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Education Instruction (K-12)

Education Instruction (K-12)
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Teachers and supporting staff educate children from kindergarten through high school and provide one of the most vitally important services for all of American society.

Kindergarten through grade 12 (K -12) teachers, teacher assistants, administrators, and other school support personnel total nearly 10 million nationwide, with a number of entry-level job opportunities available each year in many communities. They provide academic instruction and related services to over 60 million students who annually attend public and private elementary, middle, and secondary schools.


Teachers use classroom presentations and individual instruction to help students learn basic skills subjects such as reading, writing, and math as well as more advanced studies in science, language, and higher mathematics. Teachers plan, evaluate, and assign lessons; prepare, administer, and grade tests; listen to oral presentations; and maintain classroom discipline. They also play an important role in the social development of children during their formative years.

Public school teachers must be state licensed, which typically requires a bachelor's degree and completion of an approved teacher education program. Many states also offer alternative licensing programs to attract people to teaching, especially hard-to-fill positions. Private school teachers do not have to be state-licensed, but still need a bachelor's degree. However, in certain technical fields, extensive work experience in an occupation or industry may substitute for a specific degree.

K-12 teachers currently hold about 3.6 million jobs. About two-thirds of these teachers provide instruction in elementary and middle schools and the remaining one-third are in secondary schools.

Opportunities for teachers vary from good to excellent, depending on the locality, grade level, and subject(s) taught. Most job openings will result from the need to replace large numbers of existing teachers who retire or who leave teaching for other careers. Public school teaching opportunities are available through local school districts within each state.

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers work with children who have various disabilities. A small number of special education teachers work with students with severe cases of mental retardation or autism, primarily teaching essential life skills and basic literacy. Most special education teachers, however, work with children with mild to moderate disabilities modifying the general curriculum to meet each child's individual needs. Overall, the majority of special education teachers instruct students at the elementary, middle, and secondary school levels, although some work with infants, toddlers, and kindergarten students.

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require a specific license for special education teachers, with requirements varying by state. For example, some states require that a special education teacher first obtain a general education credential, then train in a specialty such as learning disabilities or behavioral disorders. A number of states offer a general special education license that covers a variety of disability categories while others license different specialties separately. In general, states require that a special education teacher have earned at least a bachelor's degree and have completed an approved special education training program.

Special education teachers currently hold nearly 460,000 jobs. As with other K-12 teachers, most special education teachers work with children in kindergarten, elementary, and middle school settings with the remainder providing instruction in secondary schools.

The employment outlook for special education teachers is expected to be better than the average for all occupations over the next ten years. Many school districts report problems in finding adequate numbers of licensed special education teachers making job prospects excellent for this occupation throughout much of the nation.

Teacher Assistants

Teacher assistants provide instructional and clerical support for classroom teachers, allowing teachers more time for lesson planning and instruction. They support and assist children in learning class material, including providing students with individual attention. Some teacher assistants may perform primarily clerical or other non-instructional tasks, such as supervising students in the lunchroom, schoolyard, and hallways, or on field trips. In addition, a number of teacher assistants work extensively with special education teachers and students.

Training requirements for teacher assistants vary by state and local school district. Some teacher assistants may need only a high school diploma and on-the-job training while others may find that some employers require college coursework. In general, a college degree or related coursework in child development - and/or prior experience - improves opportunities for employment, advancement, and wage growth.

Teacher assistants currently hold about 1.3 million jobs. Approximately three-quarters of this number work for public and private elementary and secondary schools, with childcare centers and religious organizations employing most of the rest. In addition, about 40 percent of teacher assistants work part-time.

Because of job turnover and growth, employment prospects for teacher assistants appear favorable throughout much of the Nation. Opportunities are expected to be best for those with at least two-years of formal postsecondary education, with experience in helping special education students, or with fluency in a foreign language.

Other Positions

In addition to these instructional positions, K-12 schools also require managers and administrators, such as principals and vice-principals, plus other office and administrative support personnel; cooks and other cafeteria workers; security guards and school bus drivers; and janitors, cleaners, and other maintenance and repair workers. Altogether, over 2 million individuals are currently employed in these various school support occupations, with job opportunities available in many local school districts annually.

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