Ever since I was about seven years old, I have always been focused on long term goals. I am not really quite sure where or when it started, but that is the earliest I can remember thinking about my future in a meaningful way. Now of course, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, but I was starting to figure out what I was passionate about and one of those things was planning and the other was history. I used to watch the Military and History Channel whenever I got the chance and my father and I would watch war movies and wild westerns together. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to become a teacher until seventh grade, when I met my middle school social studies teacher. Once I had an idea about what I wanted to do for a living, I sat down and researched the steps I would need to take to be successful and achieve my dreams. I followed a set of steps that I would like to share with you, so that potentially, they may help you reach your goal of becoming a teacher as well.
Step 1: Find your passion
Before setting your sights on becoming a teacher (or anything for that matter), you need to decide whether you are actually passionate about your goal or not. You do not want to proceed with these plans if you aren’t completely sure that you would enjoy being a teacher.
In interest of full disclosure, I was not completely set on being a teacher but I had prepared myself with backup plans, in the event that I didn’t enjoy teaching or I wasn’t able to get a job. My other options were small business owner, financial planner, or building trades.
How can you figure out whether you are passionate about teaching or not? Well, first off unless you plan on being an elementary teacher, you probably need to have a single subject that excites you and that you are fairly knowledgeable in. Is there a subject that stands out to you? An age level that you would prefer to work with? If you aren’t sure, then I would suggest you take the opportunity to reflect on your own school experience and imagine what classes or grades you could see yourself teaching. Then, my next step would be to make sure you enjoy being around and teaching kids. To do this, go on to step 2.
Step 2: Volunteer or take summer jobs doing similar work
Always explore your potential career choice early in your journey, if possible. What I mean by this is to try to find a similar line of work that can help you experience what having a teaching job would be like. This way you can learn pretty quick whether you have the intangibles that are necessary to be a teacher. Going to college and becoming a teacher can cost a pretty penny, so being sure that it will be a good fit can ensure that you invest your money wisely.
Potential experiences that can help you explore this career option include: summer camp counselor, youth sports coach, babysitting, swim instructor, tutor, etc. These types of experiences could be paid or volunteer.
Step 2.1: BONUS- Some of these experiences can come with additional perks that can also help advance your future career and financial life. For instance, in New York State there are a couple State level retirements programs. The two that I am most familiar with is the ERS, employee retirement system, and TRS, teacher retirement system. When I worked as a camp counselor starting in 2008, I was able to enroll in the ERS and start paying the 3% of my paycheck. This had a very large advantage for me. I was able to join ERS Tier 4, which would provide a pension of 60% of my final average salary if I worked thirty years in the system and I only needed to pay in 3% for the first eleven years of being in the program. If I had waited until obtaining my first teaching job before joining, I would be in Tier 6 and would have to pay a percentage of my salary for every year of service and would not get as large a pension. If you really think that a career in teaching is for you, investigate the retirement system in your state and find out if there is anyway you can join it early.
Step 3: Get your recommendations in line
This step really shouldn’t be something you have to force. You should already be a person who people would want to write glorious recommendation letters for you and be your reference for your first jobs. However, if this is the first time you’ve stopped to think about the importance of having people in your corner, then it is time to make a change.
Make sure you are positioning yourself in a positive light in your community and go out of your way to make a positive impact on those around you. Being a shining light of hope and optimism can be one of your most important tools towards getting people in your corner. Talk to as many people in your field as possible, discuss your plans for your career, and ask them for advice. These people might be your connections to help you get your first job and even if they aren’t, their knowledge will help you grow as an up and coming educator.
Step 4: Choose your path and college
This step is very important and requires you to do some homework! Search for a program that is accredited, reputable and provides a pathway to certification. These things are a must. Next, you need to look at the opportunity and experience side of the college. Does this college provide coursework that will provide you with valuable experience and skills that you can show value in an interview with and translate to an immediate teaching position? Will you get enough experience in the field to feel comfortable when you start student teaching? Are the professors respected in the education community and are they up to date on the latest education research? Next, decide on what you can comfortably afford to pay for college and research grants and scholarships to help pay for your education. If you overstretch yourself, be absolutely sure that this investment will pay off in the long term.
Step 5: Create value in your student teaching experience
Student teaching is probably the most important part of your journey to becoming a teacher. This is your best chance to go above and beyond, make connections and earn respect from colleagues in the field. Clear all your other responsibilities and focus on your adding value to your school district. Even if the district you are student teaching in doesn’t have any openings, focus on adding value during your time student teaching to make connections that can open other potential doors for you.
How can you add value? Take up additional responsibilities, if you are allowed to. Help out with lunch/recess duties, monitor the halls, proctor after school events, volunteer to help with sports programs or clubs/extracurricular activities, or tutor students in out of school suspensions. Be unafraid of speaking up during department, team and faculty meetings. If you have something you think can help, add it to the conversation, whether its directly or indirectly through your mentor teacher. Take calculated risks. Student teaching is not about just continuing the status-quo. You need to make a splash. Try something new and push your mentor teacher to try new things as well. This can make you memorable and show you have value. Just being great at delivering lectures will not get a school district to drop everything and hire you. Find your niche and explore it.
Step 6: Certification
This one should be obvious- get certified as quick as possible. Study and prepare for your examinations. Do not wait to take them until later in your education. Being certified as soon as you possibly can be, means that you can be employed that much faster.
Step 7: Seek out interviews and connections
Once you have completed your education, or are nearing the end of your education, and you are certified, or completing your certification, start to seek out as many interviews as you can get. Polish up your resume, get your reference letters together, and put together a portfolio that shows your teaching prowess. Seek out connections in administrative positions who can put you through mock interviews or give you interviewing tips. Research how to prepare for interviews. My biggest suggestion when preparing for an interview is to research the school district to find where you can add value or help a school on their path to meeting their set of goals. Once you have done your research, develop a set of three questions that you will ask your interviewers. None of these questions should do with compensation or time-table for hiring (if they like you, they will tell you). Focus these questions on the goals of the district, their thoughts on your fit as a candidate, and what they see as the most important aspects of a great teacher.
Step 8: Keep working at it
If your search for a job stalls out, make sure to keep in the education field. If it is truly your desire to be a teacher, spend some time substituting in a school district that you would want to work for, or might have a potential opening in the near future. Put in to coach sports (if that is your thing). Keep on top of educational research and trends and maintain your connections in the field. Network using social media and maintain or develop an online teacher portfolio to showcase your value to potential school districts.
All in all, these steps will hopefully help you to get your first job teaching. These steps are not meant to be a perfect guide on how to become a teacher, but have been created using my own experience as a young teacher. Let me know your thoughts and any suggestions for additional steps or areas to expand on.