What You Should Know Before Becoming a Teacher

by Evan Thompson
• 4 min read
TheBestSchools.org

Teachers have a tough but rewarding job. If you think you want to become a teacher, consider what these teachers have to say.

Teachers are the core of the education system. While administrators, school boards, and parents guide school policies and operations, it's teachers who have the greatest influence on students.

Teachers give academic lessons and train students in various skills that will help prepare them for future schooling or the workforce. Their duties include creating lesson plans, assessing students, and managing classroom behavior.

In addition to being an influential job, teaching is also a stable career path:

While it comes with many rewards — such as seeing a student excel or rise to a challenge for the first time — being a teacher can also be stressful.

According to a 2017 report by the Learning Policy Institute, between 19-30% of teachers leave the profession during their first five years of teaching. It isn't for the faint of heart.

But that's enough background. What do teachers wish they knew before becoming a teacher?

What Teachers Wish They Knew Before Becoming a Teacher

Teaching Is More of a Calling Than a Job

"Being a teacher is a calling; you can be successful in other occupations, but you will not find the satisfaction you will derive from making a difference in the lives of your students. To be a highly effective teacher, you must fully immerse yourself in the profession."

— Kenneth Bass, Head of School at Xceed Preparatory Academy

Building Relationships Is Extremely Rewarding

"Building positive relationships with students so they want to be there and learn is extremely rewarding. You know you have them when even the toughest kids never want to miss a day. When a sixth grader comes to you only able to read his name and he leaves you [reading] at a fourth grade level — those drive you to continue. Or when your students reach out to you years later to say thank you."

— Shannon Karcher, Special Education Consultant

Try Teaching a Class Before Committing

"The classroom really is where you figure out whether teaching is for you, not university. So, try to get into the classroom and get the responsibility of teaching some classes as soon as possible — even if it's just to volunteer for a while before you apply to college. You don't want to get three years into a degree before you step into the classroom and realize it isn't for you."

— Chris Drew, Senior Lecturer at Teesside University and Study Guide Blog Writer

Parents Can Be a Hassle

"I wish there was a course on dealing with parents. Sometimes they need some extra care and communication."

— Uneaka Daniels, Reading Specialist, English Language Arts Teacher, and Literacy Coach

Teachers Don't Get a Summer Break

"The biggest surprise in my early teaching days was that many parents view teachers as glorified babysitters that get cushy, paid summers off. This could not be further from the truth. The two months off during the summer are spent planning for the next school year and attending required professional development."

— Tonya Lawson, Founder and CEO of Dr. Lawson's Music Studio

Beware of Teacher Burnout

"Teacher burnout is real. It may be even more real now because of COVID. Prospective teachers need to set boundaries. You can't live at school and you can't bring all your work home with you either. It is easy to blur the lines, and this leads to increased stress.

"When I taught, my best hours were early in the morning. I would go to work early and leave at a decent time to have my time with my family. It took me many years to get my rhythm and to create these boundaries."

— Shannon Karcher, Special Education Consultant

Teaching Requires Multitasking Skills

"One of the biggest things I wish I had known before getting my teaching degree is how much of the job isn't actually about teaching. Teachers spend a lot of time planning lessons, correcting work, assigning grades, and handling classroom management and behavior challenges."

— Sarah Miller, Homeschool Teacher and Consultant

You'll Be More Versatile With a Teaching Degree

"I think the diversity of skills you develop in a teaching degree is really underestimated. You're not just going to learn how to teach. You will learn to speak in public with confidence, adapt to new situations, be a leader, handle stress, and empower others. These soft skills could make you a great teacher. And if life takes you down another path, these skills will still serve you well in a diversity of different professions, too."

— Chris Drew, Senior Lecturer at Teesside University and Study Guide Blog Writer

How to Become a Teacher

Teachers need at least a bachelor's degree to work at the K-12 level, though public schools also require teachers to have a state-issued certification or license. Teaching at the postsecondary level requires additional education, such as a master's degree or Ph.D.

Full-time students usually complete a bachelor's degree in teaching in about four years. It takes about two years to finish a master's degree in teaching and an additional three years to get a Ph.D. in teaching.

Teachers tend to pursue bachelor's degrees in education. Other popular degrees for teachers include:

Turnover Rate is Low for Elementary School Teachers

A Learning Policy Institute report found that elementary school teachers are the least likely to leave the profession than their peers. The yearly rates of departure in the report were as follows:

4.9%
General Elementary

5.6%
Special Education

6.9%
Teaching English Learners

7.2%
Math/Science

7.3%
Humanities

Average Teacher Salaries by State

Salaries vary widely by state. These are the top 10 highest-paying states, according to projections from the National Education Education Association.

Average Teacher Salaries by State
Estimated Salary, 2020-21 State
New York $87,738
Massachusetts $86,315
California $85,892
District of Columbia $80,659
Connecticut $79,742
Washington $79,529
New Jersey $77,489
Rhode Island $75,966
Maryland $74,514
Alaska $72,861
National Education Association

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

Header Image Credit: Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

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