What Does a Career in Vocational Teaching Entail?
A vocational teacher provides practical instruction to their students, typically to prepare them for a career or to develop a set of skills they can use in the real world.
Cosmetology, auto repair, welding, and a whole host of careers fall under the vocational-technical umbrella of education and training. And, as such, there is a wide range of career paths that someone might pursue before becoming a vocational-technical education and training professional. Vocational educators teach in a range of settings—from post-secondary career training programs, which might offer a two-year associate degree or certification, to public and private middle schools or high schools across the country.Read More
And, while the students themselves don’t necessarily need to earn a formal education to get started in their chosen field, a vocational schools do require that instructors have a bachelor’s degree at a minimum to be employed, as well as a teaching certification — much like you’d expect with traditional K-12 schools.
So, what might a successful career in vocational education look like? Well, it depends on several factors. Some individuals come to this career after working in the private sector, others pursue a bachelor’s degree in career and technical education and training right after earning their high school diploma.
While we can’t offer a definitive step-by-step guide to becoming a vocational-technical instructor, as the path can be different for every subject you could teach and every vocational degree available to students, but here is some background about the career and what it takes to earn the required credentials.
Components of A Successful Career In Vocational Education
Some colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s programs for high school graduates that can prepare you for a career in vocational education and training. The first step is earning a bachelor’s, which will prepare you for your CTE, or your career and technical education license.
Typically, you would earn your bachelor’s by taking your general education courses like English, science, math, and history, along with some electives. Then, you might follow up with several technical courses. In some cases, you can specialize in vocational-technical training, or a skill or trade, while in others you might pursue a traditional education path with a two-year associate degree or four-year degree, and then focus on the vocation you’d like to teach.
Prospective vocational teachers should also be experienced in that vocation — and in some cases, if you have several years of practical experience, you may be able to waive your bachelor’s program requirements and go ahead and sit for your certification exam.
How to Become a Vocational Education Teacher
Becoming a vocational teacher typically starts by earning an online bachelor’s degree. An online bachelor’s is usually about 120-130 credit hours. Prospective professional teachers may go about their education in a variety of ways. The first is to earn a bachelor’s in education or a vocational-technical education program. After completing that degree, students will then go on to earn their teaching certification and may be required to complete an internship before sitting for the certification exam.
Another option, if you’ve already earned a degree, is to pursue an online master’s program in vocational education. And in some cases, if you have extensive work experience, you may be able to enter into the teaching profession by taking the certification exam.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that degree requirements vary based on whether you plan on working in a public-school setting or at an adult education center. For example, if you plan to teach automotive repair to high school students, you’ll need to obtain a license through the State Board of Education. In that case, you’ll need to go through the same teacher preparation programs you would if you were going to teach history or algebra in a secondary school. Technical schools and colleges may have their own set of requirements.
Typical Vocational Education Certifications Needed
Vocational teachers who wish to work in a public-school setting will need to get certified by their state’s board of education. In this case, you’ll complete a student teaching internship and will take an exam to earn your certification.
If you plan to work in a technical school—like a beauty school or a culinary school, you’ll need to demonstrate expertise in your chosen area—which will likely take precedence over formal education. Teaching in an adult education center or at a college may be another option, but education and certification requirements are generally presented on a case by case basis.
Academic Standards for a Vocational Education Degree
To earn an online bachelor’s degree in career and technical education, you’ll need to complete roughly 120 hours of relevant coursework to receive your degree. An online master’s degree will consist of about 36 credit hours.
In both cases, coursework covers teaching methods, working with special needs learners, instructional assessment, developing a curriculum, and more. A master’s program will dive deeper into the content and will include a research component. Students may also look at social sciences and take elective courses and general education courses.
We should also note that some programs are only available to those students who have experience working in the field. This isn’t like your average undergraduate online degree, which generally does not require students to have work experience to gain admission.
