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Teaching Career Guide

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 5/9/2022

While considering a teaching degree, it helps to give some thought to your career options. This comprehensive guide can help you begin your research to choose the right job that matches your degree level, career, and financial goals. We've identified several factors to consider when choosing a teaching career that may last a lifetime. You may even want to think about what you can do after retirement, so we've also included some of the best jobs for former teachers.

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Teaching Career Overview

When contemplating a career in teaching, it may help to think about what drew you to this path in the first place. Understanding your motivation may help you determine how to shape your career. Like any job, teaching has its pros and cons, and you'll also want to ask yourself if it's a good fit. Something that may seem appealing on the surface might not suit your personality. You'll also have to consider what kind of teacher you want to be and where you would like to teach. Some choose to return to the schools they attended as children to teach new generations of students, while others may choose to teach in areas of high poverty and high demand where the need is greatest. Regardless of what drives you to teach, it's essential to enter this phase of life after graduation with enough direction to make informed decisions about the road ahead — as well as the twists and turns along the way.

Why Become a Teacher?

You can make a positive impact in the lives of others through teaching. By becoming a teacher in the subject matter you love, you'll be able to share your enthusiasm, knowledge, and skill with students who'll rely on your instruction, guidance, and passion throughout their education journey.

Being a teacher comes with its perks:

You may be able to support your own community and even work in the same schools you went to.
You can choose to live and teach in a different part of the U.S. or even internationally.
You'll likely have summers off unless you decide to teach summer school, and enjoy spring and winter breaks in addition to many holidays.
If you work in a year-round school, you'll have two- to four-week vacations every six to nine weeks.
Every school year may bring the opportunity to meet new people as students progress from one class to the next.
Public school systems may offer robust retirement plans to their instructors who have dedicated years to teaching others.

Other Considerations

It's important to note that while teaching can be rewarding, it can also come with its challenges. K-12 teachers often experience low job satisfaction, especially elementary teachers, due to dissatisfaction with salary. However, if you live where the cost of living is low, this may be manageable. Others report job burnout as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a 2022 National Education Association (NEA) survey, approximately 55% of teachers surveyed said they are considering leaving the profession.

There is also an overwhelming lack of diversity in higher education faculty and leadership. The significant disparity between the number of white teachers and teachers from underrepresented groups concerns educators. For example, a 2022 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education survey found that 71% of students who complete teaching programs identify as white. However, several organizations, including the NEA, are actively developing proposals and initiatives to address this concern and increase recruitment efforts.

Which Degrees Prepare You for a Teaching Career?

Numerous education programs can help you prepare for a teaching career based on your interests and career goals. In addition, there may be several specializations and concentrations available within each degree that can help you focus on a particular topic of interest and expertise to help you differentiate your skills. We've identified several popular degree paths by the level of education that prospective teachers often take:

Interested in learning about similar programs? Explore online degrees in child development, human services, and school counseling.

Beginning a Teaching Career

In general, most teaching careers require a bachelor's degree at a minimum. The degree should come from an accredited school to be eligible for licensing after graduation. However, some districts may require a master's, and you may even need a doctorate or PhD to teach in a postsecondary institution. You'll also need a student teaching experience with hours spent in a classroom setting to practice applying your new skills. Once you graduate, complete your student teaching hours, and earn your license, you can gain additional hands-on experience through volunteer work, serving as a teacher's aid, or substitute teaching. For example, a K-12 teacher may start out subbing before working as a full-time teacher. Similarly, postsecondary instructors may work as adjunct professors to gain classroom experience. These experiences can also help you network with other teachers and faculty for that potential first full-time permanent job.

Some students choose to volunteer for their first year to gain experience. There are programs that offer room and board and even a stipend in return for your work. For example, the Rural Schools Collaborative, Christian Appalachian Project, and Teach for America offer benefits to teachers within the U.S., while the Peace Corps provides financial and health benefits to those opting to teach outside the country.

Teaching Career Path

As you journey along your career path, you'll need to renew your license per your state's requirements regularly. At that time, you may also want to evaluate your current situation and career goals. If you are entering your mid-career, you may be ready for advancement. You can gain additional training through continuing education coursework, or it may be worth it to consider earning a master's in education for professional development and career advancement. After retiring from teaching full-time, teachers may want to stay in the workforce and choose to go back to part-time substitute and adjunct teaching or seek roles outside of education where they can apply their skills and experience.

