Careers in Education – Career Paths & Earning Potential

Find Your Dream Career or Job in Education

Between teacher shortages and an overall lack of properly qualified teachers in a wide variety of specialty areas, teaching has, once again, become a highly demanded profession. It is important to note that teaching is a highly influential and often emotional experience for all involved including the kids, parents, and educators alike. However, a teaching career is also often regarded as one of the most rewarding careers in existence. The skills you acquire to be able to teach are the same skills that will eventually make you a great leader if you choose to advance your career throughout your tenure. And, teaching is one of the few professions in which you can still achieve a great quality of life once you find the right employer. If you are looking for a career that makes a profound difference in people’s lives with tremendous room for career growth opportunities, teaching might be the right fit for you.

Education Career Paths


Education Career Options and Paths


An education degree opens the door to many career opportunities. You can choose to begin as a teacher in early childhood education or as an elementary teacher, a middle school teacher or a high school teacher. Some teachers teach just one grade level and multiple subjects, while some teachers are responsible for one subject and several different classes. This is often dependent on the grade level you choose to teach, as younger students often stay in one class for every subject but older students have teachers who are specialized in various subjects.

Many professional educators choose to start as a teacher to gain the necessary experience of the education process, and then continue their education with an advanced degree to further their career and improve their salary. In the teaching profession, most school districts require their administrators to have an advanced degree. At this time, a master’s degree is sufficient to secure administration jobs such as vice principal, principal, school counselor, or superintendent. In the best school districts with the best-paying jobs, a PhD is becoming more commonplace.

It is also important to note that you will be required to complete a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher of any level in almost any school district in the US. You will also be required to complete various state exams and certifications to ensure you have been trained properly and have learned enough about the curriculum you will be teaching children. The biggest difference between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree is your earning potential. After 20 years as a teacher with a master’s degree, you will be earning at least $20,000 more a year that a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and the same amount of experience. In many school districts, this figure could be even higher.

Keep in mind that many people with a teaching degree go on to pursue other careers. More and more businesses are in search of exceptional teachers to train their employees in a wide array of subject matter, from sexual harassment to conflict resolution. You could also teach at a community college if you have a master’s degree. You could even become a substance abuse counselor, a life coach, or a social services manager. While the option for alternative career paths exists with a teaching degree, many people still choose a life-long career as an educator.

You can also advance your teaching career in many ways. Whether you wish to pursue a long-term career inside the classroom or outside the classroom, ample opportunities exist for all educator types. Individuals who continue their education with advanced degrees can potentially greatly improve their career options and earnings by securing jobs in top school districts and through career advancement. You can even change the school level at which you teach to improve your pay and opportunities. Regardless of the path you choose, the most important aspect to focus on in the early days of your career is developing your critical skills.

Skills Gained and Learned


These five skills are essential for becoming an effective teacher. If you want to be able to effectively control a classroom while engaging your students and creating a positive environment, you must master these skills. Such skills do not come naturally or easy to most people. However, you can artfully develop these skills over time with practice and determination.

Discipline
You have to be able to demonstrate firm objections and follow through with disciplinary measures if you wish to be a good teacher. Kids act out, some more than others. Many kids do not have effective discipline at home or they may have behavioral issues that have not yet been diagnosed or treated. As a result, you must implement disciplinary measures that foster a positive environment for learning for all rather than just a few.

Observation
Keen observation skills will tell you almost everything you need to know about your students. You will be able to make observations related to the level of their development in social, emotional, and cognitive matters. Issues children are having are just as noticeable in their actions as their test results. Teachers learn by watching just as much as they learn from grading papers.

Engagement
Engagement is a difficult skill to master as each year you are going to be paired with dozens of students who learn differently and who have unique attitudes towards school. Teachers who are genuinely interested in their students' educational and personal well-being are often the most effective. This also includes listening to their struggles and being receptive to their ideas and questions.

Communication
You will be required to have exceptional communication skills to be successful. Teachers must communicate well with students, administrators, school counselors, other teachers, and parents. You will have to use different communication techniques to effectively reach each different group. This skill takes work to be used effectively.

Patience
Patience might be the most important skill you can develop. Many people are not naturally gifted with exceptional patience. And, even if you are patient by nature, there will be times with an unruly classroom will test your abilities to cope and remain calm. It is essential that you establish an environment of positivity at all times, even during the tough times, to be the most effective teacher possible.

