How to become a teacher
From those who teach young learners alphabet sounds to those who educate high schoolers about history, teaching allows you to specialize in a specific subject, age group, or educational environment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for teachers to grow by 4 percent between 2016 and 2026, with about 240,000 positions opening in kindergarten through high school. Training and licensing requirements vary by state. Working in the educational field can give teachers an opportunity to make a positive impact on their community and help individuals grow and learn.
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Teaching and education
Obtaining a teaching license is a non-negotiable step that you need to take before you are legally allowed to start teaching in an elementary, middle, or high school. Licensure is required by all 50 states, so check your state’s requirements before applying for licensure.
Bachelor’s degree and teaching certification
To teach at a public school, the first step to become a teacher is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most states also require student teaching experience which is typically completed at the end of the teaching program before graduation. Public school teachers also need to be certified or licensed in order to teach. State certification requirements and programs vary slightly from one another.
Praxis assessment exam
Once the bachelor’s program has been completed, you will need to pass an assessment exam which, in most states, is the Praxis Series. This exam measures academic skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and other general subjects. It also measures subject-specific knowledge required to start teaching.
In most states, you will need to apply for an FBI criminal background check to confirm your identity and past activities – that is, lack of criminal activities – before you can work as a teacher.
Types of Degrees
Associate’s degree for teaching
An associate’s degree is typically earned in 2 years if the student is studying full time. It is the level of education between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree and is taken at the community college level. This type of degree could be a good option if your future employer asks that you have some college education.
Associate’s in Child Development
This degree prepares students for entry-level careers such as a preschool teacher or teaching assistant. Possible courses may include:
- Child development
- The home, the school, and community
- Teaching young children
- Observing and assessing children
- Children with special needs
Cost of an associate’s degree for teaching
Since associate’s degrees are usually earned at the community college level, they are typically a more affordable option compared to earning them at a 4-year institution. According to Student Debt Relief, the average cost of an associate’s degree is $3,570 annually. Online options are available to those who prefer to take courses virtually. Cost typically varies between $5,000 and $16,000 for an online associate degree.
Bachelor’s degree in education
To become a teacher, a bachelor’s degree is often a requirement especially when teaching at the elementary, middle, or high school levels. Students who wish to teach at the middle or high school levels commonly major in the subject they wish to specialize in, such as history or art. It is also possible to major in education or child development, taking the credential program simultaneously or upon graduation. This route is very common for students who wish to teach at a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school.
Bachelor’s of Science in Early Childhood Education
A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is common for preschool, special education, or elementary school teachers. These programs cover cognitive, physical, language, and social-emotional development. This program typically takes 4 years to complete. A high school diploma and transcripts are required to apply with a minimum of a 2.5 to 3.5 GPA.
Bachelor’s programs in child development typically include these courses:
- Social and behavioral sciences
- Teaching children with special needs
- Infant and toddler mental health
- Language development
- Classroom management
- Social emotional development
- Cognitive development
Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education
A bachelor’s degree in elementary education is another typical degree for kindergarten and elementary (K-12) school teachers. These programs teach teaching methods, classroom management, and subject specific courses such as math and history. This is usually taken simultaneously with a teaching credential program. Minimum of a 2.5 overall GPA is required.
Courses may include:
- Child development
- Ethics in teaching
- Foundational education
- Teaching elementary mathematics
- Elementary language and literacy
- Assessment and teaching
Bachelor’s of Science in Special Education
A bachelor’s degree in special education is commonly taken by students who wish to start a career in special education. This program prepares prospective teachers to educate children or adults with special needs. A major in elementary education or another subject area with a minor in special education is also an option. Special education courses can include disability studies, creating lessons for exceptional learners, or how to provide support to learners with disabilities. This degree usually takes 4 years and for most schools a minimum of a 2.0 GPA is required.
Special education programs typically include these courses:
- Introduction to psychology
- Language & literacy development
- Behaviour management
- Teaching diverse learners
- Models of special education
What if I want to teach a specific subject?
