Updated July 2022
If you think you may want to work with kids in the future, you may be wondering what degree do you need to be a teacher. The question can be confusing because there are several different types of teachers and different routes to becoming one. Unlike many other careers, teaching isn’t a job with a set career path.
If you’re set on becoming a teacher, you need to figure out what you want to teach and then work on the best career path to get there. This article can help you figure out what degree do you need to be a teacher and what you should major in so you can decide what’s best for you and your future.
Deciding If Teaching Is the Career for You
Before you begin your journey to becoming a teacher, you need to make sure if it’s the right career for you. The classes are engaging but challenging. There can be a lot of pressure, as children will depend on you to give them a thorough education.
Teaching can be a thankless job at times. It’s difficult work and you may often feel under appreciated by parents, administration, kids, and society at large. There’s potential to make money, but you’ll need to further your education and put in a few years.
Despite the negatives, teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do. There’s no better feeling than helping a child succeed and reach their goals. If you want to have a job that makes a difference, then teaching is a great option.
Skills You Need for Teaching
There are a few skills that you need to be a good teacher. First, you need to enjoy spending time with children and have a lot of patience. You’ll need great communication and leadership skills. As the world progresses, teachers are also required to learn how to use a variety of technology.
You also need a passion for education. Not only will you be required to teach new skills, but you’ll also be required to learn yourself. Great teachers are also lifelong learners. If you love teaching but a dedicated teacher role isn’t for you, consider looking into what a teaching assistant does.
What Education Is Needed to Become a Teacher?
You’re likely wondering something along the lines of what kind of degree do you need to be a teacher or what should I major in? If you wish to teach at a public or accredited school, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree at the very least. While an education major is one route, there are different majors you pursue that’ll still allow you to teach.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in something other than education, you may not have to go back to school to get your license. Read on to learn more about the different types of teachers and the degree requirements.
Early Childhood Education
If you have a passion for working with the youngest learners and want to teach preschool, you’ll need a degree in early childhood education. While many preschools and daycares don’t require their teachers to have an early childhood education degree, a degree can help you get higher-paying jobs at more prestigious preschools. Some teachers with this degree can also teach kindergarten.
An early childhood education degree equips you with the knowledge of how children’s brains are forming and how they learn. You’ll be taught teaching strategies to use with young children to help them in their development.
What degree do you need to be an elementary teacher? Elementary education typically covers grades K-6. It usually takes around four years to complete your degree and you’ll have a combination of classes, practicums, and student teaching.
Your degree will help you develop an understanding of the older child’s developing brain. You’ll learn how to teach basic concepts and learn about the current best practices for educating elementary school kids. Since many elementary classes are self-contained, you’ll learn how to teach all of the subjects.
Middle and High School Education
For middle and high school education, you’ll need a four-year bachelor’s degree, but many go on to get their master’s degree, especially if wanting to teach in a competitive area. By middle school, most grades are no longer self-contained, so teachers specialize in one subject.
What degree do you need to be a high school teacher? As a high school teacher, you’ll need a degree in the subject matter you wish to teach, such as biology or literature, and additional courses on teaching philosophy and strategies.
Special education includes classes for differently-abled kids, have learning disabilities, or are gifted. Special education can be a particularly rewarding field in teaching.
What education is needed to become a special education teacher? You’ll typically need a special education degree. This degree covers much of what teachers learn during a regular education degree but also trains teachers to manage special education classes.
Some special education teachers specialize in a particular field of special education, such as working with autistic or gifted children. These teachers receive additional training to help meet these students’ particular needs.
If you want to teach a course like P.E., art, or music, your degree plan will be slightly different. You’ll be required to take many of the education courses as general education teachers, but you’ll also need additional courses in your elective of choice.
In some cases, people with a major in music, art, or physical education complete a year or two of teacher training to get their teaching certification.
How to Choose the Best Program
Many great programs around the world offer teaching degrees. There are several factors to consider before choosing the one that’s best for you. You’ll need to check the school’s accreditation first and ensure that your degree will meet your state licensure requirements.
Next, you can consider factors such as whether the classes will be in-person, online, or hybrid. Some schools offer more opportunities for a hands-on experience than others, which you may appreciate. You may want to check into the school’s reputation and the professors’ credentials.
Some schools also give you a lot of help after graduation in finding a job. You may have professors and counselors who have connections at schools where you want to teach.
What Types of Courses Will You Take?
While there are some courses that all teachers will take, there are some courses that are more specific to the type of teacher you’ll be.
All teachers take similar education courses. You’ll learn important skills like classroom management, meaningfully engaging with students and lesson planning. You’ll also take deeper-level courses into topics like education theory and educational philosophy.
During these courses, you’ll develop and write your own philosophy of education. You’ll learn what you think is important as a teacher and how you think kids can learn best. Your philosophy will be important once you enter the job search, as many schools will require you to submit one along with your resume.
Early Education Courses
Early education classes spend a lot of time focusing on how very young children develop and learn. You’ll learn how the developing brain works and how teachers can aid in that development. You’ll likely also learn about teaching children some early basics, especially in learning through play.
Elementary Education Courses
As an elementary teacher, you’ll be entrusted with helping kids develop the foundations they’ll use throughout their education and into their adult lives.
You’ll spend a lot of time learning how to teach children to read and how to help them develop basic math skills. You’ll learn a lot about the major competing theories for teaching these early subjects and research best practices.