Is a Teaching Career a Good Fit For You?

Teaching others takes patience, kindness, as well as the skills a teacher learns while completing an education degree. Several traits, abilities, and skills common to many teachers may make this career a good fit. Most teachers establish and ensure adherence to guidelines, set expectations, apply multiple teaching methods that accommodate individual student needs, and monitor and communicate students' progress. Students look up to teachers to provide support and guidance while imparting knowledge.

O*NET, a product of the Department of Labor (DOL), identifies the following attributes as contributing to the success of teachers and their ability to carry out a day's work:

Work Styles




High stress tolerance




Active listening

Critical thinking

Monitoring and assessing

Oral and written communication

Reading comprehension

Social perceptiveness


Analytical thinking


Creative thinking


Problem solving


Career Outlook for Teachers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers in education, training, and libraries are expected to grow by 10%, with individual specialties experiencing different growth rates through 2030. A 2020 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) report identifies increased demand in teaching specialties, including special education, ESL, foreign language, math, and science. There is almost always a need for skilled teachers, creating steady job growth.

Teaching Jobs

There are teaching jobs associated with each degree path and speciality. These jobs are expected to see varying salaries and steady growth as calculated by O*NET which receives its information from the DOL. While we've provided national averages for salary and job growth, O*NET provides an option to dig deeper and search for this information by location on each career page.

Best States for Teachers

Most states face shortages in K-12 teachers, and the need may be compounded based on specialty and discipline. The U.S. Department of Education pinpoints teacher shortage areas where demand is greatest based on age group, grade level, and subject. Finding the best states for teaching includes more than just looking at the average salary, though we've identified the top paying states based on teaching level below. You'll also want to consider other variables, such as cost of living and school district pay scales, when deciding on the best place for you to live and work.

To get you started, we've identified the five top paying states for each teaching level as determined by the BLS.

Occupation Top Paying States
Preschool Teacher District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, California
Kindergarten Teacher California, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Oregon
Elementary Teacher New York, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut
Middle School Teacher New York, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut
High School and Secondary Teacher New York, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut
Postsecondary Teacher Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Alabama
Special Education Teacher New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon, Wisconsin
Career and Technical Teacher Oregon, California, Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota
Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teacher Oregon, California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut
Teacher Assistant Washington, California, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Connecticut

Advanced Teaching Careers

Teachers sometimes pursue graduate degrees for career advancement within the educational system later in their career. Career changes for teachers may include:

Alternative Teaching Careers

Others may leave the education sector altogether to work as training and development manager within large organizations. They might use their instruction skills to train staff in new technologies, processes, procedures, and best practices.

Former and retired teachers who want to remain in the workforce can seek several mid- or late-career opportunities. While some choose to stay in the industry as adjunct faculty, substitute teachers, or tutors, others may apply their language skills as writers and editors. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit may rely on their years of experience to provide educational consulting services to school districts and higher education institutions.

FAQs About Teaching Careers

Is Teaching a Good Career?

Yes, teaching is a good career. It can offer opportunities for advancement and financial security. Teachers are always in demand throughout the U.S., so you may be able to live wherever you want to teach. You may also find it rewarding to help others prepare for life outside of the classroom.

How Do You Pursue a Teaching Career?

First, you'll need to complete an accredited degree program. You'll also need to complete a student teaching experience before you can apply for your license — each state has different licensing requirements that you can research by contacting your state's Department of Education. After licensing, you may also want to volunteer to teach or become a substitute teacher before securing your first teaching job to practice applying your skills while you begin your job search for a permanent teaching position.

What Teaching Jobs Are Most in Demand?

Needs vary by state, but some of the most in-demand jobs are for teachers qualified to instruct STEM courses, including mathematics and science for K-12. There is also a need for special education teachers and foreign language teachers.

What Is the Highest Paying Teacher Job?

Some of the highest paying teaching jobs are in postsecondary education. The top 10% of postsecondary teachers who instruct at the undergraduate and graduate levels can earn an annual median salary of $172,130. Law school teachers often make the most at $123,470.

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