How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher? [2024 Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on July 4, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
Ready to start your journey?

When you can’t wait to have your own classroom, you may wonder, “How long does it take to become a teacher?”

How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher

Exactly how long you’ll need to spend in school will depend on a few factors, such as whether you’re earning your first bachelor’s degree or transitioning from a different career.

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Once you discover the necessary education to be a teacher, you’ll be ready to start the process of earning state teaching licensure. Soon, you could have the opportunity to shape young learners’ minds in your very own classroom.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

teacher with Master’s degree

You might be curious how many years does it take to be a teacher. The fastest way to become a teacher is typically to go the traditional route, which is getting a bachelor’s degree in education.

With that approach, you could graduate ready to pursue licensure and start working in the classroom. You may be able to speed up the typical 4 year process of earning a bachelor’s degree through year-round coursework in accelerated online college programs.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field, then you could consider another path. In addition to the four years you’ve already spent in school, you’ll complete another few years of study. Options include:

  • Post-baccalaureate certificate: About 1 year of study
  • Master’s degree: 1 to 2 years of study
  • Alternative licensure program: About 1 year of study with a commitment to teach in a high-need field afterward

In addition to the above time guidelines, you may be required to complete additional coursework if you want to teach a subject, such as English, in which you didn’t major.

Student Teaching Experience

elementary school teacher with her students

Student teaching is a factor to consider when asking the question “How long does it take to be a teacher?” Most states require you to accrue a set number of classroom hours under the supervision of a mentor teacher.

It’s common for student teaching to last a full semester. You may spend all of that time in the same classroom or divide your experience between a few different classes or schools. Often, the student teaching experience is built into the degree program. Your college may even help you find a placement site. In addition to your mentor teacher, you may be in contact with a supervising professor during this time.

Some students complete their student teaching after graduation, but you’re required to complete it before applying for licensure.

Certification and Licensing

Educator licenses and certificates

To teach in a public K-12 school, you’re required to hold a teaching license. Educator licenses and certificates are issued by states, and each state sets its own qualifications.

Your state may specify that your teaching credential is for teaching a certain age level or subject area. To qualify, it’s necessary to have the required education—which is the completion of a licensure-tracking teaching program. In addition, you’ll likely be asked to show documentation that you’ve spent a certain number of hours in a real-world classroom.

You’re required to pass one or more exams as well. States may opt to use national exams or their own versions, and the tests are usually specific to certain subject levels or grades. Studying for the exams may take 2 to 3 months.

Once you have completed your schooling, student teaching, and exams, you can apply for licensure. Licenses have to be renewed occasionally.

Teaching Specializations and Advanced Education

high school teacher teaching science

When you think about how many years of college to be a teacher, keep in mind that many teachers are always learning.

During your initial program or as you gain more education, you may want to choose a specialty area. Your options could include:

  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • English as a Second Language
  • Music Education
  • Reading Specialist
  • School Administration
  • Special Education — Behavior Specialist
  • STEM Education

Getting an advanced degree in education, such as a master’s degree or a doctorate, can help you improve your skills and expertise. It may also help you qualify for raises or specialized roles. Plus, you will likely need continuing education credits in order to maintain your license.

How to Become a Teacher: Transitioning from Another Career

woman with Master of Teaching

Perhaps you didn’t major in education as an undergrad, but now you’d like to become a teacher. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you won’t have to go back to school for another one. Rather, you can choose an alternative path to licensure.

Your college may offer a certificate program, like California teaching credential programs, with the education courses needed for licensure in your state. You can expect to do in-classroom sessions, including student teaching, during this program. The schooling may take around 1 year.

Another option is to earn a Master of Teaching (MAT) or pursue combined masters and teaching credential programs, a program that typically leads to licensure within 1 to 2 years. Like with a certificate program, you’ll take classes and gain hands-on experience during this master program.

