How to Become a Highly Qualified Teacher

Research the requirements to become a highly qualified teacher. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in education.

Should I Become a Highly Qualified Teacher?

A highly qualified teacher is a public school educator who meets the definition created under the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. Teachers in general plan lessons, deliver instruction and assess students' progress. They are also frequently responsible for students in common areas such as playgrounds, hallways and lunchrooms. Working with children on a daily basis might be stressful and tiring to some individuals. The rewards may outweigh the negatives, however, when educators are able to observe their students' many accomplishments.

As defined by the federal government, these teachers are those who hold a bachelor's degree and a teaching license from their state, and who demonstrate competence in the subject (or subjects) they teach. Individual states may have more specific regulations as to what defines a highly qualified teacher.

Career Requirements

Degree Level At least a bachelor's degree, though a master's may be required shortly after certification in some states
Degree Field Varies depending on level: elementary teachers may major in elementary education, or may study a specific field in some states; middle and high school teachers typically major in a field of study, like math, English, chemistry, history or biology
Licensure/Certification All states require teacher certification, also known as licensure, for public school teachers
Experience Student teaching experience is required
Key Skills Patience, communication skills, instructional skills, creativity, educational software, computer imaging programs, spreadsheet software
Salary $57,620 (Annual mean salary for a middle school teacher)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), O*NET Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The type of bachelor's degree an aspiring teacher pursues will vary based on the grade level he or she intends to teach. A student planning to become an elementary school teacher will commonly major in elementary education, though some states require teachers at this level to choose an area of study, like English or math. At the middle and high school level, most teachers have earned a bachelor's degree in a specific subject, like history or physics. At all levels, aspiring public school teachers must complete coursework that will prepare them to become licensed in their state.

Success Tips:

Complete a student teaching experience. A student teaching experience is a mandatory requirement for all aspiring K-12 teachers seeking licensure with the state to teach in a public school. The experience gained through student teaching can help an aspiring teacher prepare for work at the professional level.

Step 2: Become State Certified or Licensed

Full certification or licensure must be obtained in order to be considered a highly qualified teacher. In addition to a bachelor's degree, education coursework and a teaching experience, most states also require teachers to pass a skills test of general knowledge. Some states add additional requirements, such as satisfying technology training and earning a minimum grade point average. All states provide an alternative path to licensure or certification for those who did not earn college credit in education.

Success Tips:

Know state requirements. Since the certification process is defined by each state or jurisdiction for which an educator plans to teach, prospective teachers should familiarize themselves with their specific state's requirements.

Step 3: Demonstrate Knowledge in Subjects Taught

When aspiring teachers find employment, they will have to demonstrate that they are highly qualified in their field. Educators must show that they have proficient knowledge in the subjects they teach by meeting state standards. The requirements vary by state, but teachers must generally pass a subject-matter test or have earned a major in the subject in which they are teaching.

Step 4: Maintain Teaching License

Teaching licenses are typically issued for a defined period. The expectations vary from state to state, but generally teachers are required to earn continuing education credits to be eligible for license renewal. Each type of license has its own set of renewal requirements. Depending on education level attained and experience, coursework may or may not be required.

Step 5: Earn a Master's Degree

Some states require teachers to earn a master's degree shortly after becoming certified, and in such cases, earning this advanced degree would be mandatory. In states that don't require students to earn a master's degree, teachers may still choose to do so in order to advance or to earn higher salaries.

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