What do Vocational Teachers Do

Vocational Teachers

Nature of the Work Vocational education teachers, commonly called career and technical education (CTE) teachers or career-technology teachers, instruct and train students to work in a wide variety of fields. Career and technical education courses train students to enter a particular career and prepare them for the world of work.

Career and technical teachers in middle and secondary schools may be introducing students to a trade or skill for the first time. They often teach courses that are in high demand by area employers, who often provide input into the curriculum and offer internships or apprenticeships to students at the secondary school level. Many vocational teachers play an active role in building and overseeing these partnerships. Additional responsibilities of middle and secondary school teachers may include providing career guidance, helping with job placement, and following up with students after graduation. Secondary CTE teachers are also responsible for coordinating their curriculum offerings with community, technical and 4-year colleges under current Federal law.

CTE teachers may teach in traditional comprehensive schools. Within comprehensive secondary schools, CTE teachers may be part of a career academy where they work closely with academic colleagues to create a career-themed, school-within-a-school. They may teach in a regional CTE centers that serve students from many districts who come for half-days. Other CTE teachers may teach in a CTE secondary school where students are in shops and labs for most of the school day.

At the secondary school level, the focus is on preparing students to enter the workforce or to continue on to additional training at the postsecondary level. In addition, CTE teachers aim to reinforce and strengthen material learned by their students in academic classes. To achieve these ends, teachers use a variety of techniques and methods to ensure that students understand the material, such as classroom lectures, hands-on activities done in a laboratory, experiential or work-based learning, and involvement in co-curricular organizations. In the classroom, CTE teachers lecture students on the theories and techniques used in the field. They may discuss the history of the profession or laws and regulations that govern the industry. In addition, teachers may provide demonstrations of tasks, techniques, or tools used in the field. In the lab, teachers assign the students tasks, oversee their progress, and assist students as they encounter problems or need additional instruction or direction. Experiential or work-based learning allows students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom in real world settings. Students may use class time to work in the field at a business willing to let them learn on the job, and the business provides feedback about the student’s performance to the teacher. In some schools, students may run businesses that are owned by the school, such as the school store, to apply their knowledge and skills in a non-classroom setting. Finally, CTE teachers may serve as the advisor for co-curricular student organizations that provide students with additional opportunities to reinforce what they have learned in the classroom.

How teachers use these different settings and techniques varies with their specialized field. These fields include agricultural science, family and consumer science, health occupations, business and marketing, trade and industry, and technology education.

In agricultural science, students learn a wide variety of subjects related to the science and business of agriculture. Classes may cover topics like agricultural production; agricultural-related business; horticulture; agri-science; small animal care; veterinary science; and plant, animal, and food systems. Teachers in this subject may have students plant and care for crops or tend to animals to apply what they have learned in the classroom.

CTE teachers in family and consumer science teach students about culinary arts; sewing; child development; family and consumer services; and food science, dietetics, and nutrition. Students in these settings may run early childhood education classes with teacher supervision, manufacture and market clothing, or create menus and cook for a school function.

In health-related occupations, students learn the skills necessary to work as technicians or assistants in the medical field. This may include learning the skills necessary to become a nurse or dental assistant. Teachers in this field may have students practice their skills by measuring blood pressure or practicing fundamental tasks like administering blood sugar and blood type tests on other staff in the school. Some programs allow students to receive the certifications necessary to enter the field.

Business and marketing students learn the skills necessary to run a business or make sales. They may learn computer programs or how to market a product. They may also learn the basics of financial management for a business. CTE teachers specializing in business and marketing may spend time with students in computer labs to teach them computer skills, or they may guide students as they develop and establish a business. Many programs operate school-based enterprises where students operate real businesses open to the public.

CTE teachers in trade and industry may cover a wide range of topics, such as auto mechanics, cosmetology, heating and air conditioning, electrical wiring, television production, computer networking and computer repair, or auto body repair. These teachers specialize in one of these areas and teach classes in their area of expertise. Many teachers in this field use lab work extensively to allow students to learn with a hands-on approach.

