Teachers—Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle, and Secondary
- Public school teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree,
complete an approved teacher education program, and be licensed.
- Many States offer alternative licensing programs to attract
people into teaching, especially for hard-to-fill positions.
- Excellent job opportunities are expected as retirements, especially
among secondary school teachers, outweigh slowing enrollment
growth; opportunities will vary by geographic area and subject
Teachers act as facilitators or coaches, using interactive discussions
and “hands-on” approaches to help students learn and apply concepts
in subjects such as science, mathematics, or English. They utilize
“props” or “manipulatives” to help children understand abstract
concepts, solve problems, and develop critical thought processes.
For example, they teach the concepts of numbers or of addition
and subtraction by playing board games. As the children get older,
the teachers use more sophisticated materials, such as science
apparatus, cameras, or computers.
To encourage collaboration in solving problems, students are
increasingly working in groups to discuss and solve problems together.
Preparing students for the future workforce is a major stimulus
generating changes in education. To be prepared, students must
be able to interact with others, adapt to new technology, and
think through problems logically. Teachers provide the tools and
the environment for their students to develop these skills.
Preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers play
a vital role in the development of children. What children learn
and experience during their early years can shape their views
of themselves and the world and can affect their later success
or failure in school, work, and their personal lives. Preschool,
kindergarten, and elementary school teachers introduce children
to mathematics, language, science, and social studies. They use
games, music, artwork, films, books, computers, and other tools
to teach basic skills.
Preschool children learn mainly through play and interactive
activities. Preschool teachers capitalize on children’s
play to further language and vocabulary development (using storytelling,
rhyming games, and acting games), improve social skills (having
the children work together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox),
and introduce scientific and mathematical concepts (showing the
children how to balance and count blocks when building a bridge
or how to mix colors when painting). Thus, a less structured approach,
including small-group lessons, one-on-one instruction, and learning
through creative activities such as art, dance, and music, is
adopted to teach preschool children. Play and hands-on teaching
also are used by kindergarten teachers, but academics begin
to take priority in kindergarten classrooms. Letter recognition,
phonics, numbers, and awareness of nature and science, introduced
at the preschool level, are taught primarily in kindergarten.
Most elementary school teachers instruct one class of
children in several subjects. In some schools, two or more teachers
work as a team and are jointly responsible for a group of students
in at least one subject. In other schools, a teacher may teach
one special subject—usually music, art, reading, science, arithmetic,
or physical education—to a number of classes. A small but growing
number of teachers instruct multilevel classrooms, with students
at several different learning levels.
Middle school teachers and secondary school teachers
help students delve more deeply into subjects introduced in elementary
school and expose them to more information about the world. Middle
and secondary school teachers specialize in a specific subject,
such as English, Spanish, mathematics, history, or biology. They
also can teach subjects that are career oriented. Vocational
education teachers, also referred to as career and technical
or career-technology teachers, instruct and train students to
work in a wide variety of fields, such as healthcare, business,
auto repair, communications, and, increasingly, technology. They
often teach courses that are in high demand by area employers,
who may provide input into the curriculum and offer internships
to students. Many vocational teachers play an active role in building
and overseeing these partnerships. Additional responsibilities
of middle and secondary school teachers may include career guidance
and job placement, as well as follow-ups with students after graduation.
Computers play an integral role in the education teachers provide.
Resources such as educational software and the Internet expose
students to a vast range of experiences and promote interactive
learning. Through the Internet, students can communicate with
other students anywhere in the world, allowing them to share experiences
and differing viewpoints. Students also use the Internet for individual
research projects and to gather information. Computers are used
in other classroom activities as well, from solving math problems
to learning English as a second language. Teachers also may use
computers to record grades and perform other administrative and
clerical duties. They must continually update their skills so
that they can instruct and use the latest technology in the classroom.
Teachers often work with students from varied ethnic, racial,
and religious backgrounds. With growing minority populations in
most parts of the country, it is important for teachers to work
effectively with a diverse student population. Accordingly, some
schools offer training to help teachers enhance their awareness
and understanding of different cultures. Teachers may also include
multicultural programming in their lesson plans, to address the
needs of all students, regardless of their cultural background.