Careers in Specialty Education


A teaching career in specialty education can be a road to better pay and greater job security. Specialty education teachers are often severely lacking in general. This often results in school districts hiring less qualified teachers, such as teachers without a specialty degree, to teach students in specialty areas, much to the detriment of the students’ learning. If you choose a specialty teaching career, you will often experience less competition for job openings than other teaching fields and may earn a much better salary.

Art Teacher

An art teacher is typically required to follow the same educational journey as any other teacher. You must complete a bachelor’s degree, however the type of degree may vary, such as a bachelor’s degree in art followed by the completion of the required teacher preparation program or a bachelor’s degree in art education. It’s also possible that you can become an art teacher if you are a professional artist with the appropriate years of experience. In all cases, you must complete the teacher preparation program and the various certifications and licenses as required by your state of employment. As an art teacher, you will introduce various cultures to many students for the first time. For other students, art is a way to express themselves in a healthy manner. Art teachers are still teachers and as such are required to prepare lessons, grade papers, and discipline and manage a classroom, all while fostering an environment of creativity.

Music Teacher

Music teachers in public schools also require a bachelor’s degree in various types of teaching and/or music. Much like art, you can select a bachelor’s degree in music education, a bachelor’s degree in teaching with a music emphasis, or a bachelor’s degree in music. Whichever degree you choose, you must complete various music courses, the teacher preparation program, and earn state licenses and certifications. In private schools, the requirements are not as exact. If you are a remarkable musician with a skill to teach kids, you might be just the type of music teacher a school seeks. At the end of the day, you will be required to complete one-on-one music lessons, conduct rehearsals, provide assessments for grades, and develop course curriculum. Top music programs often attract enrollment of students who wish to pursue music professionally. As such, music teachers are highly regarded in many school districts.

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers, particularly good ones, are in high demand. This is one of the areas in education most lacking in qualified teachers. As general teachers become more aware of the signs to look for regarding student challenges in emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development, the greater the need for special education teachers. As a special education teacher, you will often work with many kids of a wide range of ages and classroom challenges. To become a special education teacher, you will be required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in education. Aides and assistants will require an associate degree. It is optimal if you complete a bachelor’s degree in special education with an emphasis on the grade level at which you wish to teach.

PE Teacher

PE teacher positions were once filled by teachers who coached various sports teams as an afterthought. Today, with the growing need for health and exercise incorporation into children’s routines, often because it’s lacking in their home life, PE teachers are becoming far more critical to the teaching staff. PE teachers today are required to complete a bachelor’s degree. You can choose a variety of degree types and specializations, such as education, nutrition, sports management, kinesiology, physical education, and more. You will also be required to complete teacher preparation courses and state certifications and licenses as required. In addition to classroom engagement, observation, and discipline you will have to actually teach fitness and health education rather than to simply allow kids to run around and play games. Many parents take health and fitness quite seriously today, and in other cases, you will be the only source of health and fitness education a child may receive in their young life.

English/Math/History/Science/Technology Teacher

English, math, science, technology, and history teachers are in great demand. These specializations also often lack qualified teachers, particularly in the STEM fields. As a result, teachers with backgrounds in other subjects end up teaching these classes at the peril of the students’ learning potential. It is important to note that, because of the high demand for good teachers in these areas, they often make significantly more than other teachers. Keep in mind that you will still have to complete a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis on the appropriate subject, such as a bachelor’s degree in math education, English education, or science education. Another reason you earn a higher salary for these positions is that they are more challenging subjects for most students. Great teachers in these areas find ways to make the topics relatable and more easily digestible, improving engagement and effectiveness.

ESL Teacher

English as a second language (ESL) teachers have become highly sought after in recent years. ESL students are children whose first language is not English. This could be for any reason such as their parents moving to the US to accept a job opportunity, their parents being granted asylum, or their parents are undocumented. You must be prepared to work with all students from all types of backgrounds and residency status. Because of the sensitive nature of many of the family situations, ESL teachers must complete specialized ESL training before they can become a qualified ESL teacher. You will also be required to complete a bachelor’s degree, preferably in education or ESL, and complete the other standard requirements for becoming a teacher. Such requirements include the teacher preparation program, hands-on training, work experience, and state certifications and licenses. In addition to standard classroom teachings, you will be responsible for helping to integrate these children into daily society. It is a highly rewarding teaching career for most.

