This week, for whatever reason, I had several folks ask me what it takes to become a teacher. A few friends. A couple of acquaintances. One student. It is actually the student that inspired this post. So, current teachers, I encourage you to read (because reading is good), but I completely understand if you skip this blog post. Chances are you probably did the exact same thing I did.
So, ya wanna be a teacher do ya? I can use colloquial language since I know the difference between colloquialism and formalism. I think.
First, you must be sure that your heart is in it to win it. You can revert back to my personal path in my first blog post. Second, find your motivation. Preservice education is not particularly hard, but it is challenging. Finally, buy a really good planner! If you lack mediocre organization skills in the least, it will be in your best interest to find some. I recommend this one. Or, this one is identical to the one I purchased for the 2018-2019 school year. Maybe my next post will be how I use and abuse my planner.
Alright, so once you have gathered those three characteristics, enroll yourself in a four-year school, preferably one with an accredited education program. Pick a concentration. Here, you have options. Elementary. Secondary (middle and high school). Or, stay in school for as long as you can (and avoid student loan repayment) and pursue higher ed. For the sake of this blog, let’s assume you want to stay in grade school. Let me also mention that this post will be specific to licensure in the state of Virginia. Now, I do not have elementary licensure, but it is my understanding that is essentially similar to gaining secondary licensure. You choose an elementary education major. You choose two concentrations. Let’s say math and science or English and history. It’s up to you. You also take your core preservice education courses that include your student-teaching placement for one semester. I can’t tell you how many credit hours this ends up to be. After you fulfill your requirements, you’re certified and licensed to teach grades PK-6. Preservice art and physical education majors will be certified for PK-12. Again, I don’t know the specifics of elementary ed.
What I do know is the process for secondary ed. Anyone who has ever attended college knows you need at least 120 credit hours to graduate. If you double-major or take a minor, that changes. It depends on your life plan. When I decided I wanted to teach, I had to enroll in a concentration. For me, it was English. I also told my college advisor I had plans to teach. So, I entered as an English major with teaching licensure, which is slightly different than just an English major. I will also mention that I didn’t enter the job force after I received my Bachelor’s degree. There was a hiccup (a pretty big, devastating one) in my credits that I didn’t know was there until I enrolled for my semester of student teaching. I found a loophole and was able to register as an early graduate student. Essentially, while I was completing what I needed for my B.A., I was able to take graduate level classes. I kept on truckin’ until I had my Master of Education degree. From what I understand now, at the school I received my education, that can’t be done anymore. I am glad I took that opportunity when I did. Although I was extremely disappointed with the situation, it turned out to be a blessing.
Here’s how I did it:
- I started in community college. I didn’t go to college after high school. Well, I did actually, but I didn’t do well. I had a big head at the age of 18. I worked for several years before I decided to go back, and I promised myself I would take it seriously. And I did. I knocked out a bunch of my general education requirements. College Composition. Surveys of literature. The US and World history. Psychology. Sociology. Biology. And so on. No math? Nope. Dual-enrollment in high school helped me with that. I took NO math throughout my college career. Bless it! I had accumulated roughly 50 credits. I didn’t take my Associate’s. I just transferred to the local university.
- Hello, Averett University!
Averett University is nestled on the outskirts of downtown Danville, Virginia. It is an extremely small university. I’m not sure of the population, but I distinctly remember taking courses with maybe two other people. By the time I went back to school, I was in my mid-twenties, so the small campus was soothing and comfortable. The English department was tiny, but I feel that was part of the easy process. A lot of professor interaction and one-on-one if it was needed. I had several general eds I had to fulfill while I on campus. Public speaking. A theater class. Religion. A computer course. College Success Skills. Spanish. A health class. Some of my credits didn’t transfer, which happens. To make this blog simpler, I’ll list and briefly describe all the courses I took that gained me a Bachelor’s degree in English.
Survey of American Literature: This course was specific to the literature associated with beginnings of America until the era of slavery.
Victorian Literature: Specifically the novel. All things Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. With some Thomas Hardy and a Bronte sister.
Origins and Structure: The grammar course from my last blog post.
American Transcendentalism: Sub-movement of American Romanticism. Emerson and Thoreau, anyone?
