Some of the nation’s best teachers say becoming a teacher was more like answering a calling than making a choice. Others are transparent about the doubts they experienced before enrolling in a teacher certification program. Whether you’ve always been aware of what it takes to be a teacher or you’re still pondering the question: “Should I become a teacher?” this article is for you. In it, we’ll discuss the qualities of a good teacher and how to be a great teacher should you decide to leap into the sometimes turbulent waters of education.
Should I Become a Teacher?
If you’re asking yourself this question, then we have great news for you. You’re already demonstrating one of the important qualities of a good teacher—that is, interest in the teaching profession. Historically, the field of education has had its struggles when it comes to attracting good candidates to the teaching profession. Many would-be teachers end up opting for jobs with less responsibility and higher pay (think STEM fields). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in education has decreased by over 53% since 1970 (NCES, 2020).
Average teacher pay has increased somewhat over the years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the current median annual wage for different types of teachers to be as follows:
- Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: $60,660
- Middle School Teachers: $60,810
- High School Teachers: $62,870
- Adult Education and ESL Teachers: $55,350
- Career and Technical Education Teachers: $59,140
- Special Education Teachers: $61,420
Moreover, many school districts routinely offer incentives for new teachers; teacher retention is still a challenge. Some studies show that more than 7% of all teachers leave the profession each year. This percentage is higher for high-poverty schools where trained educators are needed most (EPI, 2019).
How to Be a Great Teacher
Of course, interest in the profession is not enough to solidify your future as a great, or even good teacher. You’ll need several other qualifications—some of them you may already have while others you’ll have to earn before you can even think about taking center stage in one of our country’s classrooms. In this section, we’ll discuss how to become a teacher and a few of the qualities of a good teacher that you’ll either need to have or quickly develop before taking on the noble profession of a teacher.
A Bachelor’s Degree in Education
In terms of formal academic training, prospective teachers will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in education to become a practicing teacher. This is true whether you have dreams of teaching at the elementary or secondary level for a public or private school.
Bachelor’s degree programs in education provide students with the necessary training and information to instruct and manage a classroom of diverse learners. These are typically four-year programs that require roughly 120 credit hours of coursework. Both traditional, online, and hybrid undergraduate programs in education are available.
There are various types of education bachelor’s degree plans to choose from depending on the grade level and subject you want to teach. Popular concentrations for these programs include:
- Early Childhood Education
- Elementary Education
- Middle-Level Education
- Secondary Education
- Special Education
- Adult and Career Education
Admissions criteria for bachelor of education degrees will vary depending on the college or university offering the program. Many teachers will eventually earn an advanced credential in education or their subject areas, such as a master’s or educational specialist degree. Still, these credentials are not usually required for new teachers.
In addition to an undergraduate degree in education, teachers will also need to become licensed and/or certified in the state they plan to teach. The licensure/certification process will vary by state but usually requires a comprehensive exam and a thorough background check. Other requirements may include a minimum undergraduate GPA and a student teaching internship or practicum.
A Love of Learning
It probably goes without saying, but a love of learning is an absolute must for all prospective teachers. To teach others, you need a passion for learning yourself. This will often make all the difference for a learner who is otherwise unmotivated or reluctant to learn. An intrinsic love of learning will naturally spill over into your instruction as you blossom into a highly engaging and inspiring teacher.
Not sure whether your love of learning is up to par? If you were a high-achieving student yourself and you actually enjoyed your high school classes, then it’s safe to say this is one of the signs you should be a teacher. On the other hand, if you found learning to be a chore rather than an enjoyable activity, then you might be better suited for a different profession—no shame there.
A Desire to Work with Young People
One of the most important qualities of a good teacher is an innate desire to work with children or adolescents. Too many new teachers go into the profession because they are passionate about a particular academic subject area such as English or mathematics. High school teachers are especially well-known for being subject-area nerds.
Love for a discipline is a valid reason for becoming a teacher as long as you also have an interest in working with young people. Without this interest, the excitement about your career as a new teacher may quickly sour. That’s because as a teacher, you’ll spend the vast majority of your workday surrounded by little people. This can be quite the transition if you’re used to being around people your own age for most of your waking hours. If you don’t absolutely love the idea of having children in your company and care, then teaching may not be for you.
Sometimes, we imagine teaching to be a solo endeavor. After all, when you think of the typical classroom, you likely envision one teacher at the front of a classroom full of students. This image can be deceiving, though. Teaching is actually a highly collaborative job. When you’re hired to join a school district, you’ll be assigned to a team of teachers. At the elementary level, these teams are usually organized by grade level, whereas high school departments are typically separated by subject. Though you’ll likely deliver your lessons individually, writing the curriculum guides and plans for these lessons will be a collaborative effort.
As you’re developing a curriculum for your grade level or subject area, you’ll need to work alongside your fellow teachers. This will require excellent teamwork skills. These skills include good verbal and written communication, active listening, interpersonal skills, and the ability to compromise, for example.
It’s counterintuitive, but teamwork skills also include being responsible for your individual contributions to the group. Unless each group member can carry their own responsibilities, they’ll struggle to accomplish their collective goals. If you’ve ever worked on a group assignment as a student, you already know how important it is that members of the group can work as a team. Without this ability, the success of the project is in peril from the very beginning. To be a great teacher, you have to be a team player.
