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The Career Toolbox: The Guide for Educators

Education careers require extensive training, some certifications, and boundless creativity — especially now that technology grows more and more important in the 21st century classroom. Fortunately, there will always be a demand for teachers and teaching assistants. With prospects positive for this industry, aspirant education professionals likely will not hurt for employment. But if they hope to stand out when applying for positions, they must familiarize themselves with the qualifications and skills schools find most attractive if they hope to gain an edge.

Growth, Benefits, and What to Expect

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 17% growth rate for kindergarten, elementary, and middle school teachers before 2020. For high school teachers, the number drops to 7%. At the kindergarten and elementary level, the average salary is currently $51,380 annually, compared to $51,960 for middle and $53,230 for high school teachers. All three levels typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, though in some select cases an associate degree is acceptable.

Teaching assistants earn an average of $23,220 every year. At every grade level, the growth rate sits around 15%. Unlike teachers, these positions do not necessarily require a college education, but the stronger candidates finish associate degrees.

One perk of working as a teacher involves student loan forgiveness — and, in some cases, outright cancellation. Individuals willing to work in low-income regions enjoy especially generous benefits in this area. However, teachers of all types still enjoy some degree of debt relief no matter where they go, depending on the student loans they took out. With student loans a perpetual concern, education might very well grow in popularity as a career path.

Education makes for a rewarding profession, particularly for those with patience and a devotion to teaching and challenging incoming generations. Regardless of whether they elect for a public or a private institution — or even which grade level they choose — teachers largely hold the same responsibilities. They draw up syllabi covering the details of academic subjects, test student knowledge retention and aptitude, and organize projects and field trips to help nurture lessons.

Ideal teachers at any level must be patient, knowledgeable of the material, and capable of communicating with a diverse array of students and their parents. But with technology insinuating itself into every facet of life, it is increasingly more important to learn how to harness what all these developments have to offer. Schools now look at how applicants understand these comparatively new tools; after all, every wave of current students will be increasingly familiar with the latest digital devices and online communication trends. Taking advantage of what they find comfortable so often proves the most effective strategy when promoting knowledge retention.


Every state requires a specific certification or licensing process for their teachers. Some recognize the certificates and licenses from other states, but the rules on that vary from place to place. Requirements for teaching assistants also vary from state to state, with a few needing full certification and others not.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Enrollment in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards programs might be an attractive option for especially motivated, passionate educators. The organization offers 25 professional development certificates in a variety of academic subjects and grade levels. A more general one is also available. Graduates from the NBPT’s training courses participate in professional development seminars, workshops, and more. As they sharpen their own knowledge of the material, they also help research and generate best practices ideas and insights.


When it comes to the 21st century classroom specifically, additional certifications are highly recommended. Rather than the states, it is up to the schools themselves to decide whether they wish potential employees to pursue them. For the aspiring online instructor, Blackboard provides a relatively quick certification program. Regardless of whether an institution considers this a must, investing the time to learn the platform will likely bolster one’s chances of career success.

The New York Institute of Technology

The New York Institute of Technology, for the more fanatic ed-tech devotee, hosts a 15-credit certification program exclusively focusing on 21st century teaching skills. Based around the Intel curriculum, participants take part in the classroom, online, or via video. Because of its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics leanings, however, only teachers in these fields benefit from signing up. Those with the time and money should consider adding its coursework to their wheelhouse all the same.

The IT Academy

A more accessible alternative comes courtesy of Microsoft. The IT Academy grants them intensive training in the digital tools needed to engage and inspire students. Google Teacher Academy provides similar perks. While not a requirement for educators, certification through either program proves in-depth knowledge of properly and creatively harnessing Microsoft and Google products in the classroom.

Certifications by Subject

Depending on the subject, more subject-specific certifications should improve a teacher’s chances of landing a great job once school wraps. For example, Adobe Training and Certification could work for art educators hoping to include digital works into the curriculum. Distance education enthusiasts might ponder going after Cisco certification to link together a global network of students. Anyone contemplating an English as a second language (ESL) job will need certification by The American TSEOL Institute. Ask career counselors and industry professionals for advice on which certifications will enhance an education resume.

Building Skills That Matter

The most integral skills teachers need today have little to do with technology. Rather, the best candidates must display cultural literacy and a willingness to make lessons accessible for a wide range of learners. With language demographics rapidly diversifying, understanding how to communicate across these lines will be crucial in the coming decades. Pursuing ESL certification might not be necessary, but taking the time to research the needs of students from specific demographics is highly recommended. You might could even do volunteer work incorporating a wide range of peoples.

