How to Become a Teacher
Starting a new career can be a scary thing. We are here to help make your decision to become a teacher easier with simple steps that will guide you through the process to get you in the classroom.
At All Education Schools, we offer helpful, up-to-date information to prospective teachers. From key subject-area and degree information, to interviews and teacher salaries, we’ve done the hard work for you.
If you want to learn how to become a teacher, keep reading and start your journey today.
Determine if Teaching is Right for You?
Teaching is one of the hardest careers one can pursue. Expect to work long hours for relatively low pay in what can be a highly stressful environment. On the flip side, teachers influence their students’ lives very deeply, which can be very rewarding for the right person. Whether they’re guiding preschool play groups, designing lessons for high schoolers, or leading college students into new frontiers of scientific research, these professionals find great satisfaction in developing their students’ potential.
Before you start applying to teaching programs and signing up for certification exams, you should talk to teachers, volunteer in a classroom and evaluate your strengths and experiences as they pertain to teaching. A little self-awareness and a taste of practical experience will go a long way.
Skills You’ll Need to be Successful
It takes a special kind of person to become a great teacher. Teachers possess skills in effective communication, bring strong attention to detail to the classroom and assignments, and can think on their feet when lesson plans don’t go as hoped. Below are some of the general skills that make for a successful teacher:
- Verbal and written communication skills
- Being an active listener
- Having good speech clarity
- Being knowledgeable in their area of expertise
Tools and Technology in the School Setting
As technology advances, teachers will also need to be skilled and knowledgeable in specific tools and technology that will better enhance their teaching abilities. Some of the important tools and technology programs successful teachers will need to know are as follows:
- Microsoft Word
- Google Docs
- Microsoft Outlook
- Microsoft Excel
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Microsoft PowerPoint
- Projectors and Audio-Visual equipment
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college is a minimum requirement on your journey to becoming a teacher, and which degree you should pursue depends on the grade level you plan to teach. If you are aiming to be an elementary school teacher, a broad liberal arts undergraduate education will not be enough. Most states require elementary school teachers to major in education. If you are planning to teach more advanced subjects in secondary school, math or science for example, a degree in a related field is generally required. It’s not uncommon for secondary teachers to double major in education and in the field they intend to teach.
Complete an Accredited Teacher Education Program
Most teachers complete an accredited education program as an undergraduate student. The requirements of these programs vary from school to school and usually reflect the needs and requirements of the state in which the school resides. Others complete a teacher education program upon completion of their undergraduate degree.
More and more, states are requiring certified teachers to hold master’s degrees before they can become a teacher…or shortly thereafter. Regardless, if you want to advance in your teaching career and earn a bigger paycheck, a obtaining a master’s degree is a must. Across the country there are hundreds of master’s degrees in teacher education,
Whether your enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate education program, all programs include a supervised student teaching component, in which you gain hands-on practice in actual classrooms.
Complete your Student Teaching Requirements
All teacher education programs include a student teaching component, and all 50 states require certification candidates to have supervised in-class teaching experience. Some institutions now offer student teaching earlier in their programs to help students better understand pedagogy and classroom management from a teacher’s point of view.
Choose your Specialty
Have you considered what type of teacher you’d like to become? Teachers work with all ages of students, and help them excel and achieve in their studies and personally until they’re adults. That’s a big span, and knowing what age group you’d like to work with as well as how much education you’d like to complete can help you make some of the big decisions. Take a look at some of the most popular careers:
Using games, stories, rhymes and other play-based activities, preschool teachers help children learn about the larger world. For instance, a rhyming and role-playing game might address social skills or soothe a playground conflict. Some preschool teaching positions require a bachelor’s degree, while other employers will accept candidates with two-year associate’s degrees.
Elementary School Teachers
Working in kindergarten to fifth grade, sometimes sixth-grade classrooms, elementary school educators teach specific subjects, such as reading, social studies, math and science. They also guide students to develop study skills and social intelligence as they interact with their peers. The position requires a four-year bachelor’s degree, typically with a major in education.
Secondary (High School) Teachers
Most high school teachers specialize in one subject area, such as history or English. Teaching ninth to twelfth grades, they see several different classes each day as they prepare students for life after graduation. This career requires a bachelor’s degree, usually with a major in the subject area that you plan to teach. Some school districts will require a master’s degree as well.
Students who pursue this education degree prepare to become school psychologists, consulting on behavior and mental health problems in school settings. Beyond testing for learning difficulties, the school psychologist’s role is to encourage the social, emotional and educational well-being of school-age children.
If you’re interested in working with children with disabilities and their families, a degree in special education can open the door to meaningful work in schools and other settings. Focus your expertise by enrolling in a program that specializes your area of interest, such as early childhood special education or learning disabilities. Learn more about special education by reading our special education teacher interview.
