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Teacher How to become, career path, income potential

What does a Teacher do?

Teachers work to educate students of all ages and backgrounds. Teachers cover all walks of life, from preschool-aged to continuing education for adults. Each day in a classroom is a little different. Lesson plans are put together to cover the required curriculum. Teachers work to inspire, motivate, and encourage students to learn new things and retain important information.

Continuous learning is important in life, and teachers are there to assist each step of the way. Whether you’re learning a new language as an adult or just entering elementary school, a teacher is there to explain things, challenge the mind to grow, and be there to answer questions when you get stuck on something.

Teachers are essential in society because all other occupations would struggle to exist without them. College professors help educate future doctors, nurses, police officers, business people, and all other necessary jobs. Teachers are incredible resources for students of all ages and help with more than just reading, writing, and math. They facilitate social interactions with classmates and teach practical life skills.

Classrooms have rules, lesson plans, assignments, and supplies that teachers manage and organize. Responsibilities of the teacher include preparing students for standardized tests, grading work, communicating with families about students’ progress, and managing any special needs for their students. At the end of the day, it’s important for them to be a strong, positive role model for their students as well.

Qualifications and eligibility

There are many teacher positions, but most require at least a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field. In addition to the education requirements, most teachers need to have a valid teaching license in the state or region they are working in. Teaching licenses are obtained once education and student teaching requirements are satisfied. 

Aspiring teachers should enjoy working with others. Public speaking and problem-solving are important qualities as well. Being able to change your strategies to work with different personalities and continue to be driven by the desire to help others are great personality traits for teachers.

Work environment

Teachers work in schools of all sizes. Some teachers work remotely, but they are still responsible for managing the online classrooms of students. In addition to classroom work, some grading and lesson planning can occur in a home office or before and after school. Preschool and elementary school teachers may spend some of their school days outside and supervise students on the playground during recess or during drop off and pick up.

Typical work hours

Most teachers work Monday through Friday during the daytime hours in the classroom. The school calendar varies by district but typically goes from September through early June. Teachers can enjoy summers off and one or two longer breaks during the school year. Sometimes, these breaks are used to plan lessons and get organized for the school year, but it’s not required.


Teachers’ salaries vary depending on location, education, and how many additional roles and responsibilities the individual has taken on. On average, public school teachers have a higher salary than private school teachers. The age of the students also impacts the pay. For elementary school teachers, here are the top-paying states for annual mean wages:

  • New York – $87,700
  • California – $86,470
  • Massachusetts – $83,790
  • Washington – $83,010
  • Connecticut – $82,140

Secondary school teachers’ average salary is a little higher than elementary. Here are the top five top-paying states with the average annual mean wage:

  • California – $94,600
  • New York – $92,660
  • Massachusetts – $85,360
  • Washington – $85,260
  • Connecticut – $79,530

Steps to become a teacher

1. Graduate from high school and get a college degree

Once you’ve completed your high school education, getting a bachelor’s degree in teaching is important. Secondary school teachers can major in a subject that they want to teach, like history or English. There are also education majors that will provide a more comprehensive overview of teaching methods. 

2. Complete the state-approved teacher education program

Student teaching programs need to be completed before you can become a licensed teacher. Many colleges and universities partner with local schools to organize and facilitate these programs. You’ll observe and help out a teacher in their classroom and receive experience. Each state has specific requirements, so check to ensure you are completing the necessary steps in your education and training.

3. Pass a background check and license exam

Teachers must pass a background check after completing their education. Each municipality has specific licensing requirements. Some require testing, and others just ensure that you’ve completed the necessary education. Obtaining a teaching license will allow you to apply for teaching jobs and show that you are legally compliant. 

4. Find a great job

Search job openings for school districts. The best time to search is the summer months, but you can pick up substitute work and sometimes look for openings during the school year. Complete applications for the jobs you are qualified for, and make sure to do your research on the subject matter beforehand.

5. Continue education with classes and graduate programs

Teachers that want to increase their payscale and improve their teaching skills can apply for a graduate program and receive their master’s degree in education. Any continuing education will help improve their abilities in the classroom, so there are also many different online courses to help with new methods and ideas for lesson planning and ways to work with a new generation of students as well. Here are a few recommended online courses to try:

  • Learn new methods for creating effective lesson plans with this Udemy course. This class provides ideas for captivating classrooms and structuring your lessons. You’ll learn the five-step guide to help you plan in the future.
  • Sign up for the Foundations of Teaching for Learning program from Coursera. Work through the eight courses to learn how to create positive relationships with colleagues, students, and families. Strong relationships can help improve your skills as an educator because you’ll be able to connect better with your students.
  • Take the Coursera class about Motivating Gen Z Learners. It equips parents and teachers with ways to motivate and engage their Gen Z students. As generations change, it’s important to have more strategies for reaching younger students and comfortably connecting with them.
  • Work through The Ninth Period course from Udemy. It covers effective teaching strategies for secondary school teachers to help manage a classroom better and positively work with parents. 
  • Find out what potential blended learning has in your classroom with this Coursera course. It dives into the different blended learning models and how they can help you plan more engaging lessons and activities. 

Types of teachers

Teachers work in many different schools and locations to help educate people of all ages. The most popular types are elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers. Each one works with a specific age group and specializes in the best teaching methods for those age groups. For middle school and high school, teachers have specific topics that they teach to different groups of students. Elementary school teachers work with the same class all day, working through different subjects.