Open Learning

Regardless of whether educators choose to incorporate technology into their classrooms, they should familiarize themselves with the tenets of open, collaborative learning. Students today, weaned on social media and the Internet, typically find the free exchange these mediums entail a far more engaging learning strategy than the traditional lecture. This does not undermine teachers’ authority, but it does mean the best candidates will know how to translate the tenets behind collaborative and open strategies to digital and brick-and-mortar courses.

But this trend toward collaboration involves more than student-to-student and teacher-to-student dynamics. To many educators these days, open learning means increased communication with parents, administrators, policymakers, and their fellow teachers. This comparatively dynamic, transparent structure (compared to past policies) helps all parties better understand their strengths and limitations. And in doing so, they can work together to draw up strategies and best practices benefitting students.

The Best: Coursera. Sixty-two schools — including Rice, CalTech, Columbia, and Princeton — provide 335 completely free classes to over 3.2 million students. Best of all, some of them are now accepted as credit at other institutions.

Collaborating on Curricula

One of the neatest applications of open and collaborative initiatives is Educators gather at the site, setting up their own unique shops and browsing others. There, they sell, trade, and buy course materials, though many elect to post their wares for free. It makes for an empowering method to get teachers talking with one another and exchange ideas and resources regarding curriculum improvements. But even simple participation in online forums and social media outlets still yields plenty of connection opportunities as well. As a bonus, it better sharpens a teacher’s digital literacy.

Of course, the more tech-oriented will need to build their skills with the learning platforms, social media, wikis, apps, blogs, and other digital tools students find fascinating. This might mean anything from investing the time and money necessary to earn certification to simply logging on and exploring what all these tools provide. Resources such as the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills — a partnership between University of Melbourne, Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft — explain all the whats and whys behind new educational developments through workshops, webinars, and more. Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standards wiki is another essential read for anyone wanting to explore the bevy of advice available on where to go and what to do to build up digital literacy.

The Best: ATC21S. It provides an intensive selection of resources and stands as a leader in its field, and its massive social media presence makes it easy for edtech-loving teachers to connect.

Tools of the Trade

“Staying current with the latest in educational technology, both in terms of what is available and how it’s being used most effectively to enhance student learning, can seem like an impossible task,” says Dr. Melissa Venable. “Look for ways to connect and collaborate with colleagues at your school or institution, as well as in larger communities via social networking and professional associations.”

We’ve gathered together some of these recommended tools and networks to help you better engage your students as well as build positive, nurturing relationships with fellow educators.

Learning Management Systems

Internet-based colleges, degrees, and classrooms aren’t the only education initiatives benefitting from online learning platforms. Tools such as Blackboard (and its upcoming xpLor project), Moodle, iversity, Google Sites, and Edmodo not only bring learning to wider audiences, but make organizing classrooms so much smoother. These platforms actively encourage open and collaborative educational environments. As a result, they provide a great start to exploring and understanding 21st century teaching skills.

Both blended and online classrooms greatly benefit from these learning management systems. They all offer similar tools for edtech-loving educators, each with their own unique perks. Moodle, for example, is open-source. This allows users to even further customize the interface to suit the specific needs of their students and themselves. Education professionals — even hobbyists — take advantage of their extensive and active community to meet online and in person, exchanging their creative approaches towards the available resources.

This underscores another major trend in education, also exemplified by Blackboard’s xpLor, iversity, and Google Sites. Collaboration and interactivity are stressed through the available wikis, forums, blogs, and sections for posting multimedia. xpLor even adds cloud capabilities so teachers not only share their class materials with others, but allows them to download edit, customize, and reshare publicly-available uploads as well. Wikis and forums require participants to work together towards a common goal, in the case of the former allowing them to share what they’ve learned in one easy-to-reference resource. Blogs and multimedia by design offer up a higher degree of interactive learning than pen-and-paper journals and the standard slideshow and handouts. Because blogs provide comments sections, content creators chat directly with their classmates (or other readers, should they use a more public platform) and receive feedback. Multimedia engages a wide variety of different learning styles, and in many cases can be rewound or fastforwarded so students cover areas where they need extra review.

The Best: xpLor has the potential to encapsulate everything awesome about collaborative learning. Students enjoy the opportunity to soak up lessons in an engaging, interactive environment. Teachers access free customizable course materials covering all subjects, posted from their peers all over the world.

New Innovations in Textbooks

Not all classrooms necessarily need Khan Academy’s Smarthistory, Wikibooks, or University of California, Davis’ suite of wiki-style science textbooks. But they can still provide inspiration for the up-and-coming educator. Because of the multimedia structures, students learn through vivid images, infographics, videos, and sound clips alongside the text. And wikis allow them to share lessons with one another as well as throw in the supplementary material they discover on their own.

The Best: Smarthistory. It’s beautifully designed, and features expert input and engaging multimedia — way more interactive and exploratory than the usual slide shows from art history classes. Any subject would benefit from the Smarthistory model.

