Maybe your path began in medicine, or office management, the military, or sales. But something changed, and now you’re thinking about education. You are thinking that maybe, just maybe, teaching would be right for you.
This means you are also asking questions — big questions — because changing direction entails a lot of unknowns. And before you make the leap, you need a few answers.
- What do I have to offer?
- Will I like teaching?
- Could I really be a good teacher?
- How long will it take me to find a job after I get my credential?
- Will I be able to support my family?
- Do I have enough time?
- How am I going to afford this?
- What will it take?
- Am I too old?
We’ve got some answers for you.
We are Point Loma Nazarene University’s (PLNU) School of Education. We’ve been nurturing future educators for more than four decades. Our graduates have done such an excellent job out in the field that local school districts now call us when they are looking to fill internships or permanent positions. We have passion and experience, and we’d like to share it with you. So read on; we hope this information will help you determine if teaching could bring the challenge and satisfaction you seek.
WILL I LIKE TEACHING?
Though we cannot answer that for you, we can share why other teachers love their jobs. While there are many practical reasons for entering the field, most teachers’ eyes light up when talking about the satisfaction and purpose they feel in their profession. They describe that particular kind of joy that wells up as a student finally “gets” a difficult concept. They take pleasure in those spontaneous classroom moments when breakthroughs occur or when a student deepens her understanding of the world. Teaching is a string of moments — many lovely, some incredibly challenging — that allow a teacher to inspire learning, help students succeed, prepare young people for life, and ultimately find deep passion and meaning in the journey.
Why do YOU want to teach? Are you yearning for more meaning in your profession? Has someone complimented the way you work with young people? Are you looking to synchronize your work schedule with your family’s academic one? Is it your dream to be able to share the knowledge you love with young people? Or perhaps you are looking for stability, benefits, or job security?
By interacting with the same students on a daily basis, teachers form the kind of relationships that provide opportunities to mentor, encourage, and change lives. Teachers also get to talk about their favorite subjects and inspire their students to love learning as well.
Teacher salaries and job opportunities in California are increasing due to recent tax increases for education, and the improving economy. Benefits such as paid leave, health insurance (including dental and vision), discounted insurance for family members, and retirement are common. Also frequently offered are life and disability insurance, mortgage assistance, and flexible spending accounts.
Having a work schedule that follows the academic year allows parents to take vacations when their children are out of school. Most California schools have a 9-month academic year. Some teachers choose to pick up additional paid teaching assignments (such as summer school) or attend training opportunities during the months when school is not in session.
WHAT IS THE JOB MARKET LIKE FOR TEACHERS TODAY?
California is set to hire teachers in the coming years at a pace not seen for over a decade.
After a hiring slump due to the impact of the recession, California public schools are determined to reduce class sizes and utilize the money received from a 2012 tax increase. For a little perspective, let’s look back at the years when California was attempting to balance the state budget in part by reducing the amount of money spent on education.
California is set to hire teachers in the coming years at a pace not seen for over a decade.
More than 7,200 positions were cut. By the spring quarter, another 21,000 teachers across the state received “pink slips” indicating they may not be re-hired the following year.
12,697 positions were eliminated. Added to the previous year’s reduction, that put the state nearly 20,000 teachers short of what was once considered necessary to educate its students. While families did leave the state over the next few years due to the faltering economy, which presumably reduced the number of students in the public school system, schools were still operating with significantly larger class sizes and fewer staff than was ideal.
Voters approved a property tax increase that would raise funds for education, and the tide began to turn.
Nearly 3,000 positions were reinstated.
More than 7,500 positions were added.
With the infusion of tax funding, the uptick in the economy, the ever-increasing student population, and numerous imminent retirements from the Baby Boomer generation, now is an ideal time to go into teaching.
In addition, California is experiencing a general shortage of teachers in urban and rural areas, and in the subjects mathematics, science, agriculture, business, computer science, and industrial arts, as well as special and bilingual education. Teachers in these areas are in especially high demand.
