What Does an English Teacher Do?
A full-time English teacher performs a variety of tasks throughout the day. However, here is a typical week’s worth of responsibilities:
- Plan standards-aligned lessons for 5 classes, including setting up daily slides and making paper copies for each class as needed
- Grade daily homework and writing assignments
- Grades tests and evaluate student progress
- Manage a gradebook to share with administration and parents at each grading period (typically every 6 weeks)
- Read and respond to emails: student and parent inquiries, information from administrators, department chair and colleague questions
- Attend 504 and IEP meetings to collaborate with colleagues and families regarding students with learning differences
- Meets with parents and administrators as needed
- Attend weekly staff meetings and monthly professional development;
- Supervise extracurricular events, like sporting events, dances, and student clubs
- Supervise a weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly student-run club meeting, including organizing any off campus events
- Public v private: Public schools typically require more meetings for learning differences, while private schools often require increased attendance and supervision at school events
High School English Teacher Salary and Career Outlook
According to the BLS, as of May 2020 the median salary for English teachers in the US is $62,870. Of course, teacher salary is influenced by factors such as experience, location, and education. Pay varies from district to district and public vs private, as well.
It’s also good to know that there is stability and growth anticipated in teaching, as the employment of high school teachers is projected to grow 8% from 2020-2030. The Bureau indicates that this is about as fast as the average growth for all occupations, though there are no guarantees in these projections. It’s also important to note that the current teaching shortage is also making it easier and more lucrative for teachers to find jobs in the current environment.
How to Know if You Would Enjoy a Job as an English Teacher
English teachers enjoy reading, thinking about ideas and communicating those ideas. They don’t mind commanding the attention of a group (though rarely are English teachers as confident speaking with a group of adults as they are with their students!)
English teachers are typically highly organized (though I’m not particularly well-organized and I get by!). English teachers are sometimes thought of as catlike: individual, independent, playful, social, enjoy their alone time, and difficult to “herd.”. English teachers tend to be good listeners and excellent communicators, both in writing and speaking.
You cannot shy away from confrontation as there are many stakeholders who will need to understand a teacher’s methods, grading, and teaching style, such as administrators, counselors, collaborating grade-level colleagues, parents, and students. Teachers of any discipline tend to be very caring, personable people who are ready to be helpful problem solvers.
What I love about my current role as a high school English teacher is the opportunity to work with incoming Freshmen to develop the skills and habits necessary for a successful high school experience, while simultaneously teaching seniors classic, canonical literature at the college level in AP Literature & Composition. During my time with my students, we also work to refine those same skills while enjoying conversations about the meaning of life and what students can expect when they go out into the world, in college, and beyond.
Steps to Becoming an English Teacher
To become an English teacher, you will need the following:
- A bachelor’s degree
- A teaching credential with student teaching practice
- To complete your state’s requirements to have a “cleared” credential or license.
Each state’s department of education keeps track of new teachers as probationary instructors, providing them with the support of experienced teachers as they learn the ropes. A clear credential indicates that a new teacher has completed a certain number of years teaching and specific professional development.
Most credential programs require that a potential teacher log a certain number of classroom hours. These can be acquired through observing teachers in the classroom or working as a substitute teacher. To become a substitute teacher, you must:
- Complete your bachelor’s degree
- Pass your state’s general subject test (in California it’s called CBEST–California Basic Education Subject Test)
- Get fingerprinted and pass a background check
Once those steps are completed, contact the schools you are interested in to get on the substitute teacher list.
Teaching credential programs come in two types: In-person or online. There are many credential programs where the academic courses are completed online. When it comes to the teaching practicum–working as a student-teacher–online programs pair up with a local university or school district to complete the program.
If you happen to live near a university, it may have an education department that offers credentialing with in-person classes suited to a teacher’s schedule, with a smooth transition to student teaching and job placement. In recent years most credentialing programs combine the credential with a Master’s Degree in Education; it may take longer, yet this provides the new teacher the chance to begin their new career with a step up on the pay schedule.
Once the credential program and background check are complete and that first teaching job is secured, professional development continues.
The department of education in each state registers new teachers during the first year’s probationary period. During that time, additional coaching is provided by experienced teachers and certain classes must be attended. This is an effective way to ensure new teachers have much-needed support as they begin their immersive, challenging career.