Teachers design classroom presentations to meet students’ needs
and abilities. They also work with students individually. Teachers
plan, evaluate, and assign lessons; prepare, administer, and grade
tests; listen to oral presentations; and maintain classroom discipline.
They observe and evaluate a student’s performance and potential
and increasingly are asked to use new assessment methods. For
example, teachers may examine a portfolio of a student’s artwork
or writing in order to judge the student’s overall progress. They
then can provide additional assistance in areas in which a student
needs help. Teachers also grade papers, prepare report cards,
and meet with parents and school staff to discuss a student’s
academic progress or personal problems.
In addition to conducting classroom activities, teachers oversee
study halls and homerooms, supervise extracurricular activities,
and accompany students on field trips. They may identify students
with physical or mental problems and refer the students to the
proper authorities. Secondary school teachers occasionally assist
students in choosing courses, colleges, and careers. Teachers
also participate in education conferences and workshops.
In recent years, site-based management, which allows teachers
and parents to participate actively in management decisions regarding
school operations, has gained popularity. In many schools, teachers
are increasingly involved in making decisions regarding the budget,
personnel, textbooks, curriculum design, and teaching methods.
Seeing students develop new skills and gain an appreciation of
knowledge and learning can be very rewarding. However, teaching
may be frustrating when one is dealing with unmotivated or disrespectful
students. Occasionally, teachers must cope with unruly behavior
and violence in the schools. Teachers may experience stress in
dealing with large classes, heavy workloads, or old schools that
are run down and lack many modern amenities. Accountability standards
also may increase stress levels, with teachers expected to produce
students who are able to exhibit satisfactory performance on standardized
tests in core subjects. Many teachers, particularly in public
schools, are also frustrated by the lack of control they have
over what they are required to teach.
Teachers in private schools generally enjoy smaller class sizes
and more control over establishing the curriculum and setting
standards for performance and discipline. Their students also
tend to be more motivated, since private schools can be selective
in their admissions processes.
Teachers are sometimes isolated from their colleagues because
they work alone in a classroom of students. However, some schools
allow teachers to work in teams and with mentors to enhance their
Including school duties performed outside the classroom, many
teachers work more than 40 hours a week. Part-time schedules are
more common among preschool and kindergarten teachers. Although
some school districts have gone to all-day kindergartens, most
kindergarten teachers still teach two kindergarten classes a day.
Most teachers work the traditional 10-month school year with a
2-month vacation during the summer. During the vacation break,
those on the 10-month schedule may teach in summer sessions, take
other jobs, travel, or pursue personal interests. Many enroll
in college courses or workshops to continue their education. Teachers
in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 8 weeks,
are on vacation for 1 week, and have a 5-week midwinter break.
Preschool teachers working in day care settings often work year
Most States have tenure laws that prevent public school teachers
from being fired without just cause and due process. Teachers
may obtain tenure after they have satisfactorily completed a probationary
period of teaching, normally 3 years. Tenure does not absolutely
guarantee a job, but it does provide some security.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public school
teachers to be licensed. Licensure is not required for teachers
in private schools in most States. Usually licensure is granted
by the State Board of Education or a licensure advisory committee.
Teachers may be licensed to teach the early childhood grades (usually
preschool through grade 3); the elementary grades (grades 1 through
6 or 8); the middle grades (grades 5 through 8); a secondary-education
subject area (usually grades 7 through 12); or a special subject,
such as reading or music (usually grades kindergarten through
Requirements for regular licenses to teach kindergarten through
grade 12 vary by State. However, all States require general education
teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and to have completed an
approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of
subject and education credits, as well as supervised practice
teaching. Some States also require technology training and the
attainment of a minimum grade point average. A number of States
require that teachers obtain a master’s degree in education within
a specified period after they begin teaching.
