Careers in Teaching Popular Specialties and Emerging Careers in Education

Teaching is the ideal profession for those passionate about shaping young minds at every educational level, from preschool to college. Whether pursuing a teaching career in a public, private or charter school setting, a degree in education is the first step. Colleges and universities offer prospective teachers the opportunity to specialize in several areas while taking the coursework necessary for certification. Explore what a career in teaching entails, including different specializations, certifications, and potential salaries.

Career Paths in Teaching

Understanding the possible career paths ensures that future teachers choose the right specialization while pursuing their degrees. The following are examples of concentrations in teaching and the specific careers they can lead to.

Early Childhood Education

Students who want to work with young children in Head Start programs, preschools, and childcare centers can pursue this concentration to gain knowledge of the strategies and concepts associated with early childhood education. Courses in this concentration focus on language and literacy, assessment, technology, and equity in the early childhood education field.

  • Preschool Teachers

    Educate and care for children aged 3 to 5 who have not yet entered kindergarten. These professionals teach general subjects in ways that are interesting and understandable for young children, and help prepare them for entering a classroom environment in kindergarten.

  • Childcare Center Directors

    Supervise and lead staff and oversee a facility’s operations, including designing curricula and managing budgets. These professionals are responsible for all aspects of a childcare center program.

Elementary Education

This concentration prepares students for teaching grades K-5 by emphasizing lesson planning that enhances the physical, social, and cognitive domains of child development. Courses blend academic theory, classroom management, and instruction in how to teach math, science, reading, and social studies to elementary students.

  • Elementary School Teachers

    Develop lesson plans and instructional materials, provide group and individualized instruction, and evaluate students’ academic and social growth in grades K-5. Effective communication with parents is a key aspect of the job.

  • Teacher’s Assistants

    Reinforce lessons, enforce classroom rules and help classroom teachers with other instructional and supervisory duties. In some cases, teacher’s assistants may work exclusively with special education students in a traditional classroom setting.

  • Principals (Elementary, Middle, or High School)

    Serve as chief administrators of a school, leading and supervising all school personnel. Duties include setting overall goals, determining instructional objectives and managing communication with other schools.

Literacy Education

This area explores literacy, the foundation of all academic disciplines. Prospective teachers examine the developmental stages of reading and writing, various instructional approaches, methods of evaluation, diagnostic and corrective reading methods, and research in literacy education.

  • Literacy Specialists

    Guide, teach, and assess K-12 students to improve their reading skills and reach educational goals. These professionals also assess a school’s curriculum to ensure it meets student needs.

  • Special Education Teachers (Elementary School)

    Adapt general education lessons in subjects such as reading, math and writing for use with students with mild and moderate disabilities. These professionals work as a team with classroom teachers, counselors, parents and administrators to develop Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) specific to a student’s needs.

  • Instructional Coordinators

    Oversee school curricula and teaching standards, develop instructional materials, and coordinate with teachers and principals to implement lessons. These professionals serve as trainers or coaches for instructional staff.

Mathematics Education

This concentration provides a focus on the pedagogy of mathematics and the development of balanced instructional programs in elementary, middle and high schools. Coursework examines current principles in teaching mathematics, state and national standards, and issues such as integrating mathematics with other subjects.

  • Elementary School Teachers

    Develop lesson plans and instructional materials, provide group and individualized instruction, and evaluate students’ academic and social growth in grades K-5. Effective communication with parents is a key aspect of the job.

  • Secondary School Math Teachers

    Prepare and deliver lessons based on the curricula established in the middle and high schools where they teach. Typically, these professionals teach a variety of classes throughout the school day, including general math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus.

Special Education

With an emphasis on helping students with special needs, this concentration prepares prospective teachers to work in the field of special education in a variety of settings. Coursework focuses on teaching K-12 children who have specific learning disabilities, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders.

  • Special Education Teachers (Elementary School)

    Adapt general education lessons in subjects such as reading, math and writing for use with students with mild and moderate disabilities. These professionals work as a team with classroom teachers, counselors, parents and administrators to develop Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) specific to a student’s needs.

  • Teacher’s Assistants

    Reinforce lessons, enforce classroom rules and help classroom teachers with other instructional and supervisory duties. In some cases, teacher’s assistants may work exclusively with special education students in a traditional classroom setting.

  • School Counselors

    Evaluate students through aptitude assessments, help students overcome social or behavioral problems, and work with students to develop plans for achieving academic goals. At the high school level, these professionals provide career counseling such as assisting students in choosing and applying for colleges, financial aid, and internships.

