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Few occurrences hold as much potential as a child entering school for the first time. Each young mind that walks through the door of kindergarten has a thousand doors to be opened; how many that open is based on the educational experience. Good educations with opportunities to learn and be creative offer children keys to learning. Excellent teachers provide the foundation and confidence to learn how to use the keys to unlock the endless possibilities in education.

Much of what an individual becomes and accomplishes is driven by the education he or she receives. Future education opportunities, employment, career paths and standard of living are all rooted in the foundations built in classroom environments in the first 16 years of life. Overcoming a deficit later can be done – but is incredibly difficult.

Skilled teachers are the cornerstones of education. The best books and most modern facilities can’t inspire, motivate or mentor. But the oldest, most worn schoolroom can be a place of imagination and creation in the hands of a gifted educator.

The impact teachers instinctively have on the natural progression and growth within a society, as well as the duration children are present in their care, the requirements for teachers are well regulated, vigorous, and monitored. Education standards, certification and licensure guidelines, as well as the state of residence a teacher resides, are all taken into consideration when entering the education profession resulting in highly educated, qualified, skilled teachers.

Education in the United States

All children in the United States are required by law to participate in a formal education through the age of sixteen. Public schools contain 90% of the nations children for their educational needs. The remainder ten percent attends private institutions, is home schooled, or is enrolled in military or boarding schools.

Educational structuring is based and developed according to age. The structure varies in conjunction with each grade level and elementary education is often structured significantly differently to accommodate these age groups. In other words, what a first grade teacher learns to interrogate into the classroom is different than that of a high school teacher.

College and graduate schools provide sophisticated and specialized education and prepare students for additional career advancement opportunities. Those who seek to teach within a college or university environment often need advanced degrees or professional certifications.

Different Ways to Teach

A teacher is often driven by the subject matter of interest and demand of teaching degree. A common theory within education is as the age of the student increases, as do the educational requirements of a teacher. Preschool teachers may only need an associate’s degree and an elementary teacher a bachelor’s degree, and so on.

Every teacher must receive formal education; in other words a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition, teachers in public school settings need a state license in conjunction with a teaching degree. Again, these license various per state and they often have multiple paths a current educator can take to obtain a teaching certificate in a new state.

Substitute Teaching
All school districts need a few qualified individuals to fill in for a teacher who is ill or on leave. Classrooms don’t close when the teacher isn’t there. But since substitute teachers aren’t responsible for a full curriculum, the education requirements are often not as rigorous. Most states require a bachelor’s degree, but several don’t. And the licensure process is often more simplified. However, most schools are prohibited from allowing substitute teachers to accept longer-term assignments unless the substitute teacher also holds a regular teaching certificate.

Primary and Secondary School Teachers
Primary and secondary education includes grades K through 12, and schools may be organized into elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Requirements for being a public teacher in these institutions include a college degree and completing the state’s licensure requirements. Private schools often require a bachelor’s degree, but there is generally no requirement for licensure.

Educational requirements for teachers in public primary and secondary schools are established by each state, but often vary depending on what grade and subject a teacher wants to teach. Some states require a degree in education or teaching, while others make no requirements for subject. States that don’t require a bachelor’s degree in education often require the completion of a teacher education program after a bachelor’s degree has been awarded. In some states, the nature of the curriculum will orient towards a certain age of student. And in most states, teaching a single subject in later grades (English or mathematics, for instance) requires a certain amount of education specific to that subject.

Postsecondary Teachers
Colleges and universities – everything from junior colleges, to Ivy League institutions to trade and vocational schools – need qualified instructors to give their students the highest quality education. Accredited colleges and universities look for advanced degrees, often master’s or doctorate degrees, in a specialty area for tenured positions, although associate professor positions may be available for individuals with bachelor’s degrees. Most university positions come with an expectation for research and publishing, and active participation in activities designed to earn the institution grants, donations or other funding. While the income, benefits and prestige from being a university instructor are often good, competition for these positions can be stiff.

