The Molders of Minds

The Molders of Minds

Who was your favorite teacher? When you were younger, who helped shape your mind, your views, who nurtured and fed your thirst for knowledge?

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.  ~Dan Rather

Most of us, maybe all of us, had a teacher who inspired us— that teacher made us think, made us feel, made us want to learn. This teacher, this person, this stranger, came into our minds and helped us learn how to think.

No one probably was ever more important to your childhood, except your parents. And now, maybe, you want the chance to give back that gift… to be that important to dozens, hundreds, thousands of children?

It’ll take work. It’ll take a degree.

But you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t know that. You definitely wouldn’t be reading this if a teacher hadn’t taught you how to read, in the first place!

Teachers play an incredibly important role in fostering the intellectual and social development of children during their formative years. The education that teachers impart plays a key role in determining the future prospects of their students. Whether in preschools or high schools or in private or public schools, teachers provide the tools and the environment for their students to develop into responsible adults.

Public school teachers must be licensed, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of an approved teacher education program. Many States offer alternative licensing programs to attract people into teaching, especially for hard-to-fill positions, but a degree in your chosen field is still required. Even with the current financial crisis, teachers will always be necessary. Opportunities will vary by geographic area and subject taught.

Teachers act as facilitators or coaches, using classroom presentations or individual instruction to help students learn and apply concepts in subjects such as science, mathematics, or English. They plan, evaluate, and assign lessons; prepare, administer, and grade tests; listen to oral presentations; and maintain classroom discipline. Teachers observe and evaluate a student’s performance and potential and increasingly are asked to use new assessment methods. For example, teachers may examine a portfolio of a student’s artwork or writing in order to judge the student’s overall progress. They then can provide additional assistance in areas in which a student needs help. Teachers also grade papers, prepare report cards, and meet with parents and school staff to discuss a student’s academic progress or personal problems.

Many teachers use a “hands-on” approach that uses “props” or “manipulatives” to help children understand abstract concepts, solve problems, and develop critical thought processes. For example, they teach the concepts of numbers or of addition and subtraction by playing board games. As the children get older, teachers use more sophisticated materials, such as science apparatus, cameras, or computers. They also encourage collaboration in solving problems by having students work in groups to discuss and solve problems together. To be prepared for success later in life, students must be able to interact with others, adapt to new technology, and think through problems logically.
Preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers play a vital role in the development of children.

Student studies for an exam.

What children learn and experience during their early years can shape their views of themselves and the world and can affect their later success or failure in school, work, and their personal lives. Preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers introduce children to mathematics, language, science, and social studies. They use games, music, artwork, films, books, computers, and other tools to teach basic skills.

Most elementary school teachers instruct one class of children in several subjects. In some schools, two or more teachers work as a team and are jointly responsible for a group of students in at least one subject. In other schools, a teacher may teach one special subject—usually music, art, reading, science, arithmetic, or physical education—to a number of classes. A small but growing number of teachers instruct multilevel classrooms, with students at several different learning levels.

Middle school teachers and secondary school teachers help students delve more deeply into subjects introduced in elementary school and expose them to more information about the world. Middle and secondary school teachers specialize in a specific subject, such as English, Spanish, mathematics, history, or biology. They also may teach subjects that are career oriented. Vocational education teachers, also referred to as career and technical or career-technology teachers, instruct and train students to work in a wide variety of fields, such as healthcare, business, auto repair, communications, and, increasingly, technology.

Computers play an integral role in the education teachers provide. Resources such as educational software and the Internet expose students to a vast range of experiences and promote interactive learning. Through the Internet, students can communicate with other students anywhere in the world, allowing them to share experiences and differing viewpoints. Students also use the Internet for individual research projects and to gather information. Computers are used in other classroom activities as well, from solving math problems to learning English as a second language. Teachers also may use computers to record grades and perform other administrative and clerical duties. They must continually update their skills so that they can instruct and use the latest technology in the classroom.

Teachers often work with students from varied ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. With growing minority populations in most parts of the country, it is important for teachers to work effectively with a diverse student population. Accordingly, some schools offer training to help teachers enhance their awareness and understanding of different cultures. Teachers may also include multicultural programming in their lesson plans, to address the needs of all students, regardless of their cultural background.

Teachers in private schools generally enjoy smaller class sizes and more control over establishing the curriculum and setting standards for performance and discipline. Their students also tend to be more motivated, since private schools can be selective in their admissions processes.

Teacher holding a stack of books.

The traditional route to becoming a public school teacher involves completing a bachelor’s degree from a teacher education program and then obtaining a license. Traditional education programs for kindergarten and elementary school teachers include courses designed specifically for those preparing to teach. These courses include mathematics, physical science, social science, music, art, and literature, as well as prescribed professional education courses, such as philosophy of education, psychology of learning, and teaching methods. Aspiring secondary school teachers most often major in the subject they plan to teach while also taking a program of study in teacher preparation.

