What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher? [2021 Guide]

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Many aspiring educators ask, “What degree do you need to be a teacher?” The answer to that question depends on what age you hope to teach and what setting you’d prefer for your work.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher

You might want to work with preschoolers, high schoolers, special education students, or another group of learners.

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Once you select the right bachelor’s degree in teaching to match your aspirations, you can be on your way to fulfilling your goals of becoming a teacher.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher?

A quick look at college teaching programs makes it clear that there are a variety of different degree tracks that you can pursue. Considering what age and topic you want to teach can help narrow down your answer to this common question: “What degree should I get?”

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Regardless of the specialty you select, you will still receive a strong foundation in education and related courses.

Early Childhood Education

Early Childhood Education teacher

If you want to work with young children, then you may consider an early childhood education degree. Early childhood usually refers to the preschool and kindergarten years, but your training might prepare you to work with kids up to age 8 or so.

Courses for an early childhood education program might cover child development and psychology. You might take classes that cover topics like health and safety of young children, childhood literacy, family dynamics, and preschool curriculum planning.

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Not all early childhood education tracks lead to licensure, so it’s strategic to think through your career goals before deciding which program is right for you. If you do choose a licensure program, you may be able to teach lower elementary grades in a public school setting.

Job possibilities with a non-licensure early childhood degree include teaching preschool, heading up a daycare center, or providing family services in a child welfare agency.

Elementary Education

Elementary Education teacher

Elementary educators work with students during some of their most formative years. Earning a degree in elementary education can help prepare you to lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

The course topics for your elementary teachers training program might include learning theories, classroom diversity, foundations of literacy, and classroom management techniques. You’ll likely learn specific principles and concepts for teaching various subject areas, such as mathematics, science, social studies, physical education, and art.

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Elementary education programs that are geared toward licensure include a student teaching component. You’ll spend time in a real classroom, and you can learn from an experienced teacher and have opportunities to lead the class.

Teaching jobs are available in both public and private school settings. While you may think of elementary school as including kindergarten through 6th grade, your state’s rules on the matter might be less restrictive. With this degree, you might be able to teach classes as high as 9th grade.

Secondary Education

Secondary Education teacher

As children move through their school years, they start preparing for adulthood and a career. They also become capable of more complex reasoning and higher-level thinking.

If you’re excited about the idea of working with students at this level, then you might be a good candidate for a degree in secondary education.

Many of the classes you’ll take in a secondary education program will be similar to those in an elementary education program. Your curriculum might include courses on instructional methods, classroom technology, and educational psychology.

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In addition, you will typically specialize in one or more content areas. Focus areas may include English, mathematics, history, psychology, a branch of science, or a foreign language.

With a secondary education degree and licensure, you might be able to teach in a public or private school. In many states, secondary education training can equip you to teach both middle school and high school.

Special Education

Special Education teacher

Students with special needs sometimes require specialized educational practices and tailored instruction.

You can learn to provide modifications and support for students with physical, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive disabilities in a special education teaching training program. The coursework for this degree might cover curriculum adaptations, special education law, assistive technology, and partnerships with families and community agencies.

Autism spectrum disorders are a common topic in many special ed programs. Your program might focus primarily on mild disabilities or profound special needs.

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As with other licensure programs, you’re required to spend time in a hands-on classroom setting before becoming a full-fledged teacher. Your time might be spent in both special education and mainstream classes.

Special education jobs are available at all levels of public and private education. You might also consider working for a special education cooperative that supports the work of local schools.

Teaching Careers & Salaries

Teaching Careers & Salaries

Teaching isn’t limited to one group or grade level. There are options for teaching tiny preschoolers and long-out-of-school adults. Of course, many teachers do work with kindergarten through 12th-grade (K-12) students.

You can be involved in general education, English language learning, special education, literacy improvement, or library services. You can even help other teachers improve their skills.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for jobs in the education, training, and library field is $50,790 per year.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Instructional Coordinators $66,290
High School Teachers $61,660
Special Education Teachers $61,030
Middle School Teachers $59,660
Librarians and Library Media Specialists $59,500
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers $59,420
Career and Technical Education Teachers $58,110
Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers $54,350
Preschool and Childcare Center Directors $48,210
Preschool Teachers $30,520

Many teaching jobs are found in public or private schools. Such schools might include any grades between preschool and high school. Some educators work at tutoring facilities, daycares, vocational centers, or special education cooperatives.

Teaching jobs generally require a bachelors degree and state licensure. A graduate degree may offer more opportunities for advancement and leadership roles.

Teaching Curriculum & Courses

Teaching Curriculum

The 120 credit hours you take for a bachelor’s degree may include courses like those listed below:

  • Childhood Growth and Development: You’ll learn about how kids mature from birth through the teen years.
  • Classroom Management Methods: This course addresses maintaining classroom control and building a positive class culture.
  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Education: Individualized education plans, educational equity, Title I funding, and mandated reporting could be topics covered in this course.
  • Exceptional Students: You’ll learn about various intellectual and physical special needs and explore effective education strategies.
  • Health, Safety, and Nutrition in the Early Years: This class provides first aid, feeding, and wellness training for early childhood settings.
  • Instructional Planning: Today’s teachers must be familiar with learning standards and how to make corresponding lesson plans.
  • Issues in Literacy: You’ll learn how young students become literate and explore strategies for promoting literacy at home and school.
  • Learning and Motivation Theories: In this course, you’ll discuss how learning and retention take place.
  • Technology for Schools: You can try out technology that could enhance your planning and your students’ learning.
  • Young Adult Literature: This class introduces you to diverse books for young readers.

