What Is It like to Be a Teacher?

There's More to Teaching Than Standing in Front of a Class

Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised Hands


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A teacher instructs students in subjects such as science, mathematics, language arts, social studies, art, and music, and then helps them apply those concepts. Teachers work in public or private elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Those working in middle and high schools usually specialize in teaching one subject. 

Work Environment for Teachers

Teachers work during school hours. Many have two months off for summer vacation, but those who work in schools that are open all year have a week off between sessions and may have a long vacation during winter break.

Despite the relatively low pay and often difficult classroom conditions, there will always be a need for teachers, so the job outlook is positive.

Overview of Teachers' Duties

Depending on the subject they teach and the grade level, a teacher instructs students according to a curriculum that includes benchmarks and review processes. They plan, develop, write and implement programs in the classroom in keeping with school district and state education requirements, keeping records of student achievement and tracking their abilities. 

While most teachers are only required to be in school during the hours it is open to students, many supervise before- or after-school clubs. They also stay late or arrive early to meet with parents or other school professionals. And the work doesn't end when they leave the building. Teachers often bring papers home to grade and spend their evenings and weekends catching up or preparing for classwork.

Educational and Licensing Requirements

To become a teacher, you will have to go to an accredited college or university and earn a bachelor's degree. You will have to complete an approved teacher training program that includes earning a specified number of subject and education credits and completing practical training, commonly called student teaching.

Many school districts around the United States also accept bachelor's degrees in other majors. Some states also require teachers to earn a master's degree within a certain amount of time after becoming licensed.

All states and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed. State boards or departments of education usually issue licenses. To get this credential, you will have to pass an exam that demonstrates competency in basic skills and proficiency in your subject area.

Soft Skills for Successful Teachers

To be successful as a teacher, you will need to be able to connect with your students in a meaningful way. You should have excellent verbal communication and listening skills that allow you to share information with students, colleagues, and parents. You must also be able to express yourself clearly in writing.

Patience is another soft skill that teachers need. Since students learn at different rates you'll have to be patient with those who are struggling and devise ways to help them.

There are some interpersonal skills that effective teachers have: being able to read non-verbal cues, knowing how to negotiate and persuade, and of course, the ability to empathize.

Every student is different, and being able to temper your expectations and approach for each one is key.