Early Childhood & Family Studies
This versatile degree can prepare you for a career in early learning, child care and beyond. Depending on their focus, graduates work in a range of settings, from family support and education to social and mental health services. If you pursue the teaching track, expect courses in language and literacy, positive behavioral support and STEM.
Channel your energy into a role as a PE teacher, athletic coach or administrator in school and community settings. Along with courses in pedagogy, you’ll also pursue classes in exercise science, psychology of sports, and anatomy and kinesiology.
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Add an endorsement to your teaching certificate to qualify as an ELL (English Language Learner) instructor at the elementary or high school level. Interested in teaching in community, business and/or international settings? Consider a degree or certificate in TESOL, which will equip you to do just that.
Being a language teacher involves more than teaching in a foreign language. Most language teachers must be fluent in English and their target language, while also being able to teach other subject areas such as math and social studies. Get more information about language teachers by visiting our secondary-education language teacher page.
As a substitute teacher, you may not know what subject or grade level you’ll be instructing on a given day. However, there will always be an opportunity to bring new life and energy to the classrooms and students you’ll encounter. If you enjoy keeping a flexible schedule, are adaptable and knowledgeable of different curriculum, you could find yourself in demand as a substitute teacher.
Working as a school principal can be a challenging, yet rewarding job. The most successful principals are fair and understanding of all points of view, and only want the best for their school and student body. You’ll work with students, teachers and other administrators to create the best possible learning environment. Read how one early childhood education principal juggles all the responsibilities of the role.
Beyond lecturing in a specialty area (such as East Asian studies or physics or British history), college professors often conduct research and supervise graduate students. They’re often called upon to participate in committees that keep the work of their university on track. College professors must earn a master’s degree at minimum. Many hold PhDs in their disciplines.
Every state requires its public-school teachers to be licensed or certified. This process usually entails passing an examination, such as a state test or the widely used Praxis Series exams. These tests measure both core skills (reading, writing and mathematics) and subject-specific knowledge. Learn about the Praxis assessments in our teaching examinations article.
Research your state’s teacher certification requirements:
Requirements to become a teacher vary by state. Most states have several levels of credentials for teachers and varying certifications based on the age group and subject you plan to teach. For instance, if you plan to teach history to high school students, your state may require that you major in history and pass exams measuring your knowledge of that subject.
Take an Alternate Route:
Already have a bachelor’s degree, but haven’t taken the education courses required for certification? Every state offers an alternate route to certification for teaching candidates. Some of them will put you in the classroom immediately—under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
Understand teacher certification reciprocity:
Already have a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification in Arizona, but want to teach in Washington? Every state has its own certification process for prospective teaching candidates. Check out our teacher reciprocity page to find out more about teacher certification and reciprocity by state.
All public-school teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree at minimum. But preschool teachers might only need to have an associate’s degree to start their careers. Already have experience in the classroom but no degree? You might start as a teaching assistant or paraprofessional, actively helping in a classroom under the supervision of a certified teacher. The farther you wish to proceed in the field of education, the more advanced the degree you’ll need to complete.
Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
Discover how young children learn in an Early Childhood Education program that leads to an Associate of Applied Science degree. Focused on adult learners, many schools are now offering “stackable” certificates that can be taken in any sequence. The degree is doable in two years if you study full-time, and may require three or four years when you attend school part-time.
Coursework requires observation in a preschool classroom, and includes topics in health, safety and nutrition, plus topics such as nurturing relationships, language and literacy development, and art for young children.
Once you’re earned your AAS credential, you may want to transfer your credits to a bachelor’s program in education.
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
This four-year degree is the minimum requirement for most public school teaching positions in the U.S. If you’re planning to teach elementary school, you’ll major or minor in the discipline of education. Are your sights set on working as a high school teacher? Plan to major in the subject that you wish to teach, such as history, English or mathematics.
At the bachelor’s level, coursework will include a grounding in theory, followed by classes in methodology, classroom management, student development and more. You’ll put your lessons to work in a classroom, where you’ll complete a teaching internship or student teaching. At some colleges, the student teaching requires a fifth year of study.
Master of Education (MEd)
Depending on your area of focus, advanced studies in education can prepare you for a first-time teaching certificate, or open the door to role in school administration. Or, you might study leadership to prepare to step up to positions such as curriculum coordinator or staff development leader. Some universities also offer the MEd in school counseling, literacy, digital education or teaching mathematics and science.
Doctor of Education (PhD)
With an emphasis on research, this degree prepares students to teach at the college level, or to move into leadership roles such as administrators, policy analysts, curriculum resource specialists or curriculum designers. From advanced assessment techniques to strategic planning, doctoral students gain the tools to influence the educational landscape at the highest levels.
Specialty Teaching Degrees
An education degree can land you squarely in a classroom, or propel you into a surprising array of professional settings, from government offices to playing fields to international business settings. Take a look at some of the most popular options:
Curriculum and Instruction
Be a part of the learning process by getting into a career as a curriculum and instruction administrator. As a curriculum specialist, you’ll be creating course content and training curriculum measuring performance and training outcomes. Click the link to find out more about being curriculum and instruction administrator roles.