This additional support and connection with other new teachers is invaluable and helps with teacher retention. I am still close to my cohort and teachers from my New Teacher Project all these years later! Once the program is finished, paperwork is relayed to your state’s department of education, and you can “clear” your credential for up to 5 years at a time. A clear credential acknowledges your status as a fully-prepared professional educator.
How Long Does it Take to Become an English Teacher?
To become an English teacher, you must complete a Bachelor’s Degree in English or another field, which takes 4+ years of study. After graduation, select and enter a credential program, which takes 1-2 years. Some people develop confidence in the classroom and earn a paycheck by getting an emergency credential in short-staffed districts, teaching as you earn your credential.
On my path to teaching, I worked as a substitute teacher while completing the credential coursework. Once I finished student teaching with my master teacher, under the care of the university’s teaching supervisor, I earned my teaching credential and began applying and interviewing for tenure-track positions.
It worked out–and this is one good thing about the student-teacher format– that I was fortunate enough to be hired by the school where I taught as a student-teacher. It was like a semester-long job interview!
Once I was hired with probationary status, my high school enrolled me in the 2-year California Teacher Induction program where I was paired with a trio of experienced teachers. I worked closely with one teacher trainer to develop standards-aligned lesson plans, classroom management strategies, organization systems to manage the workload, all while attending weekly classes with the other new teachers from the high schools in my district.
During this time, I took every professional development course that was offered by my district. In nearly every case, we could pay a fee to the university sponsoring the professional development to acquire additional college credit hours.
Once I finished the new teacher program, I earned my “clear” credential — the final step to becoming a state-qualified, fully-prepared professional educator. By this time, I had worked two probationary years at my high school and became a tenured staff member. In another three years of teaching, I was fully vested in my state’s retirement system.
That’s when I began working toward my master’s degree, which I was able to complete in 12 months through an online program at a well-respected teaching university. It was a grueling year, but at the beginning of my seventh year teaching, I had 90 credit hours beyond my bachelor’s degree (the master’s degree added 30 college credit hours), and was earning a master’s degree stipend as well!
What Are the Pros and Cons of Being an English Teacher?
- Teaching the literature you loved in school and bringing new works of fiction to the classroom
- Working closely with fellow literature lovers
- Developing the next generation of readers
- Teaching the art of reading and the craft of writing, from idea development, to grammar, to style
- Planning time – The amount of time it takes to write engaging lesson plans
- Grading time – With a full-time teaching schedule of 5 classes averaging 30 students each, that’s a lot of essays to read and comment on!
Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a School High School Teacher?
While every state has a department of education with helpful information about becoming a teacher, there are also supportive organizations addressing the challenges of high school teachers:
- Teach California Provides helpful, up-to-date articles about the field, plus checklists and timetables to support a move into the teaching field
- NEA The National Education Association supports public education to transform lives and create a more just and inclusive society.
- NCTE National Council of Teachers of English offers resources, lesson plans, and ways to get involved in the community of English Teachers in the U.S.
- Edutopia A website and online community sharing research and knowledge about contemporary issues and best practices in K-12 teaching.
How many years does it take to become an English teacher?
- Typically, after earning a Bachelor’s Degree in English or another field plus passing your state’s qualifying English exam, you could begin teaching full time with an emergency credential while working toward earning your credential–typically a 1-2 year process.
What degree do I need to become an English teacher?
- Either a Bachelor’s Degree in English or in another field, plus passing the equivalency exam in your state. For example, in California if you earn your Bachelor’s Degree in Science but you long to teach English, you can take the CSET (California Subject Examination for Teachers) for English. Once you pass the 3-part exam, you qualify to enter a credential program to teach English Language Arts at the secondary level (middle and high school).
Is it hard to be an English teacher?
- Teaching is hard work. There are a lot of personalities, and it is fully immersive! English in particular is time consuming because of the number of writing assignments and essays that need grading. But, if you love words and literature and developing thinkers and writers, it is well worth it!
How much do English teachers make in the US?
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020 the median salary for English teachers in the US is $62,870. However, pay is varied depending on the state you live in.
How do you become a high school English teacher?
- Complete your bachelor’s degree. If your degree is in English, enroll in a credential program and continue coursework to complete your credential. In some areas where there are teacher shortages, it is possible to teach on an emergency credential while earning your credential. If your degree is in another field besides English, take and pass your state’s equivalency exam for English and then begin your English teaching credential courses. Your credential program will guide you through student teaching and help you find that first teaching job!
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