Teacher Profile: Geoff
Meet Geoff. After years as an ocean lifeguard and dental hygienist, he decided to enter education and has found that some of his “real world” skills make a difference in the way he handles a highly challenging group of students.
“My placement is an interesting one,” said Geoff of his internship at a school in what he describes as a “rough” neighborhood. He teaches a 7th and 8th grade special needs fundamentals class, which means a lot of his students have IEPs (Individual Education Plans, created to address the special needs and goals of students), but many are in his class for disciplinary reasons as well.
“A lot of my students have gotten kicked out of other schools and then they end up in my class,” he explained. “A good day for me is when my students show up, because on any given day, one of my kids is suspended.” In the first month of his assignment, his school had to expel three students. And kids frequently fight in his class.
This is a far cry from his previous career in a calm office as a dental hygienist.
For years, Geoff spent his days cleaning teeth and ocean lifeguarding, a job he’d had since he was a teenager, on weekends and holidays. This worked for some time, but the birth of his son prompted a desire for more balance in his life. Besides, lifeguarding was starting to use up his body (his knee was recently replaced) and dentistry had become boring.
Thinking that teaching would give him more time off throughout the year to spend with his family, Geoff returned to school to earn his credential. He already had degrees in biochemistry, cellular biology, and dental hygiene. The demands of school were no cause for concern, but finances were. He had one child at home, another on the way, and he had been laid up from knee surgery, unable to work the hours he once did.
Because of his high performance and the reputation of his teacher preparation program, he was recommended for an internship allowing him to earn money while fulfilling his student teaching requirement.
Geoff has since discovered that his previous professional experience as a lifeguard has given him maturity and calm in the face of the turbulence his students sometimes bring.
“In the classroom, I need to be able to change plans quickly if a lesson is not going properly or if there needs to be a reboot,” he explained. “I need to be able to make fast decisions and react in a way that still makes it look like I am in charge and that all changes are done purposefully.”
While this may not sound like a dream job experience, Geoff enjoys both the challenge and the purpose in helping his students learn to cope with the hardships of their lives.
“I don’t know what’s going on at home, so I’ve got to find out,” he said, explaining how he works with a troubled student. “A lot of times, it’s trying to figure out what’s going on, and going, ‘OK. I understand that you haven’t eaten for two days. I get why you aren’t happy right now.’”
By taking the time to connect with the student on more than a disciplinary or academic level, he is beginning the process of earning that student’s trust and building a relationship in a community where neither come easily.
Ultimately, Geoff knows he made the right choice: “I am much more fulfilled and happy with this new career. I like the hours, benefits, and time off, of course. Most importantly, I like that I am making a positive difference in this world.”
HOW DO I BECOME A TEACHER?
Becoming a teacher in California requires that you earn a teaching credential through an accredited program. While in the program, you will be prepared to manage a classroom, to teach your chosen subject or grade level effectively, and to fulfill the requirements of credentialing. You will also be mentored as you do your student teaching. At first glance, the requirements may feel overwhelming, but a good teacher preparation program will provide the support you need to accomplish it all.
Consider the type of credential you may wish to earn. Do you like the idea of working with younger children? Do you prefer digging deeper into a single subject with older kids? Maybe your heart goes out to children who have special needs. What kinds of students do you imagine yourself teaching?
Based on your reflection above, which credential would allow you to work with your chosen population?
To teach in an elementary self-contained classroom, you will need a multiple subject credential. This credential allows you to teach multiple subjects in one classroom and is required in a kindergarten or elementary class.
To teach a single subject in a middle or high school, you will need a single subject credential. This credential authorizes you to teach in a specific subject area of your expertise in a departmentalized classroom typical of middle and high schools.
To teach in a special education classroom, you will need an education specialist instruction credential. With this credential, you specialize in either Mild/Moderate Disabilities (M/M) or Moderate/Severe Disabilities (M/S).
Earning a Teaching Credential
The path to becoming credentialed in California varies depending on what kind of education and experience you already have, as well as which credential you choose to pursue. All paths, however, have these basic requirements:
1. Possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or higher at an accredited college or university.
2. Demonstrate knowledge of basic skills. The most common way to do this is by passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) prior to entering a teacher prep program. The CBEST is a standardized exam that assesses basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills in the English language. As you look into applying for a credential program, you will be guided to where and when you may take the exam. Some programs offer CBEST prep opportunities.
3. Complete an accredited credentialing program. While in the program, you will be offered support as you fulfill the additional requirements, which include:
a. Completing a student teaching assignment.
b. Getting tested for tuberculosis. While this is not required for a credential, it is required in order to enter the classroom as a student teacher. A TB test is a simple procedure that can be administered at any clinic.
c. Depending on your desired career path, different courses and standardized assessments will be required. Your credential program will help you set up a personalized plan based on your background and teaching goals. For most people, these requirements include:
- Passing the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET). This exam evaluates your competency in the subject area(s) that you will be teaching.
- Completing a Developing English Language Skills and Reading course. This focuses on comprehensive reading instruction.
- Passing the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA).
- Passing a course on the U.S. Constitution or an approved exam.
- Completing a computer technology course that will give you skills in using current technology in educational settings.
Need personalized help? If you are not sure which credential would be right for you or you would like to talk through the credentialing process, we would love to answer your questions. You can receive free career guidance with a trained counselor by getting in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I THINK I’M READY TO DO THIS, BUT HOW DO I CHOOSE THE TEACHER PREP PROGRAM THAT’S RIGHT FOR ME?
It may be tempting to jump into a program for its cheap tuition or apparent ease. But the truth is, your preparation is critical to your success. Arguably the biggest factor in how smoothly you transition into full-time teaching is how prepared you are — how organized, how well you understand the expectations, and how many “tools” you have in your teaching toolkit. When determining which program is the right fit for you, consider the following questions:
Do you have a degree already or do you need to find a program that allows you to complete a degree and a credential at the same time?
There are two types of teacher preparation programs — one provides you with a credential only and the other provides a way to earn both a degree and a credential.
What kind of reputation does the college or university have with school districts in the area?
Graduates from programs that produce excellent teachers are in demand. In fact, this could make all the difference in landing your first job. Some universities actually receive calls directly from district human resource departments asking for students or graduates to hire for internships or permanent teaching positions.
How flexible are the start dates?
Does the program offer a single option to begin in the fall or are there multiple entry points throughout the year? After analyzing your priorities and needs, you will have a better idea of what timing works best for you. You might find that a program with more flexible opportunities for getting started fits better with other important factors in your life.
When do you begin student teaching? Are you given preparation prior to entering the classroom?
Some programs get you into the classroom immediately; others first require the completion of several units. How comfortable you are with either approach often depends on how much time you’ve spent in a classroom already, for example, from volunteering in your child’s class or working in a youth-related or after-school program. If you do not have prior experience, you may prefer to acquire some preparation and support before you start student teaching.
How big are the class sizes and to what degree will you be mentored by your professors?
Smaller classes and a more intimate learning environment build camaraderie among fellow teaching candidates as well as offer more opportunities for direct mentorship by professors. Smaller class sizes also allow for more personalized attention and support as you navigate the challenges and requirements of the credentialing process.
Do you prefer learning online or in-person?
Many people find that the relationships they have with their peers and professors are critical to their personal growth as future teachers. Being able to walk in with a question and receive an immediate answer or guidance can make all the difference in achieving your goals. Online programs do not always provide the kind of interactive learning that classroom programs do. In considering an online or partially online program (hybrid), ask about how the students receive support and nurturing.
Does the program offer any test preparation guidance, student teaching seminars, or other professional development?
Some programs go beyond the preparation provided in formal classes by offering additional free trainings throughout the semester, as well as personalized career counseling.
HOW DO I KEEP MY CREDENTIAL CURRENT?
Many careers have ongoing requirements for keeping professional certifications current. Teaching has a simpler process. Within the first five years of receiving your preliminary credential, you can earn the professional clear, which does not need to be renewed or upgraded. Ever. It is your final destination. And while a great teacher never stops learning or seeking a deeper understanding of the profession, there are no further requirements for your credential after obtaining the clear.
