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An educator is a person who systematically works to improve another's understanding of a topic. The role of educator encompasses both those who teach in classrooms and the more informal educators who, for example, work in zoos, museums, and recreational areas. The work of educators varies depending on the institution that employs them and the age or grade level of the people he or she teaches.

K-12 Educator

Educators who teach children from kindergarten to 12th grade have many responsibilities. They must prepare lesson plans for all of their classes, tailoring their plans to the instructional backgrounds and abilities of the children in each class. Class sizes may range from twenty to thirty-five students, and a teacher may be assigned as many as six different classes. Thus, in addition to teaching, educators at this level must be skilled in classroom management, for they must often deal with behavioral problems and even act as surrogate parents for younger children.

Class preparation includes drafting lesson plans, writing and grading tests, evaluating homework, and sometimes purchasing classroom supplies with their own money. Teachers are held accountable for the success of their students, and are required to participate in professional development programs (courses or seminars) throughout their careers. Finally, they must maintain communication with the parents, participate in numerous educational and administrative activities, and sponsor student organizations such as the student council, sports teams, and school clubs.

Two-Year College Faculty

Teachers at two-year colleges are responsible for preparing lessons for two to four different classes, and they usually teach between four and five courses each semester. They, too, have mandatory professional development. In addition to their teaching duties they must serve on school committees dealing with such issues as hiring or technology. They are responsible to their department heads, deans, and other higher administrators, but they generally do not have to deal with parents.

Class sizes vary from twelve to thirty students, depending upon the subject and type of course being taught. Lecture courses, for example, tend to have higher enrollments than laboratory courses. For lab courses, educators sometimes may have to do their own set-up, if the department does not employ a laboratory technician. Some two-year schools hire their faculty with the possibility of tenure, whereas others offer only short-term contracts, typically for one to three years. Higher positions are in the administration.

Four-Year College Faculty

Educators at a four-year college must conduct publishable research, direct a laboratory, and mentor graduate students, in addition to teaching one to four undergraduate courses each semester or year. On first joining a faculty, educators typically receive the rank of assistant professor. On contract renewal, promotion to associate professor is the norm, with the rank of full professor being accorded upon achieving tenure.

Graduate student teaching assistants (TAs) are often available to assist the educator. TAs usually do all of the grading and supervise the lab classes. Four-year college educators also usually have the assistance of a laboratory technician.

To receive tenure, educators at this level must pass a review by a committee of their peers in their department, in which their success in research, publications, and teaching is evaluated. Most departments require their faculty to serve on one or more internal committees, and service on college-or university-wide committees may also be required, particularly of junior (non-tenured) faculty.

Educational Requirements

Educators at the K-12 level must have, minimally, a bachelor's degree in education. Often, however, they earn a degree in an academic subject and take master's level courses in education. Public school educators must pass a state-administered test, after which they receive certification allowing them to teach. Private schools may not require certification.

Educators at two-and four-year colleges usually have degrees in their area of specialization, but state certification is not required. Some two-year institutions may require master's or doctoral training in education in addition to a degree in an academic subject, but educators at the college level usually gain their teaching experience as teaching assistants. In some cases, an academic degree is not required to teach in a two-program, if the teacher has had enough experience working in the field for which students are to be trained. Four-year colleges expect their educators to hold a graduate degree, often a doctorate, and usually require a record of published research.

Compensation and Other Benefits

Pay scales for educators vary depending upon the grade level taught and the institution at which they teach. At the K-12 level, teachers can earn from $21,000 to $80,000, depending on years of experience and the school district in which they teach. At two-year colleges, starting salaries average about $35,000, but the upper salary limit is about the same as for K-12. Four-year colleges and universities typically offer starting salaries of about $40,000, and can rise to more than $100,000 for full professors whose research and publications have earned them renown in their fields.

Educators typically are free of teaching duties during the summer months, but those who work at the college level are expected to conduct research and publish even when classes are not in session. College-level teachers are also often eligible for sabbaticals, during which teaching duties are not required, but they are expected to use this time for a research project. A love of teaching and learning is needed for educators at all levels, but each student age group makes different demands on the teacher.

see also College Professor.

Linnea Fletcher

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