Becoming a teacher in the United States isn’t nearly as complex a process as that of aeronautical engineering or highly specialized medicine, but there is a definite process you should be following. If done smartly, you can enjoy a rewarding career with weekends and the summers off, and knowing that you’re directly influencing the next generation of leaders and thinkers.
Make Sure Your Education is Marketable for Teaching
The requirements for becoming a teacher in the United States aren’t as strict as other professions like medicine, engineering, law or research, but that doesn’t give you a free pass either. Your degree can be in just about any field you want, but you have to make sure your major is actually something that can be used in the school system.
For example, if you majored in philosophy, you’re going to have a hard time convincing future employers how that’ll translate into a teachable. There’s nothing wrong with having studied Kierkegaard and Marx if that’s what you’re really passionate about, but remember that hireability is your goal.
Get Your Credentials in Order
Once you’ve ascertained you have the right bachelor’s degree, you’re ready to move onto getting qualified. Each of the 50 states requires you to be licensed to teach in a public school, but how that happens differs from state-to-state. One of the most common ways of getting certification is to write an exam, like the Praxis exam, that shows you know what you’re doing.
One way of doing this is to go through the National Board Certification, which allows you to become certified in a variety of subjects (i.e. you have your choice of subjects in which to become certified, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become certified in more than one). Because the NBC is so highly thought of, you can potentially reach higher salaries and compensation.
If you don’t have a traditional teaching background or the required experience (e.g. participation in a student teacher program), you can still get in via a bit of a back door called “alternative licensure”. This fits more for people who’ve made the decision to become a teacher after graduation or as a career change, but you’re still required to take education classes and work under a licensed teacher. Three of the most common programs in accomplishing this are Teach for America, The New Pathways to Teaching in New Jersey Program, and the Mississippi Teacher Corps.
Salary and Other Money Talk
As a new teacher, you won’t be making big bucks right away. For example, the Mississippi Teacher Corps starts you off at $32,000 a year plus benefits. Salaries vary from state to state, but here’s a general idea of what you’d be making in a small handful of examples:
New York: Starting salary of $45,530 to a maximum of $100,049
Florida: Average salary of $46,583
Alabama: Starting salary of $36,144
California: Starting salary of $38,719 to a maximum of $85,989
Hawaii: Lowest possible starting salary of $33,169
Minnesota: Average starting salary of $33,009
Kansas: Average salary of $44,240
While you’re getting licensed to become a teacher, remember to keep in mind reciprocity, which means you can transfer your teaching credentials across state borders. Most states have reciprocity agreements in place, but this is something you should always check before you plan a career move across the country.