Almost all States require applicants for a teacher’s license
to be tested for competency in basic skills, such as reading and
writing, and in teaching. Almost all also require the teacher
to exhibit proficiency in his or her subject. Many school systems
are presently moving toward implementing performance-based systems
for licensure, which usually require a teacher to demonstrate
satisfactory teaching performance over an extended period in order
to obtain a provisional license, in addition to passing an examination
in their subject. Most States require continuing education for
renewal of the teacher’s license. Many States have reciprocity
agreements that make it easier for teachers licensed in one State
to become licensed in another.
Many States also offer alternative licensure programs for teachers
who have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they will teach, but
who lack the necessary education courses required for a regular
license. Many of these alternative licensure programs are designed
to ease shortages of teachers of certain subjects, such as mathematics
and science. Other programs provide teachers for urban and rural
schools that have difficulty filling positions with teachers from
traditional licensure programs. Alternative licensure programs
are intended to attract people into teaching who do not fulfill
traditional licensing standards, including recent college graduates
who did not complete education programs and those changing from
another career to teaching. In some programs, individuals begin
teaching quickly under provisional licensure. After working under
the close supervision of experienced educators for 1 or 2 years
while taking education courses outside school hours, they receive
regular licensure if they have progressed satisfactorily. In other
programs, college graduates who do not meet licensure requirements
take only those courses that they lack and then become licensed.
This approach may take 1 or 2 semesters of full-time study. States
may issue emergency licenses to individuals who do not meet the
requirements for a regular license when schools cannot attract
enough qualified teachers to fill positions. Teachers who need
to be licensed may enter programs that grant a master’s degree
in education, as well as a license.
In many States, vocational teachers have many of the same requirements
for teaching as their academic counterparts. However, because
knowledge and experience in a particular field are important criteria
for the job, some States will license vocational education teachers
without a bachelor’s degree, provided they can demonstrate expertise
in their field. A minimum number of hours in education courses
may also be required.
Licensing requirements for preschool teachers also vary by State.
Requirements for public preschool teachers are generally more
stringent than those for private preschool teachers. Some States
require a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, while
others require an associate’s degree, and still others require
certification by a nationally recognized authority. The Child
Development Associate (CDA) credential, the most common type of
certification, requires a mix of classroom training and experience
working with children, along with an independent assessment of
an individual’s competence.
Private schools are generally exempt from meeting State licensing
standards. For secondary school teacher jobs, they prefer candidates
who have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they intend to teach,
or in childhood education for elementary school teachers. They
seek candidates among recent college graduates as well as from
those who have established careers in other fields. Private schools
associated with religious institutions also desire candidates
who share the values that are important to the institution.
In some cases, teachers of kindergarten through high school may
attain professional certification in order to demonstrate competency
beyond that required for a license. The National Board for Professional
Teaching Standards offers a voluntary national certification.
To become nationally accredited, experienced teachers must prove
their aptitude by compiling a portfolio showing their work in
the classroom and by passing a written assessment and evaluation
of their teaching knowledge. Currently, teachers may become certified
in a variety of areas, on the basis of the age of the students
and, in some cases, the subject taught. For example, teachers
may obtain a certificate for teaching English language arts to
early adolescents (aged 11 to 15), or they may become certified
as early childhood generalists. All States recognize national
certification, and many States and school districts provide special
benefits to teachers holding such certification. Benefits typically
include higher salaries and reimbursement for continuing education
and certification fees. In addition, many States allow nationally
certified teachers to carry a license from one State to another.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education currently
accredits teacher education programs across the United States.
Graduation from an accredited program is not necessary to become
a teacher, but it does make it easier to fulfill licensure requirements.
Generally, 4-year colleges require students to wait until their
sophomore year before applying for admission to teacher education
programs. Traditional education programs for kindergarten and
elementary school teachers include courses—designed specifically
for those preparing to teach—in mathematics, physical science,
social science, music, art, and literature, as well as prescribed
professional education courses, such as philosophy of education,
psychology of learning, and teaching methods. Aspiring secondary
school teachers most often major in the subject they plan to teach
while also taking a program of study in teacher preparation. Teacher
education programs are now required to include classes in the
use of computers and other technologies in order to maintain their
accreditation. Most programs require students to perform a student-teaching
Many States now offer professional development schools—partnerships
between universities and elementary or secondary schools. Students
enter these 1-year programs after completion of their bachelor’s
degree. Professional development schools merge theory with practice
and allow the student to experience a year of teaching firsthand,
under professional guidance.
