According to the No Child Left Behind act and Common Core, public school teachers in grades pre-k through twelfth must have a teaching certification—typically the result of an undergrad teaching degree—and must partake in continuing education, earning a set amount of credits or hours per licensing timeframe.
Continuing education can take a variety of forms, including traditional college credits, seminars, or professional development courses, and specific requirements vary from state to state. Some states like Arizona require 180 clock hours, while others, such as Iowa and Maryland, require six semester hours. Then there are states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island specifically—that have no state regulations for continuing education, instead leaving it up to individual school districts to determine what its teachers need.
For many years, most school districts provided its teachers in-house training and workshops to help offset the expenses of continuing education, but as costs become higher and budgets become lower, this is not nearly as common and teachers are having to find—and fund—their own continuing education.
Why Continuing Ed?
There’s no doubt, the better teachers teach, the better children learn. Improving the quality of teaching students receive is the most important factor for student success. That’s why there’s such a focus on continuing education. It’s designed to help teachers improve teaching skills, learn new technologies, and find innovative ways to prepare America’s youth for the future.
Although there’s a huge range of styles and topics in continuing education, here are some common themes:
- Character development
- Incorporating classroom technology
- Common Core
- STEM promotion
- Special needs
The Traditional Master’s of Education
For some teachers, earning a Master’s of Education is the optimum choice, but for others it’s not. Graduate level courses tend to be more expensive than other continuing ed options, with the advance degree averaging from $12,000 for less expensive online universities to $200,000 and up for Ivory League schools. According to the National Center for Educator Statistics (NCES), teachers with advanced degrees earn, on average, 11 percent more in public schools and eight percent more in private than their BA-only counterparts. Over the years, that 11 percent adds up.
Yet for new teachers, earning a Master’s degree right out of undergrad may not be the best bet. Nearly 50 percent of school teachers quit teaching during the first five years, and that’s not good odds for that kind of investment. Instead of going straight through to graduate school, consider getting some real classroom experience. Make a commitment to teach for at least two to three years before deciding to pursue higher education. By that point in time, you should know if teaching agrees with you and if it’s something you want to do for the rest of your life. If so, start looking into colleges and universities. If not, give it a few more years before deciding. After all, there’s other, less expensive ways to earn those continuing education credits.
National Board Certification
For those who are looking for a certification that’s recognized across the country, the National Board Certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is the best choice. Given from the independent non-profit, this certification takes more than a year to earn and is the highest mark of professional accomplishment in the field of education. To be eligible, you must possess a Bachelor’s of Education and have at least three years teaching or school counseling experience, as well as a valid teaching license, in applicable. Candidates must complete a computer-based assessment and create a portfolio that showcases their abilities. The certification process does has a $2,500 assessment fee, but since it lasts a lifetime, it will more than pay for itself. Most school districts offer salary incentives for those who complete the process and some may assist with the fee. Some teacher unions, educational institutions, and educational non-profits also offer assistance for National Board Certification.
Federal TEACH Grant
The federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant is a readily available grant for both teachers and students in the education field. You can apply for up to $4,000 per year, with a maximum of $16,000 for undergraduate studies and $8,000 for advanced degrees. To be eligible for the TEACH grant, an agreement must be signed that lists specific teaching requirements that must be meant within eight years. These include things like working in low income districts or in high demand fields. If the individual fails to do so, the grant becomes an unsubsidized Direct Stafford loan and repayment must begin.
With thanks to modern technology, continuing education comes in a wide range of environments. There are online classes, weekend seminars, afterschool workshops, traditional classrooms, and self-study. Education for teachers has never been easier or more convenient. And although the cost of continuing education for teachers is going up, it’s making our teachers better and benefiting our students immensely.