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A Day in the Life of a Teacher

The majority of teachers are employed by primary or secondary schools. Their focus is a specific subject or grade level. Before arriving at the classroom, teachers create lesson plans tailored to their students’ levels of ability. At school, usually beginning at 8 a.m., teachers must begin the difficult task of generating interest in their often sleepy students. A good sense of humor and the ability to think like their students help teachers captivate their students’ attention. Teachers have to generate interest in subjects that students often find tedious. Rousing them from their apathy and watching their curiosity grow is a giant reward of teaching. One teacher said her favorite aspects of teaching are the creative challenges and the “iconoclastic opportunities.” Teachers must have high expectations of their students and also be able to empathize with their concerns. They must be comfortable dealing with a spectrum of personality types and ability levels, and must be capable of treating their students fairly. About a fifth of the teacher’s work week is devoted to their least favorite aspect of the profession, paperwork. Teachers have a block of time each day, called a professional period, to accomplish paper grading; however, all teachers report that this is not enough time. Teachers also perform administrative duties, such as spending one period assisting in the school library or monitoring students in the cafeteria. Teachers also need to be accessible to parents. Some teachers meet with parents once per term, others send progress reports home each month. Most schools require teachers to participate in extra-curricular activities with students. A teacher may be an adviser to the school yearbook, direct the school play, or coach the chess team. Often they receive a stipend for leading the more time-consuming extracurricular activities. Teachers may also be required to act as chaperones at a certain number of after-school functions, such as dances and chorus concerts. All good teachers agree that the main reason for entering this profession should be a desire to impart knowledge. Teachers must want to make a difference in the lives and futures of their students.

Paying Your Dues

A college degree is required in this profession. You can receive your bachelor’s degree in elementary or secondary education in five years. Prospective teachers take 24 to 36 credits in an area of specialization and 18 to 24 credits in teaching courses. They spend the fifth year student teaching. Postgraduates can become teachers by returning to school for a master’s degree in teaching. In addition, many states offer alternative teaching licenses (designed to help schools acquire a more diverse pool of applicants for teaching positions); the usual requirements are a bachelor’s degree in the subject the candidate plans to teach, a passing score on state-required examinations, and completion of a teaching internship. Prospective teachers are also advised to gain skills in communications, organization, and time management. Teachers can apply for teaching positions through their college’s placement office or directly to their chosen school district.

Present and Future

Benjamin Franklin revolutionized the American school system. He created an educational program in which students were taught many subjects, but initially such schools were attended only by wealthy patrons. Various types of children’s schools began in different states in the early 1800s, but it was not until 1834 that schools began to be supported by public funds. In those days, students of various ages spent the day with one teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. Today, the trend is toward having teachers specialize in one or two areas. Some states are even passing laws limiting the number of subjects that an instructor can teach. There are shortages of qualified teachers in some urban areas and in some areas of specialization. The subjects that offer the most opportunity are English as a second language (ESL), mathematics, the sciences, and special education. ESL has growing potential not only in areas of America with high concentrations of immigrants but in foreign countries, though language requirements limit the pool of qualified candidates.

Quality of Life


Teachers just entering the profession generally say they plan to remain for at least five or ten years, but in fact the burn-out rate in the first two years is very high. New teachers are learning themselves as they discover ways to encourage student participation in class, generate homework assignments, and guide individual students in their work.


Satisfaction with the profession is above average, and those who survive the first five years are likely to enjoy a long career. Many teachers contemplate pursuing advanced degrees that will expand their teaching options and bring them higher salaries.


Dedicated teachers continue to find satisfaction even after ten years on the job. While some have taken on additional administrative responsibilities, many find the work as rewarding as when they first entered the profession.