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Teaching Careers and Professional Development

Deciding Between a Career in Teaching or Social Work

By Ashley Watters
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Some of us are called to help others. It’s an impulse that drives us professionally and informs how we live our lives. This leads many to seek out careers in teaching and social work, fields that are often associated with one another. However, these two disciplines are very different areas of study and are markedly unalike when it comes to responsibilities, day-to-day tasks, and outcomes. Use this guide to help determine if a teaching career or social work is right for you.

The differences between teaching and social work

Teachers and social workers are often associated with one another because they are influential in the lives of those they help and they work to bring about positive change.

Teachers are charged with educational objectives, helping to instruct and guide students in an academic setting. Social workers are tasked with helping children cope with environmental, medical, and familial struggles. They often work with entire families to provide clinical services that assist with a more positive upbringing.

Here are some other significant differences between teachers and social workers:

  • Teachers are almost always in the presence of students, whereas social workers spend a significant amount of locating and managing critical services. As a result, social workers tend to spend less one-on-one time with the people they serve.
  • For teachers, interactions typically occur under structured conditions within a classroom. For social workers, interactions frequently occur on a one-on-one basis and, while in controlled environments, rarely occur under such structured conditions.
  • Teachers often work with students of a particular age group or in a certain discipline. By contrast, social workers help varying populations and age groups deal with life struggles, such as terminal illness, abuse, addiction, and other difficulties.
  • While teachers are encouraged to report crisis situations, social workers are trained to recognize signs of these situations and intervene when necessary.

The similarities between teaching and social work

Teaching and social work tend to overlap in areas of individual growth and development. Teachers undertake structured tasks to help support students’ personal growth, social and emotional development, and academic pursuits. While the environmental conditions are often different, social workers also offer support for growth and development in these same areas.

Success in either field is often dependent upon forming healthy relationships with individuals and a flexible, evolving approach to tackling issues as new struggles arise. Individuals who enter these fields need to be empathetic, patient, and perceptive.

Education needed to become a teacher

The education you need to be a teacher varies depending on what grade level you want to teach. For a teaching career in elementary, middle school, or high school, only a bachelor’s degree is required. Individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another discipline can undergo a two-semester Transition to Teaching program and obtain their teaching license. To teach in higher education, a master’s degree or doctorate is usually required.

Education needed to become a social worker

What degree do you need to become a social worker? That depends. The educational requirements for social work vary, depending on which area you’d like to work in. The following degrees are needed for a career in social work:

  • Bachelor of social work (BSW): A BSW will be required for entry-level social work. This may include working in aging-care facilities or mental-health organizations, among others.
  • Master of social work (MSW): MSW degrees are required to work in clinical settings or supervisory positions. Individuals with MSW degrees often work in a one-on-one psychotherapy capacity, oversee program development, or work to advocate for political change.
  • Doctorate of social work (DSW) or PhD in social work: Doctoral-level degrees are necessary if you intend to teach social work at the collegiate level, pursue advanced areas of research, evaluate policy efficacy, or occupy advisory roles.

To determine which degree is ideal for you, make sure you fully analyze your career goals and motivations.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing between teaching and social work

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and identify some ideal traits for social workers and uncover what you need to do to become a teacher. Deciding on a career path will require some individual introspection. Ask yourself the following questions to help evaluate whether teaching or social work is right for you.

Do you prefer a structured environment?

Teachers work in a more structured environment, with predetermined class times and a set schedule. If you prefer structure, teaching may be the best career path for you.

Are you comfortable with home visits?

Teachers are not expected to make home visits, whereas they are common occurrences for social workers. If you would feel uncomfortable in an intimate setting such as a home visit, a teaching career is likely in your future.

Do you feel passionate about mental health issues?

Social workers are largely responsible for providing mental health services. If this is an area that you find interesting or are passionate about, a career in social work may be a better fit.

Do you want a predictable workday and environment?

Social workers spend a great deal of time in the field and conducting home visits, which often fluctuates according to the schedules of your charges. If you prefer to adhere to a predictable schedule, a teaching career may be the way to go.

Are you a good listener?

Social work often requires more listening than talking. It often takes a keen listener to identify issues that aren’t immediately apparent. If your strength lies in listening, social work may be the right choice for you.

Are you organized?

Organizational prowess is a trait that comes in especially handy for teachers. While organizational skills are helpful for lots of professions, the ability to develop lesson plans, plan a classroom setup, and have contingencies on backup are a MUST for teachers.

Do you manage your time well?

Because lessons are almost always driven by a timed schedule, you have to be able to plan accordingly and manage time well. If this sounds like you, a teaching career is calling your name.

Can you manage criticism?

Parents often become involved if they have concerns about their child’s education. The first person to receive this feedback is usually the teacher. If you manage criticism well and can focus on the positive takeaways, a teaching career may be the way to go.

Teaching and social work are both worthy pursuits. Take careful consideration and you will set out to help our next generations!

Ashley gained a passion for all things writing by spending years teaching a high school English class. She founded Contenthusiast so that she could spend her days hovering over a keyboard. When she isn’t writing, you can find her traveling with family or buried in a book.

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