best practices and apply for jobs.
Language Magazine: This monthly publication improves literacy and communication by providing news that focuses on dual-language and bilingual language programs worldwide. Articles are currently divided into six sections: education, indigenous, research, science and technology, world, and COVID-19. Educators also benefit from job listings and professional development resources.
Teachers and Teaching: This international academic journal publishes research about teacher education, the teaching profession, and educational institutions. Readers can also learn about the life histories of specific teachers all over the world. Furthermore, Teachers and Teaching provides a forum where researchers from different cultures and academic backgrounds can talk, critique, and collaborate.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is teaching a good career?
Careers in teaching are suitable for people with strong communication, critical thinking, and leadership skills. According to BLS projections, education occupations will grow by 5% between 2018 and 2028. The ED reports teacher shortages in every state, with particularly high demands for special and technical education teachers.
- What can I do with a degree in education?
With an education degree, you can work as a classroom instructor, teaching students at the preschool, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels. Education administrators, like principals and counselors, manage funds and help students handle interpersonal issues. Graduates with an education degree can also work as community advocates, corporate trainers, and instructional coordinators.
- How do I become a teacher?
You can begin a career in teaching by earning an accredited bachelor's degree in education. Throughout your four-year undergraduate program, you will learn core learning theories and classroom practices and complete independent research and a student teaching experience. After graduation, you must obtain state teaching licensure if you want to work for a public school.
- What is the highest-paying teaching job?
College instructors earn the most among education, training, and library occupations, with a median annual salary of $79,540. Alternatively, individuals can follow a less traditional route and become training and development managers; these professionals earn median wages of $113,350 annually.