Being a teacher is a demanding but rewarding career. To be effective, you must understand your teaching traits and skills and ensure you are teaching the right grade level. How should you decide what grade to teach?
Here’s how to decide what grade to teach:
- Explore different curriculums.
- Consider the salaries being offered.
- Think about job prospects.
- Think about potential teaching challenges.
- Understand your personal teaching style.
- Decide on the type of relationships you want to form.
- Consider market trends.
- Explore with teaching experiences.
- Seek student feedback.
In this article, I will discuss each of these nine tips in detail. Read on for more information that will help you decide what grade to teach.
1. Explore Different Curriculums
Perhaps the most crucial factor in deciding what grade to teach is the subjects you are interested in. Typically, high school teachers specialize in only one or two subjects, while elementary and middle school teachers have general knowledge about a wider array of subjects.
Different districts and schools in the US have different curriculums. Private schools are free to set their curriculums and testing means, while public schools design curricula based on local government policies and school boards. Some private schools may follow international curriculums like the International Baccalaureate.
To decide what grade level to teach, look at the curriculum of schools in your area and the topic structure of each subject. Choose a grade level by ensuring you are confident enough to teach the topics under the subject you’re interested in.
2. Consider the Salaries Being Offered
Teaching is a notoriously low-paying profession. If money and benefits are important to you, you should select the grade level which will offer you the most pay. Here’s a breakdown of a teacher’s pay by grade level:
- Elementary school. Elementary school teachers earn between $37,780 – $95,270 per year, with a medium income of $58,230.
- Middle school. Middle school teachers earn similar salaries to elementary school teachers. They earn between $39,090 – $93,180 annually, with an average of $58,000.
- High school. High school teachers have a mean salary of $72,340 per year. They can make from $39,740 – $97,500.
On average, high school teachers make the highest salary. However, it should be noted that they also have more documentation and after-school commitments than most elementary and middle school teachers. In addition, there are more high school teachers in the US market, making it a more competitive landscape.
If you do want to be an elementary or middle school teacher but are concerned about the pay rate, remember that you can always ask for a raise, and there are also other ways to build on your income. After-school tutoring is lucrative and in high demand across the US.
When considering the salary on offer, you should also look at other perks offered in your package such as medical insurance and the amount of annual leave you get.
3. Think About Job Prospects
You should select a grade level that offers plenty of job prospects. The demand for different grade-specific teachers varies across the US. Before honing in on a particular grade level, look at the demand in your area and choose a grade accordingly. Here’s how to get a sense of what’s needed in most areas:
- Look at job discovery platforms. Job discovery platforms will give you a good understanding of the demand in the market. Look at Teachaway, a job board for K-12 teaching jobs in the US for specific teaching jobs. Or, look at Indeed.com, which is a more general job board.
- Talk to schools and the educational community. Talk to local schools about teaching jobs they may have available. If you are attending a university, your professors are also an excellent source of advice and information.
- Read local policies and municipal plans. Local government policies will outline the educational plan for the area. By reading these, you will be able to predict the demand for teachers of specific grade levels.
4. Think About Potential Teaching Challenges
Each grade level and age group of students is accompanied by different teaching challenges. With this in mind, it is helpful to consider which challenges you’ll be able to cope with best. An elementary school teacher may be challenged by program planning and classroom management, while a high school teacher may struggle with documentation.
Here are some more insights about the challenges you’ll face at each grade level.
Elementary Schools Require Effective Management
In elementary school, here are some common challenges identified by teachers:
- Program planning. Some elementary school teachers note that they have difficulty planning for elementary school students. While they are given the same amount of time to plan as other teachers, they have to develop more individualized programs. As a result, they may spend more time planning on their own time.
- Classroom management. Young children are less disciplined than older students and may need more behavior guidance.
Middle School Teaching Involves Providing Guidance
Some of the challenges you may come across in middle school teaching include:
- Helping students acclimate to more structure and expectations. In elementary school, children typically have loose routines, which allows teachers to make adaptations based on each child’s needs. In middle school, students have to cope with more structure and rigor, and teachers have to support them to navigate more structured routines.
