If you’re considering becoming a teacher, choosing what subject and/or the age group you want to teach will likely be the first big choice you make when you get to college. Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career no matter what kind of teacher you choose to be. But how do you decide what grade level or subject you should teach when there are so many options? Here's how to choose where your teaching talents lie.
Consider your passions
When you think about teaching as a career, what gets you excited about your vocation—besides the prospect of full-time employment? Your calling in life is considered to be what you would do if money didn’t play a role in your decision-making process. You already know that teaching excites you, but ask yourself why. What satisfies you about the thought of teaching? Is it that “aha” moment when a student grasps a challenging concept? Maybe a certain subject matter excites you so much that you want to devote your life to becoming an expert. Think about the “why” before narrowing it down to your “what”—it will help make the answer clearer.
Ask the right subject-related questions
To answer the “What subject should I teach?” question, start with your passion and branch out from there. For example, if you love science, do you want to teach biology, chemistry, or physics? You might not get your first choice subject in many districts if you lack seniority. Still, it’s wise to know what you prefer to teach and the potential for future openings in that specific field. Also consider how happy you’ll be in a related endeavor and whether your degree subject can extend to other career opportunities. For example, if you have your heart set on teaching biology, what could you do outside the classroom with such a degree? You might land a job with a conservationist organization, but if your other passion is lab work, concentrating on chemistry might serve you better.
Narrow down your grade level
If you want to teach advanced particle physics, kindergarten probably isn’t your best grade-level option. In fact, you might want to skip K–12 altogether if you’re thinking about a subject that complex. Think about whether you’re more interested in the specific subject matter or the teaching process itself—this can help you narrow down what grade level will be a good match. If you enjoy teaching primary skills and small children, you might love working as a kindergarten teacher. You also might realize that elementary-level grades suit your patience level better if you like little ones but want relatively self-sufficient students. Many teachers prefer middle school teaching for this reason because it falls between the challenges teachers often face with high school teens and children in elementary school; middle school students are old enough to assert their independence while maintaining enough impressionability to know you’re making a difference. On the other hand, if you love your subject matter and really want to focus on something specific, high school might be your jam. You can relate on a more mature level when discussing novels or the ramifications of scientific experiments, and you won’t need to teach basic skills or concepts like reading, writing, phonics, and more.
Related: What It Means to Be a Teacher
Evaluate your future goals
While you probably don’t want to imagine working outside the classroom, life happens. You might decide to relocate after college and move to a state with different income standards than teaching positions in your current area. In addition to your Education degree, think about pursuing a secondary certificate, minor, or double-major in another subject you love so you can take a job in another field should the need arise or if your dreams change. Planning your future goals and backup plans now will make finding a job—and advancing it—that much easier after you graduate.
Think about employment and market trends
When you’re choosing the subject matter you want to teach, think about what’s in demand as well as what you love. Right now, demand for STEM fields remains high, so consider concentrating on one of those areas if you’re interested in them. But don’t let that dissuade you from the arts; although, you might want to consider a double major if you favor a field like music. “Specialty” teaching areas like art, music, and languages likely have few positions per school, so be sure to consider the job possibilities and the likelihood of available positions as you narrow down your options.
When it comes to planning your career in education, you should let your heart be your first guide—but think about the practical aspects of your professional goals as well. A healthy mix of the two could lead you to your ideal gig, whether it be teaching the basics to kindergarten students or explaining complex math to high school students. No matter what, students need inspiring teachers to guide them in their own academic journey, and whatever path you take will give you the ability to do just that.
For more advice on your way to a rewarding teaching career, check out our Education and Teaching section.