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How to Become a Career and Technical Education Teacher

Career and technical training in the United States dates back hundreds of years to when youth were apprenticed to master craftsmen to learn trades such as candle making and blacksmithing. Today, the U.S. Department of Education reports there are over 8 million students in career and technical education (CTE) programs across the country. Educators facilitate the training and instruction these students need to prepare for 21st-century careers as disparate as plumbing, human resources, and fashion.

If you have substantial work experience in an occupation or vocation and want to share your expertise and passion with high school (and occasionally middle school) students, becoming a career and technical education (CTE) teacher could be a rewarding career path for you.

What Is Career and Technical Education?

Career and technical education is an educational path that provides students with specific trade skills that employers look for. CTE is geared toward addressing the disconnect between how our educational systems prepare students for vocational careers and what real-world employers actually need.

It’s a common misperception that career and technical education is just training for non-college-bound students who want to learn a trade. In fact, 78% of all graduates of career and technical programs enter some form of postsecondary school. As The Atlantic notes, there is even a rise in people who have already finished a bachelor’s degree engaging in “last-mile” career and technical training, which allows them to gain knowledge and skills too specialized for undergraduate programs. Recognizing that many CTE students will attend post-secondary programs, some training programs allow high school students to earn college credits while completing career and technical coursework.

New CTE training models, often a hybrid of high school, college, and career and technical programming, are gaining popularity. As an example, IBM has partnered with educators to create Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) spanning grades nine through 14 (that is, high school through earning an associate degree). At these schools, students graduate with an associate degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field, usually applied science, engineering, or computers, and they have the skills to go to work immediately.

There are 16 common career tracks available in career and technical education:

  • Agriculture (e.g., farmers, ranchers, arborists, refuse and recyclable materials collectors). Common classes include agricultural business and finance, agriscience, greenhouse management, veterinary science, natural resource management, and food production.
  • Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications (e.g., graphic designers, audio/visual producers and directors, telecommunications installers). Common classes include digital arts and design, A/V production, fashion design, Adobe Software, graphic design, and visual art.
  • Business (e.g., customer service representatives, stock clerks, administrative assistants). Common courses include business communications, business management, entrepreneurship, human resources management, and health administration technologies.
  • Construction (e.g., carpenters, electricians, landscapers). Common courses include building construction, carpentry, cabinetmaking, millwork, plumbing, heating, architectural drafting, and electrical installations.
  • Education and training (e.g., teacher assistants, preschool teachers, other teachers). Common courses include education fundamentals, early childhood education, educational theory, and teaching as a profession.
  • Finance (e.g., bank tellers, bill collectors). Common classes include accounting, banking and finance, statistics, and financial planning.
  • Government (e.g., compliance officers, court and municipal clerks, tax collectors). Common courses include public service principles, public law, governmental budgeting, U.S. government and politics, and public administration.
  • Health science (e.g., home health aides, physician assistants, phlebotomists). Common classes include health science education, anatomy and physiology, global health, diagnostic medicine, public health, nursing education, and therapeutic services.
  • Hospitality (e.g., restaurant cooks, hotel housekeepers, bartenders). Common classes include culinary arts, hospitality and tourism, hospitality management, hotel marketing, event planning, publicity, and leadership.
  • Human services (HS) (e.g., cosmetologists, childcare workers, social workers). Common courses include lifespan development, nutrition science, diet therapy, cosmetology, barbering, and psychology.
  • Information technology (IT) (e.g., web developers, software developers, computer support specialists). Common classes include coding, mobile app development, principles of computer science, computer systems, networking, web design, and cybersecurity.
  • Law (e.g., security guards, police officers, correctional officers, paralegals). Common classes include criminal justice, emergency services, fire management, fire science pre-law, and forensic investigations.
  • Manufacturing (e.g., maintenance and repair workers, industrial machinery mechanics). Common courses include machine metals, sheet metals, textiles, welding, drafting operations, and marine maintenance.
  • Sales (e.g., insurance agents, real estate agents, wholesale sales representatives). Common classes include marketing, sales management, customer relations, merchandising, real estate sales, and market research.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (e.g., mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, computer scientists, environmental scientists). Common courses include engineering design, principles of engineering and technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, bioSTEM, civil engineering, digital electronics, and technological design.
  • Transportation and logistics (e.g., truck drivers, supply chain managers, transport coordinators). Common classes include maintenance and light repair, collision repair, painting and refinishing, transportation management, estimating, and principles of aviation.

Within each track, students begin with broad training that becomes increasingly specific to support their career interests. Some learners apply their skills immediately by entering the workforce, others pursue further education, and many combine the two.

Career and Technical Education Teacher Job Description

Career and technical educators teach students key competencies within the skills areas listed above. CTE is experiential or work-based learning; students learn by doing. Some instruction is delivered in a traditional classroom setting, but CTE teachers spend most of their time instructing and supervising students in hands-on settings.

In a laboratory or shop setting, CTE teachers give students tasks based on their classroom learning. For example, manufacturing students might be taught how to use associated equipment or tools; nursing students might practice blood-typing.

Career and technical education teachers also supervise students in a variety of real-world learning environments. Child development students might run an on-site daycare center. Culinary arts students may operate a for-profit cafeteria.

In addition to working with students, CTE teachers often develop curricula, lesson plans, and student materials. They may help with career placement by connecting with local businesses, government agencies, or trade unions.

Career and technical education teachers teach at the middle, secondary, and postsecondary levels. They may work in traditional middle and high schools, at community colleges, or in regional career and technical schools.

Career and Technical Educator Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for career and technical education teachers was $56,750 as of May 2018. The highest 10% earned more than $92,640.

Salaries can vary based on the level you teach and where you teach. The BLS provides the following information for May 2018:


Career and Technical Education Teacher Salaries
Middle school CTE teacher$59,230
High school CTE teacher$60,250
Postsecondary CTE teacher$53,120

High school and middle school positions are expected to grow between 2% and 3% between 2018 and 2028. Although those figures represent limited growth, it is important to note that states are increasingly recognizing the need for the field and beginning to approve more funding. 

How to Become a Career and Technical Education Teacher

Many states do not require a four-year degree to teach certain CTE subjects, as they recognize this field is better served by instructors who have years of professional experience. For instance, a CTE teacher leading a barbering class generally does not need a bachelor’s degree in order to teach. Meanwhile, an educator focused on nursing needs to hold an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Rather than requiring licensure, many states now offer CTE teacher certification. States that still mandate licensure often require baccalaureate credentials, regardless of subject area. Each state’s Department of Education sets CTE requirements. You can find a current list of state CTE teacher requirements at the bottom of this page. However, requirements change from time to time, and it’s important that you stay up to date on your state’s laws and regulations regarding certification or licensure.

Regardless of the path offered by your state, all CTE teachers must go through several steps to receive certification, including:

  1. Meeting educational requirements
  2. Meeting work experience requirements
  3. Taking any mandated examinations
  4. Paying any associated application fees
  5. Receiving certification

Bachelor’s Degree

If your state still requires a bachelor’s degree for CTE teaching positions, some schools offer bachelor’s degrees in career and technical education. You can also prepare for a job in this field by earning a degree in the career area that you want to teach. If you did not take any teaching courses during your undergraduate degree, some states might require you to pass several teacher preparation training courses, but they frequently allow you to do this while working under a provisional license.

Courses may include:

  • Curriculum Instruction and Design
  • Evaluation and Testing for Vocational Programs
  • Introduction to Teaching
  • Principles and Methods of Teaching
  • Teaching Vocational Students with Special Needs

Alternative Teacher Certification

The most common option for CTE teachers, alternative teacher certification, takes into account factors such as related work experience, examination scores, and existing education to recommend whether an individual is qualified to lead a CTE classroom. Many states offer non-renewable provisional licensures for teachers in this field. Provisional licensure provides future teachers a few years to take required teacher preparation courses—such as teaching methods, managing the classroom, and lesson planning—before seeking unencumbered certification.

Work-Based CTE Teacher Certification

Work-based CTE teacher certification is a common path for teachers in career areas that do not traditionally require workers to hold a postsecondary degree (e.g., cosmetology, cabinetmaking, and auto repair). These certificates typically require a high school diploma or GED alongside substantial professional experience. Requirements can range from two to six years, depending on the specific trade.

Online Career and Technical Education Programs

If you are interested in a bachelor’s program in CTE, purely online programs are not available due to the hands-on nature of the work. However, if you currently hold a bachelor’s degree, you may be able to earn an online master’s or doctoral degree to advance your CTE teaching opportunities.

Each type of online CTE degree is different. Classes may cover topics such as organizational management, information systems management, or intercultural communication. Programs can train you for leadership positions or to teach at the postsecondary level.

Most online programs in career and technical education include a capstone project and/or internship once all other units are completed. Depending on a student’s schedule, master’s degrees may take as few as 18 months or as long as two and a half years to complete. Doctoral programs tend to take longer.

Online programs are ideal if you need flexibility and the ability to pace your studies. You might save money, too, since you will avoid commuting costs and classroom fees. Make sure the online schools you consider hold accreditation.

Useful Resources for Career and Technical Educators

  • Association for Career & Technical Education: ACTE is the largest educational association for career and technical education professions. You can find information about vocational career tracks, advocacy, and professional development.
  • American Technical Education Association: The ATEA website is a valuable resource for staying up to speed with current issues in vocational education. ATEA publishes a journal twice a year and also sponsors a national convention.
  • Advance CTE: Advance CTE is a national non-profit that represents state leaders and directors of career technical education. You can find state-specific and nationwide information about policy, initiatives, and professional development.
  • Vocational Information Center for Educators: This site provides links to a myriad of resources involving career and technical education, teaching and learning, academics, occupational safety, career-related lesson plans, and guidance, career, and college planning.

Career and Technical Education Licensure by State

If you’re wondering about the certification/licensure requirements for career and technical educators in your state, check out the table below. States change requirements from time to time, so be sure to stay up to date on your state’s laws and regulations.

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