Shakespeare: Please don’t make me explain this. Everything about the Bard.
Women and Gender Studies: This was a seminar class about feminist and female literature. It was super good stuff.
Film Study: Another seminar course. Literally, we looked at various films and analyzed ’em.
Literary Modernism: Turn-of-the-century in America and Britain. I took this class as an undergrad and a grad student under two different professors.
Major British Authors: This course started with Beowulf and ended somewhere in the 18th century.
Literature of the New Testament: Bible study for a semester. I actually was enlightened in this course. After all, the Bible is the most-read piece of literature in the Western World (at least I was told in this class).
Chaucer: We took a semester-long journey to Canterbury. And something about birds… I took this class as an undergrad and a grad student under two different professors.
To complete my undergrad concentration, I took an English capstone course. This was long and grueling and stressful. It was the first 30-page paper I had to write.
Speaking of papers… I swear all I did was write throughout my entire college career. I wrote. I typed. I proofread. I wrote some more. I pulled numerous all-nighters. I kept on writing. Like Dory, but with writing. My entire life was writing. And reading. If I wasn’t writing, I was reading. If I wasn’t reading? Yep. I was writing.
So, how about my education classes? The entire “teach me to teach” comes from these classes and field experience.
Foundations of Education: The laws of the classroom and the education system. You have to complete six observation hours in a school.
Ed Psych: How do children learn? How do they respond to learning situations? Why do teachers drink on the weekends? Maybe not so much the last part… You also have a school placement with this course.
Content Reading and Language Development: Literacy across the curriculum and how reading applies to your content. This class was breezily simple because, well… English major. This course requires a ten-hour placement in a school.
Curriculum: In a nutshell, develop a curriculum. Again, another school placement as a teaching assistant. If your host teacher is kind and brave, you will get to teach a lesson or two.
Instruction: Develop your lessons and teach them to the class. You have a 40-hour placement.
Finally, directed teaching. Or, as most know it, student teaching. This is an entire semester. You go to work, and you teach. You just don’t get paid. This is the semester all pre-service teachers dream to reach. If you’re fortunate like me, you’ll have wonderful teachers to work with who allow you to take the reigns. If you didn’t take any of your college coursework seriously up until this point, you better do it now.
If you successfully do all of the above, you’re allowed to graduate and the state in which you are licensed (again, this was for the state of Virginia), will give you a fancy piece of paper that certifies you to teach. But wait. You also have state tests to take. This is the doozy! The education department of your college or university will dictate when you have to take what by a particular deadline. First, you take your Praxis I. This is basically a standardized test that measures your competency in reading and math. In Virginia, you take the VCLA, or the Virginia Communication and Language Assessment (I think). Can you read? Can you write? You’ll pass. Then the bloody dreadful Praxis II. This is the test that is required before your student-teaching semester. At least, it was for the Averett Education program. It tests your knowledge specific to your content. YOU. CAN. NOT. TEACH. UNTIL. YOU. PASS. I hate to say it, but forget the past four years of classes and effort. If you fail, you can’t do anything in a classroom until you do. I am not ashamed to admit it took three tries for me pass this test. It was luck-of-the-draw with literature knowledge with basically no pedagogy (until they changed the test — that I finally passed). As a side note, the first two attempts I had at the test, Shakespeare was all over it. And John Steinbeck. I had never heard of the Steinbeck fella. You better believe I rushed home and ordered Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. I use him in my American literature curriculum now.
In a nutshell, this is the collegiate process that leads to your own classroom. I realize that this is not heavy with detail. It is simply an outline, and the requirements will vary, especially outside of the state of Virginia. It is most definitely an experience. Slightly on a tangent, I loved my tenure at Averett University. I learned so much more than just “how to teach”. And, to be frank, you never stop learning “how to teach”. Averett, though, gave me the foundations for my career. All the above has given me a steady ground in which I can continue to tread and expand. Once you graduate and secure a position in a school district, never forget where the knowledge came from. I have maintained friendly, yet professional relationships with my professors and peers from college. Believe it or not, most of your professors will still offer advice after you’re long gone.
So… go teach! It’s fun and rewarding.