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Becoming an English Teacher
Why Teach English?
There are as many reasons to teach the English Language Arts (ELA) as there are students.
With every student, the ELA teacher has an opportunity to open up worlds the former could not have imagined. And with exposure to those new worlds comes exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Via the teaching of literature and writing we have the ability to empower the next generation to think in new and innovative ways, to connect past problems to future solutions, and to better see the myriad things that connect us all as inhabitants of a small sphere hurtling through space. Teaching texts to young people gives them chances to recognize and explore parts of themselves that otherwise might remain hidden or unknown; it gives students opportunities to see parts of themselves in others (and vice versa) and to recognize that they are not alone. At the same time, teaching English allows us to share with young people the books that we love; it is a way for us to share the gift of reading!
Teaching is a creative endeavor; it is a performance, a skill, and an art. It requires not so much a mastery of one's subject--though that is important--but the ability to think on one's feet. Every day and every hour in the 6-12th grade ELA classroom is different. Each class session is unique; what works in one class may or may not work in the next and each day and each period offers the teacher opportunities to change and to adjust lessons and approaches. This means that the good ELA teacher adapts to their audience. It means finding answers with students rather than giving answers to students. Most of all it means being open, honest, and sincere.
Teaching is an act of love. It is a generosity of time and spirit, a giving of knowledge and of oneself to others. When we teach, we foster relationships. When we teach English, we foster communities through books, through writing, through discussion, and through ideas.
In English, we confront the age-old questions that have troubled countless generations before us and we work to find new answers in our new contexts. Via the reading of books and the writing of texts, we get students to engage in the issues most relevant not just to the past but to today. Because literature and nonfiction are where ideas and issues are recorded for posterity, the ELA class is the natural place in which to engage students in the issues most relevant to their lives.
How to Become an English Teacher
In most states (including here in Florida) there are multiple pathways to becoming a teacher. Some are far better than others.
University-Based Teacher Education Programs
For students at the undergraduate level, research shows that the best way of becoming a teacher is to go through a college of university's teacher education program (most often located in a school or college of education). Most of these programs provide students with everything that they need in order to be a licensed/certified teacher upon graduation. Just as importantly, these programs are the most rigorous in terms of preparing one to be successful in classrooms. Traditionally trained teachers are better equipped to meet students' needs and to help them thrive! University-based teacher education programs also produce professionals who are more likely to stay in the classroom for longer periods (i.e., less teacher turnover).
In Florida, most of one's university-based teacher education coursework occurs in the junior and senior years and includes courses in classroom management, lesson planning, educational psychology, pedagogy and curriculum, assessment, and content methods courses (to teach one's subject). Below is the current English Education program of study.
There are also aternative ways of getting into classrooms and becoming licensed teachers. The very competitive Teach for America program, for instance, provides its participants with a few weeks of summer training and then--in conjunction with high needs districts--places their corps members in high-needs schools (on a temporary teaching certificate). Similarly, some school districts will hire non-certified teachers on temporary certificates and offer "in-service" opportunities for the individual to earn a teaching license. Again, these districts are almost solely comprised of large urban districts and hire such people for high-needs schools. Finally, some institutions offer Educator Preparation Institutes (EPIs) that provide evening and/or weekend training that leads to licensure. Readers who are considering alternative routes to becoming a teacher should note that many districts (in Florida and beyond) will not consider hiring non-licensed teachers, that no states have reciprocity agreements for non-certified teachers, and that to remain a teacher one must complete all state requirements to become fully licensed.
Accelerated Masters & 4+1 Options
UNF offers other teacher certification options for students who wish to complete a major in English (rather than English Education) and for college graduates who are interested in entering the teaching profession (i.e., people who already have a bachelor's degree).
For the former we offer what is known as a 4+1 program in which the student starts working toward their Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) while in their senior year. The student graduates with their undergraduate degree in the major while also completing coursework toward the MAT with licensure. The courses taken during the student's senior year count toward that additional degree (and the graduate tuition rate is reduced). For career changers who hold an undergraduate degree we offer the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) as a standalone program. In both cases the MAT is a one-year program that leads to licensure.
For both programs come opportunities for scholarships and funding to support the student financially while completing their program requirements. Scholarships are limited in number.
Myths and Realities About Studying to Become a Teacher
If you are considering a job as an English teacher, please contact me, talk to other university teacher educators, and speak with state-level teacher certification offices (departments of education) to find out the requirements for your state.
Finding Work as an English Language Arts Teacher
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