Teachers have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to make an impact on young learners during some of their most important developmental years — childhood and adolescence are highly critical to the formation of an individual. So much of a person can be determined based off their early years of life. And that is exactly why the role of a teacher is paramount.
In fact, multiple types of teachers top the charts on surveys measuring the most meaningful careers. Teachers don't just teach; they inspire their students and guide them along the greater path of growth throughout their childhood, adolescence and into young adulthood. They can be mentors and allies. Sometimes a teacher will be the only positive role model for a student.
In many cases, the influence of a teacher can last a lifetime. If you're thinking about pursuing a passionate career in teaching, you'll first have to decide what kind of teacher you'd like to be. With so many different types of students, there are a number of different avenues through which teachers can make an impact. Consider the following five, and you might find your calling!
Elementary school teachers play a critical role in establishing the foundation for learning. They devote their careers to instructing young students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Students make dramatic learning gains in these early years of school — ones that set them up for academic success as they age. As such, elementary school teachers play a role of utmost importance.
They teach an array of subjects to their students within a single classroom, such as reading, social studies, science and math. In doing so, elementary school teachers develop engaging lesson plans to teach these subjects in an age-appropriate manner to their students. They may also collaborate with special education teachers to adapt lesson plans to students' needs.
Teachers in this setting tend to take on more of a hands-on approach to learning with their students. For example, they may teach their students about photosynthesis with a plant-growing activity. Hands-on activities allow younger students to grasp bigger concepts.
The key with elementary teachers is building a strong foundation for larger skills to develop as the student ages. They must also work to instill a love of learning in students. Elementary school teachers closely observe their students to evaluate their development. They identify any learning challenges a student may face and help them to overcome them, and they may also meet with parents to discuss progress and concerns. Teaching at the elementary level allows professionals to play an intrinsic role in the lives of some of our youngest students.
Another highly critical period in a student's life is middle school. Grades six through eight set the stage for high school and beyond, and they cannot be overlooked in terms of importance. These are the years in which some students may start to disengage with school, putting them at risk of dropping out later down the line. Middle school teachers play a critical role in engaging and challenging students as they build on concepts learned at the elementary level.
Like elementary school teachers, middle school teachers also develop lesson plans to teach concepts to their students. However, unlike elementary school teachers who cover many subjects, a middle school teacher will typically teach a specific subject, such as math or history. They evaluate the academic growth of their students and meet with parents to discuss students' progress.
With different classes filtering in throughout the day, a middle school teacher will come in contact with a larger variety of students than an elementary school teacher does with a set classroom. Additionally, middle school teachers often enjoy the opportunity to coach athletics or lead other student extracurricular activities after school.
Like their middle school counterparts, high school teachers will typically teach a single subject. Some teach students within a single grade, while others teach students at all grade levels. High school teachers develop their lesson plans to challenge and engage their students. They assess their students' progress through graded assignments and exams, and they work with students to overcome any challenges they have in the classroom.
As with middle school teachers, high school teachers may have the opportunity to coach athletics or advise other student groups after school.
The focus for teachers in this setting is to prepare students for life after high school — whether that means attending college or entering the full-time working world. The ultimate goal is to see students through to graduation — which can greatly increase opportunities throughout a lifetime.
With these outcomes in mind, high school teachers can be highly influential in their students' lives. As students become more mature and independent throughout high school, teachers can connect with them in different ways, acting as a mentor, giving advice and even providing guidance on the next steps in life.
Special education teachers work with students of all ages who have a range of learning, mental, emotional and physical disabilities. They collaborate with general education teachers, counselors, administrators and the parents of students to develop individualized education programs fit for each student. They also work with social workers, psychologists and teaching assistants in order to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities.
Special education teachers lead classes on a variety of subjects, working with an entire classroom, a small group or even one student at a time. They may teach adapted curriculums to some students with mild disabilities, or they may work on developing life skills in students with severe disabilities.
Just like teachers in general education, special education teachers evaluate each student's progress and communicate their assessments to parents. They prepare students to transition from grade to grade and for life after graduation.
Another prominent duty of special education teachers is to support and advocate for the needs of students with disabilities. Because general education teachers are typically not trained to provide special support services, special education teachers serve the critical need of providing students of all abilities with access to an education.
Special education teachers work to maximize each of their students' potential. They watch their students succeed in big and small ways and help students make breakthroughs in their progress. Along the way, special education teachers build trust with their students, and they get the privilege of helping their students overcome all kinds of barriers in order to live their best lives.
English language learners (ELL) represent the fastest-growing student population within U.S. schools, making the role of an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher all the more important. In fact, this segment of the population will soon comprise a quarter of all U.S. students.
ESL teachers work in elementary, middle and high schools with students of a wide age range. Sometimes they lead their own classroom of ELL students, and sometimes they provide support to an ELL student within an immersive class taught by another teacher.
They work to help their students acquire fluency of the English language in order to speak confidently and write effectively. Because the ESL teacher and the ELL student do not share a common language, repetition, demonstration and the use of visuals help students acquire new vocabulary.
ESL teachers also double as a cultural bridge for ELL students. They help students understand their native cultures' similarities and differences to American culture, while assisting students in acquiring the critical language skills needed to find success in the classroom and throughout their lives.
If you want a career you can feel good about at the end of each day, week and year, you're headed in the right direction with your draw toward teaching. Think of the legacy you'll leave over a lifetime as an educator: the hundreds of students who came through your classrooms, the thousands of ways you inspired them and the numerous ways they impacted you in return.
All types of teachers can play a dramatic role in the lives of their students, leaving impressions in both small and big ways. Which type of teacher do you think you'd like to become? Be sure to check out The College of St. Scholastica's School of Education page to learn more about how you can get started on a lifetime of transforming young lives through a rewarding career in teaching.