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Education Programs You Can Complete in 2 Years or Less
Written and reported by: Paige Cerulli Contributing Writer
If you’re interested in a teaching career, you don’t necessarily have to pursue a four-year degree. There are programs that are two years or less that can help you get where you’re wanting to go. These programs are designed to save you time and money so you can get started in the classroom sooner.
Other programs explained below can help to prepare you for administrative roles, or they can allow you to leave another profession and start the career you’ve always wanted in teaching.
The right program for you will depend on your previous education and your ultimate goals. There are many potential opportunities that you can explore with just a few years of school.
An associate degree is a two-year degree that can introduce you to the field of education. Some professionals complete an associate degree at a local community college to save money. They then transfer all or most of those credits to a bachelor’s degree program, which may open up additional career opportunities.
Once you’ve earned your associate degree, you may be qualified for several education-related careers. You can gain experience in the education field and decide whether it’s right for you. You might decide to stay in these roles, or you might move on to an advanced degree if you want to pursue additional education opportunities.
Teacher assistant / aide
What they do: Under the guidance of a licensed teacher, teacher assistants and aides often work with smaller groups of students to support and monitor progress. Assistants may work with a student one-on-one to help with learning, and they may also support the teacher with responsibilities like recordkeeping and material preparation.
BLS median annual salary: $30,920
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 0.1%, as fast as average
What they do: Tutors work with students one-on-one or in small groups. Tutors help to ensure that students understand the lessons taught, and they provide personalized support that may include answering questions and guiding students through practice exercises. Some tutors help students to prepare for standardized tests or college admissions tests.
BLS median annual salary: $36,680
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 3.3%, much faster than average
What they do: Preschool teachers work with children under the age of five and help them learn basic skills that they will use in kindergarten. Teachers may work with children in groups or one-on-one, and they focus on key areas of child development including motor, language, and social skills. Preschool teachers monitor student progress and overall development.
BLS median salary: $35,330
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 3.4%, much faster than average
If you have already earned an associate degree, you can earn a bachelor’s degree with just two more years of school. A bachelor’s degree often qualifies you for additional teaching opportunities.
However, keep in mind that teaching requirements can vary significantly from state to state. Dr. Tasia White has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management with an emphasis on adult education, and she is the founder of Vonni Coaching & Consulting, LLC. Dr. White explains that an associate degree can give you a chance to work in a classroom environment as a teacher’s assistant or aide, which can help you to determine if you might want to pursue another degree to gain more teaching experience.
If your goal is to become a teacher, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the teaching certification process in the state where you want to teach. “I pursued my undergraduate degree in Pennsylvania,” says Dr. White. “Because the state requirements were so different and I wanted to teach in New York, I decided not to pursue my teaching certificate in Pennsylvania. I would have had to redo the certificate in the state of New York.” Understanding those certification requirements from the beginning can help you to plan out the education path that’s right for your goals.
In many cases, a bachelor’s degree may prepare you for the following roles:
Special education teacher
What they do: Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school who have disabilities. Those disabilities may be physical, mental, emotional, or learning disabilities. Special education teachers adapt lessons to meet each student’s needs, plan activities that are appropriate for each student, and develop Individualized Education Programs for each of their students.
BLS median annual salary: $63,950
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 2.9%, as fast as average
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers
What they do: Kindergarten and elementary school teachers introduce young students to basic subjects. These teachers are responsible for covering all of the subjects, from math to reading and science, and they prepare their students for middle school. The teachers may also need to prepare the students to take state-required standardized tests, and they help students learn proper behavior and to follow classroom rules.
BLS median annual salary: $53,450
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 0.7%, as fast as average
Middle school teacher
What they do: Middle school teachers usually teach students in the sixth through eighth grades, preparing them for high school and for any standardized tests they may need to take. Many middle school teachers have specialties, like science or math, and they may teach those specialties to multiple classes of students in a single day. Some middle school teachers teach their single class every subject.
BLS median annual salary: $61,690
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 0.7%, as fast as average
High school teacher
What they do: High school teachers help prepare students for their post-graduation lives, whether that means getting ready for college or the workforce. Most high school teachers have specialties, like chemistry, physics, and history, and their degrees focus on the subjects that they plan to teach. High school teachers often teach those subjects to students in different grades, so they need to be able to customize their curriculum so that it’s appropriate for each class.
BLS median annual salary: $62,360
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 1%, as fast as average
What they do: ESL, or English as a Second Language, teachers help adults to learn essential reading, writing, and English speaking skills. They often teach United States immigrants who don’t speak native English, and classes may include students from multiple countries. ESL teachers help students learn English for multiple purposes, including for getting a job or taking the United States citizenship exam.
BLS median annual salary: $74,280
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 1.2% decline due to fewer enrollments in ESL programs
If you would like to pursue a master’s degree, you will need to complete your bachelor’s degree first. Once you have a bachelor’s, you can earn a master’s degree in about two years. A master’s degree provides more specialized education, and it also qualifies you for additional career opportunities beyond teaching.
What they do: School administrators work in multiple school settings, including in colleges and universities. They have a wide variety of responsibilities that might include meeting with prospective students, reviewing admission applications, analyzing student data, preparing marketing materials, and more.
BLS median annual salary: $89,130
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 2.8%, faster than average
What they do: School principals work in elementary, middle, and high schools. They oversee the school operations and activities, and their responsibilities include counseling and disciplining students, establishing class schedules, managing teachers and support staff, meeting with parents, managing the school’s budget, and more.
BLS median annual salary: $101,320
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 1.1%, as fast as average
What they do: Instructional coordinators evaluate, design, and implement curriculums. They may observe teachers in the classrooms, analyze test data, review textbooks, and train teachers to ensure a curriculum meets learning objectives and is as effective as possible.
BLS median annual salary: $66,490
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 2.5%, faster than average
Even if you have a degree in a field outside of education, if you get a master’s degree you can become a teacher. With a master’s degree, you can step right into a role as a college or university professor. If you wish to teach in an undergraduate setting, you will need to meet the state’s requirements for teachers. Those requirements might include licensure, a certain amount of experience, and continuing education hours.
What they do: Responsibilities and roles differ for elementary, middle school, and high school teachers. Elementary teachers tend to teach all subjects to one class. Middle school teachers may start to specialize in certain subjects, teaching those subjects to multiple classes each day. In high school, teachers specialize in a subject and might teach that subject at different levels to students in the ninth through twelfth grades.
BLS median annual salary: $61,350 – $79,640
BLS projected job growth through 2032: 4%–12%, as fast to faster than average
If you already have a bachelor’s degree outside of the education field but want to gain specific education-related knowledge, you might want to consider a certification program. Dr. White notes that over the last five years, she’s seen a notable increase in the number of schools offering certificate programs. “Some schools call it micro-credentialing,” she explains. “Schools take a portion of a master’s program and offer that to students.”
These certification programs are often four classes that focus on a certain area, and they can be completed in one to two years. “The upside is that you get a little bit of an idea of what the program would be like,” says Dr. White. “If you’re not sure you want to fully commit to a graduate program, you can put your foot in the door and still get something at the end of it.”
“The upside is that you get a little bit of an idea of what the program would be like.”
– Dr. Tasia White
Certificate programs are more affordably priced than master’s degree programs and they provide you with specialized knowledge. If you do decide to pursue the full master’s program at the same school, you will have already earned credit for those certificate courses that you took, saving you time and money on the graduate degree.
With professional insight from:
Dr. Tasia White, EdD Founder, Vonni Coaching & Consulting LLC