Social Media

Social media promotes greater engagement along with the interactive textbooks and wikis, taking advantage of tools like Facebook and Twitter that students already know. Many creative educators have already found numerous ways to integrate the two social networking juggernauts into their classrooms. But fluency in this area accomplishes more than enhancing lessons. When it comes to personal development, these resources open up hundreds (if not thousands or millions) of opportunities to meet up with other teachers and discuss the latest trends, topics, and strategies.

The Best: Facebook has the edge. It offers more features, making it the more flexible option for social media-loving teachers.

The “Flipped Classroom”

One such approach is the “flipped classroom,” recently popularized by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams at the University of Northern Colorado. Like the name implies, it switches the traditional lecture-and-homework structure around. Students watch video lectures (Bergmann and Sams recommend recording with Jing, Screencast-O-Matic, or Camtasia and uploading to sites like YouTube or Vimeo) at home. Their “homework” is then completed during the time normally reserved for teacher interaction, allowing them a chance to ask questions as needed. A simple concept, but one largely yielding positive results.

Khan Academy might be known mainly as a godsend for independent learners, but it still represents an extremely effective application of the flipped classroom approach. Founder Salman Khan built the valuable digital resource around the concept of fast-forwarding and rewinding lectures. Students focus on the areas where they need the most help and backburner what they already know well. But some teachers, such as Kami Thordarson, consider Khan Academy’s approach a wholly viable teaching strategy. And her students agree. Sites such as the Flipped Learning Network connect practitioners together to discuss best practices and trade resources.

The Best: Khan Academy may not have invented the flipped classroom, but it certainly perfected the formula. Educators considering this approach should take the time to play around on the site for ideas and inspiration.

Presentation and Organization

If the flipped classroom feels a little too experimental for a new teacher’s tastes, tools such as Slideshare, Prezi, and Storify give the familiar classroom tools a Web 2.0 upgrade. The first two websites merge the social components of Twitter, Facebook, and the like with the comforts of the slideshow presentation. Storify makes it super easy for students and teachers alike to compile together resources on a topic to share with others and keep themselves organized.

The Best: Prezi is the superstar here. Its collaborative nature lines up with current industry trends, and the ability to create interactive, multimedia presentations make lessons more engaging and memorable. As an added bonus, many users allow their slideshows to be downloaded, remixed, and reuploaded.


Mobile-enabled classrooms enjoy access to thousands of education apps through iTunes, Google Play, and other sites. These cover pretty much every academic subject imaginable – in the case of the stellar Wolfram Alpha, cover them all in one – and can usually be downloaded on both tablets and smartphones. While not as popular as social media, taking advantage of mobile devices provides the exact same benefits as social media and other technologies. It simultaneously engages students using familiar communication tools while simultaneously promoting essential digital literacy skills. They can even text and tweet during lectures, keeping a running backchannel with questions and comments for their teachers to address without interrupting class.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD. Alternately referred to as “Bring Your Own Tech,” or BYOT) is growing in popularity, largely owing to its cost-cutting benefits. Asking students to tote their own smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other mobile gadgets to class saves school and district money in a recession – up to 30% using some models. Considering differences in platforms, however, the practice does require some pre-planning to account for them. Not every app is necessarily available for every smartphone, for example. But the BYOD movement’s elevated engagement and budget-friendly structure make it well worth considering.

The Best: The stellar Wolfram Alpha is available both online and as a mobile app for iDevices, Android, Nook, and Kindle. It also created apps for math and science courses, reference guides, personal assistance, and personal finance; you can even check out analytics for your Facebook profile now. Sign up and drool over the overwhelming amount of knowledge available.

Digital Communications

Blogging, podcasting, and video podcasting (“vodcasting”) also transition the analog classroom staples journaling and lecturing into the digital age. Through online journals, audio files, and videos, respectively, both teachers and students share their thoughts about the subjects at hand. This could mean anything from daily assignments addressing a prompt to outright replacing an essay. Many online learning platforms, such as Blackboard, host their own blogging capabilities. Other teachers prefer branching out to WordPress, Blogger, and even Tumblr. Podcasting requires an external microphone, but recording can be conducted via Skype or Google Hangouts in conjunction with Audacity or Garageband (Apple only). The same video tools recommended by Bergmann and Sams at University of Northern Colorado work great for vodcasting.

The Best: For blogging, WordPress is at the top of the heap right now. It’s got a great interface, it’s simple to set up, and it’s free, which means it can be implemented into a curriculum at no additional cost.

Knowledge is Power

Educators today have plenty of opportunities to cobble together creative, innovative lessons with the latest technological advances. Even if they eschew infusing their classrooms with social media, blogging, and the like, they must still hone their communication skills to bridge gaps between demographics.

April 12th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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