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Teacher Education: Certification and Career Facts

Each state sets its own regulations for teacher training. Read on to learn about the common requirements, such as completing a teacher education degree program and earning licensure or certification. Explore the path to becoming a teacher, and review the career outlook and salary potential.

What You Need to Know

The first step to becoming a teacher at any level is to earn a bachelor's degree. You can major in education or in the subject you wish to teach. It's also possible to major in an unrelated field and then earn a master's degree in education, with courses in your chosen teaching subject. If you want to teach children or high school students at public schools, you'll need to become licensed in your state.

Programs Most bachelor's and some master's degree programs also offer teacher certification, and both programs require practicums or internships; master's degree programs allow you to teach at the collegiate level.
Licensure Licensure requirements, set by the Board of Education (BOE), typically require a certain number of practicum hours and passing comprehensive exams, but these requirements may vary by state. Alternative licensure is available to those without a background in education.
Salary (May 2017)* Typically between $57,160 and $76,000 (range of median salaries for teachers from the elementary to postsecondary levels)

Sources: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Degree Programs Prepare Me for a Career in Teaching?

Many colleges and universities offer teacher certification programs alongside bachelor's degree programs in education. These allow you to earn both credentials at once and begin teaching immediately upon graduating. Many bachelor's degree programs in education and teacher certification programs can be completed partially online, although supervised teaching hours will be required. There are a wide variety of teaching degrees available; for example, you could earn a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education or a Bachelor of Science in Science Education, depending on your career goals.

Some states require public school teachers to earn master's degrees in education by a certain amount of time after beginning their teaching careers. Just like with bachelor's degrees, there are numerous varieties of Master of Arts in Teaching or Master of Education (M.Ed.) programs available.

Do I Need Certification?

Certification or licensure (it can be called by either name) is required for public school teachers. Private schools aren't subject to state laws regarding teacher licensure, and you may be able to begin teaching in one with just a bachelor's degree in the field you plan to teach. National teacher certification is an advanced credential that you can seek after you're already licensed to teach in your state. This additional recognition may earn you a higher salary and help you compete for desirable jobs.

How Can I Teach at the Collegiate Level?

To teach at the community college level, you need a master's degree in your subject area. To teach at the university level, you need at least a master's degree, though a doctorate is more widely accepted as the standard. Postsecondary teaching doesn't require you to take education courses, but many employers will seek applicants with teaching experience. One way to earn this is to become a teaching assistant while working on your master's or doctoral degree. Teaching assistants usually receive tuition remission for up to a certain number of credits, and they either teach or assist the professor in lower-division courses.

What Is Required for Certification?

Certification or licensure requirements are set by state boards of education. All states require a certain number of observed teacher training hours and the passage of an exam; beyond that, the policies vary. Alternative licensure programs are currently available in all 50 states. These programs make it possible to begin teaching as a career change; this could be particularly useful if you're a professional who doesn't yet have a background in education. Qualified applicants begin teaching in high-need areas, and they commonly earn their master's degrees through online or intensive summer programs.

What Job Benefits Come with Teaching?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), teacher salaries vary by the grade or level taught. For example, the median salaries in May 2017 for various types of teachers were as follows, per the BLS. These figures do not include salaries for special education or career/technical education teachers:

  • Elementary school teachers: $57,160
  • Middle school teachers: $57,720
  • Secondary teachers: $59,170
  • Postsecondary teachers (as a group): $76,000

Postsecondary teacher salaries can also vary widely based on the subject taught. For example, as of May 2017, these were the earnings of postsecondary teachers in the following fields:

  • Law: $104,910
  • Health specialties: $97,870
  • Chemistry: $77,190
  • Art, drama and music: $66,930
  • Criminal justice and law enforcement: $60,400.

In addition, public school teachers have full health benefits and sick leave. Teachers typically work 10 months out of the year, with two months off in the summer. Many postsecondary teaching jobs are part-time, and they don't come with benefits. If you work as a public school teacher, you may increase your wages by earning continuing education credits. The higher your final degree level, the more you get paid, according to government standards.