Advice on How to Become a Teacher

Teachers help their students learn and apply concepts in a wide variety of subjects including math, social studies, art, music, language arts, and science. They work in public and private schools helping children acquire skills that allow them to solve problems and develop critical thought processes.

Do you have what it takes to be a teacher? If you major in education, you will graduate with the hard skills you need to instruct children, but the job of a teacher is complex. It requires skills and qualities you won't learn in school. These are known as soft skills. Either you are born with them or you have to develop them somewhere along the way.

To be an effective teacher, among your qualities must be creativity and a sensitivity to children's needs. You must also have superior organizational, listening, and verbal communication skills. Additionally, you need the ability to motivate children, and they and their parents must find you trustworthy and patient.

Assess whether you have those soft skills, or if you are willing to make a concerted effort to develop them. If you possess the traits necessary to success in this field, it is time to move forward and figure out what you must do to meet the educational requirements to become a teacher.

Educating the Educators

Education students
Andersen Ross / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Which path you take to a teaching career will depend on several factors. They include whether you want to teach in a public or private school, where you want to work, what grade you prefer, whether you want to teach special education students, and the subject area in which you want to specialize, if any. The level of education you previously attained, namely whether you already have a bachelor's degree, will also make a difference.

  • Public or Private School? Public school teachers working anywhere in the United States must have at least a bachelor's degree. Private school teachers often need one as well. It usually takes four years to earn one.
  • Where Do You Want to Work? The state in which you want to work could determine your requirements, particularly if you don't want to get a degree in education and instead major in another subject.
     
    Traditionally, one had to get a bachelor's degree in education to get licensed in any state. Most states, now, are a bit more flexible and have changed their licensing requirements to allow degrees in other majors. Those who go this route may still need to complete teacher training coursework.
  • What Grade Level Do You Want to Teach? You will enroll in a training program specific to your preferred grade level: Early Childhood Education (usually preschool to Grade 3), Elementary Education (Kindergarten through Grade 6), or Secondary Education (Grades 7 through 12).
     
    Elementary school teachers cover a broad range of subject matter in the classroom, and their training reflects this. While in college, they learn how to teach many subjects including language arts, mathematics, science, art, and music. Those who are training for a career in secondary education focus on a single one.
  • Do You Want to Teach Regular or Special Education Students? If you want to work with students who have special needs, you must receive specialized training. It is often lengthier than the preparation for regular education teachers.

In addition to enrolling in classes that cover the methods of teaching a subject or, in the case of aspiring elementary school teachers, several subjects, students in teacher training programs must also take professional education courses. They may include classes with titles like Educational Psychology, the American Education System, Educational Technology, and Philosophy of Education.

Field education is a part of every teacher training program. You may know this as "student teaching." During this practical learning experience, you will spend time in classrooms working under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

When selecting a teacher training program, look for one that is accredited by either the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) or the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Doing this will help ensure that a program will prepare you to meet your state's licensing requirements.

Although you won't need a master's degree to get you teaching license, you may need one to maintain it. Some states require that you earn your graduate degree within a specified time frame. There are two types of master-level education programs. One is designed for certified teachers who want or need an advanced degree. The other type of program is geared toward students who are not certified teachers but have bachelor's degrees in other majors.

Getting Into a Teacher Training Program

college application
teekid / E+ / Getty Images

You will usually enter a bachelor-level teacher training program after attending college for two years. Most schools of education require students to apply to these programs during their sophomore year, after completing other college coursework. Some also stipulate that students choose a second major. Secondary education majors often dual major in education and the subject they plan to teach.

Admission requirements for graduate programs differ depending on whether their students are certified teachers or those who don't have any experience. They may include a minimum grade point average, undergraduate liberal arts coursework, reference letters, a personal statement, and an interview.

How to Get Licensed

License with stamp of approval
Comstock / Stockbyte / Getty Images

If you want to teach in a public school anywhere in the United States, you will need a license, sometimes called certification. Having one is not a stipulation for employment at most private schools, however.

Individual states determine licensing requirements but often include, in addition to a bachelor's degree, passing a basic skills exam. Some states administer their own exam, but many use the PRAXIS, which the Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers.

While you don't need a master's degree to become licensed, some states require one to maintain licensure. You may also need to take continuing education courses to keep up with professional development.

Licensing requirements vary across the country, so you must investigate individual state's requirements. The University of Kentucky College of Education maintains a state-by-state guide to teacher certification.

There is often reciprocity among states so if you meet the licensing requirements in one, you will usually be able to get licensed in another. Again, check your state's department of education.

Getting Your First Teaching Job: What Makes You a Competitive Candidate

Teacher in a classroom
Caiaimage/Chris Ryan / OJO+ / Getty Images

Before you know it, you will be ready to look for your first teaching job. Are you wondering what qualities employers want in a teacher? To give you an idea, here are specifications found in job announcements from various sources:

  • "Demonstrates knowledge of age appropriate approaches to learning, skills, knowledge, interests and cultural heritage"
  • "In-depth knowledge of the concepts and skills related to specific content area"
  • "Ability to effectively use technology as an instructional tool"
  • "Demonstrated ability to maintain a safe learning environment through well-managed classrooms"