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The role of a teacher is changing from that of a lecturer or presenter to one of a facilitator or coach. Interactive discussions and "hands-on" learning are replacing rote memorization. For example, rather than merely telling students about science, mathematics, or psychology, teachers ask students to help solve a mathematical problem or perform a laboratory experiment and discuss how these apply to the real world. Similarly, some teachers arrange to bring 3- and 4-year-olds into the classroom to demonstrate certain concepts of child psychology.
As teachers move away from the traditional repetitive drill approaches, they are using more "props" or "manipulatives" to help children understand abstract concepts, solve problems, and develop critical thought processes. For example, they teach the concepts of numbers or adding and subtracting by playing board games. As children get older, they may use more sophisticated materials such as tape recorders, science apparatus, or cameras.
Classes are becoming less structured, and students are working in groups to discuss and solve problems together. Preparing students for the future workforce is the major stimulus generating the changes in education. To be prepared, students must be able to interact with others, adapt to new technology, and logically think through problems. Teachers provide the tools and environment for their students to develop these skills.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers-who generally teach 5- to 13-year olds-play a vital role in the development of children. What children learn and experience during their early years can shape their views of themselves and the world, and affect later success or failure in school, work, and their personal lives. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers introduce children to numbers, language, science, and social studies. They use games, music, artwork, films, slides, computers, and other teaching technology to teach basic skills.
Most elementary school teachers instruct one class of children in several subjects. In some schools, two or more teachers work as a team and are jointly responsible for a group of students in at least one subject. In other schools, a teacher may teach one special subject-usually music, art, reading, science, arithmetic, or physical education-to a number of classes. A small but growing number of teachers instruct multilevel classrooms-those with students at several different learning levels.
Secondary school teachers-who generally teach 14- to 17-year olds-help students delve more deeply into subjects introduced in elementary school and expose them to more information about the world and themselves. Secondary school teachers specialize in a specific subject, such as English, Spanish, mathematics, history, or biology. They teach a variety of related courses-for example, American history, contemporary American problems, and world geography.
Special education teacherswho instruct students with a variety of disabilities in lower grades and high schols-are discussed separately in this section of the Handbook.
Teachers may use films, slides, overhead projectors, and the latest technology in teaching, such as computers, telecommunication systems, and video discs. Telecommunication technology exposes students to a vast range of experiences and promotes interactive learning. Through telecommunications, American students can communicate with students in other countries to share personal experiences or research projects of interest to both groups. Computers are used in many classroom activities, from helping students solve math problems to learning English as a second language. Increasingly, students are using the Internet for research and information gathering. Many teachers also use computers to record grades and for other administrative and clerical duties. Teachers must continually update their skills to use the latest technology in the classroom.
Teachers work with students from increasingly diverse ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. With growing minority populations, it is important for teachers to learn about and establish rapport with a diverse student population. Teachers factor multicultural programming into their lesson plans so that no student, regardless of his or her cultural background, is at a disadvantage. Some schools offer training to help teachers enhance their awareness and understanding of different cultures.
Teachers design their classroom presentations to meet student needs and abilities. They also work with students individually. Teachers assign lessons, give tests, listen to oral presentations, and maintain classroom discipline. They observe and evaluate a student's performance and potential, and increasingly use new assessment methods, such as examining a portfolio of a student's artwork or writing, to measure student achievement. Teachers assess the portfolio at the end of a learning period to judge a student's overall progress. They then provide additional assistance in areas where a student needs help.
In addition to classroom activities, teachers plan and evaluate lessons, sometimes in collaboration with teachers of related subjects. They also prepare tests, grade papers, prepare report cards, oversee study halls and homerooms, supervise extracurricular activities, and meet with parents and school staff to discuss a student's academic progress or personal problems. They identify physical or mental problems and refer students to the proper agency for treatment. Secondary school teachers assist students in choosing courses, colleges, and careers. Teachers also participate in education conferences and workshops.
In recent years, site-based management, which allows teachers and parents to participate actively in management decisions, has gained popularity. In many schools, teachers help make decisions regarding the budget, personnel, textbook choices, curriculum design, and teaching methods.