Outlook & Salary Potential in Teaching

The availability of positions and potential income are prime considerations for most students pursuing a teaching career. With a significant number of teachers expected to retire over the next 10 years, there will be a substantial need for new teachers to replace them. Coupled with that is a projected increase in student enrollment, compounding the need for more teachers. In general, more opportunities are expected in urban and rural districts than in suburban school districts; however, the number of actual openings will vary by region and depend on state and local budgets.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 5.9% increase in employment for teachers by 2024. Here is a look at the salary and projected growth for teachers in some of the most popular careers.

Preschool Teacher (excluding special education) Average salary $28,120 Growth outlook 470,600 (2024)
Elementary School Teacher (K-5) (excluding special education) Average salary $54,120 Growth outlook 1,436,300 (2024)
Instructional Coordinator Average salary $61,550 Growth outlook 161,600 (2024)
Special Education Teacher Average salary $55,980 Growth outlook 450,700 (2024)
Principal-Elementary, Middle, High School Average salary $89,540 Growth outlook 254,000 (2024)

Teaching Salary by State

While several factors affect salary, including specialty area and experience level, earnings in teaching careers are also heavily influenced by geographical area. Below are the top 10 states for elementary teacher salaries.

  • 1New York, Salary: $74,830
  • 2Alaska, Salary: $71,460
  • 3Connecticut, Salary: $70,820
  • 4California, Salary: $69,990
  • 5Massachusetts, Salary: $69,890
  • 6Rhode Island, Salary: $69,450
  • 7New Jersey, Salary: $67,100
  • 8Michigan, Salary: $63,640
  • 9Maryland, Salary: $63,050
  • 10Pennsylvania, Salary: $60,580

Top Skills for a Career in Teaching

Great teachers make a difference in the lives of their students, and doing that requires more than a comprehensive knowledge of instructional methods. There are a number of qualities and skills shared by teachers who are successful at leading and inspiring students:

Communication

Teachers must be able to communicate effectively when collaborating with teacher assistants, special education teachers, administrators and support staff, as well as when sharing observations and concerns with parents. In addition, they need to be clear and concise during instructional time.

Adaptability

No matter the grade level, there will always be students learning at different speeds and in different ways. Teachers must be able to reach all of these children by explaining the same concepts in various ways.

Patience

When it comes to teaching, patience is truly a virtue. Spending each day educating children or young adults requires the ability to stay centered, particularly when dealing with behavior issues.

Creativity

Keeping students engaged takes some ingenuity. Teachers must think creatively from the outset, starting with developing effective lesson plans and continuing through instruction and assessment.

Leadership

Teachers are the leaders of their classrooms, and students from preschool through high school look to them to set an example and provide guidance.

Certifications & Licenses

Before teaching in public, charter, and most private schools, teachers must be certified by the state where they work. Each state has its own requirements for licensure, so it’s important to research them in advance. Here are some of the top certifications for a career in teaching.

Top 5 Certifications or Licenses for a Career in Teaching

  • Early Childhood Certification

    This certification demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of early childhood development from ages 3 to 8, and the academic skills associated with each stage. This certification makes it possible to find employment working with young children in childcare and preschool settings, where an understanding of developmental stages is required.

  • Elementary Education Certification

    Public school districts and most private schools require classroom teachers in grades K-5 to hold this certification. This certification indicates a thorough understanding of subject matter and the ability to present those subjects to elementary-aged children.

  • Secondary Education Certification

    Middle school and high school teachers must hold certification in a subject area such as English, mathematics, science, or social studies. Because students take many different courses in the secondary grades, certification proves a teacher has the knowledge of the specific subject area and the teaching methods associated with it.

  • Special Education Certification

    The process of obtaining special education certification prepares future teachers to develop and implement individualized lesson plans to meet the needs of students with varying disabilities. Special education teachers may work in a self-contained classroom or partner with classroom teachers to integrate students into the general student population.

  • Reading Specialist Certification

    This certification demonstrates a teacher’s ability to provide effective strategies to help students overcome literacy issues. Training for this certification includes exposure to various reading-recovery programs, research in the field, and instructional methods.

Emerging Careers in Teaching

Providing classroom instruction in a school is just one way to be a teacher. Opportunities abound in a wide range of settings, with advances in technology leading to new directions in teaching careers. Here are some emerging careers in the field of teaching.

Online Teacher/Instructor at a Virtual School

Hundreds of thousands of students attend full-time online schools, according to Keeping Pace with K-12 Learning 2015: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice by the Evergreen Education Group. Additionally, nearly all public school districts are using online learning at some level. Full-time virtual charter schools account for the large majority of full-time online students, with 3.3 million course enrollments.