Upgrading to the clear credential requires completing an approved clear credential program. Clear credential programs do not interfere with your ability to work full-time. In fact, in many cases, local universities have developed relationships with public schools in order to offer clear credential classes in the evenings to cohorts of teachers from the same school. These valuable classes deepen your knowledge of pedagogy, creating inclusive environments for learning and working with special populations of students.
Your personal requirements for the clear credential depend on the path you took to obtain your preliminary credential. The details will be worked out under the guidance of your teacher preparation program.
NOW, HOW DO I LAND MY FIRST JOB?
Congratulations! At this point, you have completed your teacher preparation program. You have conquered multiple standardized exams and survived your first teaching experience as a student teacher. You have articulated your philosophy of teaching and created a portfolio designed to impress. You have a few letters of recommendation under your belt, and no matter how nervous you may feel, you are excited to get into the classroom for real.
While a great teacher preparation program will guide you through this process, there are still a few things that are good to know. School districts post openings on their individual web sites (look them up at cde.ca.gov/re/sd) as well as on the education job site, EdJoin. Each district will require a separate application.
Before you enter the classroom, you will need to be fingerprinted and have a background check through a Livescan service in your area. Your program should help you through this process. A negative TB test is also required, though you will have completed this prior to beginning your student teaching.
So, let’s take a look at some numbers. When salaries in the state of California were last released in 2013, the average elementary school teacher salary was $70,633, and the average high school teacher salary was $70,268. This is only moderately helpful information because it includes lower wage first-year teacher pay as well as the earnings of someone who has been teaching for 15 years and has a master’s degree. When starting off, your salary will likely be lower than the state or county average, but as you gain experience it will rise.
Another good thing to know — teacher salaries are set by each individual school district which means that if one county contains several school districts, salaries may vary within that county.
Salary is also determined by several factors:
- Number of years of teaching experience
- Cost of living in the area
- The teacher’s level of education
Take a look at our infographic. We’ve broken down average teacher salaries by elementary, middle, and high school for every county in Southern California. While these are merely averages, they provide a general tool for comparison of salaries across the region. We have also included the hiring projections released by the California Department of Education on DataQuest so that you can see where to find the greatest opportunities.
One way to differentiate yourself and possibly earn more is to teach in a “high-needs” school or subject area. Teachers in “high-needs” schools may be paid more or may be offered signing bonuses, financial aid, fellowships, loan forgiveness, or housing incentives. These opportunities vary by school district. The “high-needs” designation might indicate a school that has a shortage of teachers due to challenging demographics, a less attractive environment such as an urban or rural setting, or a subject area that is experiencing a dearth of qualified educators.
Teacher Profile: Amy McManus-Simms
Back in the ‘90s, Amy went to college the for first time. Her interest in helping people initially led her to consider teaching, but at some point during those years she decided to pursue social work instead. Many years of working for Child Protective Services eventually took a toll on her, and she felt burned out. She left her job, spent some time focusing on her kids at home, and later enrolled in a credential program with the hope of becoming a teacher.
She wasn’t afraid to go back to school exactly, but she did recognize that things had changed over the years — students didn’t take notes with pen and paper, but had laptops in class; and papers were no longer submitted as hard copies, but uploaded.
“I didn’t know what to expect being a student now,” she said.
But she adapted quickly, and even managed the challenge of going back to school while raising three kids.
Today, Amy teaches mild-to-moderate special education classes at a K-5 elementary school in a low income area. The knowledge she gained as a protective services worker has given her greater insight into the lives and needs of her students. One of her students has PTSD as a result of trauma from domestic violence. Amy’s past work with victims of domestic violence has allowed her to connect with him and help him cope within the school environment.
She has also been able to help her colleagues better understand the process of mandatory reporting and how Children’s Services works. A lot of times, she explained, teachers who report abuse or neglect want to know, “What happens next?” She can answer that.
