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Career Pathways: Teaching K-12

elementary school teacher smiling in classroom full of students
Lisa Albro

Written by Lisa Albroon February 14th, 2024

I came to College Coach after having worked on “both sides of the desk” — admissions and college counseling. At Goucher College, I managed recruitment and travel for over 30 states and oversaw the student, parent, and alumni volunteer programs. As much as I loved representing my alma mater and meeting so many bright, talented students year after year, I discovered that I longed for the opportunity to develop the kind of relationships with my students that could only come from working with them day after day. On the high school side, I worked with every student in the grade, from the valedictorian to the bottom of the class. This taught me how to meet the needs of a variety of different kinds of students — how to identify appropriate programs for each one, and how to help each student make his applications shine. In the span of a day I could be helping ten students with applications to Ivy League schools and ten others with applications to service academies, public universities, and regional colleges.
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by Lisa Albro, former admissions officer at Goucher College Thinking about becoming a teacher, but not sure where to start? In this post, we’ll explore the various pathways to a career in education. I married into a family of educators, each of whom followed a different path to teacher certification. My brother-in-law seemed destined to teach from the start. As a kid, he spent his spare time at school, so it was no surprise that he entered the teaching profession right out of college. On the other hand, there is my husband, who embarked on his teaching career after several years in another field. He followed a program in our state called Alternate Route that allowed him to pursue teacher training and certification while drawing on experience from his bachelor’s degree. Then there is my husband’s aunt, whose non-traditional return to college later in life got her started teaching at a more mature age. Both my husband and his brother are now school superintendents who make teacher hiring decisions in their respective districts. I’ve tapped into their wisdom and experience to get some advice for students now considering the teaching profession. Choosing a major Commonly, many students decide either before or during college to pursue a major in some area of education. Have an affinity for interacting with younger school-aged children? You might consider majoring in elementary education and seek certification to teach grades K-6. Coursework in this major generally includes instruction on educational practices, methodology, assessment techniques, math, literacy, social studies, and science. Some teacher education programs include an add-on for middle school instruction, which can make you a more versatile candidate for employment in many districts. Maybe you’re passionate about one particular subject and would love to share your enthusiasm with middle or high school students. Then it’s secondary education you want to consider. You’ll pick your subject major (some examples: biology, English, mathematics, history, Spanish – but there are many!) alongside a secondary education major that will instruct you in methodology, educational principles, curriculum development, and other foundational courses to help you learn how to teach. Getting certified Although requirements vary by state, and some have been loosened to ease the path to teacher certification, most teacher candidates will need to do the following:
  • Earn a bachelor’s degree
  • Complete a teacher preparation program
  • Pass certification exam(s)
  • Satisfy student-teacher requirements (This is typically 12 weeks of teaching experience but can be as long as 16 weeks or a full semester, depending on the state.)
Every state has its own specific requirements for teacher certification, so it’s important to be aware of what the requirements are where you wish to teach, and to make sure the program you choose will help you meet those requirements. Pursuing a non-traditional path Many states offer such programs whereby an adult with a bachelor’s degree can obtain a provisional teaching license and apply for a teaching position. Over the course of two years, while in this teaching position, they must complete a teacher education program, before becoming fully certified to teach. This is an excellent option for someone who may feel called to teach after years in another profession. Are you someone who sees inequity and feels moved to bring positive changes to underserved communities? You might consider Teach for America’s Teacher Corps. For a minimum two-year commitment in one of almost 40 regions, you will get a temporary teaching license while working toward teacher certification. A classmate of mine joined the Teacher Corps with the intent to teach for just two years. Decades later, he’s still with the same district as a school administrator. Career outlook Recent years have seen a decline in the number of college students entering teacher training programs and the United States faces a teacher shortage. Perhaps you’ve experienced some of this in your own school, when you’re relegated to an online course because there is not a teacher on staff to instruct a certain subject. High-demand subjects in STEM, special education, world languages, and English as a Second Language are particularly difficult to fill. This could mean job security for students interested in teaching these subjects someday, however. Teaching is a demanding field, and not for the faint of heart. But it is also rewarding beyond measure. That I can assure you, from having witnessed so many friends and relatives experience the benefits of prolonged interaction with students who have changed their lives.

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