Foreign Language Teacher

Young people being able to speak another language in addition to English is becoming more and more critical, and school districts are beginning to understand this. Successfully using a foreign language is more than simply speaking to another person. It is a way to build an immediate rapport with others who speak the language and to better understand one’s culture and history. Becoming a foreign language teacher differs slightly from the traditional teaching path. You will be required to be fluent in the language of your choice; therefore, it is often necessary that you earn a bachelor’s degree in the language you wish to teach rather than earning a teaching degree. However, exceptions do exist. If you are already fluent in another language for any reason, you can complete a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis on your preferred foreign language. You will still be required to complete the teacher preparation course, student teaching, and pass the state exams like everyone else. The most desirable foreign language teachers will have spent at least a semester in a country where the native language is the language you wish to teach. If you spend longer in a foreign-speaking country, you’re likely to have more success. If you grew up in a bilingual or multilingual household, you can simply complete an education degree and pass the necessary exams as required by your state.

Professional Organizations

National Science Teaching Association
The National Science Teaching Association brings together science professionals of all sorts who are dedicated to the science education of young people.

Music Teachers National Association
The Music Teachers National Association brings together over 22,000 music teachers nationwide to provide peer connections, continued education, and critical resources.

Society of Health and Physical Educators
The Society of Health and Physical Educators, also referred to as SHAPE America, assist PE and health educators to establish dynamic and effective PE and health programs.

Careers at Various Teaching Levels


It is of the most critical importance to understand that being an effective teacher is much more than simply teaching a subject. Humans are your commodity; therefore, you must account for the human element in addition to teaching the subject. The level at which you choose to teach should be directly reflective of your preference. If you are not comfortable teaching high school students for any reason, you should not teach high school students. All kids need teachers and there is a right fit for each level. Some people are simply better with children rather than teenagers and some people are simply better with teenagers than children. Be sure to choose the level that best suits your comfort zone so that you can be the best teacher possible. Keep in mind that you can always change grade levels in the future as you become more familiar and comfortable with the teaching process.

Preschool Teacher

A preschool teacher is perhaps the only teaching level at which you may not require a bachelor’s degree. At this point in time, some private preschools may only require a certificate or some teaching education. However, it is important to note that the most educationally-advanced states require at least a bachelor’s degree from their early childhood education teachers, which includes state-sponsored programs at the preschool level. And, as more states understand the importance of early childhood education and that the earlier a child begins their education the better their chances for success in life, the higher degree and certification requirements for preschool teachers are likely to become. If you work for a private, non-state sponsored preschool, you are more likely to require less formal education and state licensing. Regardless of your employer type, at the preschool level you will be responsible for beginning to teach children vital educational building blocks such as counting, social interaction, and following directions. You will have to incorporate discipline to some degree and to monitor and observe all behavior types, including social, emotional, physical, and intellectual.

Elementary School Teacher

An elementary school teacher is critical to the long-term educational success of students. Your teaching approach will define whether students enjoy the learning process or if they will fight the system the entire way. As if this pressure was not enough, you are also responsible for effectively teaching young people the basic skills they require to advance their education and skillsets. And you will have to carefully observe all students for potential setbacks in social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. If you notice areas that need special attention, you will work with the student, parents, administrators, school counselors, and special education teachers to establish an effective plan of corrective action in an attempt to prevent a student from falling behind. Be prepared that some students may fall behind; however, it is your job to try to find ways to keep all students on the same path. To teach in elementary schools, you must have a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, finish your student teaching, and pass all state certification and license requirements.

Middle School Teacher

Middle school teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching young people as they experience many challenges in their personal lives. This can add additional challenges to behavior in classrooms, so be prepared. However, they are also reaching an age where they are maturing, which can provide behavioral improvement. While you will likely only teach one subject, you will teach many more students than elementary teachers. It can be more difficult to create teaching methods that effectively reach all students, particularly as it becomes more difficult to build a personal rapport with each student due to the volume of students. Fortunately, teaching degrees prepare you for these potential obstacles. To teach in middle schools, you must have a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, student teach, and pass all state certification and license requirements. The state certification and license requirements will likely be unique for middle school teachers.