Vocational and trade schools may look for professional experience or certifications rather than advanced educations, as the goal is teach students practical abilities to allow them to performed a skilled service.

Specialty Teaching Positions

In all educational settings there are certain positions that require a different type of knowledge and expertise, whether it be teaching a subject that requires a more sophisticated education, or teaching a specialty population with unique needs.

Specialized Subjects
It would be difficult to teach music if one had never played a note, and impossible to teach computer science technology if one had never learned the difference between hardware and software. In some school districts, positions are carved out that require a more advanced knowledge of certain curriculum, and the post may not be oriented towards teaching certain grades. A music teacher may teach all children in grades K through 12, or an information technologies instructor may teach classes in the high school and run the computer lab at the elementary school. Guidelines for these positions may be set at the district level, but overall requirements for education and licensure are the same as for any other public school teacher.

Special Education Positions
People who want to teach children with special needs are in high demand, but the education requirements may be different than for those who want to teach in regular classrooms. Degrees in teaching individuals with disabilities may be required, or supplemental certifications or examinations may be necessary before receiving the appropriate license.

School Administration
All schools need principals; many need vice-principals or guidance counselors. Many states set additional requirements for education or continuing education in order to be a school administrator, and teaching experience is generally considered mandatory before moving into an administrative position with more responsibility.

Teacher Licensure and Certification

All states in the US, as well as the District of Columbia, require oversight of teachers in public schools. The oversight ensures that teachers are fully qualified through an established education process and, if required by the state, passing competency exams.

The document issued to teach is may be called a “license,” a “certificate” or a “credential.” But in each case, it means that the teacher has graduated from an approved teacher education program and completed all the necessary requirements.

In some states, there are alternate routes to obtaining a license, especially in high-needs areas. They may offer alternatives to traditional bachelor’s degrees, or allow teachers in the process of completing their educations to receive temporary licenses.

Earnings and Opportunities

Because teaching requires above average education and a rigorous eligibility process, salaries on an hourly basis are higher than the average national hourly wage. Annual salaries may vary in comparison to other industries as a teacher is paid for a ten-month work-year instead of twelve. Many districts offer the option of spreading salaries over 12-months for personal budgeting purposes. Gaps in the school year also allow teachers to pursue additional work opportunities off-season.

Later grades and administrative positions typically pay more than younger grades or early education do, although most full-time positions offer benefits and paid time off. It’s common for teachers to be members of unions, so support of the organization that assists with bargaining and oversight of work conditions may be part of a teacher’s work expenses.

Earning potential grows with experience, and can be enhanced by pursuing more advanced degrees or additional credentials. Many national organizations offer subject or population-specific supplemental certifications that districts may credit towards education for salary increases.

Job opportunities for teachers are in a state of flux. While population growth, retirement of current teachers and college-level faculty, and the numbers adults seeking additional education and training are all on the rise, budget stresses are leading to cuts across all areas of education. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts growth in the demand for teachers through 2018 in response to increase in demand and the number of current teachers retiring from the field. However, local municipalities may find themselves struggling with lower tax revenues and cuts in state and federal funding. Trends with budget cuts are anticipated to resolve over time, and increased demand for teachers will again become a critical issue for districts. Currently, graduation of candidates from accredited institutions would not fill the need for teachers if budget constraints were not a factor, so the long-term forecast for job opportunities for teachers is good.

The Community of Educators

Teachers fill a unique position in the community. They are responsible for the education of the country’s future leaders and the growth of a skilled workforce. They are tasked with helping the children of today become the contributing members of society tomorrow. They bear the responsibility of a country’s hopes for the next generation.

To be a teacher is to never stop learning. Whether it’s becoming more knowledgeable in a specialty area, or studying the most current research on education theory, it’s essential that teachers seek ways to connect with other professionals and grow in their chosen vocation.

A teacher never faces the same day twice. With new children to teach every year or every semester, ever-changing dynamics between students, new legislation and evolving expectations, teachers will find the most success and reward when they become part of the greater community of educators.