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The Path to Becoming a Teacher

Teachers play crucial roles in society, sharing their knowledge with students and training them to succeed as adults. Education is an ancient and noble profession that is among the most popular college majors.

The path to becoming a teacher begins in high school, or even earlier, when students begin thinking about the profession. This process continues through stages of preparation, education, and certification.

You may want to be a teacher because you have been inspired by instructors in your school. Perhaps there is an academic subject that you love, and would like to teach to others. You could have a gift for relating to children that makes you well suited for a life as an educator.

1. Preparation

If you are in middle school or high school, you may already be considering education as a career. This is when you begin exploring the possibilities, and determining whether you have the necessary skills. In addition to research, you need first-hand information from teachers you respect. Ask why they chose the profession, and which aspects they like and dislike.

Your grades are important, as they are major factors in getting college placements and financial aid. If your grade-point average is too low, it could be hard to find a college that will accept you. Exceptional marks, along with high scores on the ACT or SAT, could pay large dividends.

It is recommended that prospective teachers take a variety of liberal-arts classes in high school. Challenge yourself with difficult courses, and sign up for college-prep programs. During this time, decide whether you want to teach in elementary, secondary, or special education. The level you choose affects the classes you should take.

In determining which academic subject to teach, you might want to do some market research. Instructors in certain subjects are in greater demand than others, which influences job availability and salary. At last report, those most needed were math, biology, chemistry, and special-education instructors. Social studies, health, and physical-education teachers were in the least demand.

2. Post-Secondary Education

The educational requirements for teachers are similar, with some differences, in the United States and Canada. States and provinces, rather than national governments, determine rules and procedures. All jurisdictions in the two countries mandate bachelor’s degrees, which typically entail four years of full-time study.

Selecting a college or university involves a number of factors, like tuition rates, academic requirements, degree programs, school size, and location. Do not immediately rule out a college that appears to be too expensive. Explore all the possible types of financial aid. The United States has a Federal Teachers Loan Forgiveness Program for students who agree to teach certain subjects or work in low-income areas. Some states also offer incentives to attact more people to the profession.

Education majors take an array of general-education classes, with an emphasis on the grade levels they anticipate teaching. While in school, they often work as student teachers to obtain on-the-job training. U.S. students seek undergraduate degrees in the subjects (like math, science, or English) that they plan to teach. They also must complete pedagogy coursework, which covers educational theories and practices.

An alternate route is to complete two years of college, then transfer to a four-year teacher-education degree program at a university. Online courses also are available. Some states impose additional stipulations regarding teacher-preparation classes. Receiving student-teacher training, as well as passing an exam in your subject area, are commonly mandated before you are allowed to apply for a teaching certificate.

Canadian undergraduates must obtain a specified number of credits, which varies by province, in education-related courses. A bachelor of secondary education degree takes another year or two of studies.

3. Certification

Nearly all public schools, and many private institutions, require their teachers to have professional certification. Procedures vary, but states usually administer the PRAXIS exam or a basic-skills test. A passing grade qualifies you for a teaching certificate in that state. Most states have incremental levels of certification. You could work for three to five years with preliminary, or provisional, credentials. Continuing education and experience are required to earn professional or permanent certificates.

In some places, this process is complicated. For instance, starting teachers in Michigan and some other states hold “initial” certificates that are good for one or two years, then can pass some exams to get six-year “provisional” credentials. These certificates must be renewed three times, involving more classes and exams. With further continuing education and professional development, an instructor may earn a “professional education” certificate. Veteran teachers can qualify for “advanced professional education” certification.

If you are certified in one state, you might be allowed to transfer the credentials to another state. However, such reciprocity agreements are not accepted in all jurisdictions. To become certified to teach in Canada, you need to show your qualifications to a provincial education department or College of Teachers. You also must past an exam.

Teaching children has many rewards, though the financial benefits are not as attractive as those of many other professional occupations. If you successfully navigate all the years of education, training, and certification, you can look forward to a gratifying career. As a teacher, you will find yourself in a position to positively influence young people, and help them achieve their own goals in life.

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