How to Become a Teacher in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a teacher. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching & Learning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Teacher?

A teacher is someone who educates a group of students about a specific subject or teaches age-appropriate concepts to a group of students. They may work with young children, teenagers or adults. School teachers are typically responsible for using curriculum guidelines to develop age-appropriate lesson plans for their students. They teach the class and use tests and assignments to assess the progress of their students. Teachers in elementary schools normally teach a number of subjects to students in one grade, while teachers in middle school, high school and college normally specialize in a specific subject area that they teach. Elementary, middle and high school teachers need a bachelor's degree and their teaching license. Some states may require high school teachers to have a master's degree in their subject area. Postsecondary teachers typically need a master's or doctoral degree.

Elementary School Teachers Middle School Teachers High School Teachers Professors
Degree Required Bachelor's degree; master's required by some states Bachelor's degree; master's required by some states Bachelor's degree; master's required by some states Doctoral degree usually required
Education Field of Study Early childhood education Middle education and your specialized subject Secondary education and your specialized subject Your specialized subject
Key Responsibilities Instruct students, manage classrooms, make lesson plans and grade work Instruct students, manage classrooms, make lesson plans and grade work Instruct students, manage classrooms, make lesson plans and grade work Instruct students, create syllabi, grade work and publish articles in academic discipline
Licensure Certification required in all states (Public schools) Certification required in all states (Public schools) Certification required in all states (Public schools) None required
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 6%* 6%* 6%* 13%*
Average Salary (2015) $57,730* $58,760* $60,440* $71,060*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Teacher's Responsibility?

Teachers instruct students from preschool through high school and beyond. As a teacher, you'll instruct and coach students and choose from a variety of subjects, including mathematics, science, social studies, reading, writing, physical education, science, art and music. If you teach elementary school, you'll likely teach multiple subjects. On a day-to-day basis, you'll organize subjects, manage classrooms, instruct students, grade work, create lesson plans, lecture and encourage students' physical, mental, emotional and social growth.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that teacher employment should rise about 6% from 2014-2024 for elementary, middle and high school teachers, and 13% for postsecondary teachers (i.e. professors). The average annual salary in 2015 for elementary teachers was $57,730, while middle school teachers averaged $58,760 per year. During this time, the median salary for secondary school teachers was $57,200 for all elementary and secondary school teachers and $63,000 for all postsecondary teachers.

Step 1: Get Your Bachelor's Degree

The BLS notes that at least a bachelor's degree is needed to become a teacher. What you'll study depends on the level and subject you wish to teach. An early childhood education degree program prepares you to work from kindergarten through fourth grade, a middle education program allows you to work with fifth grade through seventh grade, while a secondary education program preps you for students in eighth grade and up. Some colleges offer more general programs that pertain to all levels of education.

Many secondary and middle education programs provide the basics in education and require you to select a field to teach. The four primary subject areas are math, science, social studies (history) and English. More specialized subjects are also available. Once you know the basics of education and your specialized subject, you'll be ready for a classroom internship.

Step 2: Complete Classroom Training

Most teaching programs include a residency known as student teaching. You'll start by observing the primary teacher and gradually gain more responsibility teaching the class. This classroom training is essential to practice for your career. It'll be even more important if you choose to major in something else and not in education. These student teaching programs introduce you to the classroom, students and the teaching experience while developing your decision-making and problem-solving skills.

Step 3: Seek Teacher Certification

According to the BLS, you'll need a license to teach, no matter the state in which you desire to teach. Student teaching sessions are likely required by your state board of education as one of the licensing requirements. Other states use the Praxis series tests, administered by the Educational Testing Service, towards their teacher licensing (www.ets.org). These two exams test you on your knowledge of your specialized subject and on general math and literacy.

Step 4: Advance Your Education

Some states require teachers to earn master's degrees at some point after they begin teaching. With a master's degree program, you can study education basics that you may have missed in a non-education bachelor's degree program. You may also be able to meet eligibility requirements (such as supervised student teaching hours) that you didn't complete in your undergraduate study. If you're already a licensed, working teacher, earning a master's degree may make you eligible for pay raises and additional responsibilities reports the BLS. If you're interested in working in a college, college professors are required to have Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.

Step 5: Pursue National Certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) provides 25 separate certifications (www.nbpts.org). These certifications cover 16 subjects for teachers of children and young adults. These voluntary NBPTS certifications are valid for ten years and are nationally recognized. You can seek certification in such areas as science, English and foreign languages.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Individuals interested in jobs closely related to the four kinds of teaching mentioned above may consider becoming career and technical educators or instructional coordinators. Career and technical education teachers perform the same duties as other teachers but focus on instructing students in trades or vocational programs. They need a bachelor's degree. On the other hand, instructional coordinators determine what materials should be used for the curriculum for each subject at each grade level. They present this material to teachers and administrators and may monitor how effective it is and revise the curriculum when necessary. Instructional coordinators are required to have a master's degree.

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