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Requirements to Be a Teacher: Education and Career Roadmap

Teaching requires significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties, career outlook and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Should I Become a Teacher?

Teaching is a diverse profession that involves working with students to help them obtain certain knowledge or master specific tasks. This article looks at the occupation of teaching at the elementary and secondary school levels and at special education teaching for all levels. Every state requires that public school teachers be licensed by completing education requirements and passing examinations. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for licensure. Elementary teachers hold bachelor's degrees in education, while high school teachers have degrees in a subject area. Special education teachers may major in special education or in a content area with a minor in special education. In some states, teachers must go on to earn master's degrees after obtaining licensure.

Career Requirements

Degree Levels Bachelor's degree minimum; master's or doctorate degree preferred
Degree Field Education, specific teaching area
Experience Student teaching experience is mandatory
Licensure/Certification In most cases, licensure and certification as a teacher is required
Median Salary (2014) $54,120 per year (for elementary school teachers)
$59,330 per year (for secondary teachers)
$54,520 per year (for special education teachers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Step 1: Receive a High School Diploma

It may seem like an obvious one, but the first step toward becoming a teacher is to complete high school. A high school diploma is necessary for college admission, and in some cases, it may be enough for entry-level jobs in preschools.

Step 2: Enroll in College

To teach in a public school, one must complete a bachelor's degree program. Individuals who teach at the grade school level typically major in education and minor in another area, such as science or mathematics. Aspiring high school teachers, in most cases, will need to major in the subject they wish to teach and supplement their degrees with additional courses in education. Preschool teachers may opt for a 2-year degree program in early childhood development or a related area.

Step 3: Complete a Teacher Certification Program

Most academic programs in education include the courses necessary to apply for state teacher certification. Those who majored in a non-education area but want to teach later in their careers can pursue alternative certification programs set by their states. Alternative certification programs vary, but they generally require students to select the subject area they plan to teach and complete coursework in that area and in general pedagogy. All teacher certification programs include a student teaching experience, and after completing a certification program, individuals are eligible to apply for licensure.

Step 4: Advance in the Field

Teachers can often further their careers by joining professional organizations and adding voluntary certification credentials to their resumes. Individuals can gain such certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which offers certification in a variety of subjects, from math to music. Additionally, teachers often pursue graduate-level education in the form of a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or another advanced degree.

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