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Teacher Career Guide

What is a teacher?

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.

Duties and responsibilities

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, they need to be a strong, positive role model for their students as well.

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.

How to become a teacher

In order to become a teacher, you will need a combination of education, training, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:

Step 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 they want to teach, like history or English. There are also education majors that will provide a more comprehensive overview of teaching methods. 

Step 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 ensure you complete the necessary steps in your education and training.

Step 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 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. 

Step 4: Find a 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.

Step 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. 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 connecting with them in a comfortable way.
  • Work through The Ninth Period course from Udemy. It covers effective teaching strategies for secondary school teachers to help manage a classroom better and work with parents in a positive way. 
  • 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.

How much do teachers make?

There are many variables that go into determining how much a teacher makes, from company size to experience to education just to name a few. 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

Browse teacher salary data by market

Types of teachers

Elementary, middle school, and high school 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

College professors work in universities and colleges and specialize in specific subjects. Schedules vary for professors; they may participate in research or other university work and teach a few weekly classes.

Preschool teachers

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. 

Specialty teachers

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.

Top skills for teachers

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.

Teacher 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 toward 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 an university. Some education researchers at universities work to improve teaching methods and styles. You can also work to become a professor and teach future educators.

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 science, math, and bilingual education expertise. 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.

Employment projections for teachers

There will be a 4% growth in kindergarten and elementary school teachers’ employment over the next decade. In addition, there will be a 3% growth in the employment of middle school and high school teachers.

There are several factors that influence the demand for teachers, including student enrollment changes, education funding, and the retirement rates of current teachers.

Teacher career tips

Soft skills and traits

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. Volunteer with children. Any experience you can gain working with children and students will help you as you become a teacher. You’ll better understand what methods work to communicate to kids and engage them in the learning process.

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. Be a strong role model for your peers, students, and community.

Commonly required skills and qualifications

Observe other teachers and their styles. You can learn much from watching other teachers at work and picking up tips and tricks. 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. 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.

Know the local guidelines and curriculum requirements for your district. Stay up to date with changes as they happen as well.

Develop a professional network

Build a network of other teachers and educators. Find people you feel comfortable sharing ideas, brainstorming, and asking for feedback. Here are a few great options to check out:

  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • National Council of Teachers of English/Mathematics
  • National Science Teachers Association
  • Edutopia
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children

Where the teacher jobs are

Top companies

  • IXL Learning
  • Khan Academy
  • Pearson
  • Cengage

Top states

  • Pennsylvania
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin

Top job sites

  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • ZipRecruiter
  • Careerbuilder
  • Monster


How much education do you need to become a teacher?

To become a teacher, you’ll need at least a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field. Many teachers go on to receive a master’s degree or graduate degree to advance. There are also many online courses and programs to improve your skills.

What is the difference between teaching at public and private schools?

Public schools must meet all the state requirements, and all teachers must be licensed. Private schools have different standards and requirements and don’t necessarily have to follow state guidelines. Private schools can set more of their own rules and standards, and they might not be as strict for teachers as the public school system.

Is teaching a stressful career?

Teachers report job-related stress at a higher rate than the general population. Teachers are responsible for all their students’ learning and growth throughout the school year. There can be parts of the job that are very stressful, but there are longer breaks to rest and practice self-care as well.

What are the most challenging parts of being a teacher?

The hardest part of being a teacher is managing the expectations of the students, administrators, parents, and guardians. There are goals and test scores to achieve and a variety of personalities for them to teach, so it can be challenging to help all the students meet the goals.

Can teachers switch subjects?

Teachers can switch subjects and specialties. They can switch grade levels as well. Some specialties require a different license, but you can help more than one at a time. High school teachers might teach multiple subjects in the school year depending on the school’s needs and expertise. 

What is the best time of year to apply for teaching positions?

The best time to look for a teaching job is in the spring. Most school districts will look to fill openings and update their staffing needs toward the end of the school year, so they have the spots filled by the time the next school year starts.

How can teachers get a higher salary?

Salaries are based on education and experience. There are also additional opportunities to make more money by taking on additional responsibilities, like coaching sports or running extra-curricular activities. 

Do teachers get paid in the summer?

Each school district has its own pay schedule, negotiated in the unions’ contracts. Some districts pay the teachers for ten months, and others split up the payments over the full twelve-month calendar. Some teachers take on extra summer work to make a little extra money on the side.

What is the easiest grade to teach?

Each teacher has their own specialty and comfort level, so there isn’t a grade that is easiest to teach. It’s all based on preference, education, and experience. There are pros and cons to teaching all grades and ages.

Is it required to join a teachers’ union?

Teachers’ unions exist to support teachers and help negotiate better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Teachers are not required to join the union, but about 70% of United States teachers are currently part of a union.

What is the best way to prepare for the teaching license exam?

To prepare for your teaching license exam, take practice tests and study for the topics that are covered on the test. Understand how the test is scored and structured. The more you study and prepare, the higher your score on the test. 

How many hours of student teaching are required?

Student teaching programs differ slightly depending on the learning institution and the state’s requirements. Most programs will last around 13 weeks and include at least 450 hours in the classroom. It’s a mixture of observing and assisting with the teaching requirements.