Online K-12 teachers instruct students in a virtual environment via the Internet and electronic communication. Because the shift from a traditional classroom to a virtual setting requires teachers with the motivation and skills to deliver online instruction, recruitment is in full swing. Teacher preparation programs and district professional development programs are revamping requirements to support online instruction demands.

The field is so new that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separate data about online teachers from that about traditional teachers; however, some idea of earning potential can be gathered by looking at the salaries paid at individual schools. For example, the salary for 10-month instructors at the Florida Virtual School (a public online high school) is $38,562-$63,300, while instructional specialists earn $50,163-$80,696.

EdTech

The field of educational technology (or EdTech) is booming. There are EdTech leadership positions available in K-12 schools and at the postsecondary level, as well as with corporations, private organizations and government agencies. Working in this field allows teachers to apply their existing knowledge to areas such as content and operations, sales and marketing.

EdTech companies around the world are currently providing solutions to problems such as the need for global access to quality education and adaptive learning strategies. EdTech entrepreneurs have recognized that people learn differently, and have responded by creating learning software that adapts to how individual users acquire knowledge. Staffing needs for software companies include instructional designers, software developers and content managers who can call on their experience as educators through various stages of development.

Startups are also providing unique opportunities for teachers. For example, TeachBoost is a company that helps teachers and even entire school districts improve. In addition, with people taking to websites in droves to learn new skills at sites like Coursera, Skillshare, and CreativeLive, there are content management and marketing needs for teachers to work as course developers or content managers.

Education Consultant

Education consultants work with parents to optimize their children’s personal growth and development against the demands of schools. They must stay abreast of changes in education as they arrange for specialty testing, coordinate with other professionals for additional services, and follow up with staff in schools.

Schools districts are one primary employer of education consultants. In a school setting, these professionals work with teachers and school boards to assess curricula, improve technology, and help with classroom academic development. Specialty areas include school recovery, administering online education programs, improving student drop-out rates, and charter school management.

The Internet and major changes in the publishing field have also led to opportunities for teachers to serve as education consultants at companies that produce educational materials. These professionals provide in-person support to the teachers and administrators who use the company’s programs, including product training and professional development. Publishers also need teachers to edit and review testing materials for accuracy, clarity and appropriateness.

Career & Job Resources

As education students near graduation and move into careers, they begin to look at skills, training and experience that distinguish them from other candidates in the hiring line. Mid-career educators may also consider the lay of the education landscape in eying promotions or career shifts into administration roles. A good starting place is at the job sites dedicated to teaching and administration careers cited below. Students can also get a leg-up in the hiring process by completing internships with local, state and federal teaching or education advocacy organizations. Not only do internships bolster resumes, they’re a great resource for developing industry contacts and mentors.

careers & jobs

  • The American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE)

    AAEE sponsors an annual conference and job fair for education professionals. It also publishes a yearly 70-page job search handbook guiding educators in the use of social media, job fairs, portfolios, overseas positions, resumes and interview preparation.

  • U.S. Department of Education

    Applicants seeking federal jobs in education can search through government listings based on agency, keyword, location, occupational title and salary range.

  • K12JOBSPOT

    Designed for K-12 teachers, this active job site currently cites 86,893 openings across the country. Aspirants can search by state, keywords or education specialty.

  • myEDmatch

    Education job aspirants can sort job openings using 25 filters to match their goals, education philosophies and core beliefs with potential employers. Job seekers build an online portfolio or teaching resume and apply directly for openings.

  • NASET Career Center

    The National Association of Special Education Teachers supports the NASET Career Center where school districts from across the nation can post job openings in special education. It also sponsors free professional development courses for its members.

  • SchoolSpring

    With more than 73,000 educational job openings currently on its site, SchoolSpring provides free services to job seekers, including a job search of district openings, application assistance, document management tools and email alerts.

  • TEACH

    Founded by the Department of Education and now supported by Microsoft and State Farm, TEACH is a non-profit organization dedicated to recruiting one million “high achieving” teachers by 2025. Resources include information on teacher preparation programs, certification, scholarship locator and an online job search tool.

  • Teachers-Teachers.com

    This job site is dedicated to job postings and job searches for teaching professionals, administrators and school recruiters. Applicants can post a profile and resume as well as scour the listings from more than 2,000 employers for free. Search by position, location and education specialty.

  • Teaching Community, Monster.com

    The careers section for the teaching community at one of the world’s largest job sites provides a wealth of career information, job listings, interview tips, resume advice, cover letters and salary information. Other resources include career preparation articles, certification details and career paths.

  • TeachingJobs.com

    Launched in 2015, this education jobs site connects employers with job seekers in the K-12 STEM professions. Job seekers can post resumes and, for a fee, receive resume coaching.