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How to Become a Teacher: Step-by-Step Guide

If you want to become a teacher, it’s important to understand the degree requirements, licensing, and certifications needed before you can apply for a teaching job. This guide offers a step-by-step breakdown of what is involved in becoming a teacher, how to determine if it’s the right career for you, and choosing the best educational path to reach your goals.

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Step 1

Is Becoming a Teacher Right for You?

Teachers have the power to shape young minds in ways that can have a lasting impact. However, to be the best teacher possible, the job requires the right personality, temperament, and mindset. Before committing time and resources to obtaining a teaching degree and training, it’s important to determine if your personal and professional interests align with the teaching profession. Additionally, you’ll need to be fully aware of the educational and certification requirements necessary to become a teacher. To help with this important decision-making process, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Are you patient?
  • Do you have a passion for helping others?
  • Can you think outside the box?
  • Are you a conscientious and organized person?
  • Do you have good communication skills?

If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, a career in teaching is likely a good choice for you.

(Optional): Shadow a Teacher Near You

If you’re uncertain whether teaching is a profession you should pursue, observing a teacher in the classroom can be beneficial. By shadowing a teacher, you can witness the tasks and responsibilities involved in the profession firsthand. Depending on where you live, there may be a formal job shadowing program available that allows you to tag along with a teacher. Alternatively, there may be volunteer opportunities at local schools that provide the chance to watch teachers in action.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

The amount of time required to become a teacher is influenced by three major factors: your education and professional experience, the subject you want to teach, and your state’s teaching certification requirements. However, as a general rule, becoming a teacher typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. This means that you can anticipate spending four to five years in school and working towards certification.

Students who attend school full-time to earn a bachelor’s degree may be able to begin teaching soon after graduating if they have already started the certification process while still in school. However, other students may need to add about a year to the four-year degree program to complete the certification or licensing requirements. If a master’s degree is required, another two or so years may be added to the total time it will take to begin working as a teacher.

Step 2

Assess Your Teaching Interests

Before selecting a teaching program, it is important to identify your teaching preferences. This involves asking yourself why you want to become a teacher. By answering this question, you can determine your preferred grade level, subject matter, and whether there are any special students you would like to teach. Understanding this information not only shapes which teaching degree and training path to pursue, but also helps you determine the appropriate courses to take and organizations to join.

Step 3

Explore Teaching Degree Options

Once you have identified your professional goals and preferences for where you would like to work, you can make informed decisions regarding your education options. This involves identifying which degree to pursue and what concentration or major to focus on. Choosing the right program will not only help you achieve your goals, but also ensure that you are qualified to teach your preferred group of students. Making the wrong decision may not prevent you from becoming a teacher, but it could result in increased time or costs to achieve your desired teaching position. The following section goes into more detail about the different degree and specialization options available to you.

Bachelor’s Degree in Education & Teaching

For many, a bachelor’s degree in education, teaching, or a similar area will be the standard degree, at least with respect to teaching at primary and secondary levels. In most states, the bachelor’s degree is the basic minimum degree necessary to begin teaching.

What students learn depends on their chosen program and major. However, a bachelor’s degree on its own may not be enough to become a licensed teacher. In addition to the degree, students must complete a teacher preparation program (TPP). Many schools offering education degrees combine the TPP into the bachelor’s degree curriculum. The TPP helps prepare future teachers to present learning materials to students from differing backgrounds and abilities. Discover bachelor’s degree programs in teaching online.

Master’s Degree in Education & Teaching

While some teaching positions do require a master’s degree, it is not always a requirement. In cases where a master’s degree is required, teachers may have up to five years from the start of their job to earn the degree.

Depending on the level and subject matter, the master’s degree can provide additional skills for improved teaching, open the door to potentially higher pay, allow the teaching of a different group of students, or open the avenue of advancement in education, such as in administration. Another reason to earn a master’s degree in education or teaching is to become a teacher in the first place. Many future teachers already have a bachelor’s degree, but not have completed their TPP. The master’s degree program provides this opportunity. Learn more about online master’s degrees in education & teaching.

PhD in Education & Teaching

The PhD is becoming one of the most popular for those seeking an advanced education degree. Unlike the EdD, which focuses on applying existing research, the PhD focuses more on developing new research and theory. The ultimate goal of a PhD program is to prepare graduates for leading roles in research, academia, and teaching at the post-secondary level. Much of the curriculum focuses on teaching skills that are useful for engaging in research that can create new knowledge and innovative theories that practicing teachers can use to improve education. Read more about online PhDs in education & teaching.

Doctor of Education (EdD) Degree

The Doctor of Education Degree is specifically designed for individuals who aspire to transition from teaching to administrative or policymaking roles. Unlike other teaching degrees, EdD’s main objective is to equip students with the skills to effectively apply research-based knowledge in real-world educational settings.

When earning an EdD degree, students can focus their learning on research and education issues concerning policy and practice. The courses help prepare graduates for a career that requires a hands-on leadership role in not just educational systems, but professional organizations and government. See if an online EdD program might work for you.

Degrees in Early Childhood Education

An early childhood education degree is an excellent choice for individuals seeking to teach at the preschool or kindergarten level. However, those pursuing this degree should anticipate concentrating on working with pre-kindergarten students primarily.

This degree is available in every path, from the associate all the way to the doctorate. The curriculum prepares you to help young children with their social and cognitive development, including motor skills and speech. Students graduate ready to help children who range in age from the earliest months to the seven or eight years old. Does an online degree in early childhood education sound right for you?