Amy also knows what resources are available to help students, how to get to the bottom of who is allowed to approve educational services (in cases where children are not living with biological parents), and who to call when working with a child in the foster care system — get in touch with the CASA first. The CASA is a Court Appointed Special Advocate, a mentor who looks out for the child and knows what’s going on at home. At her school, many children live with relatives or are placed in foster families because their parents are unable to appropriately care for them.
Amy’s own education paved the way for her current success. She credits her university for how well she was prepared to step into the special education classroom.
“I would not be in my current position if I had not chosen to get my teaching credential at PLNU,” she said. “PLNU has a great reputation with local schools.”
Amy was accepted for an internship, which provided income and qualified as her student teaching requirement.
“I was hired by SDUSD specifically because the head of HR called PLNU looking for a teacher at my school, and PLNU recommended me,” Amy said.
CAN I REALLY BECOME AN EXCELLENT TEACHER?
We know that the best teachers connect with their students, make learning enjoyable, and teach in such a way that their kids retain the information. While those elements can be stated so simply, they are really a complex accumulation of numerous small decisions, routines, and interactions. Here are a few things to think about as you enter the classroom:
Kids often come to school with a multitude of concerns weighing on them. In some classrooms, the majority of students go home to chaos, dysfunction, hunger, and violence. Merely showing up at school is a testament to their resilience. Academic success might not even be on their radar, because they are just trying to survive. In other classes, the kids may have all their basic needs met, but they are struggling with the excessive demands of “success” — attempting to juggle sports, AP classes, volunteer hours, music lessons, and always feeling that their worth depends upon their perfection or impressiveness. No matter where your kids fall on the spectrum, allow empathy to temper your agenda and you will make greater strides with your students’ minds and hearts.
The best, deepest, and most enthusiastic learning comes when students have a connection with their educators. Being real and showing you care, taking time to mentor or allow kids to eat lunch in your room are a few examples of things that will help them love being in your class and learning from you.
Have High Expectations
Kids rise to your expectations of them, so set the bar where you think it needs to be, and believe in your students. Let them know you believe in them, and they will aim high, too.
High expectations often feel inaccessible if the support needed to reach them is lacking. So build that support. Look for ways to break concepts and tasks down into manageable portions as your students work toward proficiency.
Incorporate your life and interests into your teaching. Utilize multimedia to illustrate lessons. Bring in music. Move around the room. Creativity surprises and stimulates the brain and combats boredom.
You’ll find that some kids just need to move. Make them sit still and they become a discipline problem. Allow them to move and they focus on learning. Whenever possible, incorporate movement into your lessons and seek solutions for the wiggly ones who need a little more physical input.
Respect is not a value that is understood naturally by all students. Creating a culture of respect in your classroom requires explicit and frequent conversation, at least in the beginning. Perhaps this means defining what respect looks like, role-playing, and making a list of ways to show respect in the class. A respectful classroom will become a place where it is safe to learn.
Model Good Organization
To be an executive teacher, organization is imperative. Organization is also key for your students as they tackle the responsibilities of multiple classes; sometimes, disorganization is the obstacle hindering a student’s success. Be organized, be explicit about how to get organized, and help your students get organized.
HOW CAN I AFFORD MY EDUCATION?
Teacher candidates who already have a bachelor’s degree may apply for an internship at a public school. Internships allow you to work as a teacher, satisfying your student teaching requirement while getting paid.
Substitute teaching is also an option. Substitutes choose whether or not they wish to accept an assignment, which could be a single day, several days, or long term, as in the case of a teacher’s maternity leave. In the majority of cases, substitutes get an automated call early in the morning with an assignment for that day which can be accepted or declined immediately. Substitutes often become known with certain schools which could potentially lead to a future hire. In order to substitute, you must apply separately to every district in which you wish to work.
By Jessica Petrencsik
Now that you know, are you ready to make the leap?
You may have lingering questions or doubts. If that’s the case, please call us. PLNU’s School of Education supports students through every step of the journey, from those first seeds of interest to the acceptance of a permanent teaching placement. We would love to help you determine your next steps.
Speak with one of our admissions counselors at (619) 329-6799 or email@example.com today.