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Picking a Specialty in Education

written by: Lori Soard•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 1/28/2009

Many first year education students have a hard time deciding which discipline they'd like to study. Should you teach elementary or secondary students? If secondary, what subject area would you be interested in? What about special education, ESL and computers? BrightHub takes a look at the choices.

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    Elementary or Secondary

    This decision will shape the focus of your future teaching career. Most states break down elementary and secondary educators differently. For example, an elementary teacher might be licensed to teach Kindergarten through fourth grade, while a secondary teacher might be licensed to teach fifth through twelfth grade. Your state licensing board and advisor at the university you plan to attend can answer any questions you might have about the differences in each disciple of study.

    An elementary educator will study a broad range of topics from language arts to math and childhood development and learning for younger ages. A secondary educator will study about the mental and learning development of adolescents and will study a specific subject area in depth.

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    Secondary Major

    If you choose to teach tween and teen students, you'll need to choose a major. This will be the subject you teach. You can get licensed in other areas in many states by adding a minor or taking dual majors in your chosen fields of study. For example, if you want to become licensed to teach high school physical education, most of your classes would be in this area of study with some education classes mixed in. While you will have to meet some minimum requirements for graduation and take other classes, they will be limited in number.

    In addition, should you choose a subject such as science, you may need to narrow your focus even more and get a certification to teach a particular study of science, such as Chemistry or Biology.

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    How to Choose a Subject

    Since adding endorsements to your teaching license can take a lot of time and money (through paying for additional credit hours), it is necessary to choose one or two areas. So, how do you find the ones that will create a fulfilling career for you? What things should you consider?

    1. Demand - Probably the first thing to consider is how much of a demand at the time of your graduation there will be for the subject area you wish to teach. Math and science teachers have a much easier time finding a teaching position. However, if you choose art, it may take longer to find a teaching job. After all, most schools only have one art teacher at a time.
    2. Passion - Are you passionate about the subject you want to teach? If you only choose math because there are many available jobs, but you loathe the site of a fraction, your students will quickly grow as bored with the subject as you are.
    3. Teachability - While you may be talented at math, that doesn't necessarily translate into an ability to teach the topic. There are times when a teacher understands a topic so well, that it becomes impossible to break it down into the beginning steps needed by a new learner to progress. You may want to try explaining some key elements of your topic to a novice and see if he or she can understand your directions.
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    Specialized Areas

    There are also several specialized areas that you may want to consider, some of which are in high demand in various areas of the country.

    • Special Education - Those with a lot of patience and empathy may enjoy working with special needs children. Because of the high burnout rate in this area, jobs tend to be plentiful. As a special education teacher you will work with children who have learning needs. There is a wide variety of ranges of learning needs, from children who are mildly autistic to severe learning disabilities. Keep in mind that many special education teachers do get burned out after working in stress-filled situations for a number of years. For this reason, it can be important to have an additional endorsement area so that you can go into a traditional classroom for a year or more and take a break.
    • English Second Language (ESL) - With so many new people entering the country every year, there is a real need for this type of education. As an ESL teacher, you will work with students for whom English is not a first language.

    No matter which area of education you ultimately choose, teaching is a personally rewarding career where you'll be helping to shape future generations.