Becoming a Teacher: Try it on for Size (page 3)
Teaching is not just a job. It is a career with a required path of education and expectations. You need to know what you are getting into before you begin. Once you have decided to make teaching your career, make arrangements to spend some time in a school and/or with students at the age you hope to teach.
One way to experience a classroom from a teacher's perspective is to go back to your own elementary, middle, or high school and ask to spend a day or an hour with a favorite teacher. If this is not possible, consider asking any teachers you know if you can observe their classroom for a day. If you have children in school or have friends who do, consider contacting the child's teacher.
If you are in high school, find out whether your school offers a cadet teaching program (through an organization such as Future Teachers of America or Future Teachers Association) that would allow you to teach carefully supervised lessons. You should also prepare for a college-level teacher education program by:
- challenging yourself with courses that get you ready for college-level work
- taking either the SAT or ACT
- researching where you will attend college
- considering what subject you would like to teach
Some community or four-year colleges offer programs that allow you to observe a teacher's classroom for a semester. For example, Rutgers University offers a course called "Exploring Teaching as a Profession," where one of the requirements is to spend a month in each an elementary and secondary classroom. Participants must observe both the teacher and students and are able to create their own lessons.
Another way to gain classroom experience before landing a teaching job is to substitute teach. Substituting is a wonderful opportunity to visit every grade level, allowing you to narrow down your classroom preferences. Spending time as a substitute teacher can help you to decide which teaching area to specialize in and which type of school district you'd like to work in.
In addition, substituting can be a nice source of income. Indeed, some substitute teachers in a mid to large city can earn $100 a day. Most states will allow you to become a substitute teacher if you have a bachelor's degree in any subject and if you meet their hiring procedures (some districts will do a background check, take your fingerprints, and want medical information). Some states will allow you to substitute teach even if you do not have a college degree, while others have more stringent requirements, which include passing a national teachers exam. Be sure to check your state's requirements by contacting your state education department.
Substitute teachers follow the school calendar, so you wouldn't work during school holidays and breaks, or during the summer. As a substitute, you get to choose which days you want to work and in which schools to take assignments. Once you are on a school district's list as an approved substitute teacher, you will get phone calls alerting you to an assignment—often early in the morning of the day they want you to teach. At the time of the phone call, you can say yes or no to the offer. However, if you say no more often than you say yes, you may find that you will get fewer offers in the future. Some districts have automated calling systems in place, so you interact with a computer rather than a human.
Bridget Opfer graduated with a BA in Digital Arts and considered going back to school to become a teacher. To help make up her mind, she became a substitute teacher in her hometown, working with kids from second grade through high school. Bridget explains, "I knew teaching the students would give me a better idea of the subject and age of students I would like to teach. What I didn't count on, though, was how much I learned by watching other teachers in action. Because a lot of the classes were In Class Support (ICS), I was able to share the classroom with another experienced teacher. I was amazed to see how students responded to different teaching styles."
As unemployment rates continue to rise, there is a flood of applications for substitute teachers in all areas of the country. If you can obtain a substitute position, it's a valuable chance to pursue a career goal before you officially make your entry into a full-time teaching position. It also gets your teaching aspirations out there. As one teacher admits, "I had a lot of recommendations from other teachers I had been working with when I was substituting in local public schools. I think it was these recommendations that helped put me ahead of other candidates."
Career Changers Who Want to Become Teachers
Many people are now entering the teaching field who previously held one or more jobs in other careers. In fact, one of the fastest-growing demographics among new teachers is career changers.
After eight years, Jennifer Kruter made the life-changing decision to leave the business world: "Working in corporate event marketing was unfulfilling. I wasn't doing anything to better the world around me. Through teaching, I can actually make a difference to the lives of my students. My goal in teaching is to challenge my students to think critically about the world around them—growing into active, engaged citizens within their own communities."
Due to the large demand for teachers in many areas, special programs have been created to recruit people from other occupations to become teachers. If you are considering changing careers to become a teacher, you've chosen a good time to make the switch due to the high demand for teachers. In the past decade, the number of teachers who obtained certification through an alternative route has increased dramatically. If you hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, you may be able to begin your teaching career as soon as you can apply for and land a job. Then, you can complete specific teacher education requirements while you are teaching. Many people are making this switch from another career to teaching.
Washington Virtual Academies
Tuition-free online school for Washington students.
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