Teaching, as a profession is many things. On one hand, it is a rewarding and life-affirming career, with the opportunity to shape people and help them reach their full potential. On the other, it is stressful, with long hours in an often hectic environment, under many different kinds of pressure. Many people believe they will make great teachers - and they may be right, but they should take stock of all the things that are required of a modern-day educator - things that extend beyond academic study. If you've ever thought about entering this challenging yet rewarding profession, here are some things you should bear in mind and some questions you should ask of yourself.
Is Teaching for You?
Many feel the calling, but not everyone has what it takes to be a teacher. Before you even begin your journey to becoming a full-time educator, it's worth doing some research, asking some questions of (or even shadowing) teachers you may know or who have taught you. It is also worth thinking carefully about which age group you wish to teach and what subject area you will specialize in. There is also a call for teachers overseas, which can be both daunting, challenging and equally rewarding. Beyond the classroom, many teachers are now online, offering classes via Skype or other video conferencing platforms to students across the globe. No matter what format, age group, subject or class size you choose to teach, you'll need to be a clear, strong communicator, able to doctor your language, methods, and feedback for students of differing abilities and needs. Teaching children and younger people requires real expertise in communicating and listening - as an authority figure in their lives you are able to offer not just instruction but guidance and behavioral training which will impact their lives considerably.
The bedrock of any teacher is the education which they themselves receive. Most teachers have studied at least an undergraduate degree, either in a specific field or a more vocational teacher training field. There are more vocational routes into teaching, but generally, this is the primary foundation for an educator. Once an undergraduate diploma has been achieved, many will then take additional courses to prepare them for a career in the classroom. Tailored courses are available to help shape an educator, working on communication skills, collaborative skills (working with, above or under other teachers) as well as helping to develop the necessary skills to foster behavioral development and assistance to those with special learning needs. Becoming a certified teacher is something that can be accomplished in a number of ways and at a pace determined by you.
Once you've become a certified educator the next (pretty logical) step is to seek out a teaching position. When you're being interviewed for a teaching job it is important to communicate to the interviewer exactly why you wish to become a teacher. In fact, this is the most common question asked in teacher interviews, so it would be wise to prepare a little. Consider using an anecdote about your student days, perhaps a particular teacher inspired you, bring to life a subject in a lively, imaginative way. Teaching is in a way a very personal career choice, so it is likely that an interviewer has never heard the same answer to the question twice. You need to demonstrate that you will connect with the role, with students and that you are excited to teach. You should develop a sense of your own personal teaching philosophy, and be able to characterize that in a succinct and clear manner. You should also aim to outline and highlight your training and qualifications for the job through your interview answers.
Choosing a Specialty
Teachers are required for all kinds of students, of all ages, temperaments, and abilities. There are teachers who specialize in working with foreign students for whom English isn't a first language, or with special needs students who need a specialized curriculum and approach in the classroom. All ages, from the very young to the very old need teachers, and age is a big factor when it comes to teaching style and methods. Teachers of younger children may be required to cover an extremely broad curriculum, from science to drama, from mathematics to literature - so bear this in mind if you're aiming to teach at a primary school level. If you're teaching high school students you need to take into account the great changes that happen to students as they turn into teenagers, how their needs, attitudes, and personalities develop in the course of your career. Each age group comes with its own set of challenges with regard to behavior, concentration levels, and discipline - this becomes increasingly complex as students reach adolescence. Specializing in a certain subject often requires a higher level of study than an undergraduate degree such as a master’s degree, and some subjects, particularly in science and computer science, require a teacher to continually refresh and update their knowledge and skill set.
Whilst teaching is intellectually demanding, it is also a job that demands a high level of self-organization and self-motivation in order to be a success. Motivation to stay on top of marking and paperwork, keep up to date with curriculum changes and extra training, as well as planning and executing lessons that are engaging and purposeful. Quite often a teacher will be given a degree of autonomy to work around a curriculum, so it can be a very creative job - and with that comes the need to be able to review and critique oneself. You'll need to be flexible, ready to adapt and able to criticize yourself, learn from others and absorb feedback. That's not to say that there isn't lots of support for teachers from their peers - there is much solidarity to be found in the staff room of any school.
Teachers play a vital role, not only in terms of academic success but also in terms of the wider society. Shaping the minds of the future carries with it great responsibility, but also the potential for profound career satisfaction.