"Mini-Guide" to K-12 Education Degrees Online
A degree in K-12 education will prepare you to teach a wide range — from youngsters in kindergarten to young adults in high school. If you are considering a K-12 online education degree in order to expand your career opportunities or perhaps change careers, you are in the right place.
1. What is K-12 education all about?
"K-12 education" is a term for the sum of primary and secondary education. This shortening represents students from kindergarten (K) for 4- to 6-year-olds through twelfth grade (12).
2. Is an online K-12 education degree right for me?
You may want to think about an online K-12 education degree if you:
- Are patient
- Have self-confidence
- Are compassionate
- Are understanding
- Can explain concepts to others in a way they can understand
- Enjoy seeing others succeed
- Take pride in helping others accomplish their goals
- Enjoy helping others
- Strive for excellence
- Enjoy being around children
- Have a positive attitude
- Have good communications skills
- Are able to motivate others
- Adapt easily to change
- Have a sense of humor
- Have found yourself in public talking to strange children and correcting their behavior
- Can usually understand why a child behaves a certain way after meeting his or her parents
- Get a secret thrill out of laminating something
3. What other degrees besides K-12 education should I consider?
If an online K-12 education degree or becoming a K-12 teacher isn't right for you, consider these fields instead:
- Curriculum and Instruction:
Understand the importance of current media and technology and how to incorporate new applications to develop and improve existing curriculum, as well as improving the effectiveness of curriculum instruction. Enhance leadership and organizational skills while focusing on improving the teaching and learning process.
- Special Education:
Gain the expertise for teaching and developing specialized curriculum or programs for special needs. Have a solid understanding of how to work with student with behavior, emotional, and cognitive disabilities
- Educational Technology:
Educational Technology seeks to improve the teaching and learning process by the creation, use, and management of appropriate technological processes and resources.
- Library and Resource Management:
Know how to contribute to an academic environment using technology and multimedia; learn how to develop relevant programs to supplement school curricula.
4. How can I specialize my K-12 education degree?
Most schools allow you to choose a specialization – a focused area of study within the K-12 education degree, including:
- Educational Administration
- Special Education
- Distance and Online Education
- Elementary Reading and Literacy
- Elementary Reading and Mathematics
- Middle Level Education
- Educational Leadership
- Program Specialist
- Secondary Education
- Elementary Education
- Early Childhood Education
- Science Education
- Collaborative Learning and Teaching
- Interdisciplinary Studies
5. What are the educational requirements to become a teacher?
Teachers must complete a bachelor's degree program consisting of courses centered on education, followed by obtaining a license to teach in the state in which they want to work. The degree program may consist of courses designed to prepare future educators to teach, as well as courses in math, science, music, art and literature. Educators may also be required to take courses in working with students from diverse cultures, teaching English as a second language and psychology. Future educators may also need to meet certain technical requirements by taking courses in using computers to teach in the classroom.
Public school teachers are required to be licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Private school teachers are not required to be license, but they do need to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Many states, experiencing a shortage of teachers, have programs which offer alternative routes to licensure for those who have bachelor's degrees in fields other than education. This usually involves undergoing additional courses or a training program to prepare them for the classroom. Prospective teachers entering the field under one of these alternative routes to teaching may be granted a provisional license until they complete all of the requirements for full licensure.
Educators may be required to obtain a certain number of continuing education credits in order to renew their teaching license with the state. They may also be expected to earn a master's degree after they have taught for a certain number of years. Educators wishing to become school principals or superintendents will need to hold a master's degree or doctorate.
6. What are some of the courses in an online K-12 education degree?
While the exact curriculum will vary from school to school, here are some of the courses you might take as an K-12 education major:
- Academic writing
- Foundations of Education
- English Language Teaching
- Classroom Methods
- Curriculum and Management
- Student Teaching
- Human Development and Learning
- General Education courses, including Social Sciences, Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Mathematics.
- Reasoning and Problem-solving
- Student Assessment
7. What skills might I learn in an online K-12 education degree?
When you have completed your online K-12 education degree, you will likely have gained many of the following skills and competencies:
- Ability to select methods, activities and materials that are aligned to a module, lesson, or course
- Ability to create and foster a safe, inclusive learning environment
- Capacity to encourage and support learners to succeed in an academic setting
- Excellent public speaking and presentation skills
- Expanded and sharpened instructional and teaching skills
- Good listening skills
- Increased awareness of how people learn
- Sensitivity to student diversity
- Thorough understanding of various teaching styles, learning theories, and methodologies
- Understanding of human development and how changes affect the learning process
8. What kind of employers hire people with online degrees in K-12 education?
As a career-oriented major focusing upon the instruction of students, a variety of education majors are needed to accommodate diverse groups of students at every level of learning. Potential employers for people with online K-12 education degrees include:
- Preschools and Nursery Schools
- Public and Private Schools
- Middle and Junior High Schools
- Secondary (High) Schools
- Alternative Schools
- Colleges and Universities
- Community Recreation Centers
- Consulting Firms
- Correctional Institutions
- Day Care Centers
- Educational Publishers
- International Language Schools
- Test Preparation Companies
- Two-year and Technical Schools
9. What are some possible careers in K-12 education?
Possible Job Titles for Associate's or Bachelor's Education Degree Holders/Entry Level Job Titles
Here is a sampling of jobs you for which you may be qualified with a degree in K-12 education. Remember that requirements differ from state to state, and certain cities may require additional credentials as well. Use this for inspiration, remembering that this may represents some, but certainly not all, of the careers you can consider.
