I Want To Be a Teacher, Where Do I Start?

Almost every teacher can remember an educator who made a personal difference in his or her life. The teachers you remember fondly probably had patience, the ability to explain things clearly, the energy and flexibility to interact with large groups of students of all ages and backgrounds, and the passion to make a meaningful difference in someone's life. If these qualities also describe you and you're ready to learn more about how to become a teacher, keep reading to discover the different paths you can take to become one, the steps involved with each path, and schools to consider for your education degree.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher?

The first place to start is deciding that you do want to take the steps to become a teacher. Once you've decided that teaching is your calling, you will choose one of two paths. The first, more traditional route to becoming a teacher requires a degree in education at the undergraduate level, and sometimes at the master's level as well.

The second approach is considered the alternative path, and is generally achieved by an alternative certificate program and/or graduate degree in education. Whichever route you take, realize that individual states have different requirements, but almost all of them require teacher preparation programs with a student teaching requirement as well as passing scores on licensing exams.

Steps to Becoming a Teacher

There are two main paths to becoming a teacher. Keeping in mind that individual states carry different requirements, the following steps present an overview of the process.

Traditional Route: Earning a Bachelor's (and possibly a Master's) Degree in Education

  • Choose the grade level you want to teach. Do you prefer to work with young children where you usually will teach all of the core academics to a single classroom of students, or would you like to work in a high school where you will specialize in a single subject?
  • Consider the setting where you would prefer to work. Will you make the biggest impact in a large, urban school district? Do you have a passion to reach students who are English Language learners? Special education students?
  • Take a look at the different requirements for early, secondary and post-secondary teaching licenses in the state you'd like to work. Many states require a bachelor's degree in early childhood education for elementary school teachers, for example, whereas some states require high school teachers to eventually earn a master's degree either in secondary education or the field in which they teach. Entering the classroom with a master's degree generally gets you a higher starting salary as well.
  • Decide where you would like to complete your undergraduate degree, and search for schools that offer accredited bachelor's teacher preparation programs.
  • Once you receive or while you earn your degree, complete the student teaching requirement for your program.
  • Pass the state licensure exam.

Non-Traditional Routes to Becoming a Teacher

Sometimes people decide later in life that they would like to make a career shift to the field of education, or may decide they'd like to start working in a classroom while simultaneously pursuing an alternative certificate or degree. If this sounds like you, your quickest route to becoming a teacher is probably by earning an alternative certification.

  • Receive a bachelor's degree (not necessarily in educational field).
  • Check your state's policies for alternative teaching certificates.
  • Be sure your alternative certification program is approved in your state.
  • Complete the student teaching or residency alongside a mentor teacher.
  • Complete the state licensure exam.

Depending on your geographical location, there are a number of alternate routes to becoming a teacher. Programs like Teach for America, for example, offer alternative pathways to the classroom for teachers who want to serve in high-need areas. In all cases, the alternative path to teaching requires a bachelor's degree (it just doesn't have to be in education).

Many cities offer alternative paths to certifications that help to further specific goals for its public school district. Boston, for example, seeks to attract a diverse teaching staff that reflects the racial and ethnic composition of its students. In exchange for attending unpaid training sessions on Saturdays for approximately one year, teachers are placed in paid positions the following year and are awarded preliminary licensure upon passing the Massachusetts teaching exam.

If you're interested in alternative teaching certifications, be sure to check out our alternative certification page for your state. You can access the state pages via links provided on the left-hand side of the main alternative certification page.

I want to be a teacher. Where do I start?

The very first step to becoming a teacher is to figure out what grade and subject (if applicable) you want to teach. Be sure to research the pros and cons of teaching different ages and grade levels so you pursue the right degree or certification for your future teaching career. Once you decide on a subject or grade, it's time to start getting information from the schools that offer degree programs that interest you.

Schools to Become a Teacher

Penn State College of Education

Penn State offers what's known as a traditional-hybrid model; its students can take classes at the University Park, Pennsylvania campus as well as access several offerings online. The school earns consistent high rankings and offers students the appealing opportunity to teach abroad. Various graduate degrees in education are possible here, as well as a traditional BS in elementary or secondary education. The school recently distinguished itself by earning nationally recognized accreditation for its Childhood and Early Adolescent Education program.

City College of San Francisco

City College of San Francisco is part of California's Teacher Preparation Pipeline; with a focus on STEM teachers, this traditional school offers AA degrees and targeted support for future teachers transferring to BA programs. The pipeline is a unique program designed in partnership with California's community colleges to address the statewide teaching shortage.

Boston College Lynch School of Educatio

Boston College's renowned Lynch School of Education is a traditional campus located in scenic Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and offers its students a humanistic, whole-child approach to teaching. US News and World Report ranks BC as the top Catholic education school in the nation, and its students are placed in pre-practicums at nearby Boston public schools. Students have the option to earn a variety of degrees here, including a BA, a M.Ed and MAT.

The University of Missouri

MU offers an entirely online array of programs (Mizzou online) designed to help students earn a variety of master's degrees in education. Students can pursue programs tailored to their specific interests, with degrees in autism education, gifted education and special education among the many offerings available. Its self-paced, affordable classes earn Mizzou national awards and an enormous student following.

Teaching is one of the most impactful careers you can choose. Whether you become a teacher as your first career or find your way to teaching later in life, you can make a difference in the lives of your students. Get started now by finding an online education program or a program near you.