Education Career Field Structure
The majority of people involved in education are engaged in teaching. Teaching responsibilities vary greatly from job to job in terms of subjects, schedules, and assigned duties. For example, elementary school teachers typically work with one group of children all day, while middle and secondary school teachers teach four, five, or more groups of students throughout the day. College professors may only present a few lectures a day, but also conduct scholarly research.
Teachers of younger children perform many of the roles of a parent, so the jobs of the preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers include the personal and social responsibilities that are assumed by parents at home. These jobs, of course, include the full gamut of responsibilities for the emotional and intellectual growth of children. Responsibilities of teachers of grades K–6 include teaching, selecting and planning course work, grading homework, and evaluating student achievement. They participate in conferences with parents, other teachers, and administrators on problems with curriculum, instruction, and guidance. They meet with social workers and psychologists regarding students with mental, emotional, behavioral, physical, or learning disabilities.
High school teachers have basic responsibilities similar to those of elementary school teachers, but they act less as parent substitutes and are more concerned with academics. Typically, high school teachers specialize in one or two subjects. But even at the high school level, teachers are concerned about more than the students’ academic progress. They help students deal with personal problems and advise them in matters concerning their future, such as selecting colleges and careers.
Similar to the high school teacher, the college professor shares the commitment to a specific field of knowledge, but such commitment is more intense. College professors are expected to participate in the activities of a professional society or association. Increasingly, professors are sought out as consultants in business, government, and public service. With more demands on their time outside of the classroom, college teachers have less time to spend with students than they would like. Professors with years of experience and a high level of specialization may choose to teach at the graduate level. These teachers spend more time in research activities and work with a small number of graduate students.
At all levels of the profession, teachers today are generally better educated than they were years ago. All states require the minimum of a bachelor’s degree for a beginning position, and many teachers have graduate degrees.
A variety of new opportunities for educators have evolved in nontraditional areas. Qualified education professionals are needed to work in agencies such as adult education programs, recreation departments, drug and alcohol abuse programs, Planned Parenthood units, and government organizations such as the Peace Corps and Job Corps. Teachers are finding more opportunities in business, vocational, and special interest training, where a degree in education is not as important as work and life experience.
Thousands of people are employed by professional organizations, private agencies with educational programs, and government offices of education. Every state in the United States has an office of education, which hires professionals to monitor and make recommendations for local school policies. The federal government also employs professionals to ensure that legislative mandates regarding education are carried out at the state and local levels. Federal education officials are concerned with such areas as early childhood education, bilingual education, inclusion of students with disabilities, transportation, and school health.
School districts and schools at all grade levels hire workers with education backgrounds to work as administrators. School and college administrators, including superintendents and principals, often first work as teachers. Administrators for elementary and secondary public schools handle finances, record keeping, course development, hiring, enforcement of state requirements, union negotiations, maintenance of school properties, and other management duties. At the college level, administrators act as presidents, vice presidents, deans, admissions officers, financial aid managers, student advisors, buildings and grounds managers, and department heads.
Association leaders and educators in government offices also often begin their careers as teachers. To be qualified and experienced for these higher-level positions, most education administrators and government officials have completed graduate study in education. Many educational publishing houses prefer to hire textbook editors with teaching experience. As former teachers, these editors are not only experts in the subject matter, but are also better able to determine whether the material is appropriate for the age and reading level a book is intended for, and whether instructions are clear and easy for a teacher to use.
Many teachers belong to a professional union such as the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers. Most teachers also join other associations or societies that represent their own subject areas or fields of specialization. Professional organizations and unions help teachers attain improvements in education, such as reduced teaching loads to allow more time for planning and evaluating, increased pay and benefits, and budgetary allowances that permit teachers to attend professional meetings. Other policy changes benefiting teachers include laws guaranteeing due process, establishing grievance procedures, ensuring fair dismissal procedures, and protecting teachers’ rights and academic freedom.
Teachers must be extremely dedicated to their students, to the subjects they teach, and to the notion of education in general. Perhaps it is for this reason that teaching is frequently referred to as a calling rather than a career. It is generally regarded as a noble profession, yet teachers continue to receive low pay, work long hours, and have limited resources, particularly at the elementary and secondary school levels.