Merge your love of technology and education by getting into a career as an educational technology specialist. In this role, you’ll be supporting faculty members and students with information technology to support the teaching and learning process.
Working as an educational administrator goes far beyond being a principal. Whether you want to be a superintendent or work in curriculum and instruction, you’ll work together with all administrators to shape the path of education for the students you serve. Learn more about what it takes to work as a school administrator by visiting our education administration page.
Utilize your inner bookworm with a career as a Librarian. As a school librarian, you’ll manage print media and Internet resource libraries that students use for research, classroom studies and recreational reading. As technology continues to develop, school librarians will source and maintain the most advanced resources available to meet the needs of faculty members and students.
Interested in becoming a teacher but already busy juggling work, family and other commitments? An online degree may be right for you. By reducing the face-time requirements, the virtual learning path frees up your schedule to log in and learn at your convenience.
Most online teacher education programs partner with local schools to offer students direct classroom experience. Whether you study in a traditional or online format, you’ll need to complete the same licensing requirements, which will include a number of supervised teaching hours.
4 Factors to Consider in Online Schools
- Accreditation – This seal of approval signals that the school offers a solid curriculum and has passed independent evaluations for quality and rigor. You’ll need to graduate from an accredited school in order to earn your teaching certification or license. Look for schools that have earned accreditation through recognized organizations, such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), or the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC).
- Faculty Credentials – If the school offers both on-campus and online education courses, does the same faculty teach in both formats? Investigate the instructors’ level of expertise: Do they have extensive classroom experience? Have they published articles in teaching journals? Before you enroll, do a deep dive into the school’s website to learn all you can about the instructors’ backgrounds.
- Licensure Preparation – It takes more than a degree to qualify to work as a teacher. You’ll also need to become licensed (or certified) in the state where you want to teach. The requirements can vary significantly from state to state. Ask how the school will prepare you for the licensing step, and check to see that its process aligns with your state’s requirements.
- Student Teaching – You’ll also need to complete a certain number of supervised, hands-on teaching hours in a classroom before you can qualify to become an educator. Most online schools partner with local elementary and high schools to meet this requirement. Inquire with the school about local partnerships before you enroll.
Common Questions About Being a Teacher
What career opportunities will I have as a teacher?
When you become a teacher, you enter a world of infinite possibilities. From subject-matter to age-group and responsibility level, there are opportunities to advance your career in a number of different ways.
Some teachers aspire to school management or leadership positions while others pursue tenure and the heftier paychecks that go with it. For ideas on working in school management, see our school administration career article, or browse the listings above to research different teaching career options.
How much do teachers make?
Most people don’t go into teaching for the money, but pay is an important consideration when embarking on any new career path. Here’s a breakdown of salaries for various teacher positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2018-19.
2016 Median Salary Per Year
|Teaching Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Kindergarten and Elementary Teacher||$55,490|
|Middle School Teacher||$56,720|
|High School Teacher||$58,030|
Salaries vary widely depending on your location and years of experience teaching in the field. Check with your state department of education for more specific breakdowns of salary by educational district.
How long does it take to become a teacher?
Time frame is very important when considering whether you want to become a teacher as there are several different career paths to choose from. At a minimum, you’ll need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree. In many states, you will need to also complete a one-to-two year master’s degree.
All states require public school teachers to become licensed before beginning their teaching career. For more information, see our article on teacher certification. Contact your state Department of Education to find your state’s requirements to become a teacher.
What are the teaching program prerequisites?
All post-baccalaureate programs require a bachelor’s degree, but individual course requirements vary. Many schools require an undergraduate GPA above 3.0 and passage of an exam such as the Praxis Core, which tests basic math, reading and writing skills.
How many hours do teachers work?
Teachers often leave school at 3:30, which sounds like a pretty great schedule to most of us. However, a 40-hour work week is common, including class time, preparation and correction. Teachers are also responsible for parent/teacher conferences and other extracurricular activities.
On the other hand, school teachers have more time off than just about any other workers in the U.S. They get a mid-winter break, spring break and summers off—in addition to all scheduled holidays.
All this time off provides teachers with well-deserved breaks during which they can “recharge their batteries.” But some teachers use that time to teach summer classes or take other jobs to supplement their income, travel, or pursue other personal interests. Many also enroll in college courses or teacher continuing education to keep their skills sharp or advance their careers.
The amount of time off—and what you choose to do with it—is one of the truly great perks of being a teacher.
Take the Next Step
Whether you’re just starting on a career or looking to make a change, teaching offers the opportunity to make a real impact in students’ lives. Your journey to the head of the class begins with a degree in teaching. Click below to find the school and program that’s right for you.
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