Good communication is part of the teamwork skillset, but it also can be one of the most important qualities of a good teacher. Communication will be a part of everything you do as a teacher. From delivering lessons and coaching individual students to keeping parents informed, communication is key.
The best teachers know that good communication is not just lecturing or even talking; it’s practicing active listening, demonstrating empathy, and sharing some of yourself with your students and their parents. Don’t get too caught up in assuming the role and demeanor of the stereotypical stern teacher; instead, be the professional version of yourself. Remaining open and human with everyone you come into contact with will have a huge impact on your teaching experience and your relationship with your students and the community.
Written communication is also a necessary part of the job. As a teacher, you’ll be responsible for drafting professional documents, including lesson plans, curriculum guides, individual education plans (IEPs), evaluations, references, and more. You’ll also be responsible for teaching your students how to write well and grading them accordingly. Communication is a requirement for nearly any profession, but in terms of the qualities of a good teacher, it’s absolutely crucial.
One of the practical qualities of a good teacher is proper organizational skills. Teachers must keep up with a lot of paperwork and important records, including their students’ personal information, assignments, and confidential grade reports. Since it’s critical that teachers keep track of these files, an effective organizational system must be implemented. Good organizational skills can also help a teacher be more productive, especially if he or she teaches the same grade level or subject year after year. Keeping organized files of lesson plans, activities, and assessments can prevent teachers from having to “reinvent the wheel,” so to speak, when developing the curriculum for a new school year.
If you’re not a naturally organized person, don’t fret too much, though. Luckily, this is one of the qualities of a good teacher that can be developed over time. In fact, many first-year teachers who lack organizational skills quickly acquire them out of sheer necessity. Although this is an aspect of teaching that is often neglected in teacher education programs, seasoned teachers will often take rookies under their wing and show them the tricks of the trade.
If you’ve ever wondered, “Should I become a teacher?” then be forewarned that this profession will test your work ethic. Teachers work extremely hard, and many believe that they’re underpaid. The vast majority of teachers work almost around the clock, and they’re on salary, so they don’t receive overtime pay. Instead, their reward comes when their students succeed. The best teachers are so driven that they stay up late at night grading papers and sacrifice their weekends tweaking lesson plans.
Many people outside the teaching profession may argue that teachers work hard during the school year but get the summers off. This is a common misconception. Though some teachers may have the luxury of taking a vacation over the summer, most work straight through, either working on lesson plans for the upcoming school year or attending professional development workshops and conferences. Though teachers may only teach from September to May, teaching is almost always a year-round job.
When considering signs you should become a teacher, you’ll want to be introspective about the type of person you are and whether you have a large capacity for compassion. No matter what grade level or subject area you teach, you’ll be responsible for students in need of your care and attention. Even angsty high schoolers (who may or may not be taller than you) will rely on you to extend emotional as well as academic support.
It’s tempting (especially at the higher grade levels) to think of teachers as strict disciplinarians or subject matter gurus. And you may indeed wear these hats from time to time. At the heart of the profession is a deep and genuine concern for students’ wellbeing, not just from an academic perspective. You must see students as the complex human beings they are and recognize when they need a listening ear rather than a reprimand.
An Openness to Constructive Criticism
Teaching is hard, and you won’t be anywhere near perfect at it during your first few years in the profession. That’s why one of the qualities of a good teacher is the ability to accept criticism and learn from it. During your first year of teaching especially, you’ll need to be prepared for a lot of criticism. You may get criticized by your fellow teachers, principals, parents, and even your students.
Some of this criticism may not be constructive, but there will be well-meaning stakeholders who will offer their feedback and advice. This latter form of criticism can be beneficial to you, so long as you’re not so sensitive that you put your defenses up. It can be tough, but let those walls down and accept constructive criticism as precisely what it’s meant to be—a lifeline of support. The best way to learn how to be a great teacher is to respond to criticism with reflection and the willingness to adapt your methods.
If you’re asking yourself, “Should I become a teacher?” then you should also ask yourself whether you have the ability to be humble. Things can and will go wrong in your classroom. You’ll forget a student’s name; you’ll forget your lesson plans; your shirt will come untucked, or you’ll have toilet paper stuck to your shoe. These mishaps are inevitable, and that’s why humility is one of the key qualities of a good teacher. You’ll need to be able to laugh at yourself, or you might not survive.
Humility will also come in handy when you realize that despite figuring out how to become a teacher, you still don’t know everything. The day will come when you misremember a historical fact or completely forget an equation. Having to rely on a student to teach you (instead of the other way around) will teach you humility if you haven’t already developed it. It’s best to go into the profession accepting your own limitations and imperfections and adopting a willingness to learn new things (even if it’s from your own students!).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for teachers are growing steadily at a rate comparable to that of the average for all occupations. Therefore, if you want a teaching position, it’s likely there will be one waiting for you upon graduation from a teacher education program. Still, there’s that looming question: “Should I become a teacher?”.
While definitely not a comprehensive guide to being a great teacher or even a complete list of the qualities of a good teacher, this article has attempted to address some of the signs you should be a teacher or at least consider it. If you are, indeed, destined for the teaching profession, you’ll find it to be one of the hardest and most meaningful experiences of your life. If you let it, it will change you for the better, and perhaps most importantly, it will give you the chance to have a significant impact on the lives of many others.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook
- Economic Policy Institute (EPI): U.S. Schools Struggle to Hire and Retain Teachers
- National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): Digest of Education Statistics