Exam/Experience Needed for a Vocational Education Degree
Again, it varies. Like general education teachers, vocational instructors will need to complete training to ensure that they can effectively relay key concepts. In high school or middle school programs, vocational teachers are subject to the same standards as traditional teachers. This typically means earning a bachelor’s, completing a teacher education program, and getting some supervised experience before sitting for the exam. Vocational teachers should also have experience within their chosen subject area and may need to complete ongoing education courses to keep up with changes in their vocation.
Professionals who have built up years of experience working in a specific vocation may choose to get their credential and may not need to complete a bachelor’s program to become certified. Still, whether coursework is waived depends on several factors—and some working professionals may need to earn a bachelor’s, master’s, or a certificate to pursue this path.
Online Associate’s Degree
Pursuing an online associate in vocational education is less common than going into a bachelor’s program or earning a professional certificate. Still, students can choose to kick off their educational path by earning an AA before enrolling in a four-year program, as it may help them save some money on tuition.
An online associate in education is a good starting point for your degree and serves as a great way to knock out some of those required classes and get a sense of whether you think teaching is right for you. That said, in most cases, you’ll need to either be an expert in a specific trade or earn a bachelor’s degree before you can become a certified teacher.
Some example courses for Vocational Education Bachelor’s Degree:
- Basics of Curriculum
- Basics of Assessment
- Social Sciences
- Educational Psychology
Online Bachelor’s Degree
This online degree program aims to prepare students to teach technical education courses in high school, community colleges, and trade schools.
Many programs focus on first providing students with a background in teaching methods—like developing a curriculum and engaging students. This program looks a lot like earning a degree as a K-12 instructor—students will take general education courses; math, science, arts, humanities, social sciences, and so on. After students have completed general coursework, they will move on to their education courses. Then, from there, they can sit for their exam.
There are also several programs that require students to gain a certain amount of supervised work experience — student teaching—before they can sit for their teaching certification.
Some example online courses for Vocational Education Bachelor’s Degree:
- Classroom Leadership Skills
- Educational Psychology
- Teaching Special Needs Students
- Cultural and Ethnic Diversity
- Occupational Education Fundamentals
- Internship within a Technical Training Environment
Online Master’s Degree
Earning an online master’s degree in career and technical education focuses on advancing your skills as a vocational instructor. This program looks at not only leveling up your teaching skills but also examines the many ways in which career and technical education is a service to the community. In many cases, these programs explore how to incorporate math and literacy into trade programs and meet the needs of employers by working to close skills gaps. Students will look at new teaching methods, develop curricula, as well as look at how to promote career and technical education and advocate for vocational training.
Some example courses for Online Vocational Education Bachelor’s Degree:
- Education Research
- Vocational Education Principals and Trends
Earning Potential for Vocational Education Degree Fields and Occupations
The median pay for vocational instructors, across specialties, is about $55,000. Some instructors may not have a bachelor’s degree, though in this case, AA or certificate holders will have significant career experience instead. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most instructors have a bachelor’s degree and earnings are fairly consistent across the board. The top 10% of earners bring in roughly $89,000 per year and having a master’s degree might help you get closer to this range.
That said, many vocational instructors may choose to teach in addition to working in their chosen specialty, so earnings can vary considerably. Unfortunately, this profession doesn’t present as clear a career path as other occupations. Vocational instructors might be older returning students or traditional learners approaching this as a traditional teaching degree.
Vocational Education Fields of Study Median Salaries
There are countless fields of study associated with vocational education. Where earning potential varies considerably for professionals working within these vocations, vocational instructors tend to earn a similar income, which varies depending on experience and where they work.
- Information Technology
This area is interesting, as you can major in information technology or a related field within the context of an online bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, you can also enter this field by learning in a certificate program or a boot camp. A teacher with a background in IT might teach computer courses at a high school with hands-on lessons in programming and web design.
Like information technology, media and communications instructors might come from a range of backgrounds. Hands-on training in acting, design, or digital media might fall under this umbrella, as do things like visual arts, journalism, and audio/video.
In this case, you’ll likely have more opportunities available if you earn an online bachelor’s degree in a related area; think journalism, drama, marketing, or design.
- Manufacturing and Pre-Engineering
Vocations that fall within this category cover things like welding, carpentry, engineering, and technology skills.
