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- Step #1: Is Becoming a Teacher Right for You?
- Step #2: Assess Your Teaching Interests
- Step #3: Explore Teaching Degree Options
- Step #4: Decide HOW You Want to Learn
- Step #5: Pick a Teaching Program & Apply
- Step #6: Fund Your Teaching Degree
- Step #7: Finish Your Coursework & Student-Teaching
- Step #8: Get Your Teaching License
- Step #9: Apply, Apply, Apply
- Step #10: Continuing Education
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How to Become a Teacher
Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers you can choose, but not just anyone can look for a job opening and apply. There are minimum requirements for degrees, licensing, and certification that must be met before you can step into a classroom. This comprehensive guide provides a step-by-step breakdown of what it takes to become a teacher, including whether it’s the right career for you and how to choose the best educational route. Take your first step in education today.
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
Is Becoming a Teacher Right for You?
Teachers can shape young minds in a way that has a lifelong impact. The job requires the right personality, temperament, and mindset to be the best teacher possible. Before committing the time and money necessary to obtain a teaching degree and training, ask yourself if your personal and professional interests fit with the teaching profession. You’ll also want to be fully aware of the educational and certification requirements necessary to becoming 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.
Program that might interest you:
(Optional): Shadow a Teacher Near You
If you’re not sure if teaching something you should pursue, observing a teacher in the classroom can help. By shadowing a teacher, you can see firsthand the tasks and responsibilities involved. Depending on your location, there might be a formal job shadowing program that includes tagging along with a teacher. If not, there should be volunteer opportunities at a local school that offer the chance to watch teachers in action.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?
The time it takes to become a teacher depends on three significant variables: your education and professional experience, what you want to teach, and your state’s teaching certification requirements. But as a general rule, it takes at least a bachelor’s degree plus a teaching license to become a teacher. This means you can expect to spend 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 start teaching soon after graduating, assuming they have begun the certification process while still in school. Other students may need to add about a year to the four years it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree to complete the certification or licensing requirements. If a master’s degree is required, another two or so years can be added to the total time it will take to start working as a teacher.
Assess Your Teaching Interests
Before choosing a teaching program, you should identify your teaching preferences. Basically, ask yourself why you want to become a teacher. By answering this question, you’ll be able to determine your preferred grade level, the subject matter, and if there are any special students you’d like to teach. Knowing this information not only shapes which teaching degree and training path to take, but also tells you what kind of classes to take and organizations to join.
Explore Teaching Degree Options
Once you know what your professional goals are and where you’d like to work, you can make informed decisions concerning your education options. You will not only be able to identify which degree you should get, but what concentration or major to focus on. Making the wrong decision won’t prevent you from becoming a teacher, but it can increase the time or money it takes to teach your preferred group of students. The following section goes into more detail about the different degree and specialization options available to you.
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.
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?
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.
Finish Your Coursework & Student-Teaching
Anticipating the kind of coursework you can expect to complete while earning an education degree is a bit difficult to do. This is because of the varied state requirements for a teaching license and your preferred teaching level, as well as the varied academic pathways to becoming a licensed teacher. These variations mean that outside of the teaching preparation program curriculum, the classes can vary tremendously, depending on the type of degree, area of specialization (if any), 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.
Development in Children
Oral and Written Communication
Introduction to Psychology
Learning and Inclusion
Students earning a teaching degree that includes a teacher preparation program need to obtain real-world teaching experience. This means teaching students, often in a public school setting, while under the supervision of appropriate members of the teaching program, such as faculty, a classroom teacher, or a student-teaching office. Before beginning the student-teaching portion of their curriculum, students must be at an advanced stage of their program. This means they must:
- Be in their final year of the program.
- Pass all necessary state-specific teaching exams, such as PRAXIS.
- Have a minimum GPA, either overall or for certain classes.
- Have approval from the appropriate program faculty member or administrator.
- Be a student in the teaching program for a minimum period of time.
- Pass a criminal background check.
- Pass a medical exam.
Once accepted, students may spend one or two school semesters engaged in student-teaching. And this isn’t just assisting a teacher in the classroom, but actually teaching the class. During the experience, the student teacher receives feedback and an evaluation to assess their teaching ability.
Get Your Teaching License
Outside of private schools, a teaching certification will be required to teach. Even at private institutions, the school may still want a fully licensed teacher, so having licensure is still important. Becoming certified isn’t that complicated, but each state has its own requirements and many future teachers aren’t sure which state they would like to teach in after graduation.
To give you a broad idea of what you can expect, let’s look at the major components of becoming licensed.
Apply, Apply, Apply
Now that you have your teaching degree, you need to find a place to put it to good use. You probably already have a grade level or subject matter you want to focus on, as well as a state you’d like to work in. But despite making those plans, there are still many other specifics to consider. For example, will you work in a public school or private? Urban or suburban? Second grade or third grade? These are just a few things to think about.
To finalize your decision on where you want to work, do your research. Online message boards are a good resource, but an even better one will be talking to your fellow classmates and current teachers and education administrators. Participate in networking events to get the inside scoop on where the nicer jobs are, who’s hiring and what school or district you’ll want to avoid.
Once you’ve selected the schools you’d like to teach in, it’s time to apply. Here are a few tips for the job search, interview, and selection process.
- Find good references. This will be one of the key components of your job application.
- When answering questions, whether in an interview or on an application, keep your answers school-oriented and emphasize what you can do for the students.
- Learn as much as you can about the school district and school you wish to work for. Don’t be caught surprised about a key detail about the job you apply to.
- During the interview, remember that you’ll need to fit in with not just the student body, but also the current teachers.
- Network like crazy. Just like any other profession, it’s not just what you know, but whom you know.
- Consider working as a substitute teacher at the school or district you want to join. It can provide an opportunity to make a great first impression when you apply for a permanent position.
Many states require licensed teachers to renew their teaching licenses every few years. During this renewal process, the teacher will have to provide evidence that they have completed a number of continuing education or professional development credits. The exact types of continuing education necessary, as well as how many credits are needed, depends on each state’s teaching license renewal process.
But outside the requirements for maintaining licensure, continuing education is important to professional development. This not only allows teachers to be eligible for additional teaching or administrative positions, but can also provide networking opportunities. Below are five examples of continuing education programs or coursework that teachers can consider participating in.