Middle School and Secondary Education Courses
By the time kids reach middle and high school, they’re expected to know the basics. Their subject classes will be much deeper, and as a result, teachers are required to be subject matter experts.
If you want to teach middle or high school, you’ll need to start by choosing the subject you’d like to teach. In some cases (and for certain schools), you may need to specialize in a particular field. For example, as a middle school teacher, you may be able to major in general science, but in high school, you may need a degree in biology or chemistry.
Special Education Courses
Special education requires a specific set of courses. Special needs children have such a specific set of needs that you’ll need to understand how best to help them.
There are many routes you can take when working in special education. You may teach a group of students with a range of needs or you may specialize in a specific type of need, such as dyslexia or ADHD. You may also want to work in an inclusion class, in which you work with a general ed teacher to help the inclusion students in their class.
Student Teaching and Other Practicums
As a student, you’ll first participate in practicums. You won’t get to teach, but you’ll get to watch master teachers in action. In a practicum, you’ll observe how real teachers operate in an actual classroom and be required to analyze their teaching so that you can learn from them.
Most education degrees culminate with a semester of student teaching. You’ll spend the entire semester in an actual classroom, while also having evaluations and check-ins with a mentor professor from your college. You’ll work alongside the classroom teacher, but throughout your student teaching, you’ll be allowed to make decisions and teach your own lessons.
Depending on your college and the region, you’ll do your student teaching at one to three different schools. Your college will usually try to find you an experience in your desired grade and subject, but they’ll also try to give you a few different experiences. For example, if you’re going into elementary education, your experience in a kindergarten classroom will be quite different from what you’ll have in a fifth-grade class.
Tests and Certifications
If you’re in the US, 40 states require you to take a certification test called the Praxis. The Praxis is a culmination of your teaching instruction and will cover much of what you’ve learned in your education classes.
Depending on the grade level and subject you plan to teach, you may also be required to take a Praxis test focused on that subject.
The Praxis test is challenging, but with proper studying, most students can pass it. You can usually take it a few times until you pass.
Meeting State Requirements
Each state has a different set of requirements for teacher licensure. You’ll need to check with your state department of education’s website to find out their exact requirements.
In most cases, your college will also guide you toward getting your state license, so you’ll know you’re doing everything you need to do. However, if you plan to teach in another state, then you’ll be responsible for making sure you do all of the necessary steps to get a license.
Many states will accept licenses from other states as well. You can usually contact the state’s department of education to see what you need to do to transfer your license.
As a teaching major, particularly if you’re going for your elementary education degree, you may opt for an endorsement in a particular subject, like social studies, science, etc. This endorsement will appear on your teaching degree and makes you particularly qualified to teach a certain subject.
To get an endorsement, you’ll need to take some extra hours in your subject of choice. Getting an endorsement will make you more appealing to schools. In some states, elementary education teachers with an endorsement are allowed to teach that subject to middle and high schoolers as well.
Other Routes to Becoming a Teacher
Now that you know what degree you need to be a teacher, you may be wondering if there are other routes to becoming a teacher. Many teachers don’t have a teaching degree but become teachers through a process called the alternate route.
Most states will allow you to get your certification even if you don’t have a teaching degree. If you have a degree in a school subject, like history or English, then you can usually teach middle or high school. You’ll either need to take a few hours of education courses or take a test like the Praxis to get your license.
If you’re looking for a job in an area with a teacher shortage, you may be able to bypass the licensure altogether. The district will issue you an emergency license and you’ll be required to work toward getting your license at a later date. This situation isn’t ideal as you’ll be thrust into a classroom without any training, but you may have a talent for learning as you go.
Do You Need a Master’s Degree?
In most cases, you don’t need a master’s degree to get a teaching job. However, there are many benefits to getting a master’s in education. First, you’ll be a more attractive candidate when it’s time to get a job. If you’re applying to a competitive school, such as a prestigious private school, a master’s degree may be required.
If you teach in the public school system, a master’s degree can get you a higher paycheck. Most teachers earn an average of $2,760 more in their first year of teaching if they have a master’s degree. The number increases with years of experience, maxing out at an average of $7,358 more per year.
Some districts will also help you pay for your master’s degree. There are some programs and organizations that’ll pay for at least a portion of your tuition to help offset the cost.
Getting Your First Teaching Job
Even with a great education, getting your first teaching job can be nerve-wracking. Your school will help you prepare, but it’s important to not let your anxiety take over. Make sure you have a solid philosophy of education written and a resume listing your skills.
While many districts are reluctant to hire first-year teachers, keep applying and you’ll eventually find the school that’s the right fit for you.
As a teacher, you’ll be expected to continue your education, even if you have a degree. Like many other jobs, teaching is based on science, and as our scientific knowledge of teaching progresses, teachers have to change their strategies. You’ll be expected to stay current on the research and best practices.
In most states, your license is only good for a few years. You’ll then need to renew it, which involves getting Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Each state has a different requirement for how many units you’ll need for renewal.
There are several ways to get your CEUs. You can attend seminars and other professional development courses. You can also take online professional development courses. Many teachers opt to work toward their master’s degree, as the college classes can count toward your CEUs.
Now that you understand how to become a teacher, you’re ready to take on the world. Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have.
There are several degree paths you can take to become a teacher, we’re written about a few. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you may be able to become a teacher without a formal teaching degree. With great education and a passion for educating children, you’re sure to become a great teacher.