How To Become A Teacher

“Teachers make more than a salary–they make a difference in their students’ lives. The satisfaction of sharing knowledge and mentoring students has called countless teachers to the field. And in coming years, teachers can expect to hear the call of career opportunity too. “”Baby boom”” teachers are set to retire just as student enrollment soars, creating over a million new teaching jobs within the next decade.

An Overview
But before you take your place at the head of the classroom, you’ll need an education yourself. Teachers are “”some of the most highly educated workers in the labor force,”” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Two in three education employees have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Not counting support staff (secretaries, bus drivers, etc.), the number is closer to 100 percent. Your level of education will depend on whom, what, and where you choose to teach.

A four-year bachelor’s degree is the standard minimum qualification for any teaching position. The Bachelor of Science in Education offers a broad foundation in the liberal arts and sciences. In the last years, students take courses on education topics such as curriculum development, child psychology, classroom strategies, and communication skills. In addition to the college degree, many teaching positions require state licensure and supervised teaching practice.

Finding Your Niche
With 13.3 million jobs, education is second only to health care as the largest industry in the U.S. Where do you fit in?

The “”who, what, where, and why”” of your teaching ambition will guide you to the right teaching specialty. Are you interested in teaching life skills, academic skills, or vocational skills? Which role fits you best–expert, mentor, surrogate parent, hands-on trainer, or motivator? Which age group do you relate to best? Elementary school teachers guide children through their formative years, while high school teachers can be powerful role models. College professors inspire students with new ideas and cutting-edge research. Vocational instructors, adult educators, and corporate trainers offer hands-on career training, and online educators develop new ways to use educational technology.

Here are some of your teaching options:

* Preschool and Kindergarten
* Elementary School
* Middle School
* Secondary School
* Vocational School
* College
* Special Education
* Adult Literacy
* Continuing Education
* Online Education
* Corporate Training

K-12 Teachers
Kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school teachers begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Science in Education is the preferred qualification, but many teachers transition to the field with a degree in another major. Teachers go on to a teacher training program, which includes classroom practice. Alternative training programs with supplementary education courses are available for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field. Some teachers go on to a master’s degree in education, specializing in advanced classroom instruction, elementary reading and literacy, instructional design, etc.

Public school and some private school teachers must obtain a state license. Requirements vary by state, but often require teachers to complete a master’s degree within the first few years on the job.

Special Education Teachers
Special education teachers face more extensive training requirements than their K-12 counterparts. In addition to a bachelor’s and master’s degree, state licensing boards require completion of an approved training program in special education teaching. Bachelor’s degree programs in special education often add a 5th year to incorporate both general and specialized training in special education. Aspiring special education teachers who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field must complete a master’s degree in special education to enter the field.

Special education courses are available online as well as on campus. Critical areas include educational psychology, legal issues of special education, child growth and development, and strategies for teaching students with disabilities. In the final year of a special education program, students typically begin teaching under the supervision of a certified special education teacher.

College Professors
College professors generally hold a Ph.D. in their academic specialty. The Ph.D. averages about six years of graduate-level education. Programs vary, but typically include two years of graduate-level coursework, several years of teaching, and a two- to three-year dissertation project based on original research in the field. Ph.D. programs are designed to produce experts in a particular academic field, who split their time between undergraduate teaching and research.

Junior or community colleges require a two-year master’s degree in an academic specialty. Many two-year colleges prefer candidates with experience in online teaching and educational technology.

Adult Education Teachers
Adult education includes remedial and literacy education, English as a Second Language (ESL), continuing education, vocational training, and self-enrichment. Besides the basic bachelor’s degree requirement, adult educators are expected to complete specialized coursework. Ongoing professional development is the norm in the career-focused world of adult continuing education. Some adult education teachers complete a master’s degree in adult education.

* Adult remedial educators pursue a graduate certificate in GED or literacy.
* ESL teachers complete program in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), leading to a TESL certificate, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree. A TESL program qualifies graduates for a state-issued ESL credential.
* Vocational teachers face various requirements, ranging from state licensure to industry experience.
* Continuing education programs, staffed mainly by industry professionals, often require at least three years’ work experience. A background in online pedagogy and technology is also an asset, since continuing education is increasingly delivered online to accommodate working adults.

Educational Requirements for Teachers
Bachelor’s Master’s PhD Special Qualifications Suggested Courses
Elementary/ Middle School

required in some states

early childhood education (K-3); elementary reading and literacy; classroom instruction
High School

required in some states

educational technology; teaching mathematics, science, etc.; curriculum development


colleges only



3+ years of work experience
Adult/Continuing Education


3+ years of work experience recommended online education & technology; instructional design; adult learning theory; ESL (for English as a Second Language teachers)
Special Education


At least one year of graduate coursework in Special Education educational psychology; child growth & development; teaching students with disabilities

Opportunities are promising across the teaching profession. Postsecondary teachers can expect nearly 25 percent more jobs in the coming decade, or about 382,000 new positions. Most of this growth will be concentrated in community college and career education programs. Special education teachers also face rising demand, with 15 percent growth through 2016.

Between unprecedented demand and new developments in online educational technology, the teaching field has never been more exciting. Career changers face some of the best prospects, as more and more teaching jobs emphasize applied industry expertise. Teaching has always been a noble profession; in the coming decade, it promises to be a dynamic, high-growth career as well. “

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