Careers in K-12 Education

There are wide range of career opportunities in K-12 education. This resource covers a range of roles that one can play in a school, as well as a diversity of school types and structures.

Public Schools

These schools are free and open for all students, are funded through taxes paid by all members of the community, and are governed at the district, state, and federal level

  • Traditional Public Schools: These schools are the most prevalent kind of public school, and are closely governed at the district level, and adhere to state and federal standards.
  • Charter Schools: These schools are public, but operate with much more freedom than traditional public schools. They are sponsored by an organization that holds them to basic educational standards, but usually employ novel, innovative practices that are intended to increase student engagement and success. There is a wide variety of structures for charter schools
    • See here to learn more about charter schools
  • Magnet Schools: Magnets schools focus on a particular area (e.g., STEM, visual and performing arts). These schools are often more closely tied to state and/or district governance and standards. They seek to include students from a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
    • See here to learn more about magnet schools

Private Schools

These schools are funded through tuition paid by those attending the school, and/or donations given to support students who attend these specific schools. Private schools must meet government standards, but are primarily governed by internal stakeholders. Here are two common examples of private schools types:

  • Residential/boarding Schools: These schools are, in essence, preparation for and modeled from the residential college experience. Many of these schools look much like Wellesley!
    • See here for learn more about boarding schools
  • Faith-based Schools: These schools integrate some aspect of religion and/or spirituality in the academic learning experience. Not all students/staff necessarily adhere to these beliefs in many of these schools, but religion informs their mission, vision, and goals.
    • See here to learn more about faith-based, private schools

Career Pathways: Teacher

This is likely what comes to mind when considering a career in K-12 education. There are several things to consider when exploring a career as a teacher.

  • Role/philosophy as a teacher: You should think about how you want to express yourself as a teacher when exploring a career in teaching. This includes things such as (but not limited to) your thoughts on:
    • Traditional “lecture” style of teaching vs. project-based learning
    • Teaching students of all abilities in one classroom, or grouped by ability
    • Teaching in an urban, suburban, rural, low-income, affluent, or other type of community
    • Connection to other teachers in your school, including collaboration across classrooms and roles
  • Grade level: You will want to consider the grade levels you are interested in teaching
    • Elementary
    • Middle
    • High
  • Subject area specialties: You will want to consider what subjects you want to teach, such as (but not limited to):
    • English
    • History
    • Mathematics / Science
    • Arts / Music
  • Other specialties: There are other specialties that may be a good fit for you, and make you more competitive in many cases
    • Teaching English Language Learners (ELL’s): You can specialize in teaching english to those who do speak it as a primary language.
    • Special education: you can specialize in the particular learning needs of those with non-typical abilities
  • Licensure and certification: Laws and regulations for becoming a teacher are created and governed at the state level, and can vary.

Career Pathways: School Counselor

School counseling is a way to directly engage with students in the social-emotional development in and beyond the classroom in support of their academic success. This includes activities such as

  • Individual counseling and guidance
    • crafting plan for courses and extracurriculars
    • career counseling/guidance
    • emotional support during a crisis
    • adapting to individual/family challenges that interfere with academic performance
  • Creating socio-emotional curriculum to be delivered in the classroom on topics such as
    • bullying
    • stress management and wellness
    • embracing diversity

For more information about school counseling, visit the American School Counseling Association. This site also has information about the education and training needed for this career pathway.

Career Pathways: School Psychologist

There is some overlap between what school counselors and school psychologists may do. But, school psychologists also have a unique role in schools. They focus on things such as the following, all in support of students’ academic success

  • Psychological assessment for learning needs
  • Designing and delivering special education programming
  • Consultation with school staff on a variety of issues
  • When time allows, they also deliver services similar to those school counselors deliver (see above)

For more information about school psychology, visit the National Association of School Psychologists

Career Pathways: Administrator

There are also roles in schools for those who run things at a systemic level. These include positions such as:

  • Superintendent and assistant/vice superintendents
  • Principal and assistant/vice principals
  • Subject-area administrators
  • Athletic directors
  • School counseling administrators

These are advanced-level roles, and require previous experience and expertise as a practitioner in K-12 educational systems. The day-to-day looks much like the role of administrators in other settings (hiring, training, budgeting, communications/marketing, etc.). These are positions you may consider after working in the K-12 field for a time. Many times these positions require further education — see here for an example of such programs.

Learning More

As you can see, there are a variety of settings and roles to pursue in K-12 education. In addition to researching the information above, you can also: