What Degree is Needed to Become A First-Time Teacher?
Many educators prepare for their careers while in college and go directly into teaching upon graduation. For others, the passion for teaching doesn’t come until later. The traditional pathway to becoming a teacher may not be a good fit for those who already have a four-year degree in another field.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 10-year projected job growth is 3% for kindergarten and elementary teachers and 4% for high school teachers. However, demand may be even higher in areas with a large student enrollment. This article provides an overview of the education needed to be a teacher. We also talk about how to become a first-time teacher via the traditional path and by earning a Master of Arts in Teaching.
The Traditional Pathway of Becoming a Teacher
To become a public school teacher, you must first obtain an accredited bachelor’s degree. Generally speaking, public kindergarten and elementary school teachers need to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and some states require that they major in a content area like science or math. Public high school teachers also need at least a bachelor’s degree, and some need to have a major in the subject they intend to teach, depending on their state.
Along with a bachelor’s degree, public school teachers must have a state-issued certification or license for the specific grade that they intend to teach. Requirements for licensure or certification vary by state but often include things like:
- A background check
- A bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade-point average
- The completion of a student-teaching program
- Passing a teaching certification test, such as the Praxis series of exams, and demonstrating knowledge in the subject they intend to teach
Private schools don’t have to follow state guidelines for teachers. Some private schools may request that their teachers have a higher level of education, while others don’t require a degree or certification.
How to Get a Teaching Certificate
The process for licensing and certification is rigorous to ensure that those who complete state-mandated requirements are qualified to teach in public schools. There are several types of certification, and each state has its own requirements.
Early Childhood Education Certification
Early childhood teacher certification usually covers prekindergarten through third grade, focusing on how children ages 3 to 8 learn and develop.
Elementary School Certification
Elementary school teaching credentials are for teachers who work with students in kindergarten through grade 5 or 6, depending on the state. This certifies teachers to teach a variety of subjects while considering the cognitive, emotional, and social development of kids ages 6 to 12.
Secondary Teacher Certification
Middle school teacher certification includes grades 5 through 9, or 6 through 8, or 7 through 8, according to each state’s education system. Many states combine middle school certification with high school certification, typically grades 9 to 12.
According to guidelines in the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers who educate middle and high school students must prove that they are highly qualified. Along with getting teacher certification for secondary school, they must add at least one subject area endorsement.
An undergraduate major is generally enough to fulfill the requirement of a teaching endorsement. However, candidates who didn’t major in the area they want to teach or who are required by their district to have more than one endorsement can take college courses or College Level Examination Program exams to show proficiency.
Earning a Master of Arts in Teaching
For those who already have a four-year degree but haven’t completed a teaching program, earning a Master of Arts in Teaching may be the best path toward achieving career goals. MAT programs are available in the traditional on-campus format and online.
For those who are researching on-campus options, it’s important to consider things like the location of the campus in relation to home or work, class size, and whether the program offers evening and weekend courses.
Many professionals prefer to complete an MAT degree via an online program. Pursuing an MAT degree online provides unmatched flexibility, letting you complete coursework at a pace that fits your schedule and lifestyle.
Not all MAT programs are equal, so it’s important to conduct proper research before diving in. All MAT programs should allow for actual classroom teaching experience through internships or a teacher residency component. When researching colleges, make sure to inquire it.
Regardless of whether you choose to complete a MAT program on-campus or online, some key factors to consider include:
- Whether the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education lists the program’s accrediting body (learn more about regional vs. national accreditation).
- The daily or weekly time commitment the coursework requires
- How long the program takes to complete and if accelerated options are available
- If the field of study you want to focus on is part of the degree program
- How much the program costs and whether you qualify for any grants or scholarships
General Requirements for Renewing Teacher Certification
Every state sets its own requirements for renewing teaching licensing and certifications. In most cases, when first-time teachers are initially hired, they receive a temporary teaching license. These temporary licenses are nonrenewable and typically valid for between one and three years.
During this temporary licensing time, the school board of the state’s board of education has to approve the teacher before they can advance to a standard teaching license. To be approved, teachers generally need to complete a year of teaching and fulfill other requirements such as attending teaching workshops or taking additional classes online.
The standard teaching license is renewable. While each state has its own rules on how often teachers need to renew their certification, most must renew every three to five years. In some states, teachers need only teach full-time in a public school. In others, teachers have to clock a certain number of professional development credits. Depending on the state, many activities may count as PD credits, including:
- Formal courses and conferences, like workshops and seminars
- Developing curriculum focused on the state’s Core Curriculum Content Standards
- Serving on teaching board or committees
- Working as a mentor for a student teacher
A Rewarding Teaching Career Is Within Reach
Teachers play a vital role in their communities. An effective teacher can inspire students while giving them the knowledge and tools they need for lifelong success. They’re also uniquely positioned to influence the future of education and work with policymakers to affect change at the local, state, and national levels. This career may be a good fit for those who want to be part of a dynamic field and a vibrant learning community that focuses on incorporating new trends and the latest research in education.