Teachers in technology aim to teach the same subjects that are taught in general education classes, such as math and science, through technology. This may include supervising students as they build a robot to learn about physics, computer science, and math. This type of program is often seen as a precursor to engineering programs.

Work Environment

Helping students develop new skills and gain an appreciation of knowledge and learning can be very rewarding. However, teachers may get frustrated when dealing with unmotivated or disrespectful students. Occasionally, teachers must cope with unruly behavior and violence at school. Teachers may experience stress from dealing with large classes, heavy workloads, or schools that are run down and lack many modern amenities. 

Teachers are sometimes isolated from their colleagues because they work alone in a classroom of students. However, some schools allow teachers to work in teams and with mentors to enhance their professional development. However, CTE teachers often have specific responsibilities that have them in the community during part of the school day working with their business and industry partners. Including school duties performed outside the classroom, many teachers work more than 40 hours a week.

Most middle and secondary school CTE teachers work the traditional ten month school year with a 2-month vacation during the summer. During the vacation break, those on the ten month schedule may teach in summer sessions, take other jobs, travel, or pursue personal interest s. Some enroll in college courses or workshops to continue their education.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work eight weeks and then have one week of vacation, as well as a five week midwinter break. CTE teachers with active work-based learning programs may be on twelve month contracts to provide time for them to engage in job development for current and future students.

Most States have tenure laws that prevent public school teachers from being fired without just cause and due process. Teachers may obtain tenure after they have satisfactorily completed a probationary period of teaching, normally three years. Tenure does not absolutely guarantee a job, but it does provide some security.

Education & Training Required

Traditionally, most aspiring CTE teachers obtain a bachelor’s degree and often major in the subject they plan to teach while also completing a program of study in teacher preparation. However, with the proper amount of work experience in the chosen teaching field, many states allow CTE teachers to enter the occupation with a bachelor’s degree minus the teacher preparation program or with only a high school diploma.

Certifications Needed

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public school CTE teachers in middle and secondary schools to be licensed. Usually licensure is granted by the State Board of Education or a licensure advisory committee. All States require teachers to have a bachelor's degree and to have completed an approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits, as well as supervised practice teaching. Some States also require technology training and the attainment of a minimum grade point average. A number of States require teachers to obtain a master's degree in education within a specified period after they begin teaching. Almost all States require an applicant for a teacher’s license to take a competency test. Most States require teachers to complete a minimum number of hours of continuing education to renew their license. Many States have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers licensed in one State to become licensed in another.

However, there are alternative routes to licensure which allow those who did not go through traditional teacher preparation program to become licensed CTE teachers. Often this requires work experience in additional to a high school diploma or a bachelors degree without teacher preparation. The educational requirement varies depending on the State and the amount of experience the applicant has.

Other Skills Required

In addition to being knowledgeable about the subjects they teach, teachers must be good communicators and inspire trust and confidence. They should motivate students and understand the students' educational and emotional needs. Teachers must recognize and respond to individual and cultural differences in students and employ different teaching methods that will result in higher student achievement. They should be organized, dependable, patient, and creative. Teachers also must be able to work cooperatively and communicate effectively with other teachers, support staff, parents, and members of the community.

How to Advance

Teachers may become administrators or supervisors, although the number of these positions is limited and competition for them can be intense. In some systems, highly qualified, experienced teachers can become senior or mentor teachers, with higher pay and additional responsibilities. They guide and assist less experienced teachers while keeping most of their own teaching responsibilities. CTE teachers may also move to teaching classes at the postsecondary level.

Job Outlook

Employment of vocational teachers is expected to grow as fast as the average as student enrollments continue to increase.


Median annual wages of vocational education teachers in middle schools was $67,870. The middle 50 percent earned between $59,460 and $79,470. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,720.

Median annual wages of vocational education teachers in secondary schools was $71,580. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,110 and $84,120. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,980, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,950.

Academic Programs of Interest

In North America the degree is awarded for courses taken that generally last two years (one year in some Canadian universities). To gain the qualification the student is required to have a previous or substantial progress towards a bachelor's degree, usually in the field that the student wishes to teach in, as well as a good rapport with young children or teens. There are several... more
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