Interested in a career in education, but not sure how to get started? We asked seven teachers for their best advice (and views on the future of the field).
Do you want a career in education?
It’s an honorable profession — one of the most important there is — and if you’re prepared to dedicate your all and overcome the many challenges, it can be very rewarding.
To help those of you interested in an education career, we talked to professionals from all levels, asking them for their best advice and predictions about how the career will change in the years to come.
Here’s what the interviewees emphasized about the future of teaching: (Click here to tweet this list.)
- The rise in standardized testing: Though they disagreed about its necessity, most everyone we spoke to believes that standardized testing has put restraints on teachers, forcing them to stifle creativity and focus instead on teaching to the test
- More technology in the classroom: From learning games to online college courses, technology has become ever-present in the classroom — but the teacher-student relationship remains the core of all education
- The difficulty of the profession: It’s incredibly emotionally and mentally challenging, and teachers run a real risk of burnout; to avoid this, it’s important to be flexible and practice self-care
If you’d like to know how best to pursue a career in education, read on for advice from teachers of all types.
1. Paraprofessional educator
James White, who works as a paraprofessional at an elementary school in rural Alaska, advises:
“Find an age group, subject matter, culture, location, etc. that you’re truly passionate about. One that will make work a joy — rather than a stress — and everything will fall in place from there. You see far too many educators burn out far too young or far too early in their careers because they let the work stress them out.”
2. Elementary school teacher
Michelle Warner, who teaches second grade at a public school in suburban Virginia, offers advice about work-life balance, which undoubtedly affects the quality of your teaching:
“Make sure you set boundaries for your teaching responsibilities so that you don’t allow your personal life to become neglected. Happy people, who engage in activities for themselves after school and on weekends, make much more interesting and energetic teachers.
Despite the stifling obsession with alignment, objectives, and assessment in our schools, (especially the underperforming ones,) try to find ways to integrate creativity and opportunities for unique self expression into your classroom. It will help you avoid burnout and foster self confidence and joy in your students.”
3. English teacher abroad
Daniel Quick has taught English in South Korea and Ecuador, using his teaching career to live and work abroad. For other aspiring globetrotters, he says:
“To become more marketable in an increasingly competitive field, you should work to gain experience or certifications; TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, and other ESL certificates are valuable training tools and look great on resumes. Without certification or experience, the best thing you can do for your career is to be willing to move anywhere and commit for at least a year. Even if you have to work in a potentially less-desirable location, this can be a great way to gain valuable experience and practice your craft while looking for the job you want.”
4. College professor
Barry Shain (the author’s father), teaches political science at Colgate University, a liberal arts college in upstate New York. Having taught for 30 years at the college level, he actually advises against getting into the profession now:
“Unless you’re born wealthy, are really extremely good at what you do (i.e among the 10 or so best in any particular year in your field), interested in a field that is not rapidly losing undergraduate majors (as are English and most of the humanities), or more likely all three conditions obtain, in a world in which the employment market is likely to be shrinking, possibly rapidly, over the next 20 or 30 years, you really should think about doing something other than college teaching as your chosen career path.”
5. Private high school teacher
Simon Jarcho teaches high-school math at a private school in Chicago and doesn’t have a teaching certificate — only a four-year college degree. If you want to get into the growing field of alternative education, he offers this advice:
“There are many paths into teaching, and passion for the job can, at least at an independent school, trump credentials. However, this does not mean you can approach this field casually, or without thorough preparation. If you want to stand in front of students and claim to contribute to their future, then you owe it to them to pour every ounce of your energy into every day. That sounds idealistic, but that’s kind of the point.
You should also take every opportunity to grow professionally. This could mean sitting in on other teachers’ classes, going to conferences, or even changing schools after a few years. Like your students, you need to be prepared to learn, grow, and adapt at every opportunity.”
6. Urban high school teacher
Lindsay Pushies has been teaching in inner-city Chicago for the last six years: two at a traditional public high school (through Teach for America) and four at a charter high school. Here’s what she would tell aspiring educators:
“Innovate often and fail well. As a country, we have not figured out how to ensure that all of our children are afforded the same educational opportunities. Teaching has always been and will always be personal, emotional, complex and challenging. The stakes are too high to do anything else.”
7. Teaching association director
When asked for his advice, Gary Beckner, executive director of the American Association of Educators, said:
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ place for educators. Examine what drives you and match your vision for education with a school that fits that model. Public charter schools and online programs are giving teachers flexibility and paths to innovate. Consider all of your options and where students need you most.”
Susan Shain (@TravlJunkette) is a travel blogger who loves helping people discover adventure through international travel or alternative careers.