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Getting qualified as a teacher is not necessarily straightforward these days.
There are so many things to consider in the process - what kind of teacher you might want to become, the kind of school or kindergarten or college you want to work in, as well as the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Working in a private school may provide you with better work-life balance and a higher salary, but it may not be as satisfying a job as you would like.
This is why it is key to plan out what your path will be towards becoming an educator. It would help if you thought about what you can afford to do, what you want to do each step of the way and how the different things you do will map onto one another when you finally get started. It is always easier to follow a vague sort of plan, rather than simply drifting along. Here are the steps you should consider when looking to become an educator
1. Learn what becoming a teacher is about
The first key thing is talking to a range of people already in the profession - perhaps by joining a professional organization. Sometimes people decide they want to be a teacher from the basis of their experience of school - but this is not a wise decision. It is hard to see objectively what it is like to be a teacher - a lot of changes when you have to take charge of classes and are juggling lots of different duties. Speak to science teachers, sports science teachers, kindergarten teachers, college professors and everything in between. Ask what they did to get to where they are - for example, did they do a masters in school counseling to become a guidance counselor? Or did they do a masters in school counseling anyway because they thought it might be valuable for supporting students in everyday classroom scenarios.
Even if you do not know a teacher yourself, ask your friends for introductions to teachers - people are often happy to help. It is key to understand what role exactly teachers play in schools now, as a lot will have changed since you were in school. These days, students are under a lot more pressure at school - with regards to social media, peer pressure and the constant exam-taking. This may mean you have to support them with their mental health more than ever, or indeed that you need to undertake a qualification such as a masters in school counseling to enable you to be the best teacher which you can be.
Ask specific questions from the school counselors you chat to - what do they do day to day? Do the teachers you chat to spend a lot of their evenings marking homework? How does their day map out from registration through to the end of the day? It sounds silly, but these granular questions can help you understand what it’s like to be a teacher - rather than you having to guess.
2. Work experience
Having said all that about speaking to different people who work in schools, and getting a sense of what it is like to be there second-hand, nothing is as valuable as experiencing being in a school yourself. This is because the heady experience of being in a classroom may be something that exhausts or exhilarates you - you need to understand which. Ask your local school or kindergarten how you can gain experience. Do they allow people to observe classes or shadow senior members of staff? Is there an after-school club you can help at? Many people think children or students are nice but may have a different view if they observe what it is like in a school setting day-to-day.
It is important to go into a school to see what kind of things go on in educational settings these days - things have changed. For example, many students now have a lot of different needs. The pressure of constant testing and exams means they need support, and the fact they are constantly being measured means there is a lot of hoop-jumping for students. It might also mean that there are a lot of different pastoral roles which teachers have to take on. Students have diverse needs, and these days it is very important to be aware of learning difficulties such as dyslexia or ADHD, and how to help students with such challenges.
Therefore, work experience in a school will allow you to decide on what kinds of things you might need to do to fulfill those needs - will you take a masters in school counseling, or will you need to get a specific qualification, for example? Work experience is a great opportunity to see what it is like to work in a school without committing yourself to any expensive training or indeed putting in the hours to get qualifications. It is a risk-free option because you are unlikely to be left alone with lots of students suddenly - it will likely be a more measured approach where you have to observe classes and see what others do. This can also be a great way of deciding what kind of teacher you want to be - will you be strict or laxer, will you be a good cop or bad cop - and will you promote independent learning or prefer more rote methods?
Of course, the thing which many people do not want to consider is that they may have to while the hours away on a course to get a qualification which either helps or enables them to work in schools. One possibility is going to a university which offers some opportunity for learning or qualifications - it can be a good way to meet other people and see what is happening in the world of teaching. It can also be a great way to make connections which will help you further down the career - you might meet someone who is the principal of a school which would later employ you.
However, these days online courses can offer an excellent way to get qualifications and prepare yourself for working in a school. One option is a masters in school counseling which will prepare you for the social and emotional needs of different pupils - whether you are a class teacher, in charge of homeroom or whether you are specifically a guidance counselor, all these kinds of skills are important. These experiences will allow you to help students in the future better. Although online courses may not immediately catch the eye as compared to being on campus, the reality is that education is very different these days.
For one thing, COVID means that a masters in school counseling online would be a better experience than learning in the classroom. This is because social distancing is in place, meaning that if you are in a class with several other people, and it becomes clear that one person has been exposed to coronavirus until there is rapid enough testing, all of you may have to isolate. Online courses are an excellent way to get the same teaching, regardless of what happens. You often get a course tutor and support along the way - it is not as though you are left entirely to self-learn, you get more productive use of contact hours, as and when you need them. Furthermore, many in-person courses are now effectively becoming online courses, as students need to learn virtually in the absence of a teacher. There is so much opportunity for learning innovatively online, which can be supported by textbooks - paused when you need to look up things - and which is cost-effective and can be done your way. You can fit in online classes around your other work, which is extremely beneficial if you have a full-time job. Additionally, you do not have to go for night school, which can often be tiring.
4. Do wider reading
Having said all of the above about the importance of experiencing a school in-person, and of doing a course of some sort, it is also important to do some of your own research and reading. This is where teacher training handbooks come in handy. Many are available online, provided by accredited teaching bodies and are extremely comprehensive, which equips you with the core skills you need. Furthermore, textbooks allow you to learn about the experiences of different teachers - for example, what does a kindergarten teacher do that is different from a high school teacher? Do teachers in every classroom take a masters in school counseling, or is it only guidance counselors, or those who have to support the mental health of their students?
You can get textbooks from all kinds of places, and some come highly recommended. Asking friends for recommendations or if they have old books, they can pass on is often effective, and a way of getting something you know has been useful for a good price - two birds with one stone! But there are lots of online retailers these days, which allows you to see different ratings for different books and work out what is best for you. You may even decide that you would prefer to buy books from your local bookstore - often these are staffed by people with intimate knowledge of the books concerned - particularly if you go to a specialist store or one with a specific educational section - so that can be a really good way of supporting local business while getting the knowledge you need!
It is also worth saying that textbooks do not have to be your only source of knowledge - for example, many will support a masters in school counseling, in the event, you do such a course. There are also a lot of online resources which can be used alongside textbooks - so if you don’t learn best from a page, you can read specialist websites or even watch tutorials on what you want to find out about. This will be the final step before you leap into the kind of school you are interested in working in, so make sure you do your research thoroughly.
5. Work in a school
Finally, it is key actually to go and work in a school. It is one thing to experience a school by observing what others do, but it is quite another to notch up teacher training time. You should note that some states require a lot of hours to qualify as a teacher - so it is worth doing your research on how much you need to do, and planning out where you are going to do it.
Make sure you get the chance to see how colleagues manage classes and then put it into practice yourself. You need to figure out what it is like to be in charge of lots of pupils, and how you will manage that. It will undoubtedly be intimidating at first - but it is one of those things which comes with time - before you know it, you will be teaching automatically, instructing everyone without thinking much about it.
The final step is confidence….
All in all, there are a lot of steps on the way to becoming a teacher. But the main thing you need to do is believe in yourself. Teaching is ultimately about confidence - once you exude that and the class believes that you are capable and not going to put up with nonsense from them, they will likely listen and not put up any trouble. Teaching can be really rewarding, and you need to think about this fact and believe that you are truly making a difference in the lives of those you teach. Being well-equipped with qualifications like a masters in school counseling can help with that, and give you the knowledge that you need to make a difference - but ultimately, you have to believe in what you are doing.