Many 4-year colleges require students to wait until their sophomore year before applying for admission to teacher education programs. To maintain their accreditation, teacher education programs are now required to include classes in the use of computers and other technologies. Most programs require students to perform a student-teaching internship. Teacher education programs are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Graduation from an accredited program is not necessary to become a teacher, but it may make fulfilling licensure requirements easier.

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed. Licensure is not required for teachers in most private schools. Usually licensure is granted by the State Board of Education or a licensure advisory committee. Teachers may be licensed to teach the early childhood grades (usually preschool through grade 3); the elementary grades (grades 1 through 6 or 8); the middle grades (grades 5 through 8); a secondary-education subject area (usually grades 7 through 12); or a special subject, such as reading or music (usually grades kindergarten through 12).

Private schools are generally exempt from meeting State licensing standards. For secondary school teacher jobs, they prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they intend to teach, or in childhood education for elementary school teachers. They seek candidates among recent college graduates as well as from those who have established careers in other fields.

With additional preparation, teachers may move into such positions as school librarians, reading specialists, instructional coordinators, or guidance counselors. Teachers may become administrators or supervisors, although the number of these positions is limited and competition for them can be intense. In some systems, highly qualified, experienced teachers can become senior or mentor teachers, with higher pay and additional responsibilities. They guide and assist less experienced teachers while keeping most of their own teaching responsibilities. Preschool teachers usually work their way up from assistant teacher, to teacher, to lead teacher—who may be responsible for the instruction of several classes—and, finally, to director of the center. Preschool teachers with a bachelor’s degree frequently are qualified to teach kindergarten through grade 3 as well. Teaching at these higher grades often results in higher pay.

Preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and secondary school teachers, except special education, held about 4.0 million jobs in 2006. Of the teachers in those jobs, about 1.5 million are elementary school teachers, 1.1 million are secondary school teachers, 674,000 are middle school teachers, 437,000 are preschool teachers, and 170,000 are kindergarten teachers. The vast majority work in elementary and secondary schools. Preschool teachers, except special education, are most often employed in child daycare services (59 percent), public and private educational services (16 percent), and religious organizations (15 percent). Employment of teachers is geographically distributed much the same as the population.

Through 2016, overall student enrollments in elementary, middle, and secondary schools—a key factor in the demand for teachers—are expected to rise more slowly than in the past as children of the baby boom generation leave the school system. This will cause employment of teachers from kindergarten through the secondary grades to grow as fast as the average. Projected enrollments will vary by region. Fast-growing States in the South and West—led by Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Georgia—will experience the largest enrollment increases. Enrollments in the Midwest are expected to hold relatively steady, while those in the Northeast are expected to decline. Teachers who are geographically mobile and who obtain licensure in more than one subject should have a distinct advantage in finding a job.

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

Median annual earnings of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers ranged from $43,580 to $48,690 in May 2006; the lowest 10 percent earned $28,590 to $33,070; the top 10 percent earned $67,490 to $76,100. Median earnings for preschool teachers were $22,680.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $31,753 in the 2004–05 school year. The estimated average salary of all public elementary and secondary school teachers in the 2004–05 school year was $47,602.

If you want to be a teacher, an educator— a molder and shaper of young minds— there is a stunning number of colleges and universities offering fine programs in child development, higher learning, and education.

There, you will find a new level of educator, and if you are fortunate, a professor who will inspire you, shape you, take you to a new level of thinking.

The sooner you begin, you sooner you will become your own dream— a teacher— with the power to mold the minds of the future!

Information on licensure or certification requirements and approved teacher training institutions is available from local school systems and State departments of education.
Information on teachers’ unions and education-related issues may be obtained from the following sources:

  • American Federation of Teachers, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.  http://www.aft.org
  • National Education Association, 1201 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.  http://www.nea.org

A list of institutions with accredited teacher education programs can be obtained from:

  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010 Massachusetts Ave. NW., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036-1023. http://www.ncate.org
  • Teacher Education Accreditation Council, Suite 300, One Dupont Circle, Washington, DC 20036.  http://www.teac.org

Information on alternative certification programs can be obtained from:

  • National Center for Alternative Certification, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave NW., Suite 201, Washington, DC 20006.  http://www.teach-now.org

Information on National Board Certification can be obtained from:

  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 1525 Wilson Blvd., Suite 500, Arlington, VA 22209.  http://www.nbpts.org

For information on vocational education and vocational education teachers, contact:

For information on careers in educating children and issues affecting preschool teachers, contact either of the following organizations:

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.  http://www.naeyc.org
  • Council for Professional Recognition, 2460 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20009-3575.  http://www.cdacouncil.org
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