How to become a teacher
Teaching is a profession whose importance can hardly be overstated when it comes to the education of children, as well as the education of adults. The transfer of knowledge enables people of all ages to advance in life and fulfill their ambitions. Due to the great responsibility this entails, the road that leads to the front of a classroom is far from simple. To become a teacher, of course, you primarily need to acquire the necessary knowledge, but the process is not limited to that.
To make your wish to educate come true as soon as possible, you need to learn what it takes in order to start working in this realm. If you are indecisive, some concrete information about teachers’ salaries might help. According to the official numbers provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for kindergarten teachers is $57,860, elementary school teachers make $60,940, whereas a high school teacher makes $62,870. The salary depends on the number of years of experience in the classroom, as well as the level of the teacher’s diploma (teachers with a master’s degree earn more).
Read on to learn how to become a teacher and how much time you need to dedicate to studying and certification before you start teaching.
How long does it take to become a teacher?
As there are a number of things one needs to take care of before they get a license to teach, it makes a lot of sense to ask – how long does this process take? There is no single, simple answer to this question, because the required levels of education depend on where you are going to work. The US education system divides teaching requirements into the following tiers:
- Preschool – to work as a preschool teacher, one needs a high school diploma or an associate’s degree, depending on the institution and the state where it is located.
- K-12 – for teaching in kindergarten and grades up to 10, one must have a college or university diploma, with a major or minor in education.
- High school – for working with high school students, one must have a bachelor’s degree, with the subject they will teach as a major. To teach at a college, one must have at least a master’s degree from the area in question.
This means that, in most cases, it takes no less than four years of studies to become a teacher, not including the time it takes to pass the tests required for a teaching license.
Requirements for becoming a teacher
If you have decided that you would like to become a teacher, the next step is to define the level at which you will teach. This will affect your choice of school and the subjects you are going to take. It is very important to decide upon your destination and the exact subject you would like to teach in time, as the next couple of years will be spent studying (degree program) and preparing for the desired teaching job. In short, the steps that lead to a teaching license are as follows:
- Obtain the desired bachelor’s degree.
- Complete the teacher preparation defined by the state.
- Pass the examinations required by the state where you will work.
- Apply for a teaching license.
This procedure largely depends upon the conditions defined by the state where you live. This is why you need to get well-informed about the conditions because the requirements vary, and licenses for other states are often not recognized as sufficient.
Types of teaching degree
There are a number of possibilities when it comes to a degree in education and other relevant degrees; they include a dual degree, i.e., two diplomas from different areas (e.g., STEM and education). You can choose a major in the field you would like to teach, along with a minor in education. You can also choose a double major in the desired fields.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Education
This diploma is usually required at schools as the minimum for teaching at an elementary school and upwards. Although the requirements for a teaching license differ from state to state, a bachelor’s degree in education (or teaching) is a standard requirement. In accordance with their ambitions, candidates need to choose major and minor subjects. They usually opt for a combination of education and the subject which they will teach, although this also depends on the state where they will work, the type of school, and the subject itself.
- Master’s Degree in Education
If you would like to start working as soon as possible, a master’s degree does not have to be a priority. For most schools, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient. Even if a master’s is required, you will still be able to start working, but you will need to acquire this degree within five years. The fact that a master’s degree is not required does not mean that it is not a good thing to have. Not only will you acquire additional skills, but you will also be able to count on a higher salary. Also, a higher degree brings along career advancement prospects (e.g., teaching at a college).
- PhD in Education
As the highest-level title in the realm of education, a PhD lets one teach at the highest level (colleges and universities), as well as engage in scientific research. With this diploma, you will be able to develop new learning methods and make your mark through innovation in education.
Additional diplomas relevant for work in education
In addition to an education degree, there are other diplomas that can be required for teaching. This also largely depends on your decision – what you would like to teach and at what level.
- Degree in Early Childhood Education – if you would like to work with small children (usually 0–7), this is the best way to acquire adequate knowledge. Although the focus is on the youngest students, you will not be limited to working at a kindergarten. You can pursue a PhD in this area and work at the highest academic level. In any case, this diploma places the focus on small children and their development in early childhood.
- Degree in Elementary Education – provides knowledge necessary for conducting lessons and efficiently transferring knowledge to children. During your studies, you will gain classroom experience (direct work with students, evaluation, lesson preparation), and acquire basic skills from the areas covered by the curriculum, such as arts and mathematics. Elementary education programs offer knowledge that makes acquiring a teaching license easier, and one can acquire a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a PhD in this area.
- Degree in Secondary Education – if you are interested in teaching at a middle school or a high school, this is the best choice of studies. As teachers at this level focus on one subject which they teach, acquiring knowledge from the field in question is recommended (dual-degree or minor). Interestingly, you can pursue a master’s degree in secondary education after you acquire a bachelor’s degree in the subject you would like to teach (for instance, computer science).
- Degree in Special Education– if you are interested in inclusive education, social work, and work with children with learning disabilities, this is the path you probably need to take. During your studies, you will become familiar with the methods required in special needs education, i.e., the best ways to help children overcome any challenges en route to academic achievement.
- Degree in Physical Education – if you would like to become a PE teacher and help children learn the basics of sports culture and healthy lifestyle, this diploma is an excellent means to that end.
It is possible to become a teacher without an education degree, if you have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in the subject that you would like to teach. In that case, your career path can include alternative teacher certification, where you will undergo a teaching program that will prepare you for your future job. The exact requirements on this path depend on the state where you would like to work.
How to become a teacher without a degree?
Besides acquiring a diploma in education, you can become a teacher by studying a certain subject and receiving training in the field of education later. However, the list of the ways in which you can land a job at an educational institution does not end there.
Some charter, nonprofit, and private schools do not insist on teaching degrees, or even a teaching license. In addition to these institutions, you can work as an online instructor, or in adult education, as a corporate trainer.
However, working at a public school does require a bachelor’s degree in education; but even there, the options are not quite limited. You can work as a substitute teacher with just a degree from the subject that you would teach. The procedure for acquiring a substitute teaching license varies from one state to another, but in many cases, a substitute certificate is required.
How to acquire a teaching certificate?
In order to work as a teacher at a public school, in addition to education and diplomas, you will need to have a teaching license. The path to the certificate varies by state, so you need to investigate the teacher certification requirements before you embark upon this process.
The most common prerequisite is a bachelor’s degree in education (or, in some cases, a master’s degree), along with a combination of tests and student teaching experience. The certification process can take up to two years, and it can be started during the studies. Acquiring the certificate requires a financial investment (the price depends on the state), which can present a problem to many students. Luckily, there are a number of financial aid options, such as the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, that provide financial support.
The certification program is usually valid for three to five years, after which period the license needs to be renewed. Please note that in most cases, the license is valid for a single state, i.e., that a license from one state does not entitle one to teach in another.
Once you have acquired all the necessary diplomas and certificates, you can embark upon the job seeking process and consider the adequate open positions at public and private schools.