Many education programs also include a student teaching experience that lasts around one semester.

How to Decide Whether Teaching Is Right for You

Is Teaching Right for You

“Should I become a teacher?” If this is one of your top questions these days, it might be time to think about earning a teaching degree.

As long as there are children, there will be a demand for teachers, and you might be the person to meet that need. First, though, it’s beneficial to explore whether this job is the right fit for you.

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A deep passion for making a difference in children’s lives often leads people to the teaching profession. You might consider teaching as a way to:

  • Build positive relationships with young people
  • Create environments where kids feel safe, secure, and valued
  • Help students identify their strengths
  • Inspire interest in a particular subject area
  • Instill life lessons
  • Spark a love for learning

No matter how much passion you have, though, teaching isn’t always easy. Before beginning a teacher education program, it’s helpful to consider that educators often work long hours and invest personal resources to make their classes the best they can be.

There may also be a good deal of meetings and paperwork involved in classroom management. For many teachers, the joy of helping students learn and grow outweighs any hassles or headaches that may come with the job.

How to Become a Teacher

How to Become a Teacher

Communities generally care about their children, so they often hold teaching professionals to high standards. If you want to become a professional teacher, particularly in a public school, you’ll need to receive the proper education and training for the job.

The process varies from state to state, but here are the general steps:

  • Enroll in a bachelors program. Enroll in a regionally accredited college with a teacher training bachelors program.
  • Select a major. Select your major, such as elementary or secondary education, and possibly a corresponding minor.
  • Asses your readiness. Take an exam to assess your readiness for college-level work in the education department.
  • Complete your coursework. Complete the required coursework for your degree.
  • Pass licensure exam. Pass the teacher licensure examinations required by your state for your teaching specialty.
  • Gain experience. Gain hands-on experience during your student teaching assignment.
  • Complete your bachelors degree. Graduate from college.
  • Obtain licensure. Apply for licensure with your state’s education board.
  • Begin your job search. Begin searching for teaching jobs.

Since each state sets its own rules, the order of these steps might be slightly different. There may even be some components that you can skip altogether. It can be helpful to consult your state board of education before beginning a program, especially if you’re considering attending an out-of-state school.

States set their own rules about what examinations are required for teacher licensure, but Praxis exams are commonly required. In some cases, you may take the Praxis Core before taking a single education class.

teaching professionals

Then, toward the end of your college studies, you’ll probably need to take one or more specialized Praxis exams to demonstrate your readiness for working as a teacher. Which tests you’re required to take will depend on the grade and subject that you plan to teach.

Student teaching, also known as supervised demonstration teaching, is an opportunity to demonstrate what you’ve learned and try out your skills in a real classroom. During student teaching, you also have the opportunity to pick up tips from experienced teachers and gain insights into how a school system functions.

Your state may have additional requirements for you to fulfill before you can apply for licensure. These might include fingerprinting or background checks. Even after becoming a licensed teacher, it’ll be necessary to maintain that status by earning continuing education credits and keeping up with license renewals.

You Have a Bachelor’s Degree and Want to Become a Teacher

teaching Bachelor's Degree

People who weren’t teacher majors during their first trip through college still have opportunities to become classroom teachers. Gaining the proper credentials often won’t take you as long as earning a full bachelors degree.

Colleges offer a variety of initial teacher licensure programs. The most common are the combined masters and teaching credential programs leading to the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. This graduate program, which may take up to 2 years to complete, is often designed to lead to initial teacher licensure.

Of course, not all MAT programs include a licensure track, so you may want to choose your enrollment carefully. Some colleges offer alternative credentialing programs. These can include non-degree certificate programs as well as postbaccalaureate programs that allow you to earn a second bachelors degree.

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Some states give you the option to begin teaching before earning your official credentials. With such an arrangement, you can receive professional mentorship and take college classes while also running your own classroom each day.

The goal of these programs usually involves supplying educators for underserved communities or filling the demand for teachers in certain content areas. To qualify, you may be required to have a professional background related to the subject you plan to teach.

Teaching Licensure and Certifications

Teaching Licensure

In order to be a teacher who’s approved to teach in classrooms throughout your state, you first have to become licensed by your state’s board of education. The guidelines vary from one state to another but usually follow a general pattern.

You can start by enrolling in an accredited teacher training program with a licensure track. This is usually a bachelor’s degree program but can also be a graduate or non-degree certificate program.

Toward the end of your program, you’ll take standardized tests that demonstrate your readiness for the teaching profession. You can also expect to complete a months-long student teaching internship in a school setting.

Teaching Certifications

After graduating from your teacher training program, you may be ready to apply for state licensure. Your teaching certificate will specify what grades you are eligible to teach and what content areas you are certified in. These are often known as endorsements.

