How to Become an Adult Education Teacher

Keep nimble teaching adults and provide a service to your community in the growing field of adult education.

career-adult-education-teacherWith improved health care increasing life expectancy, and new technologies requiring older practitioners in fields such as alternative healthcare to seek continuing education, adults now have an abundance of reasons to keep learning. Adult education teacher programs offer personal enrichment, academic and vocational courses in areas as diverse as cooking, art, music, technology, math, language, and health and wellness.

More importantly, outside of the usual recreational or required CE education offered, adult education teachers provide a critical conduit to other adults looking for literacy and high school equivalency diploma classes. In fact, if you’re interested in this teaching field, this is where you’ll most likely focus your efforts.

Adults Teaching Adults

If you are a current, or substitute, teacher or are looking for extra work, becoming an adult education teacher may be the perfect fit for you. Most adult education instructors teach adults part time and have a passion for their subjects and their students. Many teach on weekends or at night schools focusing on a trade or in a community or university college system.

From week-long self-enrichment workshops to year-long certification courses, adult education teachers offer a variety of class types and schedules.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your career in adult education:

  • Determine the specifics of the classes you want to teach.
  • Find a university, community college or other venue or program that will include you in their curriculum.
  • Plan your course and gather or create materials for your class.
  • Depending on the venue, you may need to promote, advertise and market your own classes.

The Importance of Adult Teachers

Besides teaching adults basic job skills or proficiency education such as reading, writing and English, adult teachers also help learners who left school at an early age in order to support their family, get a job—or for other reasons—complete their high school equivalency diploma program. Adult teachers are important advocates for instilling confidence and skills in those who haven’t had the chance to complete their basic learning and preparation for a fast-paced job field. These teachers also help students who may already work in a trade or vocational field—such as mechanics, construction, electrical or cosmetology—advance their learning, earn professional certification so they may move into management or senior roles—or start a business of their own.

It’s important to remember that students enrolled in adult education courses are voluntarily participating and consequently they are often highly motivated to complete their coursework and program successfully so you will need to be able to help propel them to their ultimate goal as well as teach required curriculum.

Work Environment

Once you start looking, you will find that opportunities to teach adult education courses are nearly everywhere. Universities and community colleges have full quarterly schedules of self-enrichment and continuing education classes. Public schools often have dance or music classes for adults at night or on the weekends. Local grocery and specialty stores offer cooking classes, and technology companies offer computer classes at night. Hospitals and private healthcare practitioners offer workshops on health and wellness, parenting, grieving and nutrition; and health clubs offer exercise and yoga classes. Senior and community centers are often excellent places to teach specialty courses for patrons of all ages, including various art and performing skills, outdoor recreation and academic endeavors.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the following places as the largest employers of adult education teachers:

  • Secondary schools
  • Community and junior colleges, both local and private
  • Other schools and institutions
  • Healthcare and social services facilities
  • Colleges, universities and professional trade/vocational schools
  • Prisons and internment facilities

If you are part of the technology industry, professional certification is available through established tech software companies such as Microsoft certifications and Oracle and others.

Education and Training

Where and what you teach will determine the education level you’ll need as requirements for adult education teachers vary as much as the industry’s scope. If you are a cook, specific culinary school training qualifies you to teach continuing education classes in cooking at community colleges; however, if you are a house builder with just a high school education or vocational training, you may still be qualified to teach a class on house framing at your local home improvement store or community center, though you will not be able to teach in a community college setting

More commonly, just like teachers in other types of classrooms, adult education teachers should have a bachelor’s degree, especially if you plan on teaching adult literacy or high school equivalency diploma classes. Most states require these types of teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree while some prefer a master’s degree or some post-graduate work in adult education or ESL.

If you plan on working for the government, chances are you’ll need your teaching certificate as well, and some other states have certificates specifically for adult education. You’ll need to check with your state’s Department of Education or the U.S. Department of Education for exact requirements.

You may need to complete specific degree programs and classes in order to teach adult basic education, high school equivalency or English as a Second Language.

See our article, How to Become a Teacher, to learn more about requirements for certified teachers.

What Does an Adult Educator Do (Besides Teach)?

Not only will you give instruction in your chosen subject to your students, you’ll also have many behind the scenes duties to perform. Some of the tasks that don’t strictly involve teaching may include the following:

  • Create lesson plans to help adult learners meet their goals
  • Adjust your curriculum and style to adapt to a classroom full of diversified strengths and weaknesses
  • Work on skills that will help students find jobs, such as resume building and interview techniques
  • Assess students for possible learning disabilities
  • Monitor and record student progress
  • Be adaptable to several types of curriculum for adult learners who may be trying to complete their high school diploma
  • Teach time management and study skills besides the required coursework
  • Help students find the resources to network in the job community

What Traits Make a Good Adult Educator?

Being an adult education teacher takes a special sort of person. Here are some of the skills and qualities that make for the best adult educators:

  • Communication skills are essential to help adult learners achieve their goals. You must be able to explain their progress and where they may need to focus in terms they can understand.
  • Cultural sensitivity is also essential, especially if you plan on teaching English as a Second Language. In any event, you may deal with a variety of students from different cultural, economic and educational backgrounds.
  • Resourcefulness is a must as you’ll need to be able to respond to all types of situations. What may work well for one student may not for another. You’ll need to dig deep to find the right middle ground that is appropriate for everyone in your classroom.
  • Patience is the most crucial trait, as you’ll deal with some students who grasp the material quickly while others need more hand-holding and on-on-one help.

What Type of Classes Will Help You Succeed?

Because your students have special circumstances and may be focusing on a particular subject, you’ll need to be adept in not only the curriculum but dealing with adult learners in general. Here are some of the types of classes you’ll take in a typical master’s degree program that can help you address their particular needs:

  • The Teaching of Adults
  • Perspectives on Adult Learning
  • Family Literacy
  • Adult Literacy
  • Teaching Math to Adults
  • Language, Literacy, Identity and Culture
  • Social Issues in Adult Education
  • Distance Learning for Adults
  • Teaching Reading to Adults
  • Program Planning in Adult Education
  • Emerging Web technologies and Learning

Job Outlook and Salary

Job growth for adult educators is expected to remain steady, with a 7 percent increase in the field anticipated through 2024. The job growth for education, training and library occupations in general is projected at 8 percent for the same time window. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects this data due to the fact that there will continue to be an influx of immigration to the U.S. as well as adults as a whole returning to school. The BLS says traditional schooling does not always give some adults the skills they need to find employment, so classes focused upon their special circumstances may be key to their success. The BLS also notes that most of these types of positions are part time and full-time positions may be difficult to find.

Salaries for adult education and literacy teachers is good, and the median annual salary was $50,280 in 2015. The BLS says the highest 10 percent of the occupation earned more than $83,140 annually and the best salaries were found in colleges, universities and professional trade schools.

Take the Next Steps

Self-enrichment courses for adults add a great deal to people’s quality of life, and are very popular. If you have marketable skills in a particular area, or want to help adults looking to better their lives, you may find it satisfying—personally and monetarily—to teach in these varied education scenarios.

Get started by finding schools that can help you reach your education goals so you can begin your journey helping others reach theirs.


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