In addition to taking teaching-focused courses, you might also be required to complete coursework in a particular subject area. The curriculum you completed during your undergrad studies may count toward this requirement.

Teacher Work Environment

Educator teaching in a private school

Educators work in a variety of school settings. K-12 teachers often teach in public or private schools. Additional settings include charter schools and alternative schools for students with special learning needs. Postsecondary teachers may be employed by community colleges, four-year colleges, or large universities.

Officially, teachers work during the hours that school is in session, such as 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., plus some time before and after that each day. Unofficially, teachers commonly work longer hours, during which they may update records, contact parents, prepare lessons, or grade papers. They may put in these extra hours at the school building or at home. Plus, many teachers take on extra responsibilities, such as in school clubs or sports.

Many schools take extended holiday and summer breaks, so teachers often do not need to work during those times. Even still, many end up putting in time throughout the year.

Should I Become a Teacher?

preschool teacher with students

It is often asked, “Is teaching a good career?” If you enjoy students and want to make a difference in their lives, then teaching could be a rewarding career option for you. Successful teachers love being in learning environments, and they enjoy passing knowledge on to others.

For people who love this job, seeing a new idea click with students or helping kids discover their potential can bring immense satisfaction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the median annual salary for educational instruction and library occupations is $57,490.

Salaries often start fairly low, but many school districts have an automatic schedule for raises as employees invest more years in the profession and acquire more education. Teaching is a dependable career. Since there are always students who need an education, there will always be employment opportunities for teachers.

Many educators enjoy their school schedules, which typically include a few extended breaks throughout the year. This can be especially beneficial for parents with school-age children.

What Is the Job Outlook for Teachers?

Job Outlook for Teachers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for educational instruction and library occupations is $57,490.

Teachers’ salaries often increase as they gain experience. For example, a high school teacher makes around $46,480 annually. Meanwhile, high school teachers at the top end of the pay scale make over $101,710 each year.

Careers Annual Median Salary Job Growth
Postsecondary Teachers $80,840 8%
Special Education Teachers $62,950 0%
High School Teachers $62,360 1%
Middle School Teachers $61,810 1%
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers $61,620 1%

While little job growth is expected for K-12 teaching jobs over the next ten years, many new teachers would still be needed for this field. Positions will continue to open as current teachers retire or leave the field for other careers.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher?

state certified teacher

To become state certified as a teacher, you’re required to hold at least a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree.

The most common approach involves getting your bachelor’s in education. You’ll also select a specialty for your teaching degree. It’s beneficial to make sure you are enrolled in a program that is specifically designed for licensure preparation. If you decide later on to pursue a career in education, you can fulfill the requirements for becoming a teacher through a post-baccalaureate licensure program.

Some colleges offer certificate programs, and there are also master’s degrees that lead to licensure. You may also be required to complete undergraduate coursework in your subject area, such as math or history.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Teaching Certificate with a Bachelor Degree?

teacher with students during computer class

You may be able to earn a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate in 1 year or less, but how long it takes will depend on both your educational background and your state’s rules.

In general, it helps if you have already completed undergraduate coursework or a degree in the field you want to teach. For example, if you majored in biology, you may quickly be able to earn a certificate for teaching high school science.

During the year-long certification program, you’ll study child development, teaching methods, and education law. You’ll gain practice in real-world classrooms and may even be eligible for employment as a teacher.

Becoming a Teacher

student getting a teaching degree

Working as a teacher can be a rewarding and fulfilling career, especially if you thrive in learning environments and enjoy working with young people. Teachers are needed for all age levels, from preschoolers to college students.

You can even study online to become a teacher. You will pair your distance coursework with in-person classroom experiences to meet the requirements for becoming a licensed educator. Whether you’re pursuing a bachelor’s program in education, a certificate program, or a Master of Teaching, accredited online programs are available.

You can explore accredited schools today to find an online teaching program for licensure in your state.

Ready to start your journey?