I want to be a teacher when I grow up

A few years back I researched the career path and wrote an article about what it takes to become a Film Director. This was for a friend whose son was interested in this field. The son has since entered college for... economics. Perhaps the subject of this article will be more prophetic.

This is the second of several case studies (in planning) detailing the game plans for a variety of jobs. By working backwards from the goal (to get a job) we can come up with an outline of what the ideal next 10 years look like. As a parent, we can can then guide our children towards successful and fulfilling careers!  Not all jobs require advanced planning but many benefit from a little foresight. Colleges and employers tend to like it when a student or applicant can show that they have been interested in something for more than the 10 minutes it took to look at the list of majors or want ads.

So I asked my 10 year old the other day what he might like to do when he is older besides professional soccer player. He responded that perhaps a teacher would be good, specifically a grade school teacher. For those of you who are wondering, teacher comes in regularly in the top 5 for jobs as chosen by elementary school students.  The other common ones are: President, dentist, astronaut, athlete, military, farmer, pilot, doctor, policeman and fireman. If you have not figured it out already, each of the jobs are ones that a typical elementary school child either comes in contact with or finds easy to understand.

Now teaching often gets a bad rap for being low paid. Some studies have pointed to the hourly rate for a grade school teacher (including after hours grading and preparation) to be below minimum wage. 

This blog on teaching lists the pros as: bonding with students, summer vacations and holidays, connecting with other teachers and staff, and always learning and continuing to grow. To this I would add that there seems to be less of an age ceiling in teaching than in some other positions I have seen. The cons mentioned are: trying and failing to help difficult students, salary, lack of support from administration, continuous professional development requirements.

With the negatives of long hours, often low pay there are indications that demand will increase. Even with technology and robo-teachers there will be demand for instruction and humans who can help other humans to learn will be needed. Some publications put the annual growth in teaching jobs at 5% while this article claims that there is already a shortage.

After much digging, I learned that the path to a teaching job varies depending on where you want to end up. Elementary school is different from High School (where math and science are in demand) and a HS career plan is different from a college professor. I did not look into private tutors or other kinds or educators this time.

In my son's case and for the purposes of this case study, we are going to assume that he will become an Elementary School Teacher for 3rd graders (not specialized in an area such as math or biology, a generalist) working for an international school in Tokyo, Japan.

To be a teacher (just about anywhere in the world) your child will need a bachelor's degree, ideally in education at a liberal arts college. I found mixed opinions on whether the school matters but three themes seemed to be common among discussions about this issue. First, if your child graduates from a top school then yes, he will stand out when competing with candidates from other lesser know colleges. Second, GPA matters. If a future teacher does not care enough about education to focus on their own grades, how will they deal with the kids? And third, location, location, location. An elementary school will look favorably on the graduate from the college down the street. 

Later on a Master's Degree may add a few percentage points to the salary but is not necessary for that first job. A certification may be required however depending on the location. Most states in the US require one.

Based only on the requirements above, instilling some discipline and awareness of the importance of a good GPA seems like a good move for a parent. With admissions officers considering kids from all over the world these days adding a second language as well will keep your child in the competition. In my son's example especially since we are talking about teaching at an international school. Learning a second language well enough to brag about it on a college application requires an early start.

The typical extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences in middle school and high school can be aligned with teaching by focusing on interactions with smaller kids. A part-time job as a tutor in HS might convince even a skeptical admissions counselor that your child is committed to becoming a teacher.

Connections can help and while they can be built in college it does not hurt to start earlier. Teachers and school administration professionals network and talk. If you (the parent) have teachers as friends, bring your kids along to meet them and give them a chance to connect. It will serve not only to build a future network for your child but likely your kid will also learn something about their future profession.

While writing this I could not help going back to the pay issue and began to think that maybe more important than learning how to teach for a future teacher is to learn how to manage one's finances. Teaching does usually come with benefits such as health and occasionally pension. There are the summer vacations and other holidays as well. Start young with savings. When Grandma gives your daughter some money for her birthday explain that she can use half for anything she wants but that the other half will go into her bank account. It is still hers but "saving means not spending." As the kids get older you can bring up stocks and bonds and mutual funds and bitcoin and how these things can potentially make that savings grow. If your child can manage his money well, he can hopefully enjoy some of the perks. Maybe good advice for all of us.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook.