If you have a passion for learning and growth then you may be a good fit for a career in education. Here we dive into how to become a teacher with a step by step guide highlighting two possibly paths to establishing yourself in this profession. Whether you want to be a high school or preschool teacher or an art or history teacher, this guide will show you how you can achieve this goal. We provide you with answers to questions such as ‘how to get a teaching certificate?’ and ‘how long does it take to become a teacher?’. Let’s jump in so you can learn exactly how to be a teacher and the steps you can take right now to start off on a path towards employment as an educator.
What Exactly Does a Teacher Do?
A teacher is a meticulously trained classroom instructor who directs, monitors, and supervises the learning processes of children or adolescents, or adult learners in some instances. Teachers develop expertise in one or more subject areas or grade levels, and they pass on their knowledge to their students using evidence-based pedagogical strategies, techniques, and methodologies. Teachers employed in pre-K-12 school systems are assigned to teach specific grades, subjects, or a combination of both.
There are a variety of duties a teacher must fulfill in order to perform their jobs properly. Teachers prepare detailed lesson plans, select materials that will enhance the learning process, give lectures or lead question-and-answer sessions in classroom settings, assign and grade homework and exams, take action to ensure their classrooms remain orderly and offer an environment conducive to learning, meet with parents to discuss the progress of their children, and interact with administrators and other teachers to discuss a wide range of school-related issues and affairs.
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How Much Does a Teacher Make?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics divides the teaching category into multiple categories. Those categories, and the mean annual salary in 2019 for each, are as follows:
- Preschool Teachers: $30,520
- Special Education Teachers: $61,030
- Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: $59,420
- Middle School Teachers: $59,660
- High School Teachers: $61,660
The demand for teachers is expected to grow by four percent for kindergarten and elementary school, middle school, and high school teachers between 2019 and 2029, which is right at the national average for all professions combined. The need for special education and preschool teachers will increase at a slower rate, with three and two percent growth rates projected for those specialties respectively.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Teacher?
Depending on what and where you teach it will generally take 4 to 6 years to become a teacher. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, especially in a teaching related field, then you can expect to start looking for employment after completing a teacher certification program, which typically takes one to two years.
It is possible to become a teacher at some private and boarding schools sooner if you have a relevant degree or experience as some will not require a teaching certificate. For details, read on.
How to Become a Teacher: A Step-by-Step Guide
PATH 1: The Traditional Route
Here is a guide on taking the traditional path to becoming an educator. Here we discuss how to become a teacher through getting a bachelor’s degree and competing a teacher certification program.
Step 1: Select a Teaching Specialty
A Bachelor of Science degree in Education is the minimum requirement for entering the teaching profession, if you plan to take the traditional route. Your bachelor of education degree program will prepare you for a specific type of teaching, either based on subject matter or the age of the students (or both, if you plan to teach at the middle school or high school levels).
Since elementary teachers are expected to be generalists, university education departments usually offer bachelor’s degree programs in elementary education with no additional concentration required. If you’re interested in teaching pre-K-level students, you’d likely pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, or its equivalent.
If you plan to teach in middle school or high school, the situation is different. In this instance, you would choose a program geared for your chosen age group or grade level (i.e., grades 5-9, 9-12, or 7-8), and then add a concentration or minor that would cover the field of study you’ve chosen as your specialty (history, mathematics, physical education, art, Spanish, economics, etc.). Some colleges only award master’s degrees for certain teaching specialties, which means you’d need five or six years to become a teacher if you chose those universities and one of those specialties.
Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor of Education Degree with Teaching Preparation and Experience
The most basic requirement for a prospective teacher is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in education, from an accredited university that offers a teacher preparation program and student teaching opportunities as a part of the curriculum.
Graduates of these programs will emerge with a thorough education in pedagogical theories, techniques, and strategies. They will also gain invaluable practical experience in the classroom working under the supervision of professional educators. Student teachers will usually spend between 10 and 20 weeks instructing students under the mentorship of a single professional instructor, who will be employed teaching the student’s chosen age-related or subject-related specialty.
Since teaching is a popular career choice, virtually all public and private universities offer bachelor of education degrees in conjunction with teacher preparation programs. This means you’ll have a broad range of options to choose from, once you begin your search for a college.
This list of undergraduate majors available for prospective teachers will vary from school to school, both in their content and in the nomenclature used to identify the available degree tracks. The concentrations or specialties offered will vary as well, which means that some universities that interest you may be unable to train you properly or offer you suitable student teaching placements.
In recent years, there has been a trend toward more graduate-level training for prospective teachers, and for those interested in becoming secondary school teachers in particular. For example, a growing number of universities now require you to complete a master’s degree if you want to become a high school math, science, English, or foreign language teacher.
Step 3: Seek State Certification and Licensure (how to get a teaching certificate)
All states require teachers who plan to work in pre-K-12 school systems to be certified to practice in that state. This standard will apply to public school and oftentimes to private school teachers, and to those who work with students at all grade levels. You will have to take and pass one or more certification exams to qualify for licensure and employment, regardless of the state where you plan to practice your chosen profession. When you receive your certification, it will include endorsements that list the subjects or grade levels you’re considered qualified to teach.
To be eligible to take certification exams, you must possess at minimum a bachelor’s degree in education, with a teacher preparation component having been included in your curriculum.
The majority of states require teaching applicants to take and pass Praxis certification tests, which are prepared and administered by the prestigious Educational Testing Service. Commonly administered tests include CORE Academic Skills for Educators exams that measure basic competencies in reading, writing, and mathematics, and Praxis Subject Assessment tests that assess learning in specific subject areas, for certain age groups or grade levels, or for a combination of both.
In lieu of Praxis tests, or to supplement them, several states administer their own unique certification exams, to appraise specific competencies or teaching skills in general. Others may use tests offered by different national organizations, like Educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) tests administered by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Evaluation, or National Evaluation Series (NES) exams offered through Pearson.
Step 4: Seek Employment as a First-Time Teacher
Your first job as a professional teacher will likely be an entry-level position, which means you’ll start out with a lower-than-average salary compared to others doing similar work. Depending on the state where you’re hired, your first license may be listed in a special category like initial or provisional, and may only be changed to full professional status once you’ve qualified for license renewal.
The good news is that turnover is fairly constant in all school districts, and there will be job opportunities available if you’re willing to be flexible about location. Reciprocity agreements are common in the United States, which means you could seek employment in multiple states simultaneously without having to take extra certification exams.
If you do well on your interview and have good references, you’ll likely find your skills are in high demand, even if your previous experience was confined to student teaching.
Step 5: Study for a Master’s Degree in Education in Your Chosen Specialty
Nearly 60 percent of teachers in public schools have master’s degrees (the percentages are a bit lower in private schools). This includes those who go on to graduate school before beginning their teaching careers, and those who enroll in graduate school after obtaining their first professional teaching job (the second choice is more common).
While master’s degrees aren’t required to land teaching jobs in the United States, those who have them will usually make higher salaries (26 percent higher on average than teachers with bachelor’s degrees only, according to one recent study). They will also have a competitive advantage when searching for new jobs or seeking promotions.
There are three states that require teachers to obtain their master’s degrees to be eligible for license renewal—New York, Maryland, and Connecticut. In Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon, you’ll be able to renew an initial or provisional license, but not advance to a higher-level professional license unless and until you successfully complete a master’s program.
The primary graduate-level degree options for aspiring teachers are the Master of Arts in Teaching and the Master in Education. These degrees could be appropriate for individuals whose bachelor’s degree did not include teacher preparation coursework or internships, in addition to those who already possess teaching-related undergraduate degrees. At some schools, certain teaching degree tracks actually require a master’s degree and are not available as undergraduate concentrations.
Some practicing teachers who choose to return to graduate school choose to seek advanced degrees in their specialty areas (i.e., history, physics, mathematics, chemistry, etc.). This option is especially attractive for teachers interested in transitioning into higher education at some point in the future.
One advantage to pursuing a master’s degree is that if you obtain it, you will automatically qualify for certification in your specialty or area concentration. This means you won’t have to take additional certification exams to receive your teaching license.
Step 6: Meet the Continuing Education Requirements of Your State or School District
In order to have your teacher’s license renewed every five years, you’ll need to complete approximately 150 of continuing education classes (in most states), or earn an additional degree (bachelor’s or master’s) in an education-related field.
Continuing education hour requirements may be satisfied by taking credit or non-credit courses at local universities or online, at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Another option is to sign up for professional development courses with private online educator training companies, like Learners Edge or ed2go. Your school district or state’s department of education will also likely sponsor workshops, seminars, and training courses for teachers on a semi-regular basis, which are another way to accumulate valuable continuing education credits.
While continuing education is mandatory, it is also highly useful. Teachers who improve their resumes with additional educational experiences can earn higher salaries, make themselves eligible for promotions, or more easily qualify for better positions at other schools.
PATH 2: The Alternative Route
If you are wondering how do you become a lactation consultant in a shorter time and with less personal financial cost, then path number two may be right for you.
Step 1: Make Sure You Have a Bachelor’s Degree
The teaching profession does draw a fair share of career changers. Even if you haven’t completed a teacher preparation program, you’ll still need to possess some type of bachelor’s degree before you can explore alternative pathways to a teaching career.
If you’re interested in teaching above the elementary level, you’ll likely need a bachelor’s degree in or related to the subject area you plan to teach to be accepted as an alternative pathway candidate.
Step 2: Find Entry-Level Employment Opportunities for Non-Certified Teachers
States generally offer alternative pathways to certification and a teaching career because they’ve experienced teacher shortages in certain districts or in particular subject areas. To find where opportunities are available, you should contact school district authorities in the area where you live, or check with the state department of education to find out where non-certified teaching candidates are being recruited or accepted.
There are national organizations that provide opportunities for prospective teachers who lack some of the qualifications normally required to enter the profession. Perhaps the best known is Teach for America, which places entry-level teachers in high-need urban or rural districts where poverty levels are elevated and achievement gaps are persistent. New teachers accepted by the organization start out with temporary licenses, and then take college coursework in teacher preparation programs that can lead to permanent certification and licensure. Teaching assignments with the organization last for two years, and will cover the student teaching requirements for college-level teaching preparation programs.
Another organization that provides alternative certification options is the American Board. Their online training programs will prepare candidates to pass certification exams in high-need academic areas in the 12 states that contract American Board to offer alternative pathway services. At the end of their training, prospective teachers must pass demanding exams designed and administered by American Board, and if they do so they will become eligible for permanent certification and licensure in their home state.
You may also be able to find employment as a teacher at some private school which may not require a teaching certification.
Step 3: Obtain a Temporary or Provisional Teaching License
Most alternative pathways will require you to obtain a temporary or provisional license before you can take a teaching assignment.
To be awarded such a license, you may be required to pass the same certification tests as teachers who followed the traditional route to certification. Or, other special tests may be administered that measure your ability to handle the position you’re being recruited to fill.
Your bachelor’s degree will most likely have to be in the same subject area you plan to teach. Some positions (those that offer technical, mechanical, or vocational instruction, for example) may be open to non-certified prospects who’ve practiced professionally in a relevant field. In each instance, you’ll be leveraging your past experience to become eligible to teach as an alternative pathway candidate.
Step 4: Gain the Requisite Educational Experiences Needed for Full Professional Certification
While working under such a temporary or provisional license in a high-need environment, you’ll be expected to simultaneously enroll in a teacher preparation program through a university, or take individual classes that will offer instruction in pedagogical skills and strategies. You may be able to begin your teaching career without traditional training, but you won’t be able to continue it unless you take steps to fill in your knowledge and experience gaps. Only after you’ve completed such coursework will you be eligible to sit for Praxis exams or other state-specific tests that will grant you full professional certification.
Step 5: Pursue a Master’s Degree in Education (Optional)
One of the most direct ways to obtain a teaching license without previous educational training or student teaching experience is to enroll in a program that will issue you a Master of Arts in Teaching or a Master of Education at completion. You won’t need an undergraduate degree that includes teaching preparation to qualify for such a program, which can act as a substitute for a traditional pathway to certification.
Step 6: Secure a Lasting Position as a Certified and Licensed Teacher
All 50 states provide alternative pathways for potential teachers. The specifics vary, but if you follow the required steps you’ll ultimately position yourself to achieve full certification that puts you an equal footing with those who followed the traditional route.
Your qualifications will be sufficient to find full-time employment as a teacher. Once you’ve been hired, you will need to meet the same continuing education requirements as traditional pathway teachers to have your license renewed.
Pros and Cons of a Career as a Teacher
Pros of Becoming a Teacher
As a lactation consultant, you’ll have the opportunity to form close one-on-one relationships with clients that are far more intimate, personal, and respectful than the normal relationships that develop between healthcare providers and patients. Because the instruction and advice a lactation consultant offers is so important to the health of their babies, the women you work with will be highly motivated to listen to your instruction and follow your recommendations. The growth in demand for lactation consultants is likely to continue for quite some time and could even accelerate, which means you’ll likely find ample opportunities to secure better positions and pay raises as your career progresses.
Cons of Becoming a Teacher
If you follow the most common pathway to a career as a lactation consultant, by pursuing a nursing degree and later IBLCE certification, the process could take as much as five years to complete. Regardless of the approach you take to creating career opportunities, you’ll have to follow a strict and relatively inflexible academic curriculum to be eligible to sit for the IBLCE certification exam. Lactation consultants are expected to come up with solutions to a wide range of breastfeeding issues, and in some instances these solutions may prove elusive. The reasons for breastfeeding or lactation problems can take quite a bit of medical detective work to uncover, and definitive solutions may not always be forthcoming.
Important Characteristics of a Successful Teacher
Lactation consultants help women who are experiencing a major life transition. Therefore, it is important that they conduct themselves in a gentle, patient, and easygoing manner at all times. Lactation consultants must be good communicators and have well-developed people skills in general, so they can offer clear technical and personal advice that addresses all of the apprehensions and concerns of the new mothers they counsel.
Having chosen a career that combines elements of teaching and healthcare, successful lactation consultants know how to manage different types of responsibilities simultaneously. They must provide effective practical instruction in breastfeeding technique, solve breastfeeding or lactation problems as they arise, and closely monitor the health of both newborns and mothers, all at the same time. Rather than being intimidated by this immense responsibility, they most successful lactation consultants embrace it gladly and confidently. Good lactation consultants are self-confident and self-assured, and that attitude helps reassure new mothers who might otherwise be plagued by worry or anxiety.
The best lactation consultants are highly enthusiastic about their work. They view what they do less as a job and more as a calling. They take pride in the constructive role they play in helping mothers and newborns develop close and mutually beneficial connections. Successful lactation consultants know they’re providing a unique service while filling an important niche that might have been overlooked in the past, and that helps them remain compassionately engaged with their profession.
This guide is designed to help you learn and understand how to be a teacher and establish yourself with a career in education. We discussed how long it takes to become a teacher, typical salary expectations, how to get a teaching certificate if you already have a bachelor’s degree and more.
The following are some guides that we plan to add in the future for various specialties:
- how to become a high school teacher
- how to become a middle school teacher
- how to become an elementary school teacher
- how to become a kindergarten teacher
- how to become a preschool teacher
- how to become a teaching assistant
- how to become a PE teacher (gym teacher)
- how to become an art teacher
- how to become a history teacher
- how to become an English teacher
- how to become a special education teacher
The field of education is in desperate need for devoted and effective teachers and we hope to play our part in helping to get prospective teachers in to the classroom. Spread the word and share this guide on how to become a teacher with those you think may be interested or who might make great educators.
Or check out our guide on how to become a veterinary assistant.