Before you start a graduate degree in education, have an idea which grade level you want to teach so that your academic program can be tailored to your needs. While you may automatically think teaching means elementary, middle or high school, don't limit yourself to these levels, as working as a teacher in post-secondary or higher education is a viable option that is also within your reach.
How to decide
Deciding what level of education you would like to teach is an important decision. Young children in elementary or middle school are little sponges that will absorb information well; but they may also be very rambunctious. High school students are independent minded and able to comprehend on complex material but may be rebellious.
With so many variables, how do you determine which is best for you? Weighing the pros and cons of instructing each grade level will enable you to make the right choice.
About elementary or middle school teaching
In elementary school, students are very young, will be adjusting to their new surroundings, and will want to take play breaks in between learning. As a teacher, you will primarily spend your day going through lesson plans; focusing on the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic; and helping students understand basic concepts in history and science.
Students in middle school are adolescents but they will also be fulfilling to teach since they are more able to grasp material. As the teacher, you will still be instructing the basics, but you will also be building on the foundational ideas that students learned previously.
Teaching high school
As a high school teacher, your students have just exited adolescence and are gaining a sense of what it means to be independent. They will be forming closer interpersonal and romantic relationships with each other, but may exhibit some rebellious behavior toward adults or authority. Still, since their knowledge base and capacity to understand information has increased, they will be able to grasp complex ideas easier.
Finally, in post-secondary education, your students are adults. Your class will be made up of traditional students who have just graduated high school or non-traditional students returning to school from time away. Generally, they will be more inclined to actively learn the material.
While you may be thinking that you will need to earn a doctorate and perform extensive research in order to be seriously considered for a teaching position at a college or university, think further outside the box. Teaching in higher education is not restricted to the Ivy League. With the right background and education, you can teach basic level classes in 4 year institutions, at community colleges or technical colleges.
Licensed to teach
All states require teachers to be licensed in order to teach students. Licensure is broken down by the following grade levels: early childhood education, elementary, middle, secondary-education subject area, or special subjects.
However, some states do offer teaching licenses that allow you to teach grades K-12, so you don't have to limit your options to a specific grade level. This is advantageous since both public and private schools will be more ready to hire teachers that offer flexibility between what areas they are allowed to teach.
Also remember that teaching in higher education does not require a license. Instead, specializing in a certain subject during your master's or doctorate degree will do the trick.