Career Path Options for a Teacher

Points of Interest

College Professors, in general, have a higher salary than teachers of elementary, junior, and senior high school. -Teachers must have great communication skills, especially when dealing with emotional and educational issues among their students. A Bachelor’s Degree and a license are needed to be an elementary, junior, or senior high school and a Master’s Degree is needed to be a college professor. For a College Professor, competition should be expected for full-time positions. There is less competition for part-time positions. Preference is given to those with a PhD in their chosen teaching field.

Nature of the Work

The nature of work for teachers differs based on which level of education they teach. The way a college professor would teach their students at a university is much more advanced than the way a kindergarten teacher would teach little children. As children grow up and move on to higher levels of education, teachers take a different approach on instructing based on which subject they are teaching and how an individual at that level learns.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Teachers

A kindergarten or elementary teacher usually spends a lot of time doing hands-on activities with their students in order to help them understand concepts more efficiently. Some of the ways they do this are by playing educational games, showing movies to the students, using computers and other technology, and reading stories. Teachers are responsible for assessing each student’s progress in their learning and setting up ways to help a child understand concepts that they are having trouble with. This includes having parent/teacher conferences when the child is not performing at the level that they should be. Middle school teachers pick up where elementary teachers left off, which means more advanced teaching techniques and more difficult concepts. These teachers put together lesson plans, give tests, grade papers, assign projects and homework assignments, and calculate an overall grade for each student. High school teachers do all of these things too, but also help prepare the students for college work. Some teachers actually teach college classes to high school students.

College and University Professors

College Professors work in a completely different atmosphere than high school teachers. Professors are usually assigned to a specific department and teach classes that are within their subject expertise. They teach classes of all different sizes, some as small as twelve students or as large as two hundred. The students are there to earn some kind of degree or certification and these professors teach them what they need to know for that area of study. Some professors work all year round, teacher during all semesters and during the summer. Others use the summer to spend time with their family, do some traveling, or perform research. Professors are responsible for keeping up with changing times and advancements in their area of study. They spend a lot of time researching new technology, information, and new concepts introduced in the subjects they teach. They must keep their course material current so that students are well-informed and ready for the future.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Elementary, Middle, and High School Teachers

All elementary, middle, and high school teachers must be licensed in all fifty states. There are a few different ways that teachers can obtain this license. The most common way is to go to college for a Bachelor’s Degree and enroll in a teacher certification program at the same time. This certification is within the major and does not take any extra time to obtain. In this teaching program, students take courses in all different course subjects and learn different teaching tactics. For those who have a Bachelor’s Degree in other fields and do not have a teacher certification, they can still obtain a teaching license. There are other licensure programs available in most states for those who did not go to college to be a teacher. High school teachers should major in the subject they want to teach while in college. Although it is not required in most states to have a teacher certification from a college, it will be easier to get a teaching license if they do.

There are many opportunities for advancement for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. The longer teachers work for a specific school, the more opportunities they will have for an increased salary. Teachers can also obtain a national certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Most schools will give teachers with this certification higher pay and more benefits. Teachers will also be able to move from state to state without having to get a new license for that state. Some advancement for this profession also includes joining the administrative department of a school district, becoming a guidance counselor, and becoming a mentor teacher.

College and University Professors

A professor working at a two-year school must have at least a Master’s Degree. For four-year colleges, some colleges will hire an individual with a Master’s Degree if it is a part-time position or if it is for a specific area of study. Most four-year colleges, however, prefer to hire those with a PhD. There is a process one needs to take in order to hold this degree. Once the student has finished their Bachelor’s Degree, they must move on to a graduate school in a related field. This can either be a Master’s Degree program or a Doctorate Degree program. Some Doctorate Degree programs require that you first obtain a Master’s Degree; others will allow you to do it all at once. In addition to holding this degree, it is preferred that the applicant have some teaching experience. Those who have been teaching assistants in college, have taught part-time or full-time at a two or four year college, or have taught college classes in a high school setting are seen to be more eligible for a college professor position.

College professors need opportunities for advancement in order to keep their job at a university. An individual is usually hired as an assistant professor or instructor first. Under a specific contract, they are given a certain number of years to show the university what they can bring to the classroom, to the education of the students, and to the community of the university. They are then evaluated for tenure. If they are given tenure, then they are given a full-time college professor position and cannot be fired without a valid reason. Opportunities for advancement beyond this include becoming a dean, chairperson, or president of a department. Professors with Master’s Degrees cannot hold these position as it is required to have a Doctorate Degree.


According to BLS data, there were 3.5 million people with a teaching job in the levels of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school in 2008. Elementary and high school teachers held the most jobs, with 1.5 million in elementary school education and 1.1 million in high school education. For the rest of the teachers in these levels of education, 179,500 were in kindergarten education and 659,500 were in middle school education.

There were about 1.7 million people with a university or college teaching job. There were 21 types of postsecondary teaching positions that had 20,000 or more jobs. These positions included graduate teaching assistants, health specialties teachers, vocational education teachers, art, drama, and music teachers, business teachers, English language and literature teachers, education teachers, biological science teachers, nursing instructors and teachers, mathematical science teachers, engineering teachers, psychology teachers, computer science teachers, foreign language and literature teachers, communication teachers, history teachers, philosophy and religion teachers, chemistry teachers, recreation and fitness studies teachers, and sociology teachers.