- Health Sciences
This area covers occupations like medical and dental assisting. These are shorter programs students might study in a vocational school or community college.
- Personal Care
Personal care careers include things like cosmetology, barbering, styling, and aesthetics. Typically, students attend a beauty school and obtain a state license after completing their training. In most cases, this type of training is only offered within the context of a vocational school—not high school or middle school.
Here are some of the fields you might teach as a vocational instructor:
Vocational Education Salaries by Occupation
As we mentioned above, there are several different specialty areas, most of which require a deep, hands-on knowledge of the subject at hand. In many cases, vocational education focuses on teaching tech-based skills in a middle school, high school, or post-secondary setting. That said, there’s not much variation in pay if you’re teaching in one of these institutions.
Other career options include working as a consultant, in faculty and course development, as an independent trainer, or in administration at a vocational school. Here are some potential occupations for those with a background in career and technical education.
Annual Salary by Occupation
|Occupations||Entry Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late Career Salary Range|
|Middle School Vocational instructor||$40,300||$48,200||$59,200|
|Secondary School Vocational Instructor||$40,200||$50,900||$55,800|
|Postsecondary Vocational Instructor||$44,600||$49,500||$56,700|
|Faculty Development Specialist||$49,300||$60,700||$70,600|
- Middle School Vocational Instructor
In this role, you’ll teach students at the middle school level. This major will involve some of the same training as a teacher looking to teach history, math, English, or other general subject matter, but will need to have some hands-on expertise in their chosen vocation. Middle schools often offer vocational training in subjects like woodshop, business, technology, computers, or industrial arts—more general subjects that allow for some hands-on learning they can build on in the future.
- Secondary School Vocational Instructor
Secondary school vocational instructors bring vocational training to public and private high schools. Like those pursuing a career as a middle school vocational instructor, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree and state certification to teach in a high school setting. Some private schools may have a different set of requirements, as they aren’t subject to the same criteria as public schools.
Typical vocational education at this level includes agricultural education, technology or business education, family and consumer sciences, drafting, automotive, woodworking, or graphic design. Instructors will present lectures to students, as well as provide hands-on training in the subject at hand. Teachers must ensure that students are safely using equipment and will provide guidance throughout the class.
- Postsecondary Vocational Instructor
In this case, teachers will instruct vocational students at a trade school or community college. Job titles run the gamut from automotive instructor, medical assistant instructor, and practical nursing instructor, to flight instructor or welding instructor. Postsecondary instructors may not need a bachelor’s degree to qualify for this role, as they’re not teaching in a K-12 setting.
That said, requirements depend on the role you’re pursuing. A nursing trainer will need to have a degree in nursing, for example, whereas a cosmetology instructor may merely need to demonstrate expertise in their field of study.
- Faculty Development Specialist
This position requires collaboration with faculty and administration in a vocational school. Faculty development specialists might work on an independent basis or within a single institution. Their role is to plan and implement a development strategy by working with staff to set goals and coordinate training efforts.
- Education Consultant
Education consultants typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably a master’s. You might have a background in teaching and should have a strong understanding of the curriculum. Education consultants typically work as independent contractors and will make recommendations to school administrators, develop curriculum, and help institutions train employees through seminars or workshops.
Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How long does it take to earn a Vocational Education bachelor's degree online?
Like most online bachelor’s degrees, vocational-technical education programs take about four years to complete. Most programs are around 125+ credit hours spanning general education, major-specific courses, and electives. In some cases, you might be able to enroll in an accelerated online program, which can cut your time spent in class down by at least a year.
What you also need to consider is, vocational education degrees are a unique breed. For one, in many cases, you’ll need to have completed a professional certification program and gathered some work experience in the field. Second, licensure requirements depend on where you want to teach, as well as your area of expertise.
How much does an Online Vocational Education bachelor’s degree cost?
On average, students can expect to pay between $28k and $80k to earn their bachelor’s in education. Online programs may help students save some money in terms of housing and transportation costs, but in both cases, you can expect to pay a comparable amount per credit hour.