- The need for emotional intelligence. Students in middle school are going through several phases of adolescence. They may need their teachers to have high emotional intelligence to best support them.
High School Teaching Involves Providing Support and Feedback
Here are some of the challenges you may face when teaching high school students:
- Increased documentation. Typically, students in high school begin to undergo more and more comprehensive assessments. As a teacher, it will be your responsibility to review these assessments and provide feedback.
- Possible ambivalence from students. As they establish and explore their identities, high school students may display ambivalence towards teachers. As a teacher, you will need to remain patient and supportive.
5. Understand Your Personal Teaching Style
In most modern teaching courses, student teachers are encouraged and assisted in reflecting on their teaching style and personality. There are five major teaching styles:
- The authority style
- The delegator style
- The facilitator style
- The demonstrator style
- The hybrid style
It would be best if you tried to align your teaching style to the grade you want to teach. This section examines each teaching style in detail and considers what age group is suited for each teaching style.
The Authority Style is Information-Focused
This style involves the teacher standing in front of the class and delivering a lecture or a presentation in a structured way. Authority style teaching leaves little room for one-on-one interactions and experiential learning. Instead, it focuses on imparting as much information as possible in a given time.
If you are an authoritative teacher, you should teach higher grades. Once they are juniors and seniors, students would have developed the capacity to absorb and focus on much information.
The Delegator Style is Experience-Focused
If you are a delegator teacher, you are probably teaching a topic like biology, physics, psychology, or sociology. These are all subjects that rely on group and laboratory work.
The delegator teacher assigns students to groups and collaborative projects within their classroom. The students are directed to carry out tasks to build on their learning and facilitate peer learning. The teacher supports the groups and guides complex topics.
This style of teaching works best for middle school and high school students. To engage in collaborative learning, students need to have discipline, self-motivation, and focus, which are skills that elementary school students are still learning.
The Facilitator Style Focuses on Self-Learning
A facilitator teacher looks to build on students’ capacity to self-learn. Facilitator teachers will ask students questions and encourage them to look for solutions to their learning problems by inquiring, reading, and looking for information.
If you are a facilitator, you may suit elementary grade levels best. Facilitator style teaching requires one-on-one attention with each student. Elementary grades often have two or more teachers in the classroom, allowing them to give each student the attention they need.
The Demonstrator Style is Effective Across Grade Levels
As the name suggests, demonstrators teach through demonstrating skills or activities and expecting the students to copy their demonstration. Through copying the demonstration, students build on their physical skills and knowledge of the topic.
The demonstrating style of teaching is effective across all grades. While an elementary school demonstrator teacher may demonstrate basic skills in subjects like science, a high school teacher may demonstrate how to use a laboratory instrument.
The Hybrid Style is Generally Flexible
The teacher who follows the hybrid style continuously varies their teaching style to best suit their students. With one student, they may be a demonstrator, while with another, they may encourage collaborative learning.
If you have a hybrid teaching style, you would teach best in the primary or elementary grades. This is because children in their early years need individualized teaching methods to help them grasp core concepts.
In the higher grades, the hybrid teaching style may not be practical, as your classes become bigger. This makes it much more challenging to use a tailored approach for each student. In addition, the subjects become more focused and often require one type of teaching style over another.
6. Decide On the Type of Relationships You Want To Form
As well as assessing your teaching style, you should consider the kind of relationships you want to build with your students. Building solid relationships align with Vygotský’s constructivism theory and ensures that children can learn better from teachers.
Here are the different types of relationships you may hope to form with your students:
- Instructional and professional
Below I will discuss each of these relationship types and how they might affect your teaching decisions.
Nurturing Relationships are Key for Elementary Students
Elementary school students need teachers who are nurturing and caring. They see adults as caregivers, and elementary school teachers should nurture and build on children’s knowledge. You should be an elementary school teacher if you enjoy developing nurturing relationships.
As an elementary school teacher, you should focus on building secure attachments with your students.
Mentoring Relationships are Important for Adolescents
Once children reach middle school and move into their early teens, they look for teachers to be ‘their allies’. As they navigate physical, social, and mental changes, they look for adults who can help them understand themselves better and guide them toward positive choices.
