by Mary C. Clement
1. I know I need a college degree to be a teacher, but what do I major in?
The answer to this question actually varies from state to state. In many states, you major in elementary education to teach kindergarten through 6th grade. To teach in a middle school, 6th grade through 8th grade, you major in middle grades education with a concentration in a certain subject. To teach in a high school, you major in the subject, such as math or Spanish, and complete a teacher education program or minor.
2. Who do I ask for the “right” information about my major or any other question?
Read the college or university’s web site. Go to the pages for the school (or college) of education. They should explain what majors are offered. Ask your teachers about their colleges and their majors. Talk with your guidance counselor, and then go to your chosen college and talk with their admissions counselors. Attend an open house on campus; you may also be able to attend an education class while you’re there.
3. I need to work while in college. Is that possible while studying to be a teacher?
Yes, it is possible. However, you need to know that education classes don’t just meet on campus, and they require more hours than other classes. Your education classes will require field experiences, which means you will spend a lot of time out in the schools. During the student teaching semester, it is usually not possible to work, because student teachers work the regular hours of a teacher. So, plan ahead.
4. Will it be harder for me to become a teacher if I start college at my community college (a two-year institution)?
Not necessarily. You will need an advisor at the community college who knows that your goal is to transfer to a four-year institution to become a teacher. Make sure that the general classes you take are transferable. Read the catalog at both your community college and the four-year college you plan to attend to check on the transfer of credits. Many people become teachers by starting classes at a community college, and it can save you a lot of money.
5. I am reading college catalogs online, and I see “general education” requirements. I already know that I want to be a teacher, so what does this mean?
All colleges and universities have general education requirements. These are basic courses in math, science, writing, speech, social studies, and the humanities, and they are designed to make you a well-educated person. General education courses take up much of your first two years in college. However, some colleges and universities have fewer required courses than others. If you choose a school with fewer “gen ed” requirements, you may have more time to study what you want, possibly completing a minor in another field that interests you. Read the catalogs carefully to learn about each school’s requirements.
6. I am considering going out of state to college. Will that hurt my chances for getting a job in my home state after graduation?
No, this should not hurt your chances at getting a job. Just graduating from a college with a teacher education major or minor does not mean you are a licensed teacher, though. When you successfully complete the program at the out-of-state school, you will apply for a teaching license/certification in that state. Then, as a fully certified teacher in one state, you can apply for certification in another state. Each state’s requirements are different, so go online and read the state’s rules. (Do a search for teacher certification and name of state.)
7. What are education courses like? What will I study?
Most education programs begin with an introductory class, followed by a class in educational psychology. Then, you study curriculum and methods. You will also take classes in special education and classroom management. In other words, you need to know about the teaching profession, how students think, what to teach, how to teach, and how to reach all children. All of your coursework is tied together with field experiences and student teaching. Your general education courses and courses in your major provide the content you need. After all, you better know algebra if you are going to teach it.
8. As a freshman, will I take education courses?
This varies widely from college to college. Some first-year students take an introduction to education class and may even go out into schools to observe. Some FEA members have already completed the equivalent of the intro class, and this requirement is waived. Once accepted at a college, attend preregistration and advisement days, and plan your schedule in advance.
9. Once I am in college, how much do my grades matter?
A lot. Your grades determine if you can enter and remain in the teacher education program. Most programs require a certain grade point average to take junior- and senior-level education courses. Your grades determine if you qualify to receive or keep scholarships. As graduation approaches, potential employers look at your grades when considering you for a job. Grades matter.
10. Will the college help me to get a job?
Colleges and universities have career centers that offer workshops on resume writing, job searching, and interviewing. Many career centers also host teacher job fairs, where school districts recruit new hires. Take advantage of these offerings.
How hard are education courses?
Education courses are very thorough, and they require a lot of hours spent out in the schools. Why? Teaching is challenging, and today’s teachers need to know so much! It is better to have tough courses and to be prepared when you start your first teaching job than to have easy courses and graduate unprepared.
Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga. Before moving into higher education, she taught high school Spanish and French.