What Is It Like to Be a Teacher?

Job Description and Career Information

Teacher Reading a Picture Book to Students
A teacher reads a book to her class. Cavan Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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. Special education teachers, who work with students who have special needs, are not included in this profile.

Quick Facts

  • Kindergarten teachers earned a median annual salary of $52,620 in 2016 while elementary school teachers earned $55,800, middle school teachers earned $56,720, and high school teachers earned $58,030.
  • In 2014, there were  1,358,000 elementary school teachers, 627,500 middle school teachers, and 961,600 high school 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 lengthy vacation during winter break.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow as fast as the average for all occupations through 2024.

A Day in a Teacher's Life

To see what a teacher does in a typical day, we looked at job announcements on Indeed.com: We learned that teachers:

  • "Deliver instruction in order to carry out the instructional vision of the school"
  • "Regularly communicate students’ progress towards goals with families"
  • "Participate in staff meetings and required teacher trainings"
  • "Utilize formal and informal assessment data to drive instruction and ensure student mastery of standards"
  • "Plan, develop, write, and implement curriculum and educational programs in accordance with educational/treatment goals and students' abilities"
  • "Prepare classroom for class activities"
  • "Keep careful anecdotal and assessment records and use them to write accurate, comprehensive student reports"
  • "Provide structure in the classroom by developing and reinforcing school-wide rules and expectations"

The Truth About a Teacher's Hours: Do They Only Work a Few Hours a Day?

While most teachers are only required to be in school during the hours it is open (usually 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.), 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 tending to this task.

Educational and Licensing Requirements

To become a teacher, you will have to go to college to get a bachelor's degree. Generally speaking, 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.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Field?

To be successful as a teacher, you must have particular soft skills or personal qualities. The following ones are essential to your success in this occupation.

  • Instructing: You will need the ability to teach your students how to do something.
  • Communication Skills: Excellent verbal communication and listening skills will allow you to share information with students, colleagues, and parents. You must also be able to express yourself in writing.
  • Patience: Students acquire information at different rates. You will have to be patient as you work with those who are struggling.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Among the interpersonal skills teachers need are the ability to instruct, read non-verbal cues, negotiate and persuade, and empathize.
  • Monitoring: You must be able to observe your students and assess their progress.
  • Reading Comprehension: Teachers must be able to read work-related written material.
  • Critical Thinking: You will have to logically evaluate your various options when solving problems and making decisions.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

What qualities do school administrators and school boards want the teachers they hire to have? We found these requirements in job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Proficient in the use of computers, including but not limited to word processing, spreadsheets, multimedia presentations, e-mail, the Internet, and/or digital media"
  • "The ability to execute and communicate in a respectful, direct, and sensitive fashion"
  • "Strong collaboration and teamwork skills"
  • "Professional integrity, flexibility and a reflective attitude"
  • "Committed to getting the job done well, no matter what the obstacles or how long it takes"
  • "Must be professionally responsible"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Take the Should You Become a Teacher Quiz

 

Other Jobs in Schools

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
PrincipalManages a school and everyone who works in the building.

$92,510

Master's or Doctoral Degree in Education Administration or Educational Leadership
School LibrarianTeaches students how to use library resources.

$59,510

Master's of Library Science (M.L.S.)
School CounselorHelp students progress academically and socially.$62,100

Master's Degree in School Counseling

School PsychologistHelp students with educational issues.$73,270

Varies by state: Master's or Ph.D. in School Psychology, Educational Specialist Degree, or Professional Diploma in School Psychology

Teacher AssistantAssist teachers by providing extra help to students and preparing equipment for lessons.$25,410

Two years of college or Associate Degree

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited May 3, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited May 3, 2017).

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