The field of education is extremely broad and diverse, encompassing many types of positions. The experience and background of educators may vary widely based on the age of their students, the location of their institution, and the availability of resources. This page discusses teaching and administration in public, private, and international K-12 institutions. Information on teaching and administration in higher education can be found on our Education: Postsecondary page. [link]
Public Education – Traditional Public Schools
Public schools are schools that are funded by local, state, and federal entities. The majority of schools in the United States – over 98,000 as of the 2010 school year – fall into this category, and vary greatly in size, climate, and quality. As a result, the experience of being a public school teacher is not a singular one. Educational standards and curriculum are set by individual states, and are administered through the district and individual school. There are some federal mandates, such as complying with the Common Core State Standards policies, and teachers may be rewarded, or penalized, by the district based on the results of federal assessments.
Despite the variability, the minimum requirements for becoming a teacher are fairly standard. Typically, public school teachers are required to obtain a bachelor’s degree and a state certification to teach. Certification or licensure requirements vary by state, and many states require the passage of standardized tests, such as the Praxis series.
In recent years, “alternative certification” programs have risen in popularity, and they allow a teacher to earn his/her certification while teaching. Examples of these programs are:
- DC Teaching Fellows - a program that recruits a range of diverse applicants and trains them to become dedicated teachers in Washington, D.C. public schools
- Inner-City Teaching Corps - organization that helps empower children in Chicago through provision of outstanding teachers and innovative education programs; offers two teacher preparation and training programs
- Match Corps - a one-year Urban Education fellowship program in which college graduates across the country commit to one year of public service as teachers in Boston
- New York City Teaching Fellows - program that recruits and prepares high-quality, dedicated individuals to become teachers in New York City classrooms
- Teach for America - the national corps of recent college graduates and professionals of all backgrounds who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools
Public Education – Charter Schools
Charter schools that receive public funds but operate autonomously from the school district in which they are located, and are more accountable for the success of their students. They may be managed by a for-profit (such as Edison Learning) or non-profit (like Uncommon Schools) organization, by an academic institution, or by a school district. In considering employment at a charter school, research is important, as these schools are very different. The culture of a particular charter school is heavily based on the nature of the organization that runs it. Some schools are dedicated to a specific pedagogical orientation while others are designed to prepare students to gain admission to top universities. Features that are common to charters that distinguish them from traditional public schools are the lack of a unionized workforce, a nontraditional school calendar, and relatively strict discipline policies.
Private schools (often called independent schools) are primarily funded by endowments, tuition, and other relevant governing bodies. Private school teachers are typically paid less than public school teachers, but on the whole have better working conditions. Like charters, the workforce is not unionized, and therefore does not receive union benefits such as tenure and pensions. Additionally, private schools do not require state licensure, although many schools do prefer to hire certified and/or experienced teachers. Class sizes are tend to be smaller than those in traditional public schools, and teachers may have more flexibility in their curriculum. On the other hand, private schools may impose other restrictions on its teachers, such as if the school is religiously affiliated.
Boarding schools are a specific type of private school, in which the students, teachers, and administrators are housed in school accommodations as part of their employment. Housing is either subsidized or completely free, depending on position responsibilities. However, duties for boarding school teachers often extend beyond normal school hours, including longer school days, weekend duties, and time spent supervising students in dorms. Like other private schools, boarding schools encourage a rigorous academic environment, and provide their teachers with the resources to teach creatively and effectively. Additionally, the close environment allows passionate teachers to be fully involved in many more aspects of their students’ lives, including sports and the arts.
Teaching abroad in foreign schools or on military bases, in juvenile facilities or institutions, and teaching online are all other common fields open to educators. These positions vary by type of school and location, so it is best to do thorough research into both the school and the country before committing to a position. Check out CCE’s International Opportunities page to explore a number of ways to teach abroad.