- Elementary and Secondary Education Teachers
- Special Education Teachers
- Technical Education Teachers
- School Administrator
- Kindergarten Teacher
- Preschool Teacher
- Physical Education Teachers
- Professional Tutor
- Substitute Teacher
- Teacher Assistant or Aide
Possible Job Titles for Advanced Education Degree Holders
- School Administrator
- Administrator of Special Education
- Curriculum Director or Specialist
- District Administrator
- Educational Researcher or Writer
- Guidance Counselor
- Student Personnel Administrator
10. What responsibilities do K-12 teachers share?
Responsibilities will vary by the age group you teach.
At the elementary school level:
Elementary school helps lay the educational foundation which will set up the students for future success in their studies at the middle and high school level. The early grades introduce students to language skills, science, social studies and mathematics. Elementary school teachers impart these skills to students through art, games, music and books. Teachers are typically responsible for teaching several different subjects to one group of students.
At the middle school level:
Teachers in Middle School, also known as “junior high school,” help prepare students in grades 6 through 8 for the rigors and responsibilities of high school studies. While students in Elementary School are guided through very structured classes in sheltered environments, students in Middle School must be taught to study independently and turn in assignments by a set deadline. Middle school teachers may specialize in teaching one specific subject. They may also be responsible for teaching some courses which are career-related through vocational studies.
At the high school level:
High school teachers are responsible for guiding students in grades 9-12 through more in-depth studies and preparing students for further studies in college or in vocational/technical trades. Teachers in high school may also prepare students for employment after high school through career planning or job placement through on-the-job training courses. Some high schools offer programs which give high school students dual credit for both high school and college, so educators must have the training and knowledge to teach courses at a higher education level.
High school teachers typically specialize in one subject area, and may teach several different classes in the same subject each day. They may also be assigned a home room class for the purpose of taking attendance and performing other school administrative duties, and supervise study halls where students can work on their coursework from their other classes. High school teachers develop study plans, assign homework and proctor and grade exams. By the time students graduate high school with their diploma, they are expected to be fully prepared for college or for entry-level jobs in the workforce.
11. What is the work environment like for K-12 teachers?
Teaching can be a very rewarding experience, particularly for those who enjoy seeing a student grow and obtain new knowledge. However, it can also be a stressful and frustrating experience for a number of different reasons. Teachers may be faced with disruptive, disrespectful or unmotivated students. They are expected to help each student make satisfactory progress in their studies and master certain core subjects, which are measured in standardized exams.
Educators may also face a heavy workload with a minimum of resources at their disposal. Depending upon the school district, the school may have a shortage of computers, text books or other materials considered necessary for teaching a classroom full of students. The school facilities themselves may be old or rundown. Some teachers may have very little say in the kind of material they are expected to teach.
One misconception is that teachers have shorter work days compared to those in other professions. Teachers typically work more than 40 hours a week, including regular classroom time, participation in extracurricular activities within the school, and time spent grading papers and preparing lesson and homework assignments for students. In elementary schools, teachers may be responsible for teaching a number of different subjects. In middle and high school settings, teachers may teach more in-depth topics in one subject. While some school districts have adopted all-day kindergarten, some teachers still teach two different kindergarten classes per day.
Many teachers work the traditional 9 or 10 month school year, with time off during the summer. However, many teachers spend this time teaching summer sessions of school classes or furthering their own education by taking additional college courses in education. Some school districts have adopted a year-round schedule, in which classes take place for several weeks at time, followed by a week or two off until the next round of classes.
Teachers are afforded a certain level of job security once they become tenured educators. This usually happens following a probationary period of teaching at a school, usually about three years. This does not mean educators are immune from cost-cutting or layoffs. Instead, they are protected from dismissal without just cause and due process afforded by their union's contract with the school district.
12. What is the earning potential for a K-12 educator?
According to the U.S. government's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers had a 2012 median pay of $53,090 per year.  Middle School Teachers had a 2012 median pay of $53,430 per year,  and High School Teachers had a 2012 median pay of $55,050 per year.
Educators do have opportunities to supplement their income by coaching school sports teams and working with students in other extracurricular activities. Also, obtaining additional education such as a master's degree for gaining certification can result in additional pay.