For students who wish to teach at the middle or high school level, it is common to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field they wish to teach. These are typically called single-subject programs. For example, a prospective history teacher will earn their undergraduate degree in history. A teaching credential can be earned alongside or after completion of the program to become a licensed teacher.
Here are some examples of undergraduate majors and their possible course load:
Bachelor’s in Biology
- Introduction to biology
- Ecology and evolution
- Biochemistry and molecular biology
- Anatomy and physiology
Bachelor’s in Chemistry
- General chemistry
- Organic chemistry with a lab
- General physics with a lab
Bachelor’s in History
- American history
- Biography and American history
- European history
- Non-Western history
- Slavery in America
- The American Civil War
Bachelor’s in English Literature
- History of English literature
- Mass communication and journalism
- American literature
- Romantic age
- Modern age
- New literature
- Functional writing in English
Bachelor’s in Mathematics
- Differential equations
Bachelor’s in Humanities
- Western culture
- Approaches to humanities
- Intro to East Asian culture
- Non-Western culture
- Arts in 20th century Western culture
- Modern European humanities
- Readings in world literature
Cost of a bachelor’s degree for teaching
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average cost of a bachelor’s degree in the United States for 2018-19 was $24,623. This cost includes tuition, fees, room and board. The price depends on if the university was a 4-year or 2-year program. The average cost was $28,123 for a 4-year university program and $11,389 for the 2-year program. These costs covered the cost of tuition, fees, room, and board.
Online options for bachelor’s degrees are also available at a more affordable cost. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for a 4-year degree in 2018 ranged from around $20,000 at a public school, to more than $43,000 for private schools. The minimum qualification for teachers in the United States is a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes 4 years.
Master’s degrees for teaching
Teachers at the post-secondary level are usually required to have a master’s degree. While it is not required to hold a master’s degree to teach K-12, teachers commonly hold these degrees to advance their education and salaries. The U.S Bureau Labor of Statistics reports that a teacher with a master’s degree is likely to make a higher salary than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree. According to Financial Aid, the cost of a master’s degree is between $15,000 and $120,000. On average, it takes a full-time student 1.5 to 2 years to complete a master’s program.
Master’s of Arts in Teaching
These programs usually prepare teachers to teach K-12. Common courses can include teaching diverse students, psychology, and educational leadership. This program also allows students to choose a subject they wish to teach and specialize in it, for instance math or science. Master’s programs typically last 1-2 years and, depending on the state or university, may require student teaching. The cost of a master’s degree program varies greatly based on the school, the length of the program, and the type of program.
Possible courses for a MAT
- Teaching and learning principles
- Curriculum development
- Teaching multicultural students
- Elementary education
- Secondary education
Similar to a bachelor’s program and depending on your interests, skills, and undergraduate education, the path to a master’s level degree in education comes with options. Below are some examples of the coursework that you may cover in the different master’s programs:
Master’s of Education (M.Ed.)
- Educational research methods
- Developmental child psychology
- Classroom diversity
- Concepts in differentiated instruction
- Instructional and educational assessment
Master’s of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.)
- Teaching science
- Science education issues
- Science education research
- Behavior management
- Teacher leadership
Master’s of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)
- Research methods
- Teaching methods
- Classroom management
- Technology and instruction
- Curriculum planning strategies
As with the undergraduate program, it is also possible to earn a master’s degree in a specific subject or field such as math or science. These programs can be taken alongside a credential program to become licensed.
Cost of a master’s program in teaching and education
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of an on-campus master’s program is $32,870. Online-only or hybrid programs may cost significantly less.
Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
This program is perfect for students who wish to teach at a college or university. These programs prepare students for research and teaching roles.
Ph.D. in Education
A Ph.D. in Education can prepare students professionally and academically for a career in education. Ph.D. programs typically involve conducting research and mastering a subject. This is the highest paid degree in the field and students who hold this degree are prepared for academic, research, or administrative roles. This program usually takes 4 to 7 years to complete.
Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.)
This degree focuses on applying research and knowledge to real world organizational or leadership roles. Rather than focusing on new research, an Ed.D. focuses on existing research and how it applies to a specific area of study.
Cost of a doctorate program in education
Students can expect to pay anywhere from around $17,000 up to around $80,000 in total tuition for a doctorate program, with costs varying greatly based on location, program type, and school type. Bear in mind that for doctoral students, there are often grants, scholarships, and teaching opportunities to help fund studies.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that for the 2016-2017 school year, the average cost of a graduate degree was $18,416 per year.
A teaching certification is what permits educators to teach students at the elementary, middle and high school levels in a particular state. All states require that teachers obtain certification to work at public schools. A bachelor’s degree is required from an accredited university as well as a passed skills test, such as the Praxis, before applying. A teaching certification typically takes 4 years to complete and needs to be renewed every 4-8 years depending on the state. Teaching experience is gained during your senior year.
Online teaching credential certification
Online credential programs are available for those who want to become licensed teachers without the on-campus structure. This program will teach you education theories and practice. Before applying for an online credential program, be sure the institution is accredited. Without proper accreditation, you will not be qualified to teach at a public school after you graduate.
Alternative certification is available to students who did not complete teacher training programs but have a bachelor’s degree in the subjects they plan to teach. A prospective teacher may be required to take additional coursework in education, while earning 1 to 2 years of experience in classroom instruction under temporary certification, to become certified to legally teach. Depending on your state, you may also be required to complete 1 to 2 years of graduate level coursework to gain a teaching certification.
Early Childhood Education Certificate
An early childhood education certificate shows teachers have an understanding of how to educate students up to the age 8. It is designed to prepare students for teaching or teaching assistant positions in childcare facilities and classrooms. The program might start by showing students how to educate infants and young children then progress to coursework in behavior, development and community involvement. Early childhood education certificate programs typically take 120 hours of training and may require a student to pass an exam.
Graduate level certificate
Graduate level certificate programs are short and concise, usually taking 12 to 18 months to complete. This certificate helps students gain knowledge in a specific subject in less time than a master’s program would.
Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate
Certificate programs in autism disorders aim to qualify teachers to instruct children with autism. Courses may include early intervention or special needs education. Students will understand how to plan curriculum, develop teaching methods, and learn fundamental skills needed to work with children or adults with autism. A minimum of a master’s degree is required to enroll in this graduate level certificate, which can take between 8 months and 2 years to complete depending on the school or state.
Teaching credential program
Regardless of the academic route you take to become a teacher, you will need to complete a credential program before you are licensed. A prospective teacher will need to choose between 2 possible programs, single subject or multi subject. Although these programs are usually taken alongside a bachelor’s or master’s program, it is possible to take these programs at a later period.
Single subject teaching credential program
Single subject teaching credential programs are useful for teachers who wish to specialize in a certain subject such as mathematics, history, art, or economics. This type of credential is typically used for middle or high school education.
- Courses pertaining to a specific subject area
- Teaching performance assessment single subjects
- Teaching in a multicultural society
- Fundamentals of teaching
- Inclusive education in secondary schools
- Instruction and assessment of academic literacy
- Field experiences
Multi subject teaching credential program
This credential allows teachers to instruct in elementary schools.
- Content knowledge
- Professional learning and practice
- Critical thinking for teachers
- Educational foundations
- Educational technology
- Introduction to research
- Curriculum design and assessment
- Research methods
Median pay rates for teaching professions
|Profession||Entry Level Education||2019 Median Pay|
|Childcare worker||High School Diploma or equivalent||$24,230|
|Kindergarten and elementary school teachers||Bachelor’s degree||$59,420|
|Middle school teachers||Bachelor’s degree||$59,660|
|High school teachers||Bachelor’s degree||$61,660|
|Preschool teacher||Associate’s degree||$30,520|
|Special education teachers||Bachelor’s degree||$61,030|