High School Teacher

A high school teacher faces additional challenges to those of middle school and elementary school teachers. At the high school level, students are attempting to balance more adult-like circumstances, including school, personal life, family life, jobs, external pressures to succeed, extracurricular activities, and more. Some students will be hyper-focused on receiving top grades, some will do what it takes to just get by, and others will work hard to fail. As a high school teacher, you have to attempt to establish a teaching method that reaches everyone in an effective manner. And, even if a student gives up, you must keep trying to reach them. To teach in high schools, you must have a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, student teach, and pass all state certification and license requirements. The state certification and license requirements will likely be unique for high school teachers. At this level, your soft skills will be equally as important as your education.

Professor / Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers are typically teachers or instructors at a community college or sometimes a university. These teachers are responsible for teaching the basic course requirements for degree programs. Some courses will be used to fulfill prerequisites for more advanced courses, and other postsecondary classes are designed to prepare students for employment opportunities. The quality of teaching at this level is highly important to the success of all students whether they complete a certificate, two-year degree, or a four-year degree. Professors teach at four-year colleges and universities. Again, they might teach a prerequisite course or a core major class and professors can choose a more generalized teaching area or a specialized teaching area depending on their specific interests. To become a professor, you may require a doctorate degree in education and experience. To teach as a postsecondary teacher at community colleges, you will only require a master’s degree in most cases.

Professional Organizations

National Education Association
The National Education Association is a professional teaching association with members from each state and more than three million total members.

Association of American Educators
The Association of American Educators is a non-union professional organization for teachers centered around education advocacy and teacher representation without an agenda of a partisan nature.

National Middle School Association
The National Middle School Association has over 30,000 members and it is entirely dedicated to supporting middle school teachers and their effort to mold the minds of young adolescents.

Careers Outside the Classroom


Educators are not limited to the traditional definition of teachers. You can be an educator outside the classroom just as much as you can in the classroom. In fact, educators are considered any type of professional associated with the education of any learner. This could come in the form of the library, at the school administration level, or even a nurse educator. It can include tutors and school counselors. All of these careers outside the classroom can also be achieved with education degrees, though you might need slightly different skills and focus.

Tutor

In the ever-growing demand placed on students to excel and achieve a bright future, a career as a tutor is becoming a viable option for many educators. In the past, tutors were often high school or college students who performed well in various subjects. While many tutors of this nature still have a place in the tutoring market, more and more parents are interested in hiring professional tutors who have properly trained to effectively assist their children in learning certain subjects. These professionals may be former or current teachers or teacher aides and assistants who tutor in their free time as a way to supplement their income. It is also possible for individuals with a high school degree or its equivalent to complete a tutoring certificate program to become qualified to work as a tutor. It is important to note that you must have a solid understanding of the subject rather than to just follow a teacher’s guide book that has the answers if you want to have a lasting job as a tutor. The most common subjects that require tutors include math, English, science, and foreign language. You could become employed by a private school, parents, or a tutoring service.

Librarian

The duties of a librarian are essential components to the overall learning experience. Many people might believe that librarians no longer exist or that they have been replaced by computers, and they would be quite wrong. Librarians are more important than ever, and they exist at all levels of education, from elementary schools to colleges and universities. For the foreseeable future, physical libraries still very much have a relevant presence in society and education. The librarians of today help teach students the best ways to research and search for library materials. They also manage the books, magazines, and other resources, as well as providing technical assistance with the library’s online presence. They may be responsible for updating the library website. It is also possible that a librarian will teach computer classes on best practices for digital research, how to determine the legitimacy of an online source, and much more. Most librarians today require a master’s degree in library science. You will also be required to pass a background check and complete state licenses and certifications like any teacher.