It’s also worth noting that becoming a middle or high school teacher involves completing an extra year of education which involves in-person student teaching. So, keep in mind, there will be both additional costs built-in, as well as potential lost wages due to time spent completing an internship.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
While you can learn to become a teacher at most educational institutions, vocational education is something of a specialty. Aspiring teachers should look out for schools offering programs in professional training or career and technical education. In some cases, you may be able to combine a general teaching program with experience in your field and then earn your teaching credential later.
However, some specific methods apply to teaching vocational content, and aspiring instructors may get more out of a program that speaks to their needs versus trying to make something “almost right” fit the bill.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
Graduation rates are worth looking at for a few reasons. You’ll want to look at the number of people who start a program compared to those who return and eventually earn their degree. If there’s a high drop-off rate, it might mean that students couldn’t secure financial aid or were unhappy with the program. Or, maybe the school didn’t provide the necessary resources.
Or, perhaps class scheduling made things difficult for students. In any case, whether students decide to return to a program or not may have something to do with how well the faculty and administration supported them through their studies.
The national average retention rate is about 61.1%, meaning, of those freshmen that enroll each year, 6 out of 10 come back the following year. Still, this isn’t the most critical metric. People drop out for all sorts of reasons, be it job obligations, family issues, or trouble paying for school. These factors might not have anything to do with the school’s ability to deliver on their promise, so keep that in mind as you do your research.
What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
If your goal is to earn an online bachelor’s degree, one of the first things you’ll need to consider is whether the school you’re looking at is accredited. Teaching at the high school or middle school level will require an accredited degree, plus licensure and experience in your chosen vocation.
To become a teacher in a trade school setting, the requirements may be a bit different. See, a beauty school won’t hold regional accreditation like a state university—and your ability to teach in that setting is more dependent on your expertise in that field. A degree from an accredited institution won’t steer you wrong but it’s smart to look into what the requirements are for your specific vocation and where you’d like to work.
Software/Technology/Skills Needed (If Applicable)
Vocational education teachers must be able to explain technical concepts in a way that students can easily understand. This role is ideal for people who want to share their knowledge with others, and it requires an ability to present complex ideas and turn them into practical applications.
You’ll likely be working with students of all levels and capabilities. As such, you need to be patient with students and meet them on their level to create a positive learning experience.
Teachers will need to be able to organize lesson plans for multiple classes throughout the day, plan coursework, and make time for grading and evaluating projects. Because vocational training is a hands-on learning environment, teachers will need to plan each lesson in detail, accounting for any safety measures or materials tutorials that might come into play.
- Commitment to Professional Development
Vocational instructors must continue to take advantage of professional development opportunities to maintain expertise. This might involve learning to use the latest technology, keeping up-to-date on industry trends, and obtaining new certifications, if applicable.
Vocational Education Scholarships
California Association of Leaders for Career Preparation (CALCP)
Amount: minimum $500
Deadline: March 6
CALCP offers scholarships to high school students taking vocational courses and planning on pursuing a career and technical teaching program in college. Students must be CA residents, enrolled in a public, private, or charter school. To qualify, applicants must submit transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and have a valid vocational goal.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund
Deadline: Feb 15
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund is a partnership between the non-profits, donors, and businesses that aim to break down educational barriers for Latino students. Awards range from $500 to $5000, and you must have a 3.0 minimum GPA to apply.
Amount: Up to $4,000
Deadline: October 31
The TEACH grant is offered to students on a tuition-for-service basis. This scholarship might be worth checking out if you’re looking into vocational teaching in middle or high schools. Students can receive up to $4000 on an annual basis in exchange for a four-year teaching commitment at a school serving low-income students.
Gates Millennium Foundation
Amount: Full Cost of Attendance
Deadline: January 13
The GMF offers scholarships to outstanding students with any major, though preference is given to those pursuing a career in education. Scholarships are available to minority students in the US, and you must have applied to the PELL grant to become eligible. Recipients will receive a full scholarship that applies to undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral programs.
Professional Vocational Education Organizations
A national association that represents career and technical education professionals, the ACTE provides educators with a range of resources such as professional development, seminars, and job opportunities. The goal of ACTE is to develop a competitive workforce by increasing access to vocational training in preparation for high wage jobs.