Degrees in Elementary Education

Commonly available at the bachelor’s degree level, an online degree in elementary education is ideal if you wish to teach at the primary level. This includes teaching students from grades one through six, but may also mean teaching at the kindergarten or middle school levels, as well. During the course of study, elementary education students can expect to take courses that provide a wide range of subject matter material, from math to social studies to reading to art. On top of that, students learn about various teaching methods, strategies, and methods of student assessment. See if an online degree in elementary education makes sense.

Degrees in Secondary Education

In the realm of education, secondary education is targeted towards students in middle and high school, typically ranging from 12 to 18 years old. Given that secondary education involves teaching older students, individuals pursuing a degree in this field should anticipate specializing in a particular subject area, such as English, mathematics, or science. Master’s programs in secondary education are typically tailored for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they wish to teach. For more, get the inside scoop on hybrid and online degrees in secondary education.

Degrees in Physical Education

Physical education refers to improving, maintaining, and teaching physical fitness and well-being. Many degrees in physical education focus on teaching students from kindergarten through the end of high school. Those interested in teaching primary and secondary school students about staying healthy through sports and an active lifestyle should consider this degree. The curriculum should be similar to other teaching degrees, but also include coursework on physical fitness, learning motor skills, physical disabilities, and sports psychology. Learn about online physical education degrees.

Degrees in Special Education

Special education is a popular subfield that involves helping students who need educational instruction that differs from the typical curriculum. Whether it’s a physical or mental disability, some students need not just extra attention or guidance, but particular teaching techniques that can require additional training and experience. That’s where these special education degrees come in; graduates learn how to identify students with special needs, craft a curriculum to meet those needs, deliver the academic material in a way the student can understand and learn, and provide additional social and behavioral teaching to students who need it. See online special education degree options.

More Education & Teaching Degrees by Subject

In addition to the above areas of educational focus, teachers can also decide to teach a particular academic subject, such as science, history, math, or English. Depending on the level of instruction, this can require special academic training. For example, at the high school or secondary level, many teachers must have majored in the area they would like to teach in. So if you want to teach US history, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in history. Other popular teaching concentrations include music, foreign language, theater, and art.

Step 4

Decide How You Want to Learn

With so many educational pathways for becoming a teacher, you have a number of ways to learn. The two major decisions you need to decide on first are (1) pace of learning and (2) method of content delivery.

Campus-Based vs. Online Teaching Programs

Online programs provide a significant advantage to working professionals, caregivers, busy parents, and anyone seeking flexibility. The convenience of online programs permits students to learn at their own pace, anytime, and anywhere. However, online degrees cannot yet completely replace traditional, campus-based teaching programs. Some online teaching programs require students to complete an in-person curriculum component. Additionally, there is an element of face-to-face interaction with classmates that is difficult to replicate in an online program. Furthermore, certain specialties or programs may only be available on-campus, depending on the institution.

Part-time vs. Full-Time Teaching Programs

Online learning offers a significant advantage in terms of pacing, allowing students to progress through the curriculum at their own speed. Although full-time and part-time curriculums have always been options, distance learning provides greater flexibility. Full-time study allows students to earn their degree quickly, while part-time study enables individuals to devote extra time to challenging concepts or continue fulfilling work or caregiver responsibilities while attending school. The downside of a part-time program is that it typically takes longer to earn the degree.

Step 5

Pick a Teaching Program & Apply

Once you decide which academic degree you want to earn, it’s time to find schools that offer it. There are plenty of great programs and reputable schools to choose from. The bad news is that so many choices can make it hard to find the right school for you. To help with this important step, we’ve created the following checklist.

  • Is the school regionally accredited and by the NCATE?
  • Does it fulfill licensing requirements in the state you want to teach?
  • Does the program format work for my schedule?
  • Can I realistically afford tuition and other costs?
  • Do you have a realistic chance of getting accepted?

Prerequisites and Applications

Before applying to your chosen school and program, you’ll need to look into what it takes to apply and get accepted. There are several components to the application, as well as prerequisites, which take time and advanced planning to handle.

Prerequisites

For many online teaching programs at the bachelor’s level, there aren’t many prerequisites beyond what’s required for general admission. However, one key exception lies with state-specific skills testing. For some states, this can be met with a certain score on an entrance exam test, like the SAT or ACT. But for other states, future teachers must take the PRAXIS Core exam. And depending on the school, a student may need to take this before applying for admission.

Application

Applying to a teaching program is very similar to applying to any other post-secondary program. Most applicants need to provide the following elements to complete their application for admission into a bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program:

  • Application
  • Application fee
  • Evidence of completion of a GED or a high school diploma
  • High school transcript (if applicable)
  • SAT or ACT entrance exam scores
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
Step 6

Fund Your Teaching Degree

In addition to the time and effort it takes to become a teacher, there are usually significant tuition expenses, fees and other costs of attendance. For many, finding a way to pay for their college education is a significant hurdle. Luckily, there are several options available to help ease the financial burden. Some of these require repayment in the future while others are gift-based aid. To learn more about these school funding opportunities, please check out our Financial Aid and Scholarship pages.

Step 7

Finish Your Coursework & Student-Teaching

Predicting the coursework involved in earning an education degree can be challenging due to the varying state requirements for obtaining a teaching license, preferred teaching level, and academic pathways to becoming a licensed teacher. As a result, course offerings outside of the teaching preparation program curriculum can vary significantly, depending on the degree type, area of specialization (if applicable), and major.

However, the core curriculum of a teaching program has a few similarities, such as covering topics relating to student development and teaching strategies. To get an idea of what kind of coursework you might encounter, check out the list of course examples.

Course Examples