For many people, the decision to become a teacher is an easy one. The desire to educate, inspire, and have a positive influence on future generations is a powerful motivator, and deciding to enter the field of education doesn’t require a lot of thought.
However, “education” is a broad term, and encompasses everything from preschool through college, general education and specific subjects, and specific populations. Teaching gifted third graders is much different than teaching college math, which is different than teaching middle-school aged children with special needs. Each population has its own unique set of needs, abilities, and expectations, which requires prospective teachers to complete different forms of training.
So how do you decide which teaching specialization to pursue? For some people, the choice is clear, and they know from day one which age group and subject they want to focus on. For others, the decision is a little murkier, and it’s important to ask some key questions before choosing a path.
1. What Is Your Passion?
Many teachers would answer this question with “teaching,” but beyond the actual act of engaging others in learning, what do you enjoy teaching — and learning more about? When a teacher has passion for a subject, it shows. Their enthusiasm shines throuh, and they generally have more success engaging and inspiring students to learn more.
Different grade levels respond to different subjects and teaching approaches differently, so your choice should be based on what you expect from your students and what will leave you fulfilled at the end of the day. In other words, if you are looking for intellectually stimulating discussions about great literature, you may not be happy in an elementary or middle school setting.
2. How Willing Are You to Manage Outside Factors?
Many people think of teachers in the classroom, which is undoubtedly where they spend the majority of their days. However, teachers must do a lot more than work with students and develop interesting lesson plans, especially at the lower grade levels. Teachers must meet with administrators and understand school policies, attend additional training sessions, submit paperwork, and yes, deal with parents.
While many teachers enjoy being a part of a team and collaborating with parents and other teachers to better serve children, successfully managing all of the priorities and personalities can be challenging. College level teaching offers the most autonomy, while collaboration and documentation are vital in the realm of special education. How much you are willing to deal with these outside factors can strongly influence which specialization is right for you.
3. How Much Energy Do You Have?
Obviously, teaching at any level requires energy and enthusiasm if you expect to keep your students’ attention. However, if the mere thought of spending the day in a classroom with 20 or more elementary school-aged children exhausts you, you might be better off teaching older students. At the same time, if you have boundless energy and the idea of standing behind a lectern or at a desk all day sounds dull, you might be better off with younger children who will fully appreciate your antics.
4. How Patient Are You?
Patience is important for any teacher, but even more so in certain environments. Special education teachers, for example, work with students who face challenges that might make even the simplest tasks a source of frustration.
Therefore, special education teachers must have an abundance of patience as well as the ability to be flexible and make adjustments to improve outcomes. It’s important to honestly evaluate your own patience and use that as a guide to your specialization.
5. How Much Additional Training Are You Willing to Pursue?
State laws regarding teacher qualifications vary, but you must have at least a bachelor’s degree to be certified in every state. In addition, many states require teachers to earn a master’s degree within a certain number of years in order to remain licensed; high school teachers, for example, generally must hold a master’s in their subject area as well as a teaching degree to maintain licensure.
At the college level, the education requirements are even more stringent; adjunct instructors and assistant professors may be able to teach with a master’s degree, but full-time, tenure track positions generally require a doctoral degree. In short, how far you can go in the educational field depends a great deal on your willingness to study, so consider the immediate and ongoing requirements when making your choice.
If you are unsure about which area you want to specialize, try volunteering or substituting in a variety of settings to get a feeling for what it’s like to work in that arena. Give your selection a great deal of thought; when you make the right choice, you will have a fulfilling and exciting career that you can be proud of.