School Counselor

As mental health begins to be taken more seriously by school districts, the demand for qualified school counselors increases. The days of hiring a school counselor with a basic bachelor’s degree are long gone. Today, school counselors require at least a master’s degree in school counseling, or psychology with an emphasis in school counseling, as well as passing state certification and license exams. As a school counselor, you will work with students who struggle in many ways including mentally, physically, emotionally, or intellectually. You may have weekly sessions with students that are mandatory or voluntary. In many cases, you will not have enough time to meet the needs of all students, thus requiring you to prioritize your caseload. You will also work with the parents, administrators, teachers, and special education teachers. You may have to meet with teacher aides and family aides of students with special needs. School counselors are available at all levels of education today. You can work for elementary schools all the way up to high school and even in a few colleges. Keep in mind, you will require different training for each of these levels, as students at each level are dealing with different struggles. And, you may have to involve the authorities if potentially dangerous information is revealed to you, even in confidentiality.

School Administrator

A school administrator is an educator in a leadership role, such as a vice principal, principal, superintendent, or a specialized program director. These are the decision-makers at all levels of education. You will find these positions in preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. They manage the teachers and students in each building and the budgets for each program and the entire school. School administrators are responsible for determining the curriculum, the number of teachers for each grade level, and the salaries of all staff. They are also responsible for the hiring and firing of teachers, as well as the more severe disciplinary actions for students and teachers alike. These professional educators are responsible for the culture and academic direction of the schools. To become a school administrator, you will require at least a master’s degree and teaching experience in most states.

Vice Principal

Vice principals are essentially the assistant to the principal in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. These professional educators primarily work with teachers, members of the community, and students. They will enforce and implement the decisions of the principal. Much of their responsibility will be dedicated to the discipline of misbehaving students in a way that results in a positive experience rather than leading to more negative behavioral incidents. You will be expected to be a visible member of the community by attending school events of all kinds, including sports, plays, art programs, concerts, and more. Vice principals work all year, not only when school is in session. It is common for a vice principal to start as a teacher. You will be required to have at least a bachelor’s degree to become a vice principal and many work toward their master’s degree while they are teachers or while they work to become a principal. Keep in mind that vice principals positions are often only available in larger school districts or school districts with a higher percentage of disciplinary issues.

Principal

The school principal is the executive head of the school level. You will have individual principals in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. In some schools, the principal will have a vice principal to assist with implementing decisions as the principal has to work with other administrators such as the superintendent, other principals, parents, teachers, and more. School principals must remain unbiased and diplomatic regarding all issues that arise in the school. They must treat all students, parents, and teachers equally. And they must be prepared to work with the school board and possibly a curriculum director. In addition to managing the school, a principal must work within a budget and act as a leader and mentor. If you wish to become a school principal one day, you might be able to do so with a bachelor’s degree in small communities; however, many school districts now require a master’s degree for their principals. It is also critical that you have teaching experience to be the most effective principal and to be seen as a more desirable candidate. Many principals will start as a teacher while they work toward their master’s degree.

Superintendent

The superintendent of a school district is considered the CEO of the entire organization. They are responsible for the education and well-being of all individuals in the school community, including students, teachers, lunch staff, aides, principals, cleaning staff, and others. These educators work closely with the school board to determine the best direction for the school district in regard to programs, class offerings, number of teachers, major purchasing decisions, etc. The best superintendents will establish a positive rapport with the teachers, have teaching experience, and attend community events such as sports and music events. To become a superintendent today, you must have at least a master’s degree. It is important to note that many top schools now require a PhD before they will consider a candidate for the superintendent position. It is also important to note that, in this position, much like that of a CEO, you will never make everyone happy. You should be prepared to be both disliked and liked by various members of the community.

Professional Organizations

American School Counselor Association
The American School Counselor Association advocates for school counselors so that they can better serve students with academic, social, emotional, and physical challenges.

American Association of School Librarians
The American Association of School Librarians is the only professional librarian organization dedicated to supporting school library communities and school librarians.

School Superintendents Association
The School Superintendents Association is comprised of thousands of superintendents nationwide who advocate for children, their causes, public education, and teachers.

Education Career Salaries and Job Growth


OccupationAnnual Median SalaryJob Growth 2014 to 2024Required Education
High School Teacher$59,1701,018,700Bachelor’s Degree
Instructional Coordinator$63,750163,200Master’s Degree
Elementary School Teacher$56,9001,565,300Bachelor’s Degree
Librarian$58,520138,200Master’s Degree
Middle School Teacher$57,720630,300Bachelor’s Degree
Preschool Teacher$28,990478,500Associate’s Degree
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