In addition to being knowledgeable in their subject, teachers
must have the ability to communicate, inspire trust and confidence,
and motivate students, as well as understand the students’ educational
and emotional needs. Teachers must be able to recognize and respond
to individual and cultural differences in students and employ
different teaching methods that will result in higher student
achievement. They should be organized, dependable, patient, and
creative. Teachers also must be able to work cooperatively and
communicate effectively with other teachers, support staff, parents,
and members of the community.
With additional preparation, teachers may move into positions
as school librarians, reading specialists, instructional coordinators,
or guidance counselors. Teachers may become administrators or
supervisors, although the number of these positions is limited
and competition can be intense. In some systems, highly qualified,
experienced teachers can become senior or mentor teachers, with
higher pay and additional responsibilities. They guide and assist
less experienced teachers while keeping most of their own teaching
responsibilities. Preschool teachers usually work their way up
from assistant teacher, to teacher, to lead teacher—who may be
responsible for the instruction of several classes—and, finally,
to director of the center. Preschool teachers with a bachelor’s
degree frequently are qualified to teach kindergarten through
grade 3 as well. Teaching at these higher grades often results
in higher pay.
Preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and
secondary school teachers, except special education, held about
3.8 million jobs in 2004. Of the teachers in those jobs, about
1.5 million are elementary school teachers, 1.1 million are secondary
school teachers, 628,000 are middle school teachers, 431,000 are
preschool teachers, and 171,000 are kindergarten teachers. The
majority work in local government educational services. About
10 percent work for private schools. Preschool teachers, except
special education, are most often employed in child daycare services
(61 percent), religious organizations (12 percent), local government
educational services (9 percent), and private educational services
(7 percent). Employment of teachers is geographically distributed
much the same as the population.
Job opportunities for teachers over the next 10 years will vary
from good to excellent, depending on the locality, grade level,
and subject taught. Most job openings will result from the need
to replace the large number of teachers who are expected to retire
over the 2004-14 period. Also, many beginning teachers decide
to leave teaching after a year or two—especially those employed
in poor, urban schools—creating additional job openings for teachers.
Shortages of qualified teachers will likely continue, resulting
in competition among some localities, with schools luring teachers
from other States and districts with bonuses and higher pay.
Through 2014, overall student enrollments in elementary, middle,
and secondary schools—a key factor in the demand for teachers—are
expected to rise more slowly than in the past as children of the
baby boom generation leave the school system. This will cause
employment to grow as fast as the average for teachers from kindergarten
through the secondary grades. Projected enrollments will vary
by region. Fast-growing States in the West—particularly California,
Idaho, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, and New Mexico—will experience the
largest enrollment increases. Enrollments in the South will increase
at a more modest rate than in recent years, while those in the
Northeast and Midwest are expected to hold relatively steady or
decline. Teachers who are geographically mobile and who obtain
licensure in more than one subject should have a distinct advantage
in finding a job.
The job market for teachers also continues to vary by school
location and by subject taught. Job prospects should be better
in inner cities and rural areas than in suburban districts. Many
inner cities—often characterized by overcrowded, ill-equipped
schools and higher-than-average poverty rates—and rural areas—characterized
by their remote location and relatively low salaries—have difficulty
attracting and retaining enough teachers. Currently, many school
districts have difficulty hiring qualified teachers in some subject
areas—most often mathematics, science (especially chemistry and
physics), bilingual education, and foreign languages. Increasing
enrollments of minorities, coupled with a shortage of minority
teachers, should cause efforts to recruit minority teachers to
intensify. Also, the number of non-English-speaking students will
continue to grow, creating demand for bilingual teachers and for
those who teach English as a second language. Specialties that
have an adequate number of qualified teachers include general
elementary education, physical education, and social studies.