The Association for Career and Technical Education Research (ACTER) is a non-profit that provides innovative solutions for vocational educators. ACTER membership is ideal for instructors working in consumer sciences, health, technology, industry marketing, and more, and membership will provide access to publications and abstracts of papers presented at national conventions.
National Career Development Association
The NCDA is a professional association that provides professional development opportunities to members, as well as access to publications, a job board, and several online resources. Additionally, the NCDA provides credentials for those who wish to become a certified career counselor, career services provider, and several others. Credentials may be an opportunity to advance your own career within the technical education space, outside of the classroom.
Advance CTE is an organization dedicated to supporting vocational training in secondary and post-secondary institutions. This organization offers membership to employers, educators, and vocational professionals. Members will receive access to news, publications, and networking opportunities; highlighting the latest research in this space, as well as critical issues and legislation that affects vocational workers.
Choosing an Accredited College
While many online vocational programs are not accredited by the regional centers responsible for accrediting most traditional universities and colleges, you’ll want to earn your degree from an accredited school.
For an online bachelor’s degree in education, it’s important to look for schools that have the regional seal of approval. This ensures that you’re getting an education in line with your state’s standards, which will come into play heavily when you go to earn your certification. If you’ve got your sights set exclusively on post-secondary education, you might be able to get away with your work experience and vocational certificate alone. However, if you’re looking for a path that offers the most regarding options for careers, an accredited bachelor’s degree program will serve you well.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid
Online programs allow students more flexibility than a traditional on-campus experience. This might be a good idea for students that are working in the vocation they’d like to teach, as they’ll still be able to earn money while earning their degree. However, you might not be able to complete your entire degree online. Career and technical education is a field that requires a lot of hands-on, practical experience. Students will need to complete an internship to earn their certification, meaning, they’ll need to account for that time spent learning on-site.
A hybrid approach might make the most sense for a student with time constraints, as they’ll be able to take some classes online and others in person.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get a bachelor’s instead of a vocational certificate or degree?
The answer to this depends on what vocational training you are aiming to earn. Those who wish to, or already have, gained vocational training to be a paralegal could certainly attend a college or university and graduate with an associate or even a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. However, those who wish to work in cosmetology are less likely to have options available from community colleges or universities that award an actual degree. Despite the fact that nearly all cosmetology workers are required to have some form of licensure or certification, there are not degrees available in this particular field. In the same way, the availability of degrees are hit or miss across all forms of vocational training. This is something to keep in mind when you are trying to decide what to do for your future career.
Do all vocational degrees have similar requirements?
Unfortunately, nothing is cut and dry in the world of vocational education. As mentioned above, some vocational training is available as degrees, while many are not. In the same way, some vocational training requires that you have a high school diploma or equivalent, while some requires nothing except that you complete the training. And some can take two years to complete, similar to an associate degree, while others can be completed in mere months. In the case of vocational learning, it’s best to start with an idea of what career you want to have and research all requirements from there. Not only do they vary across different careers, but there can be differences in requirements within the same career when you are considering working in different states.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
While doing your research, you’ll want to look at more than whether or not a school is accredited or has your major. You’ll also want to consider the resources available for graduates. Some schools offer help finding jobs, securing internships, or navigating the process of earning your certification.
Because this online degree is a little different than most degree programs, job placement is vital. Multiple moving pieces need to come together, meaning, some additional support from faculty and administrators can make a huge difference regarding prospects.
Why You Need to Consider the Overall National Rankings of the College and The Effects on Your Career or Salary
There’s not much variation in salary for vocational teachers. Middle and high school instructors earn slightly more than post-secondary instructors, likely because they must have a bachelor’s degree, at minimum, to qualify. If you’d like to work in a middle or high school, it’s essential to look for an accredited program with a good reputation.
Looking at a school’s reputation can give you a sense of the quality of education you’ll receive. A top school is more likely to have excellent instructors, provide support during your tenure and after graduation, and may help you find employment faster than you might in a program with poor ratings.