Vocational Teacher Education Programs
If you have substantial work experience in an occupation or vocation and want to share your expertise with students, becoming a vocational teacher could be a rewarding career path for you. There are a wide variety of opportunities in vocational education—it’s gone beyond traditional education for trades such as auto repair.
This page will help you learn more about what vocational education is like today and how to become a vocational education teacher.
What Is Vocational Education?
Vocational training is a real-world solution that provides students with specific skills that employers are looking for. As reported in Forbes Magazine, companies are expressing that new graduates in the workforce are grossly under-skilled and may not be employment-ready. Vocational education is geared to address the disconnect between how our educational systems prepare students for careers and what real-world employers actually need.
It’s a common misperception that vocational education is just technical 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 a story in The Atlantic notes, there is a rise in post-bachelor’s degree “last-mile” vocational-technical education, delivering knowledge and skills too specialized to be included in a bachelor’s program. In addition, students can earn college credits in vocational programs. About one-third of all college credits earned in high school are earned by students in these programs.
New models, often a hybrid of high school, college, and vocational school, are rising. As an example, IBM has partnered with educators to create Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) spanning grades 9 through 14. Students graduate with an associate degree in a STEM field, usually applied science, engineering or computers, and the skills to go to work immediately.
There are 16 common career tracks available in vocational education:
- Agriculture (e.g., farmers, ranchers, arborists, refuse and recyclable materials collectors)
- Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications (e.g., graphic designers, audio/visual producers and directors, telecommunications installers)
- Business (e.g., customer service representatives, stock clerks, administrative assistants)
- Construction (e.g., carpenters, electricians, landscapers)
- Education and training (e.g., teacher assistants, preschool teachers, other teachers)
- Finance (e.g., bank tellers, bill collectors)
- Government (e.g., compliance officers, court and municipal clerks, tax collectors)
- Health science (e.g., home health aides, physician assistants, phlebotomists)
- Hospitality (e.g., restaurant cooks, hotel housekeepers, bartenders)
- Human services (HS) (e.g., cosmetologists, childcare workers, social workers)
- Information technology (IT) (e.g., web developers, software developers, computer support specialists)
- Law (e.g., security guards, police officers, correctional officers, paralegals)
- Manufacturing (e.g., maintenance and repair workers, industrial machinery mechanics)
- Sales (e.g., insurance agents, real estate agents, wholesale sales representatives)
- Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (e.g., mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, computer scientists, environmental scientists)
- Transportation and logistics (e.g., truck drivers, supply chain managers, transport coordinators)
Within each track students begin with broad training that becomes increasingly more specific to support students’ individual career interests. Some students will apply their skills immediately to enter the workforce. Others will pursue further education; many will combine the two.
Vocational training in the United States dates back to before our nation’s birth when colonial 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 15 million students in career and technical education programs across the country. Vocational educators facilitate the training and instruction these students need to prepare for 21st-century careers.
Vocational Teacher Job Description
Vocational teachers—also called career and technical teachers—teach students key competencies within the skills areas listed above. Vocational education is experiential or work-based learning; students learn by doing. Some instruction is delivered in a traditional classroom setting, but vocational teachers spend most of their time instructing and supervising students in hands-on settings.
In a laboratory or shop setting, vocational 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.
Vocational 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, vocational teachers often develop curriculum, lesson plans, and student materials. They may help with career placement by connecting with local businesses, government agencies, or trade unions.
Vocational 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.
Vocational Teacher 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 at and where you teach. The BLS provides the following information for May 2018:
|Vocational teacher, middle school||$59,230|
|Vocational teacher, high school||$60,250|
|Vocational teacher, postsecondary||$53,120|
There were 214,000 vocational teachers in 2018 according to the BLS. At the middle school level the number of vocational teachers is expected to grow by 3% through 2028. At the secondary level employment should grow by 2% through 2028. Although those figures represent limited growth, the job outlook may still be favorable due to a large number of expected retirements.
How to Become a Vocational Teacher
To become a vocational teacher you typically need a bachelor’s degree and work experience in the subject you want to teach. You also need to be licensed by the state in which you work. If your state requires you to be licensed in your field of expertise, you will need to get this license before you can become a vocational teacher.
Many schools offer bachelor’s degrees in career and technical education. You can also prepare for a career as a vocational teacher by earning a degree in the career area that you want to teach. Both degrees offer teacher preparation training that is essential for becoming licensed to teach.
Courses in your curriculum may include the following:
- Introduction to Teaching
- Principles and Methods of Teaching
- Curriculum Instruction and Design
- Teaching Vocational Students with Special Needs
- Evaluation and Testing for Vocational Programs
Bachelor’s programs will include mentored student teaching.
Master’s Degree in Vocational Education
According to CareerOneStop, 47% of career and technical teachers have a master’s degree. Getting a master’s degree can give you a competitive edge in getting hired and make you eligible for leadership roles. In addition, if you are interested in teaching at the postsecondary level, you will most likely need a master’s.
Master’s programs in career and technical education typically focus on instructional planning and assessment, curriculum development, occupational safety and health, and vocation education program coordination. Many programs include a classroom internship.
You can find online programs at the master’s or Ph.D. level. These programs are typically hybrid, involving both online instruction and real-world experiences.
Alternative Teacher Certification
Some states offer an alternative route to licensure. This route is available for prospective teachers who have extensive work experience or for those who have work experience and a bachelor’s degree in an area other than education.
Alternative certification programs focus on teacher preparation—teaching methods, managing the classroom, and lesson planning. They generally take less time than getting a bachelor’s degree.
Click on the map at the end of the page to learn whether your state offers alternative certification.
Although licensing requirements vary by state, there are generally several steps involved if you are following the traditional route:
- Get a bachelor’s degree in education and spend time student teaching.
- Apply for your license.
- Pass the appropriate state tests.
With alternative certification the process is streamlined, with step 1 typically being replaced by a shorter teacher preparation program.
Click on your state on the map at the bottom of the page to learn about specific requirements in your state.
Online Vocational Education Programs
Because bachelor’s programs in vocational education involve extensive hands-on work, purely online programs are not available at this level. However, if you currently hold a bachelor’s degree you can earn an online master’s or doctoral degree to advance your career in vocational education. These programs are ideal for both aspiring and current educators.
Each type of online vocational education 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.
The majority of online programs in vocational education include a capstone project and/or internship once all other units are successfully completed. Depending on a student’s work ethic and schedule, master’s and doctorate degrees may take as little as 18 months or as long as two-and-a-half years to complete.
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 certain classroom fees. Make sure the online schools you consider are accredited.
- Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE): ACTE is the largest educational association for vocational education professions. You can find information about vocational career tracks, advocacy, and professional development.
- American Technical Education Association (ATEA): 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: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work: 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.
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