Qualified vocational teachers also are currently in demand in
a variety of fields at both the middle school and secondary school
The number of teachers employed is dependent as well on State
and local expenditures for education and on the enactment of legislation
to increase the quality and scope of public education. At the
Federal level, there has been a large increase in funding for
education, particularly for the hiring of qualified teachers in
lower income areas. Also, some States are instituting programs
to improve early childhood education, such as offering full day
kindergarten and universal preschool. These last two programs,
along with projected higher enrollment growth for preschool age
children, will create many new jobs for preschool teachers, which
are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations.
The supply of teachers is expected to increase in response to
reports of improved job prospects, better pay, more teacher involvement
in school policy, and greater public interest in education. In
recent years, the total number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees
granted in education has increased steadily. Because of a shortage
of teachers in certain locations, and in anticipation of the loss
of a number of teachers to retirement, many States have implemented
policies that will encourage more students to become teachers.
In addition, more teachers may be drawn from a reserve pool of
career changers, substitute teachers, and teachers completing
alternative certification programs.
Median annual earnings of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and
secondary school teachers ranged from $41,400 to $45,920 in May
2004; the lowest 10 percent earned $26,730 to $31,180; the top
10 percent earned $66,240 to $71,370. Median earnings for preschool
teachers were $20,980.
According to the American Federation of Teachers, beginning teachers
with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $31,704 in the 2003–04
school year. The estimated average salary of all public elementary
and secondary school teachers in the 2003–04 school year was $46,597.
Private school teachers generally earn less than public school
teachers, but may be given other benefits, such as free or subsidized
In 2004, more than half of all elementary, middle, and secondary
school teachers belonged to unions—mainly the American Federation
of Teachers and the National Education Association—that bargain
with school systems over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions
of employment. Fewer preschool and kindergarten teachers were
union members—about 17 percent in 2004.
Teachers can boost their salary in a number of ways. In some
schools, teachers receive extra pay for coaching sports and working
with students in extracurricular activities. Getting a master’s
degree or national certification often results in a raise in pay,
as does acting as a mentor. Some teachers earn extra income during
the summer by teaching summer school or performing other jobs
in the school system. See the Career
Database for more information on these careers.
Preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and
secondary school teaching requires a variety of skills and aptitudes,
including a talent for working with children; organizational,
administrative, and recordkeeping abilities; research and communication
skills; the power to influence, motivate, and train others; patience;
and creativity. Workers in other occupations requiring some of
these aptitudes include teachers—postsecondary; counselors; teacher
assistants; education administrators; librarians; childcare workers;
public relations specialists; social workers; and athletes, coaches,
umpires, and related workers.
|Sources of Additional Information
Information on licensure or certification requirements and approved
teacher training institutions is available from local school systems
and State departments of education.
Information on the teaching profession and on how to become a
teacher can be obtained from:
Information on teachers’ unions and education-related issues
may be obtained from the following sources:
- American Federation of Teachers, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW.,
Washington, DC 20001.
- National Education Association, 1201 16th St. NW., Washington,
A list of institutions with accredited teacher education programs
can be obtained from:
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010
Massachusetts Ave. NW., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036-1023.
Internet: http: //www.ncate.org/
Information on alternative certification programs can be obtained
- National Center for Alternative Certification, 1901 Pennsylvania
Ave NW, Suite 201, Washington, DC 20006. Internet: http://www.teach-now.org/
For information on vocational education and vocational education
For information on careers in educating children and issues affecting
preschool teachers, contact either of the following organizations:
- National Association for the Education of Young Children,
1509 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.naeyc.org/
- Council for Professional Recognition, 2460 16th St. NW., Washington,
DC 20009-3575. Internet: http://www.cdacouncil.org/
25-2011.00, 25-2012.00, 25-2021.00, 25-2022.00, 25-2023.00, 25-2031.00,
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,