You may be able to add additional endorsements through continuing education programs. Continuing education is also required for renewing your license.

Teaching licenses don’t automatically transfer from state to state. While some states do offer reciprocity, relocation often requires meeting a different set of guidelines before you can apply for licensure there.

Alternative Teaching Opportunities

Alternative Teaching Opportunities

If you already have a college degree, spending a few more years in school before becoming a teacher might not appeal to you. You might qualify for an alternative approach instead.

In some states, there are programs that allow you to hold a paid teaching position and go through a training program at the same time. For example, Teach for America recruits people to work in underserved communities.

You don’t need any prior classroom experience to get started, and you can become certified by the time you complete the program.

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Some states offer alternative certification programs for professionals with backgrounds in high-demand subject areas. For example, if you have a degree in a science field, a school that is having trouble recruiting a certified science teacher may hire you for the job. You could start teaching while working toward certification.

Also, not every teaching position requires teacher training classes and state licensure. For example, many preschools don’t require their teachers to be licensed. Some private school positions don’t need licensure either. Teaching overseas might be another option.

Is It Hard to Become a Teacher?

To major in teaching, you’ll take classes that cover topics like behavior management principles, learning styles, curriculum design and instruction, and childhood literacy. It can help to be interested in psychology and human development.

You may also take courses that address a range of content areas, such as mathematics, reading, science, art, and music. You might be stronger in some of those areas than others. For student teaching, it’s beneficial to be personable, motivated, and willing to learn.

Do I Have the Skills Needed to Be a Teacher?

Skills to Be a Teacher

A passion for education is one characteristic that can contribute to becoming a good teacher, but it’s not the only one.

It can also help to be a strong communicator. Teachers communicate information to students. They must also maintain regular communication with administrators, other teachers, and students’ families.

Being organized is another helpful quality to have. Good organization can assist you in planning lessons, meeting state standards, keeping track of students’ diverse needs, and leading a classroom that runs smoothly.

Do You Have to Go to College to Be a Teacher?

education major

Most teaching positions require some sort of college education. While there are opportunities to enter this field without having been an education major, that process usually begins with holding a bachelors degree in some discipline.

If you don’t yet hold a bachelor’s degree, becoming a teaching major is typically the most straightforward approach to getting started in this field. For those who already have a bachelors degree, options include earning a masters or signing up for an alternative certification program.

Can You Be a Teacher with an Associate’s Degree?

Teacher with an Associate's Degree

In general, a bachelor’s degree is required to become a licensed teacher. There may be non-licensure opportunities with an associate degree, though. For example, some preschool teachers enter the profession with an associate degree. Childcare facilities can also offer teaching roles to those with 2 year degrees.

You might also find teaching opportunities outside of school settings. Children’s museums, libraries, community centers, or religious organizations may let you lead classes, coordinate activities, or tutor students.

Do You Need a Masters to Teach?

In most cases, a bachelors degree in education is sufficient for entering the teaching field. You’ll just need to pair your education bachelors degree with a teaching license from your state. A masters degree can be useful in select circumstances, though.

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In many districts, you can earn more money or advance to administrative positions with a masters. Also, a licensure-track masters program can prepare you to enter the teaching field for the first time.

What Can You Do with an Education Degree?

Education majors tend to pursue jobs in public or private schools. Educators may teach preschool, elementary, junior high, or high school students.

The average annual wage is usually highest for high school teachers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most high school educators earn between $40,540 and $99,660 annually. In general, public schools pay more than private ones.

Professionals in the field also work in childcare, school administration, adult education, or vocational training.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

Earning a bachelor's degree in education

Earning a bachelor’s degree generally takes 4 years if you enroll full-time at a school with traditional 16 week semesters.

Some programs offering accredited online bachelors degrees allow for accelerated course completion because the classes are organized in shorter terms and are offered throughout the year. A teaching master’s degree may take 2 years or less.

No matter which type of course calendar and degree program you choose, you’ll also need to complete a semester-long student teaching session if you intend to become licensed.

Is Becoming a Teacher Worth It?

Teaching career

Yes, becoming a teacher is worth it for many professionals. Teaching can be a fulfilling career that offers opportunities to engage with students and pass on important lessons.

Teaching is a career that’s always needed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the education, training, and library field is expected to increase at a 5% rate over the next ten years.

A career in education can also offer advancement pathways. With experience and additional training, you may choose to pursue roles in instructional coordination, school librarianship, or district administration.

Getting Your Teaching Degree Online

Teaching Degree Online

Teaching can be a rewarding career that offers a variety of opportunities to work with students, develop your professional skills, and advance to leadership positions.

First, though, you’ll likely need to earn a teaching degree so you can qualify for licensure in your state. You can take online classes to fulfill the coursework for a teacher certification program.

Some online teaching degree programs can even connect you to a student teaching experience in your local area. This is the case whether it’s a bachelors, a masters, or even a PhD in Teaching online program.

After completing an accredited college degree program, you may continue on the path toward your teaching licensure. You can get started today by exploring accredited online teacher certification programs to find the one that best fits your interests and goals.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.