Seeing students develop new skills and gain an appreciation of the joy of learning can be very rewarding. However, teaching may be frustrating when dealing with unmotivated and disrespectful students. In urban areas, teachers may experience stress when dealing with large classes, a large number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and heavy workloads. Also, the relatively low pay causes some teachers to leave the profession.
Teachers face isolation from their colleagues since they often work alone in a classroom of students. However, this autonomy provides teachers considerable freedom to choose their own teaching styles and methods.
Including school duties performed outside the classroom, many teachers work more than 40 hours a week. Most teachers work the traditional 10-month school year with a 2-month vacation during the summer. Those on the 10-month schedule may teach in summer sessions, take other jobs, travel, or pursue other personal interests. Many enroll in college courses or workshops to continue their education. Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 8 weeks, are on vacation for 1 week, and have a 5-week midwinter break.
Most States have tenure laws that prevent teachers from being fired without just cause and due process. Teachers may obtain tenure after they have satisfactorily completed a probationary period of teaching, normally 3 years. Tenure does not absolutely guarantee a job, but it does provide some security.
Teachers held over 2.9 million jobs in 1994. Of those, nearly 1.6 million were kindergarten and elementary school teachers, and over 1.3 million were secondary school teachers. Employment is distributed geographically, much the same as the population.
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed. Licensure is generally offered for one or several related subjects. Usually licensure is granted by the State board of education or a licensure advisory committee. Teachers may be licensed to teach the early childhood grades (usually nursery school through grade 3); the elementary grades (grades 1 through 6 or 8); or a special subject, such as reading or music.
Requirements for regular licenses vary by State. However, all States require a bachelor's degree and completion of an approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits and supervised practice teaching. Many States require teachers to obtain a master's degree in education, which involves at least 1 year of additional coursework beyond the bachelor's degree with a specialization in a particular subject.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education currently accredits over 500 teacher education programs across the United States. Generally, 4-year colleges require students to wait until their sophomore year before applying for admission to teacher education programs. Traditional education programs for kindergarten and elementary school teachers include courses-designed specifically for those preparing to teach-in mathematics, physical science, social science, music, art, and literature, as well as prescribed professional education courses, such as philosophy of education, psychology of learning, and teaching methods. Aspiring secondary school teachers either major in the subject they plan to teach while also taking education courses, or major in education and take subject courses. Most programs require students to perform student teaching. Some States require specific grade point averages for teacher licensure.
Many States now offer professional development schools, which involve partnerships between universities and elementary or secondary schools. Students enter these 1-year programs after completion of their bachelor's degree. Professional development schools merge theory with practice and allow the student to experience a year of teaching first-hand, with professional guidance.
Many States offer alternative teacher licensure programs for people who have bachelor's degrees in the subject they will teach, but lack the necessary education courses required for a regular license. Alternative licensure programs were riginally designed to ease teacher shortages in certain subjects, such as mathematics and science. The programs have expanded to attract other people into teaching, ncluding recent college graduates and midcareer changers. In some programs, individuals begin teaching quickly under provisional licensure. After working under the close supervision of experienced educators for 1 or 2 years while taking education courses outside school hours, they receive regular licensure if they have progressed satisfactorily. Under other programs, college graduates who do not meet licensure requirements take only those courses that they lack, and then become licensed. This may take 1 or 2 semesters of full-time study. States may issue emergency licenses to individuals who do not meet requirements for a regular license when schools cannot attract enough qualified teachers to fill positions. Teachers who need licensure may enter programs that grant a master's degree in education, as well as licensure.
Almost all States require applicants for teacher licensure to be tested for competency in basic skills such as reading and writing, teaching skills, or subject matter proficiency. Most States require continuing education for renewal of the teacher's license-some require a master's degree. Many States have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers licensed in one State to become licensed in another.
Recently, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards began offering voluntary national certification for teachers. Teachers are required to obtain State licensure, but may choose whether they wish to obtain national certification. A teacher who is nationally certified may find it easier to obtain employment in another State. Certified teachers may also earn higher salaries, have more senior titles, and be eligible for more bonuses than non-certified teachers. Policies vary by State and since this is a fairly new credential, many States' policies regarding recognition of national certification have not been established.