College professors work in universities and colleges and specialize in the specific subject matter. Schedules vary for professors; they may participate in research or other university work and teach a few classes each week.

Preschool teachers cover the ages before Kindergarten starts. They are knowledgeable in early childhood education, which includes teaching children basic life skills and important subjects like the alphabet, numbers, and basic language. 

Many school districts have several specialty roles for teachers as well. Special education teachers work with students that have learning disabilities or require additional attention at school. Music, art, physical education, language, and science teachers focus on these specialties and have specific experience in these areas of study.

Tips for becoming a teacher

In addition to the education and required licensing for aspiring teachers, there are some other actions you can take to improve your chances of getting a job and being an incredible teacher. 

  • Volunteer with children. Any experience you can gain working with children and students will help you as you become a teacher. You’ll have a better idea of what methods work to communicate to kids and engage them in the learning process.
  • Organize your lesson plans and ideas. Having some fun activities documented from your time in college or student teaching will give you a head start when you start teaching.
  • Build a network of other teachers and educators. Find people you feel comfortable sharing ideas with, brainstorming with, and asking for feedback from.
  • Learn goal-setting strategies. Students have all kinds of unique strengths and weaknesses. The strategies that work for one student might not work for others. Learn about different methods to try out.
  • Practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Public speaking is a huge part of being a teacher, so continue honing your skills and learning new tips and tricks.
  • Be a strong role model for your peers, students, and community.
  • Study different learning styles. Each generation comes with its own unique challenges and strengths. The more you know about the learning styles, the better you’ll be able to cater your lesson plans and teaching styles to match.
  • Observe other teachers and their styles. You can learn much from watching other teachers at work and picking up some tips and tricks.
  • Know the local guidelines and curriculum requirements for your district. Stay up to date with changes as they happen as well.

Position trends

The number of teaching jobs is expected to increase at an average rate. As the population grows, there will be a higher demand for teachers. There is a higher demand for teachers with expertise in science, math, and bilingual education. Public funding makes a huge impact on how many teaching jobs are open. If funding is increased for preschool and early childhood education, there will be a greater need for teachers at that age level.

Career path

Teaching positions don’t have too many options for career advancement. There are some committees that teachers can join to have a bigger impact on the curriculum and administrative decisions. Many teachers work towards graduate degrees and can move into administrative roles at the school, like principals and school board positions. 

The other career path for teachers who want to advance in their field is to move to a university. There are education researchers at universities who work to improve teaching methods and styles. You can also work to become a professor and teach future educators.

1. What are your favorite subjects to teach?

When answering this question, consider the job that you are applying for. If you want the job of an English teacher, you should mention that you want to teach English as a subject. This is a great time to include any other areas you enjoy and feel confident in teaching. It will help you appear well-rounded and possibly even able to step in where help is needed within the school.

2. How comfortable are you with students that have learning disabilities?

Talk about your experience working with students with learning disabilities and what kind of education and training you have received in this area. Students face such a large range of challenges, and most teachers will deal with some level in their classroom each year. Be prepared to talk about your comfort level and what you plan to do to continue work in this area.

3. Describe a challenging situation you’ve faced in the classroom and how you got through it.

Use your time as a student teacher if this is your very first teaching job. Everyone faces challenges almost weekly, so be prepared with a story or two that you can share. Talk about how you got through the moment and what you learned from the experience. Explain what you would do differently, if anything, in the future.

4. What methods do you use to communicate with parents and build relationships?

Relationships with parents and guardians are essential to the success of a teacher. Students only spend a certain amount of time at school, and there can be much supplemental work done at home with assignments. Share your methods for keeping parents and family members in the loop about their children and how you share positive or negative feedback. By working with the family members and forming a united front, you’ll be better at serving your students.

5. How do you continue your own education?

Continuous learning is important for all humans, but it’s especially critical for teachers. You want to be up to date on the current happenings in the world and ready to answer questions that your students may bring you. Share your methods for continuing to learn. Do you set time aside daily to read? Are you enrolled in classes or extracurriculars to challenge yourself? List anything you have in your toolbox.

6. Walk me through your lesson planning strategy. Do you plan in batches or daily?

Teachers each have their own method for planning their lessons and classroom activities. Share your current strategy and why it works for you. Make sure also to communicate that you’re open to changing your methods as you learn the role. 

7. What are your favorite ways to motivate and keep students engaged?

No teacher succeeds if they approach every minute in the classroom with the same teaching method. Share some of the fun ways to change things while teaching. Are there fun games you play to engage your students? Do you have everyone stand up and move around? This is a great question to show your potential employer that you enjoy having fun and teaching.

8. Tell me about a teacher who has greatly impacted you.

Observing other teachers is one of the best ways to learn and become a better teacher. Share one or two specific teachers that you have been impacted by. Talk about things that you respect and love in those teachers and what you’ve been able to take from them. 

9. What kinds of classroom technology do you have experience with?

Many school districts are incorporating more technology into their daily routines. Some classrooms have options for virtual days if there are weather issues, and it utilizes tablets or internet resources. Share the types of technology you’ve had experience with and what you’re comfortable with already. It’s also important to explain that you’re open to new items and are excited about what technology can bring to the classroom. Schools want forward-thinking teachers who are open to testing new options.

10. What made you want to be a teacher?

Use this question to share your passion for teaching. Go into detail about what you love about educating students. You can share some highlights of your teaching career so far or just explain the things you are most excited to experience. Describe your love for learning and helping other people. 

Teacher FAQs