There were 298,000 jobs held by all other college or university teachers. The teaching position holding the most amount of jobs in 2008 was graduate teaching assistants with 159,700 jobs and the position holding the least amount of jobs from this data was sociology teachers with 20,300 jobs.

Job Outlook

Elementary, Middle, and High School Teachers

Elementary, middle, and high school teaching positions are anticipated to grow at a rate of 13% by 2018, according to BLS data from 2008. This is around the average rate that an occupation will grow. Jobs will be more available in some areas than others. Overall, positions will grow more slowly than usual since there are more students graduating than those who are newly enrolling in school. However, each section of the country is going to have different enrollment rates. For the Northeast especially, enrollment rates are expected to slow down. For the Midwest, it will stay about the same as it is now. But for the South and the West, enrollment rates will increase the most and will give way to more teaching employment opportunities.

It is expected that there will be a great deal of teachers that will retire by 2018 and will open up more teaching jobs. For urban areas, especially those that are poor, teachers usually don’t stay there for more than a few years. Since a large number of teachers are always leaving, there tends to be more teaching employment opportunities in these areas. Between 2008 and 2018, there will be a higher demand for bilingual teachers and teachers with a TESOL certification, which is a certification to teach English as a second language. The number of students obtaining teaching degrees is slowly declining, so there may be less competition in the future. However, this may lead to a shortage of teachers, so state governments are working towards increasing the number of those earning teaching degrees.

College and University Professors

College and university professor positions are anticipated to grow at a rate of 15% by 2018, according to BLS data from 2008. This is above the average rate that occupations are currently growing. It is expected that there will be less tenure-track positions available. Colleges are starting to put a limit on how many professors they give tenure positions to. This will open up more professor positions that are part time or temporary. Positions will open up as the older professors retire and the number of high school graduates who will attend college increases. However, universities receive much of their funding from the government, so the actual number of professor positions that will be available will depend on each college’s budget.

The greatest increase in opportunities for employment will be for local and community college positions. Since many positions at these colleges are part-time or temporary, openings are expected to be available continuously. There are renewable positions available as well, so if an individual is hired at a community college, it does not mean that they will be let go after their contract is up. For four year colleges, those with a PhD will have less competition and more opportunities for full-time employment. 


According to the projections data from BLS, among elementary, middle, and high school teachers, the highest increase in job opportunities will be for elementary school teachers. This job position is expected to increase at a rate of 16%. In 2008, there were 3,476,200 people holding an elementary, middle, or high school teaching job. In 2018, this number is expected to grow to 3,944,900. This is an overall increase of 468,600 jobs in this field, which is a 13% increase. In 2008, there were 179,500 kindergarten teachers. In 2018, there is expected to be 206,500. This is an overall increase of 27,000 jobs, which is a 15% increase. In 2008, there were 1,549,500 elementary school teachers. In 2018, this number is expected to increase to 1,793,700, which is an increase by 244,200 jobs. In 2008, there were 659,500 middle school teachers. In 2018, it is anticipated to increase to 760,600, which is an increase of 101,200 jobs. In 2008, there were 1,087,700 high school teachers. In 2018, this number is expected to increase to 1,184,100, which is an increase of 96,300 jobs.

College and university professor jobs will increase 15% from 2008 to 2018. In 2008, there were 1,699,200 people holding jobs in this field. By 2018, this number is expected to increase to 1,956,100. This is an increase of 256,900 jobs.


During the 2005-2006 school year, elementary, middle, and high school teachers with a Bachelor’s Degree who were just starting out in their career earned an average of $33,227 a year. In May of 2008, the median salary for all teachers in this education level was between $47,100 and $51,180. For the lowest ten percent of these teachers, the average was between $30,970 and $34,280 a year. For the top ten percent, the average was between $75,190 and $80,970 a year. Some ways that a teacher can increase their annual salary is to coach sports, monitor extracurricular activities, teach summer school, perform other job duties for the school over the summer, obtain a national certification, or become a mentor teacher.

For college and university professors, the salary that a professor will earn depends on which college they work for, the rank of the college, the field of study they teach, and the number of years they have worked for that college. In May of 2008, the median salary for all college teaching positions was $58,830. For the middle fifty perfect of the teachers, their salary ranged from $41,600 to $83,960. For the lowest ten percent of all teachers, their salary was under $28,870. For the highest ten percent of all university professors, their salary was over $121,850. Some ways that a professor can earn more money than their salary is by teaching extra courses, doing research projects, publishing books, and other things. They also receive special benefits such as free tuition for themselves and family members, free access to university facilities and equipment, and paid leave.

Related Occupations

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  • Teachers Vocational Teachers

Sources of Additional Information

Additional information about employment opportunities in higher education is available in the book “The Chronicle of Higher Education”, which can be found in most libraries.

Information on issues related to education can be found on the American Federation of Teachers website and the National Education Association website.

Information on accredited teacher education programs can be found on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education website and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council website.

Other sources of information can be found on the National Center for Alternative Certification website and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website.