In addition to being knowledgeable in their subject, the ability to communicate, inspire trust and confidence, and motivate students, as well as understand their educational and emotional needs, is essential for teachers. Teachers must be able to recognize and respond to individual differences in students, and employ different teaching methods that will result in high student achievement. They also should be organized, dependable, patient, and creative. Teachers must also be able to work cooperatively and communicate effectively with other teaching staff, support staff, and parents and other members of the community.
With additional preparation and certification or licensure, teachers may move into positions as school librarians, reading specialists, curriculum specialists, or guidance counselors. Teachers may become administrators or supervisors, although the number of these positions is limited. In some systems, highly qualified, experienced teachers can become senior or mentor teachers, with higher pay and additional responsibilities. They guide and assist less experienced teachers while keeping most of their teaching responsibilities.
The job market for teachers varies widely among States and school districts. Some central cities and rural areas have difficulty attracting enough teachers, so job prospects should continue to be better in these areas than in suburban districts. Teachers in some subjects-mathematics, science (especially chemistry and physics), bilingual education, and computer science, for example-seem to be in short supply. Areas that seem to be experiencing an oversupply of teachers, on the other hand, include general elementary education, physical education, and social studies. Teachers who are geographically mobile and who obtain licensure in more than one subject should have a distinct advantage in finding a job. With enrollments of minorities increasing, and a shortage of minority teachers, efforts to recruit minority teachers should intensify.
Overall employment of kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school teachers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. However, projected employment growth varies among individual teaching occupations. Job openings for all teachers are expected to increase substantially by the end of the decade as the large number of teachers now in their forties and fifties reach retirement age.
Employment of secondary school teachers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005, while average employment growth is projected for kindergarten and elementary school teachers. Assuming relatively little change in average class size, employment growth of teachers depends on population growth rates and corresponding student enrollments. Enrollment of 14- to 17-year-olds is expected to experience relatively strong growth through the year 2005, spurring demand for secondary school teachers (see chart 1). Enrollment of 5- to 13-year olds also is projected to increase, but at a slower rate, resulting in divergent growth rates for individual teaching occupations (see chart 2).
The number of teachers employed is also dependent on State and local expenditures for education. Pressures from taxpayers to limit spending could result in fewer teachers than projected; pressures to spend more to improve the quality of education could increase the teacher workforce.
The supply of teachers also is expected to increase in response to reports of improved job prospects, more teacher involvement in school policy, and greater public interest in education. In fact, enrollments in teacher training programs already have increased in recent years. In addition, more teachers will be drawn from a reserve pool made up of career changers, teachers completing alternative certification programs, teachers relocating to different schools, substitute teachers, and teachers reentering the workforce.
According to the National Education Association, the estimated average salary of all elementary and secondary school teachers in 1995 was $36,900. Public secondary school teachers averaged about $37,800 a year, while public elementary school teachers averaged $36,400. Starting salaries for teachers in 1995 ranged from about $20,000 to $25,000 a year. Private school teachers generally earn less than public school teachers.
In 1994, over half of all public school teachers belonged to unions-mainly the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association-that bargain with school systems over wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of mployment.
In some schools, teachers receive extra pay for coaching sports and working with students in extracurricular activities. Some teachers earn extra income during the summer working in the school system or in other jobs.
Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school teaching requires a wide variety of skills and aptitudes, including a talent for working with children; organizational, administrative, and recordkeeping abilities; research and communication skills; the power to influence, motivate, and train others; patience; and creativity. Workers in other occupations requiring some of these aptitudes include college and university faculty, counselors, education administrators, employment interviewers, librarians, preschool teachers, public relations specialists, sales representatives, social workers, and trainers and employee development specialists.
Information on licensure or certification requirements and approved teacher training institutions is available from local school systems and State departments of education.
Information on teachers' unions and education-related issues may be obtained from:
American Federation of Teachers, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
National Education Association, 1201 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
A list of institutions with accredited teacher education programs can be obtained from:
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010 Massachusetts Ave. NW., 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.
For information on voluntary teacher certification requirements, contact:
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 300 River Pl., Detroit, MI 48207.
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