Teacher Career Path: How to Start Your Career in Education

Teacher Career Path: How to Start Your Career in Education

8 minute read

Considering a career in teaching? If so, earning a degree in education will help you make your mark in a field where you can make a difference each day on the job. For many, teaching is more than a career: it’s a calling. Teachers are passionate about their job and vocal about the impact quality teaching has in their communities. How do you know if you are called to embark on a teaching career path? Whether it would be your first profession or your second act, there are a variety of education career paths you can pursue. But to start, we’ve laid out a simple guide to help you consider your options.

What Do You Do with a Degree in Education? 

Take a moment and think of five people outside your family who made a significant impact on your life. Chances are, at least one of them was a teacher. It’s an important and rewarding profession, but a teaching career might offer you more options than you thought. In addition to kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school teachers, here are some other teaching career paths you may want to consider: 

  1. Special education teacher
  2. Postsecondary teacher
  3. Adult basic and secondary education teacher
  4. English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher

In addition, you might also consider pursuing education administration positions, like a principal, guidance counselor, coach, or social worker. 

Most Common Teacher Career Paths

To give you an idea of what to expect from the field of education, we’ve outlined some of the most common teacher career paths, summarized the job duties and education requirements for each career path, and listed the skills you’d need the most to thrive.

Teaching Assistants

Teaching assistants support teachers in the classroom by reinforcing lessons for students, updating student records, supervising students, and working one-on-one with students in small groups. It requires a great deal of patience and communication skills, because within one class, students may need very different forms of support to learn each lesson. You need to be resourceful in finding ways to convey information. For public schools, teaching assistants need to complete at least two years of college coursework or an associate’s degree. For federal Title 1 programs, teaching assistants must have at least a two-year degree, two years of college, or be able to pass a state or local assessment.(1) Most teaching assistants work full-time, although there are part-time positions available. As of May 2021, the median salary for teaching assistants was $29,360, and employment is expected to grow by five percent by 2031, which is on par with other occupations.(2)

Kindergarten, Elementary, and Middle School Teachers

Kindergarten, elementary, or middle school teachers work not only during school hours, but also nights and weekends to prepare lessons and grade assignments.(3) In addition to classroom instruction, these teachers help their students prepare for standardized tests, work with students on their own personal learning challenges, and communicate regularly with parents about their child’s progress in classes.(4)  While kindergarten and elementary school teachers tend to teach a broader range of material to the same group of students daily, this can vary for middle school teachers. Middle school teachers may specialize by subject, teaching a class such as math, English, or history to many different students throughout the day. Some middle schools ask teachers to instruct students in one class on a variety of subjects.(4) As with being a teaching assistant, you need a range of communication skills to effectively teach coursework to your students. And now more than ever, it’s important for teachers of all grades to be comfortable using technology in the classroom to deliver lessons, record student progress, and keep parents informed.  All states require public kindergarten and elementary school teachers to have at least a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education.(5) Some states also require kindergarten, elementary, and middle school teachers to major in a content area, such as math or science.(6) Those who major in a content area typically enroll in their university’s teacher preparation program and take classes in education and child psychology Teachers in private schools do not need to meet state requirements, but private schools typically seek kindergarten and elementary school teachers who have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. Some states require kindergarten and elementary school teachers to earn a master’s degree after receiving their teaching certification. Many teachers add to their existing bachelor’s degree by pursuing their Master’s in Education online while continuing to work.(5) Online teacher preparation programs are becoming an increasingly popular option for those who choose to go back to school to become a teacher. This includes professionals who want to earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s in Education along with those who are looking to become certified by completing a teacher preparation program.  The career outlook for kindergarten, elementary, and middle school teachers is on par with other teaching career paths: the job pool for kindergarten and middle school teachers is expected to grow by four percent by 2031.(7,8) As of May 2021, the median pay for kindergarten teachers was about $61,000, which is nearly the same for middle school teachers.(9) 

High School Teachers 

High school teachers primarily prepare their students for graduation. In addition to teaching subject-specific coursework, high school teachers also need to assess their students regularly, prepare them for standardized tests, grade exams, and develop lessons to help them prepare for college or the job market.(10) Unlike kindergarten and elementary school teachers, you likely need to specialize in one area, and throughout the week, you may teach different grade levels ranging from ninth through twelfth grade. It is also common to work with special education teachers to provide the right kind of instruction to students with learning disabilities and develop plans to monitor their progress.(10) While the job is rewarding, working as a high school teacher can be stressful. Some schools have large classrooms with limited support for teachers in terms of technological aids, up-to-date textbooks, and classroom supplies. Along with elementary and middle school teachers, high school teachers spend significant time outside the classroom grading papers, developing lesson plans, and meeting with parents.(10) All high school teachers in a public school need to be licensed or certified. Most high school teachers are awarded a secondary or high school certification, which allows them to teach seventh through twelfth grade.(11) To become licensed, teachers generally need to complete a bachelor’s with a minimum grade point average, complete a student teaching program, and pass a background check along with a general teaching certification test. While in their career, high school teachers are also expected to complete professional development classes to keep their license or certification current.(11)  The career outlook for high school teachers is like that of kindergarten and middle school teachers: employment is expected to grow by five percent by 2031, with 77,900 jobs opening each year.(12) The median wage for high school teachers is $61,800. (13)

Your Teacher Career Path Checklist 

As you contemplate whether a teaching career path may be right for you, review this checklist:

  1. Do you have good communication skills? Are you adaptable, and a good listener? 
  2. Can you engage young people? Do you like interacting with children or teenagers? Are you a good role model? 
  3. Are you organized and self-motivated? Are you good at following processes when things don’t go as planned? 
  4. Do you want to make a difference in your community with your career? Are you looking for a professional calling that makes a positive impact in others’ lives? 

If you answer yes to most of these questions, there’s a good chance that a teaching career path would be a great fit – and that you do indeed have what it takes to become a teacher.

Get Started on Your Teacher Career Path

Whatever your professional goals are, StraighterLine can help you fast track moving forward on your path to a fulfilling career in education! Start today with our our easily transferable college courses specifically designed for earning your education degree.


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