How to Become an English Teacher

Introduction

Anyone who completes their formative education in the U.S. is required to study English (also referred to as Literature, Language Arts, or ELA – English Language Arts). With a few exceptions, students are required to take one or more English courses per year from first grade through their first year of college. For this reason, most Americans have come in contact with a multitude of English teachers by the time they graduate, as it is one of the primary core subjects taught at every grade level. Because of this, job prospects are steady for English teachers.

English teachers work in subject-specific classrooms in middle and high schools, and depending on the grade level and their educational background, may teach a class that specializes in a specific area of English education, such as composition, creative writing, or poetry. In postsecondary schools, English professors rarely teach a generalized course, and often concentrate on studies centered on a certain time period (Elizabethan-Era Literature), a particular genre (the Classics or Feminist Poetry), or specific authors or types of authors (like Shakespeare or African American Novelists).

While English teachers are by no means all cast from the same mold, they are typically people who love literature, possess strong reading and writing skills, and enjoy sharing their love of literature and writing with others. Since English plays an important role in all other subjects in school, opportunities to teach are always available at all levels of education, with the highest-paid positions typically founds at colleges and universities.

How can I become an elementary school English teacher?

At the elementary school level, all classroom teachers are required to teach English or ELA (English Language Arts). For Grade 1 teachers, the ELA curriculum primarily focuses on developing students’ basic reading and writing skills; and building their understanding of letters, words and sounds. Second-grade teachers assist their students in learning punctuation and capitalization, as well as working with phonics.

In the third grade, students begin reading chapter books, and enhance their analytical and comprehension skills with the help of story maps and other resources. By Grades 4 and 5, teachers typically place emphasis on expanding their students’ vocabularies, developing their ability to read between the lines (such as identifying and interpreting metaphors or inferred meanings), as well as writing basic essays.

To teach ELA at the elementary level, teachers are expected to:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in Education or Elementary Education, or major in a specific content area and fulfill the requirements expected of those pursuing a teaching profession
  • Have completed a teacher-training program, including a semester or two of student-teaching, which provides a hands-on experience within an elementary school setting.
  • Be licensed and certified to teach in their state by fulfilling state-mandated requirements, such as passing specific tests and paying applicable fees. For example, elementary school teachers in Michigan are required to pass the Basic Skills Test: MTTC Professional Readiness Requirement (which consists of three parts in Reading, Math and Writing), as well as the Elementary Education test and any other corresponding subject-area tests.
  • Earn a master’s degree to satisfy teaching requirements as set by specific states, or to advance their qualifications within the field.

Some elementary level teachers become reading recovery trainers, which entails a full academic year of professional development, typically at the graduate-study level. Part of their job duties involves training certified elementary school teachers to work with students who are reading below their grade level.

How can I become a middle school English teacher?

English teachers typically begin to educate students in subject-specific classrooms at the middle school level, and often hold one or more subject specializations. Depending on the school curriculum (and budget), a teacher may teach a class that concentrates on a specific area of English, such as American Literature or Poetry. In addition to increasing the difficulty of reading assignments, middle school English teachers also concentrate on sharpening a student’s vocabulary, grammar, ability to structure sentences, and written communication skills.

To teach middle school English, educators are expected to:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree, in Elementary/Middle School Education with a specialization in the specific content area of English; or earn a Bachelor of Art in English, and complete required coursework to become a teacher.
  • Complete a teacher education program. In addition to fulfilling teacher education requirements, a semester or two is spent completing a supervised student teaching experience within a middle school environment.
  • Gain licensure to teach. Obtaining a state-issued teaching license or certificate is a requirement for accepting a teaching position at a public school. Every state has requirements that teachers must meet in order to become licensed. In New York State, a middle school English teacher must complete at least 30 semester hours of subject-specific content (such as 10 semester-long English courses) and in some states, such as California, teachers must complete at least 32 semester hours of subject-specific content.
  • Complete a master’s degree program. Some states require middle school teachers to earn a graduate degree after becoming certified to teach. Other educators choose to further their education as a way to increase their income and qualify for a greater range of job opportunities.

Overall, middle school ELA teachers must be able to teach both literature and writing skills to students in grades 6 through 8.

How can I become a high school English teacher?

High school English classes involve daily lessons geared towards grades 9 through 12 that touch upon a general literature curriculum, or one that focuses on a specific area of the subject, such as Creative Writing or European Literature. English teachers at a secondary school may also teach specialized writing classes, such as Journalism. They also assume positions related to yearbook courses, drama class, public speaking, debate clubs, and running the school newspaper.

To become a high school English teacher, individuals are expected to:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts degree in English (or a similar degree, such as English Composition or Creative Writing), or major in Education with a specialization in English. In addition to taking courses related to literature and writing, aspiring English teachers also study adolescent psychology and techniques in managing a high school classroom.
  • Complete a teacher education program, including at least one semester of a supervised student-teaching experience (or internship) which provides hands-on learning within a high school classroom environment.
  • Pass applicable examinations and content area requirements as set by states. For example, the state of Nebraska requires their certified teachers to have completed three statutory assessment requirements, such as Human Relations Training. All teaching candidates in the state must pass the Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST), as well as pass Praxis II Content Test(s) for English.
  • Become licensed and certified to teach English, according to guidelines that vary from state to state, such as submitting proper paperwork, paying license fees, and holding a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school.
  • Earn a master’s degree, in order to main certification in some states, or to teach advanced English classes, get a promotion, and/or earn a higher salary.

High school English teachers are charged with preparing students for the college and this means, they are not only expected to introduce students to a range of literary traditions but also ensure that students have the reading comprehension and writing skills required to pass college admissions tests, such as the SAT, as well as succeed at the post-secondary level.

How can I become a college English professor?

Teaching English at the college level may take one of two forms. At some liberal arts colleges, English professors offer a range of literature courses, and may or may not teach courses in composition or writing. At many two-year colleges, however, the focus is generally less on literature and more on writing and basic communication.

A two-year college English professor may spend their time offering basic writing courses, business writing courses, or courses for students enrolled in applied degree programs (for example, Writing for Nurses or Writing for Engineers). Professors may also teach entry-level courses to students that enter college with a requirement to pass an introductory course in English, based on previous low-ranking test scores.Teach

College English professors typically complete the following steps in order to teach at a two-year college, community college or junior college:

  • Complete the minimum of a master’s degree program, such as a Master of Arts degree in English. However, a candidate holding a PhD in English qualifies for more job opportunities.
  • Demonstrate teaching experience or the ability to lead a college English course, as evidenced by previous teaching positions or published works.

The primary focus of college English teachers, with the exception of those employed at four-year liberal arts colleges, is to teach writing and as required, participate in the governance of their department and the broader college.

How can I become a university English professor?

University English professors must hold a PhD in English and in rare cases, may possess a PhD in a related field, such as comparative literature. Qualified candidates have typically completed several years of graduate-level coursework in literature, completed one or more field exams in an area of specialization (such as renaissance poetry, medieval literature, or the 19th-century American novel), and have written a dissertation on a topic related to their area of specialization.

In order to qualify for and then maintain a teaching position within the English department at a university, candidates must complete the following:

  • Obtain a Ph.D. in English, or possess a combination of degrees and experience to teach specialized courses, such as having an MFA and substantial published work to teach Creative Writing.
  • Possess years of teaching experience. An important qualification for university professors is to demonstrate an excellence in educating students. Most often, this experience is gained by serving as teaching assistants, graduate instructors and adjunct professors, while working towards attaining their doctorates.
  • Publish on a regular basis. Professors are expected to publish on a routine basis, such as having a position paper shared in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. While some professors publish an average of two major articles a year, others pen books every five years to demonstrate a relevancy and reputation pertaining to the field.
  • Stay active in the field. Professors also stay active by presenting papers at national or regional meetings of the Modern Language Association, the academic society to which most English professors belong to.

While there are some exceptions, at most universities (especially larger ones), English professors are hired to teach within a specific field, as seen in the professor hired as an expert on Victorian literature, British Drama or 20th-21st-century American Fiction. In addition to teaching courses in their area of specialization, qualified professors are expected to supervise graduate students (who typically share their research interest), participate in the governance of their department and university (such as serving on committees), and to publish articles and books in recognized journals in their field, such as the PMLA.

What is the job outlook for English teachers?

Overall, teachers trained to teach students English concepts face varying levels of employment opportunities, which are dependent on a range of factors, such as retiring teachers leaving behind vacancies at local schools. Additionally, student populations in K-12 schools in the West and South are expected to rise, thus contributing to the need to hire more teachers to accommodate the influx. School districts situated in rural and urban areas also tend to have a higher demand to hire teachers.

Certain states may also demonstrate a greater need to hire English teachers than other locations – at any given time. Yearly reports providing a nationwide listing of teacher shortages by state are released by the U.S. Department of Education. The following states were noted for experiencing a need to hire English teachers at elementary, middle and high schools for the 2015/2016 academic year: Alaska (English/Language Arts), California (English/Drama/Humanities), Hawaii (English/Reading), Idaho (English for grades 6 -12), and Kentucky (English at the middle school and secondary level).

On the postsecondary level, fewer universities are offering tenure-track, full-time positions, which translate into professors having better job security and earning higher pay; therefore, competition is strong for such positions. Candidates, who possess more than the minimum qualifications for a job opening, typically have a better chance of getting hired for coveted position. Those seeking part-time or adjunct positions will find more opportunities to work. As a result, a backlog of unemployed or underemployed Ph.Ds. is being seen as an escalating trend within the English teaching community.

What is the compensation for English teachers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salaries earned in 2014 for those who teach English language and literature courses (including linguistics and comparative literature, as well as those who combine teaching and research) were as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $68,390

The overall salaries of English teachers are ultimately affected by their level of experience and education; years spent teaching full-time; and their geographic location. For instance, the BLS identifies the following states (with annual mean salaries) as being the top-paying locations for postsecondary English and literature teachers: New York ($89,670), Alaska ($87,200), California ($85,920), New Hampshire ($77,080), and Connecticut ($75,990).

Place of employment has a profound effect on the salary that an English teacher earns, as jobs associated with higher education tend to pay more. However, unlike other teaching professions, top-paying employment opportunities for postsecondary English teachers are not found at colleges, universities and professional schools, but instead at junior colleges, where professors earned an annual mean wage of $69,110 compared to the $68,580 earned at colleges and universities in 2014.

In conclusion, English teachers are responsible for building the vocabulary and reading/writing skills of students, and play an important role in the greater scheme of their education. Knowing how to read and write are vital skills to function in society. Those with an interest in teaching English can find employment at any level of education, from introducing elementary school children to their first chapter books to supervising grad students at a university. The minimum requirement to enter the field is a bachelor’s degree, with the highest-paying job options available at the postsecondary level.

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