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Do's and don'ts for your pre-teaching experience
Wondering if you'd cut it as a teacher?
September 26th, 2017

Teaching is complex, rewarding work. To be qualified for a full-time position, you will need at least a year under your belt from a professional training program. So the question is: How do you figure out if teaching is right for you before committing?

Our primary advice is to seek out opportunities that most closely emulate teaching. But beware: Not all activities that have you working with students are created equal. In this article, we recommend pre-teaching experiences, which help you understand certain aspects of the job, if not the full job itself.

Here are four do's and don'ts to look out for:

1. Summer internships are your best bet

As a high school or college student, you can apply to summer teaching internships all across the country. This is our strongest suggestion for getting to know teaching, because you’ll be in the classroom full time, doing work that most closely approximates teaching.

Interns get to travel, network with other students and learn what it’s like to lead a classroom. Plus, most programs offer a stipend for living expenses. Here are a few hand-picked programs to explore: 

Pro tip: Start making your summer internship plans today, and double-check the application deadline.

2. Take an education class, especially if it offers hands-on experience

Teacher bonding with student

For all you college students out there, check with your School of Education for classes that let you dip your toe in the water. This way, you don’t have to commit to an education major until you know it’s the right path for you. Browse a course catalog or ask an adviser in your education department for details.

Pro tip: Keep an eye out for classes that offer hands-on experience—classes with names like Practicum in Education, Teaching in the Field and Pedagogy in Action. The more you can interact with students in a classroom, the closer you are to understanding life as a teacher.

Teacher bonding with student

3. Try (the right kind of) tutoring

Tutoring experiences vary widely, from simple homework help to more complex learning experiences that are better samples of true teaching jobs. But either way, tutoring only offers a glimpse into the world of a teacher: Teachers are responsible for accomplishing complex learning objectives with many students, who all have different personalities, strengths and goals. As a tutor, the structure of your session is much more limited.

Aim for more sophisticated tutoring programs by looking for the following features:

  • You teach students a lesson, not just provide one-off homework help.
  • You are provided with training. (Teaching requires expertise!)
  • You're paid. This is a sign that your work is important to the program, and that the program has serious expectations.
  • The program requires more than a couple of hours of your time. If you want to know what teaching is like, select a program that requires a more serious time commitment (five to ten hours).

Relay Tutor Corps is a great example of a sophisticated tutoring program geared towards pre-teaching experience. You can get a great idea of what to look for by reviewing their website (even if you don't live in Houston or New Orleans, where the program is available).

4. Carefully consider mentoring positions

Some advice says to try any activity that has you spending time with and mentoring kids, such as volunteering for an after-school program, as a camp counselor, chaperoning a field trip, or even taking part in “voluntourism” overseas. It’s true that these activities can give you a better sense for how rewarding it is to build relationships with students.

But while teaching does have a mentoring component—and involves spending large quantities of time with students—there is much more to the profession. Just as you wouldn’t be qualified to become a nurse after helping a friend put on a bandaid, you don’t get the full picture about teaching as a profession after spending a bit of time with students.

While mentoring and giving back are worthy pursuits, we recommend the first three options as better ways to gain a sense of your fit for teaching.

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Thinking about becoming a teacher yourself? Check out Talk to a Teacher to chat with a teacher in the field for free insights and wisdom.