The many kinds of opportunities to teach English require different kinds of preparation, ranging from those that would already be available to you as a UVa undergraduate to those that require advanced degrees. This page is meant to help you to think about your options, and considers options for K-12 teaching, teaching abroad, volunteer work, and college teaching.
Teaching English in K-12
The UVa English Department is deeply committed to the aspirations and preparation of future high school, middle school, and elementary school teachers of English. The reading and writing abilities of future generations depend on the work of such teachers, and teachers carry on the life of literature in vital ways so the service is of immense importance. And a career in teaching may be the best way to sustain some of the experiences and skills that students love best in their English courses and majors. The English Department’s designated advisor for future teachers of English is Victor Luftig, who has taught high school teachers of English for many years and who directs a center that provides programs for K-12 teachers in many subjects (including programs for English teachers to which many UVa English faculty have contributed). But any member of the English faculty can advise you on thinking about your English studies in relation to future teaching. Kate Melton in UVa’s Career Services provides guidance to English majors and can advise you about a full range of opportunities.
Any version of the UVa English major constitutes valuable training towards future teaching, but whether it is a sufficient credential depends upon what kind of teaching you want to do and where. The English Department and faculty at the Curry School of English developed a list of optimal courses for future middle and high school English teachers; this list aligns to some extent with the requirements of Curry’s program in Secondary English Education.
Programs like Curry’s provide not just training but the certification required for public school teaching; Curry accepts applications for both a BA/MT program, which allows one to complete such training and certification while completing one’s undergraduate major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a PGMT (post-graduate master’s in teaching) program that one may enroll in after completing one’s undergraduate degree. UVa graduates can also consider many other post-graduate teacher training programs nationwide.
Virginia and many other states allow for alternative licensure processes according to which one may be able to obtain required certification after one begins teaching, but these tend to be limited to opportunities in subject areas and/or geographical areas where there are teacher shortages. A number of programs, including Teach for America and New York City Teaching Fellows, recruit those with undergraduate degrees, provide some level of additional training, and place them for several years in teaching jobs in high-need public schools.
Private school teaching does not require the same licensure as public school teaching: private schools are generally free to determine their own hiring criteria. This means that you may be able to secure a permanent private school teaching job in English with just your undergraduate degree (though a Master’s in English may also be especially desirable). The English Department’s BA/MA program is one such route for interested undergraduates. One of the many agencies for connecting private schools with teaching candidates, the Southern Teachers Agency is located in Charlottesville and can advise you about opportunities, requirements, etc. There are a number of such services, including some that focus on teaching opportunities in disadvantaged regions.
There are so many kinds of opportunities to teach English abroad that they are difficult to summarize. Most, though not all, focus on teaching English as a second language. One unique program available to UVa graduates is the UK Fellows Program, which offers teaching placements at boarding schools in the United Kingdom. There are a host of other services and agencies that arrange foreign teaching placements. The Curry School of English provides a list of opportunities (not limited to its students and graduates). It is important to ask carefully about services, fees, training, safety, etc. when considering such programs.
UVa’s student volunteer organization, Madison House, offers tutoring programs in local schools, in a variety of subjects including English. There are local literacy programs in Charlottesville/Albemarle and nationwide. Many of these programs provide varying degrees of training, which can not only bring effectiveness to your efforts on behalf of those you seek to assist but can also serve as valuable preparation towards any of the opportunities listed above.
Teaching English at the College Level
Four-year college teaching positions in the United States typically require a doctoral degree (a PhD), either already completed or nearly completed; the competition for positions teaching English in college is intense, as there are many more candidates with doctoral degrees than there are positions, and especially tenure-track positions. It may be possible to find some part-time or adjunct teaching work with only a Master’s, and teaching creative writing typically requires a Master’s of Fine Arts (from a creative writing program) rather than the doctorate. The UVa English Department’s PhD and MFA programs are two of the finest in the country and can give you a sense of what such programs require for admission and entail for completion. But because of the competitive job environment, completion of such a degree can in no way be thought of as guaranteeing a teaching position. When considering a career as a college professor of English, it is also important to recognize that most American colleges and universities, even four-year (state) ones, are not like UVa, and most foster very different kinds of research and teaching careers from those of UVa professors. Any member of the English Department faculty can advise you about these careers; a faculty member who knows your work well will be better equipped to talk to you about graduate programs you might consider applying to and your prospects of success.
Two-year college teaching positions require at least an undergraduate degree, almost always some graduate work, and sometimes a completed PhD. Though two-year teaching careers too vary, they generally focus mainly on teaching (though such faculty do often contribute important research). The Modern Language Association provides an overview of community college English teaching careers. Major initiatives to make higher education more affordable and more efficient have focused on community colleges, and there may be more teaching opportunities at these schools in the years ahead. Two-year colleges do some of the most important teaching in the United States, and there have been many testimonials as to the desirability of teaching positions at these schools.