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Make It Happen: Be a Teacher

An introduction to teaching as a profession for all students through college. Learn about working conditions, pay, and making a difference.
Published: 06/24/2020 Last Updated: 06/24/2020

A Student's Guide 

Each year, NEA receives thousands of letters—from eighth graders to college graduates—asking about teaching as a career. We have developed a short Q &A to answer the most frequently asked questions about preparing to become a teacher. 

What do teachers do? 

Along with teaching classes, all teachers prepare lesson plans, grade tests, talk with parents, and attend school meetings. Some teachers have specialty areas such as music, art, or physical education, and teach only that subject. Often teachers supervise after-school activities, such as school plays, athletics, and school newspapers. 

What is a teacher's day like? 

Many teachers say that no two days are exactly alike, and that makes their careers exciting. Teaching calls on a variety of talents—knowing the subject, communicating, listening, understanding, decision making, helping others. It offers unlimited outlets for using your special talents. Being a teacher these days doesn't mean sticking with third grade or high school chemistry for an entire career. New career opportunities—from preschool through adult education—are emerging. 

What are working conditions like for teachers? 

Through the advocacy of the local NEA affiliates, school districts recognize that the way to keep good teachers is to make the conditions for teaching and learning attractive—smaller class sizes, adequate attractive classrooms, and sufficient supplies and materials to assist learning. States are also providing teachers with more opportunities to attend classes to improve their teaching skills and to learn about using new technologies in the classroom. 

How flexible is teaching? 

Teachers enjoy flexible work schedules with breaks for holidays and summer—valuable time to grow professionally or to relax and recharge. In the classroom, teachers are gaining influence over decisions about coursework and textbooks and are expanding opportunities for creativity. 

Are teachers paid well? 

The good news is that salaries for teachers are increasing. As the country recognizes the need to attract more teachers, salaries should continue to increase. Teachers' salaries can differ from state to state. In some states, teachers are paid according to a salary schedule. Some states add what is known as a supplement. In 34 states, teachers negotiate with school boards for their salaries. Attractive benefits—including health, dental, and other insurances—are usually offered to teachers as well. 

Is there a shortage of teachers in some areas? 

Many school districts desperately need more teachers of color. Additionally, there is a need for teachers in urban areas. Persons interested and qualified to teach math and science (all grades) also are needed. There also are shortages based upon geography. Some parts of the country need teachers more than others. If you would like more information about these areas of interest, please contact your state department of education. 

Will I make a difference as a teacher? 

Never has teaching been so important. In the 21st century, America needs an educated workforce to remain an economic leader. We need good teachers who will be able to help people learn so they can work in exciting new technologies. Teaching is challenging. It isn't easy to make lessons interesting, inspire learning, and help students cope or discipline students. Few careers offer such opportunities to make a difference or to have a positive impact on the lives of others. 

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.