Regardless of type, every educational institution employs administrators who handle the day to day school operations and also oversee its educational goals. In general, public school administrators have earned at least a master’s degree, and many are former teachers who have risen through the ranks. Private schools do not always require a master’s degree, but education and certification are usually the best ways to become competitive for these types of positions.
There are many types of administrative positions in K-12 education, below are a few examples:
- Librarians are often highly educated, usually holding an MLS, and some states also require that they be certified teachers. In addition to maintaining and improving the library materials, librarians are increasingly relied upon to teach new technology and computer literacy to students, and to help teachers utilize these tools in their classrooms.
- Paraprofessionals may also be known as teacher’s aids, teaching assistants, or classroom assistants. Some are teachers in training, although the educational requirements vary by state, and may require passing an examination or earning a certification. Paraprofessional roles have great opportunities for advancement, and these positions are often occupied by future teachers or administrators.
- Principals typically manage staff, plan and adhere to budgets, ensure the implementation of the curriculum, and secure the well-being of the student body. Typically, principals hold at least a master’s degree in Education Administration or Leadership, and are often former teachers.
- Superintendents are hired by the school district school board, and oversee all of the administrative governance of staff and teachers, the student body, and any other educational services across all the schools in the district. Many superintendents hold a Doctoral degree, and may also be required to hold a certification issued by their state.
- September-February: Begin research about your career goals, and reach out to potential references and ask them to prepare letters of recommendation. Prepare for any licensing requirements for the state in which you will teach.
- March-April: Compile list of schools and districts that interest you, and begin applying for positions.
- April-May: Attend teacher recruitment fairs, and begin interviewing for positions.
- June-August: Many last minute vacancies open in August, and many first-year teachers get their positions at this time. Be sure to continue to follow up with all schools you’re interested in during this time. Also finalize any remaining steps for licensure. Evaluate job offers you’ve received. Once you’ve accepted a position, notify all other employers and contacts that you are ending your job search.
LionSHARE: Thousands of positions are posted on LionSHARE, including employers like International Academic Alliance, Green Ivy Schools, and McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Vault and WetFeet Guides: Check out WetFeet and Vault’s career guides for information about the field, interview tips, and data on the state of the industry.
International Opportunities: Explore various ways to teach abroad, with Columbia affiliated organizations or with independent international organizations.
- Steven O’Malley, GSAS 2004
- Nina Tandon, GSAS '09
- Michael Friedman, CC '64, GSAS '71
- Patrick Holder, CC'03
Community Impact at Columbia University serves individuals in need in the communities of Upper Manhattan while providing meaningful volunteering and leadership opportunities for students at Columbia University and Barnard College, including volunteer positions for adult education classes and one-on-one tutoring with neighborhood elementary children.
The Double Discovery Center works with low-income and first generation college bound Manhattan area youth from ages 12 -27 to ensure high school graduation, college enrollment and completion, and responsible adulthood. Our core services include afterschool tutoring, Saturday enrichment classes, and college application and financial aid assistance.
K-12 Education Job Boards
- career resources for K-12 educators and administrators, including job
CalWest - helps qualified K-12 educators find jobs as elementary teachers, secondary school teachers, and administrators in independent schools, private schools, and charter schools, throughout California and other western states
Southern Teachers Agency - free service for candidates seeking PK-12 jobs in private and independent schools
Carney, Sandoe, & Associates - firm providing
recruitment, executive search, and strategic consulting services for
Council for American Private Education - coalition of
national organizations and state affiliates serving private elementary and
National Association of Independent Schools
- represents approximately 1,300 independent schools and associations in the
United States and affiliates with independent schools abroad; includes a job
Teaching Abroad Websites
Council on International Educational Exchange
- the leading U.S. non-governmental international education organization which
creates and administers programs that allow high school and university students
and educators to study and teach abroad
International Educator - service for finding international teaching positions
Transitions Abroad - resources for teaching abroad
Search Associates - placement firm for teachers, administrators and interns looking for international schools throughout the world