If you enjoy being a mentor, you should look to teach middle school students. However, it’s important to remember that a mentor may be emotionally taxing.
Instructional and Professional Teachers Focus on Academics
By the time they reach high school, students have formed much of their personalities and opinions. Generally, the focus shifts from self-discovery to academic rigor as many students are looking at applying to universities and improving their grades.
High school students look to their teachers to provide instruction, information, and knowledge. They may also look for academic support to help them improve their grades and further education prospects.
If you are focused on building professional relationships with students, you should consider teaching high school grades.
7. Consider Market Trends
It’s essential to plan ahead for every career. When deciding what grade to teach, it can be helpful to research the education trends to see what grades will need the most teachers in the next few decades. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides the following information on recent market trends:
- A decline in junior high schools. Since the 1970s, most public schools have been moving away from having separate junior high schools (grades 7 and 8) to either incorporating junior high schools with high schools or with elementary schools. As a result, there are and will continue to be fewer jobs for teachers of grades 7 and 8.
- Increase in elementary and middle schools. The research indicates that the amount of these schools across the US is continuously increasing.
- Decrease in secondary schools. The number of secondary schools in the US declined by 3% in the last decade. In addition, a report by Industry ARC has predicted a growth in online teaching following the COVID-19 pandemic. This may reduce the number of teachers needed in high school, as students will be engaged in more self-learning activities.
These statistics show that if you are a new teacher looking to teach for the next few decades, it would be better to teach in elementary or middle school instead of junior high or high school.
8. Explore With Teaching Experiences
If you are still unsure about what grade level you should select, it is best to let practical experience guide your decision. Your university or training institution should send you on practical placements. However, if your education doesn’t require this type of experience, you can arrange for your own.
Here is a video that provides more information on the experience of student teaching.
If you cannot secure a student placement, you can apply to become a substitute teacher. Substitute teachers get placed in various grades and have to cover a range of topics. This experience will help you understand which grade level you prefer.
Another way to get experience is through tutoring. Once you have your teaching qualification, you should look for local tutoring agencies in your area. Tell them you are willing to tutor children from across all age groups. This will help you get some experience in navigating different types of grades.
9. Seek Student Feedback
Ultimately, every teacher wants to know that they are making a difference in their students’ lives. Getting student feedback is important to improving your practice, and the feedback helps you understand how effective you are as a teacher. If you are able to get student feedback from a range of grades, you can then assess what grade you’re most effective at teaching.
Here’s how you can gather student feedback:
- Verbal feedback. In early years education, verbal feedback helps teachers understand whether their students are engaged. Ask open-ended questions like “is this easy for you to understand” and “do you need help?”
- School-supported feedback. Some schools ask their older students to fill out teacher feedback and satisfaction surveys at the end of each school term. These surveys are anonymous, but ask questions about how well students responded to teaching styles and approaches.
- Informal notes. Asking students to leave anonymous notes with feedback about each lesson. These will help you with formative feedback on how to tailor your lessons or whether your teaching is appropriate to the grade level.
It’s essential to consider a range of factors when deciding what grade to teach. It’s important to think about the subjects and subject level you would like to teach, along with the job prospects in your area in different grade levels.
It’s also helpful to base your choice on your personal experience of teaching different grades. Remember that it may take some experimentation to find the perfect fit and long-term job satisfaction.
- Digital Journal: U.S. K-12 Education Market to Grow at a CAGR of 26.7% During the Forecast Period 2021-2026
- Edutopia: The importance of teaching through relationships
- YouTube: 10 Tips for Student Teachers
- IBIS World: Educational Services Industry in the US
- Indeed: Job Board
- Innova Design Group: How Effective are these Five Teaching Styles?
- American University School of Education: What Subject and Grade Level Should You Teach?
- Teach Away: US Teaching Jobs
- The Street: The Average Teacher’s Salary in the U.S. by Schools
- Top Education Degrees: 5 challenges of being an elementary school teachers
- National Center for Education Statistics: Educational Institutions
- US Department of Education: Structure of U.S. Education
- Western Governors University: How to determine which grade level you should teach
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