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Teaching elementary, middle and high school students takes a healthy dose of passion (and patience), but that's only the beginning. Effective teachers must be able to identify and accommodate a wide breadth of student learning styles, design effective lesson plans, and adjust with seemingly ever-changing curriculum and testing standards. All of this takes time, training and licensure -- a process that typically begins with a K-12 education degree program.

K-12 Education Degrees: What to Expect

Education degree programs help aspiring teachers develop the practical and theoretical skills necessary to foster effective learning environments. According to The College Board, K-12 education majors generally learn how to set up and manage a classroom, create engaging lessons, and inspire students to succeed regardless of age, background or personal learning style. Some schools offer general K-12 education degrees for students who want to teach at any level between kindergarten and the 12th grade, while others specialize in education programs by age or grade. These specializations might include:

  • Early childhood education
  • Elementary education
  • Middle school education
  • High school education
  • Special education

The College Board notes that some degree programs also target specific subjects, like math or science education. Whatever their focus, most programs aim to prepare students for licensure and, eventually, teaching careers. Specific courses could include:

  • Educational psychology
  • Teaching methods
  • Philosophy of education
  • Instructional technology

Most K-12 education degree programs require students to spend time in the classroom under the supervision of a licensed teacher. A bachelor's degree is sufficient for most school teachers, but those who aspire to fill collegiate or administrative positions often need master's or doctoral degrees.

Careers for K-12 Education Majors

One might expect most teaching majors to become, well, teachers, and many do -- but not all of them. The College Board and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic list a number of careers suitable for those with K-12 education degrees. The following are a few possible occupations, along with key education and employment trends, as reported by the BLS:

  • Elementary, middle or high school teacher - These professionals teach students from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. Some teachers -- particularly at the elementary level -- teach multiple subjects at a single grade level, while others teach a specific subject for various grade levels. All states require public school teachers to be licensed to practice, a process that requires one to complete a K-12 education degree program, meet certain student-teacher requirements, and pass a licensing exam. Demand for teachers varies by specialty and location. The BLS projects employment opportunities for both elementary and middle school teachers to rise 12 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, and approximately six percent for high school teachers. Prospects should be best for those willing to work in underserved districts, including both rural and inner-city schools.
  • Elementary, middle or high school principal - K-12 principals manage all school operations -- including daily activities, curriculum and teachers -- with a mind for ensuring safe, productive learning environments. The BLS notes that most principal positions require candidates to have teaching experience, including a K-12 education degree, plus a master's degree in a subject like education administration. Demand for school principals is expected to increase six percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.
  • Instructional coordinator - Instructional coordinators work with teachers and school administrators to select and implement school-, district-, or even state-wide curricula. The BLS reports that most instructional coordinators possess master's degrees in a relevant field, with many earning a bachelor's degree in K-12 education prior to applying to graduate school. Demand for instructional coordinators is projected to grow 13 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.

The careers listed above are only a handful of those commonly filled by K-12 education graduates. Other job options include education administrator, special education teacher, teacher assistant, or childcare center director. Students can learn more about any of these careers by visiting the BLS online, or by meeting with campus career or admissions advisers.

"Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm
"High School Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
"Instructional Coordinators," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm
"Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
"Major: Elementary School Teaching," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/education-education-specific-levels-methods-elementary-school-teaching
"Major: High School Teaching," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/education-education-specific-levels-methods-high-school-teaching
"Major: Middle School Teaching," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/education-education-specific-levels-methods-middle-school-teaching
"Middle School Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm

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