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How Long Does it Take to Become a Teacher?

Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent

classroom with a group of college students

Are you passionate about helping students learn? Do you have a specific type of student or subject you want to teach? The path to becoming a teacher can be an exciting one for potential teachers with leadership skills, especially those who love inspiring others. No matter what grade level or area of expertise you want to share as a fully-credentialed teacher, you can expect to be in school no less than four years. Most students want to know this before they really make the decision to move forward. This is understandable, since enrolling in college is a big commitment, and serious investment.

If you want to know ‘how long does a teacher have to go to college,’ we will break it down for you as simply as possible.

Traditionally it takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in education, although some students take more time and others a little less Even then, there are additional steps states will require before you can be hired in a teaching role. These steps include passing a state licensing exam and a government background check. For students who already have their bachelor’s degree but did not major in education, you will need to speak with schools about teacher certification programs. Traditional teacher programs can take anywhere from one-two years, depending on type of program, and whether you go full or part-time.

How long do you have to go to school to be a teacher at the college level?

If that’s your goal, then you will need to plan for a doctorate level education. First, you should look into master’s or graduate certificate level programs. For instance, in Oregon, you can teach Art with a master’s level education. Sometimes, colleges will allow teachers to work with a masters degree, if you have proven experience in your field. Each step of your graduate level education will likely add 18-24 months of education and training for completion.

How many years in college to become a teacher that works as a substitute?

Sometimes, bachelor’s degree holders aren’t sure if they want a full-time or permanent teaching job. This is why substitute teaching can be a good choice before pursuing full certification. In many school districts, certification is not required. Substitutes simply need a bachelor’s degree, and pass an interview process. This will include fingerprinting, background check, contacting references, and other standard requirements. To find out ‘how long do you have to go to school to be a teacher as a substitute, speak with your local district and colleges.

There are states that require long-term substitute teachers to be certified. For professionals that currently have their bachelors, reach out to local colleges with education programs to get these details. Or, your state most likely spells out the details for earning a substitute teaching license on their website. Many states also require substitute teachers to renew their license every year. Other states, like Ohio, offer 1 and 5 year teaching licenses. So, if you decide you want to continue teaching full-time, start looking into alternative teacher certification programs. For professionals who want to know how long do you have to go to school to be a teacher, plan on 1-2 years.

For students who about to enter college and might be interested in teaching go ahead and look for accredited bachelor’s in education programs. Such programs will help you build a foundation of knowledge and applied teaching skills and prepare you to earn your license. You will focus on classroom management, learning styles, and other areas that are specific to teaching. By the time you complete your degree, you’ll be able to step into your first teaching job with confidence. Figuring out how many years you must spend in college to become a teacher doesn’t have to be stressful, you just need a plan.

Students who have bachelor’s degrees in other areas must play catch-up when they move towards teaching careers. If you have, for example, a degree in Science, don’t fret about how to transition into a teaching role. Some individuals with non-education degrees choose to go back to school full or part-time for a few years to get education credits and student teaching experience.

It might seem like a big commitment to spend another couple of years in school, especially after spending years in the workforce. Fortunately, there are other options and they are becoming increasingly popular.

Alternative teacher certification programs will focus on channeling your work experience into the best teaching role for you – and your students. For example, if you meet its standards, Teach for America can have you in a classroom, usually in an underserved area, after eight weeks of summer training and often helps with job placement. In some states you will be licensed after two years’ experience. States experiencing dire teacher shortages have contracts with other alternative education programs that can qualify you to teach far more quickly than traditional programs.

You might wish to pursue advanced degrees, which can prepare you for leadership positions in education. Executive level experience can qualify you for jobs that impact curriculum design, public policy, and community outreach. When and if you consider going beyond the bachelor’s level, think outside the box and research education jobs other than teacher or professor positions. The field of education has grown way beyond the classroom and halls of our schools. Private companies and government agencies also need skilled professionals with teaching experience or specialized expertise in education.