How to Become a Teacher With a Bachelor’s Degree

How to Become a Teacher With a Bachelor’s Degree
The Editorial Team May 27, 2020

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The bachelor’s degree is the most common higher education credential in America. According to the U.S. Census, more than 33% of adults have a four-year degree. For millions of American workers, a bachelor’s degree is a stable platform from which they can find management and professional work. Education, however, has its own requirements. Most of the teachers in American schools start with a four-year general degree, and then they complete a dedicated education course that prepares them for work in primary and secondary schools.

While this is a typical progression for new teachers to follow, it isn’t always necessary. Some educators find teaching work with just their bachelor’s degree. Others start working as teachers prior to starting a specialized course in education.

Traditional Pathway of Becoming a Teacher

From 2001 to 2016, the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required states to adopt standards to hire only highly-qualified teachers. Beyond this vague language, specifics for teachers’ education and training were the responsibility of the states. Since 2016, the federal law governing education has been the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA overturned much of the previous law, according to Education Week of Bethesda MD, making it illegal for federal authorities to even recommend specific teacher standards. As a result, the pathway to a career in teaching is more local than it has been for nearly a century.

The path to a career in teaching is still the same as it has been for decades. First, future teachers must obtain a bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject, then a one- or two-year teaching certificate must be earned from a regionally accredited school. Some states include a requirement that teachers spend at least a few years teaching before earning state certification. Exceptions exist, but this is the most common path. As of 2020, 47 states maintain an interstate agreement known as the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). This agreement standardizes teacher standards between states and allows teachers from one state to have their credentials recognized by other states.

Can You Become a Certified Teacher With Just a Bachelor’s Degree?

All 50 states require a bachelor’s degree to begin teaching in public schools, and 47 states require some kind of teacher training before certification can be granted. Only three states grant teaching credentials without any extra training: Idaho, Illinois, and Indiana. These credentials, however, generally impose a statewide testing requirement for bachelor’s degree holders. All three states also allow temporary or provisional certificates to be granted to applicants with missing coursework or unfinished degrees.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Certified Teacher

Many teacher certification programs are included in the core requirements of an education bachelor’s degree. This makes it relatively easy to achieve state teaching standards. For those whose four-year degrees did not include a certification program, the decision to seek out extra training has its pros and cons. In general, aspiring teachers have more career options with a certificate, though some career goals are accessible without one.

Advantages of Teacher CertificationDisadvantages of Teacher Certification
Expanded job opportunities and competitive hiring for graduatesMost programs run from 12 to 24 months and may delay the start of employment in teaching
Certified teachers can expect higher pay than noncertified teachers, especially early in a careerEducation and certification requirements can be expensive for recent college graduates who have not started working or paid down student loans
Promotion into school administration is only open to certified teachers with a specified amount of teaching experience

Areas of emphasis in certification training may not be relevant for niche career fields, such as Early Childhood Education and private school administration
Certified applicants may assume they meet the requirements for teaching in public schools, and uncertainty about credentials is minimalCertified teachers may be rejected for some employment as overqualified, especially at private institutions and other nontraditional establishments

What Is Emergency Teacher Certification?

School districts with an acute teacher shortage sometimes petition the state to grant emergency teacher certification for promising applicants who otherwise lack teaching credentials. These temporary certifications permit holders to finish out a school year without obtaining the standard certificate, and in many cases, the credential can be renewed several times until the holder has finished a teacher certification program.

In some places, programs operate to issue emergency or provisional teaching certificates as an alternative pathway to teaching careers. One of these, Troops to Teachers, temporarily certifies honorably discharged veterans to teach while they work on a traditional degree and certification. Temporary certificates are also routinely issued for applicants with bachelor’s degrees in popular subjects, such as history or one of the sciences.

What Are Alternative Teaching Certifications?

Because of the distributed nature of American education, no single path to alternative teaching credentials is available in every state:

  • Alternative Teacher Preparation Programs: Alternative preparation programs exist in some states, and some universities offer coursework toward local requirements. These vary in design and requirements, and speaking with a state education official may be the best way to stay current on requirements.
  • Transition to Teaching: Transitional programs, such as Troops to Teachers, encourage members of certain professions to try teaching with temporary credentials. These programs almost always lead to traditional teaching certificates in time.
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: NBPTS certification is recognized by 47 states, 44 of which require teacher certification training before granting credentials that can be recognized across state lines.
  • Alternative Certification in Career and Technical Education: Some technical educators, such as shop teachers, can obtain skills-related certifications, such as ASE mechanic rating, and start teaching in their field on a temporary basis.
  • In-District Training Route to Licensure: Some districts have their own training and licensure program for otherwise qualified applicants. These usually operate on a case-by-case basis.
  • Teaching Equivalency and Portfolio Evaluations: In rare cases, provisional teaching credentials may be issued to applicants with significant life experience, advanced degrees, or some combination of education and experience.


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