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How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

June 10, 2018

Perhaps a favorite teacher inspired you, or maybe you are looking for an exciting career change of pace. Whatever the catalyst, becoming a teacher is a noble and rewarding calling. As such, there are certain requirements that prospective educators must meet before being qualified to enter the role. Understanding how long it takes to become a teacher and the various process steps set in place can help facilitate success for prospective teachers.

Types of Teachers

Where a teacher chooses to work—from kindergartens to high schools—will influence the type of educator they become, as well as the training and expertise they’ll need.

Teaching in Kindergarten and Elementary School

Over the next 10 years, there is a projected need to fill over 111,500 teaching positions in kindergarten and elementary schools. It is a promising market for potential teachers interested in teaching basic concepts, such as math and language, to young students. Every state requires that public kindergarten and elementary school teachers have a four-year bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and some states require that a teacher major in a specific content area.

Before a teacher can teach independently, they must complete a practicum or work experience program. This is to ensure they gain the needed experience and mentorship to effectively present information and work with young students. At American University (AU), the bachelor of arts in elementary education offers practicum experience to help undergraduates apply what they have learned in classrooms of their own.

Teachers who are planning to work in the public school system after graduation will need to be licensed or certified in the grade level in which they will be teaching. In addition to having a bachelor’s degree and student-teaching experience, a teacher will have to take a general teaching and subject matter test to demonstrate their knowledge of education and the subject they wish to teach. It’s important that a teacher prepares for this examination process. If a teacher does not pass on the first try, it can impact their timeline to become a licensed, practicing classroom teacher.

Teachers are required to maintain their licenses as long as they are teaching. If a teacher wishes to move to another state, they may need to acquire another license and take an additional test based on the rules of that specific state. This could also impact how long it takes to become a teacher.

Teaching in High School

Becoming a high school teacher follows the same path as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher, although the primary teaching focus is on preparing students for life after graduation and for college. High school teachers are required to complete a bachelor’s degree in the subject they want to teach, such as science or language, with additional teaching credentials.

For prospective teachers interested in teaching grades 7 through 12, AU offers an excellent second major program for secondary education with practicum experience included as part of the program.

As with kindergarten and elementary teachers, obtaining licensing for high school teaching requires gaining teaching experience. Qualifying for a license also involves passing a general teaching and subject matter test to prove a teacher’s ability to master a classroom and teach a particular subject.

As a teacher prepares to enter the workforce, they must check with the relevant authorities in their state to understand which qualifications are needed to teach. Some schools may look for additional education, such as a master’s degree. If a teacher has decided to pursue a teaching position in a private school, licensing and certifications may not be required.

Steps to Becoming a Teacher

While the steps and timeline for becoming a teacher can vary from state to state, most aspiring teachers will need to follow this basic trajectory.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. Teachers may choose a degree path related to education, the subject they wish to teach, or even seek a double major. Some common majors for teachers are early childhood education, secondary education, physical education, and special education.
  2. Gain classroom experience. Having hands-on classroom experience is critical. Most undergraduate teaching programs require students to gain teaching experience, providing an opportunity to implement classroom management skills in a real-world setting.
  3. Obtain certification. While certification requirements can vary, most states require the completion of three examinations. A good undergraduate program should offer ample preparation for these exams.
  4. Seek a higher degree. Advanced education, such as a master’s degree, can be a good way for teachers to cultivate pedagogical skills (the ability to instruct students and manage a classroom) and boost pay level.

In total, it will usually take roughly four years to become a teacher, as well as additional years for any advanced education.

Teacher Requirements

Though specific requirements for teaching K-12 can vary from one state to the next, all states require teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Often, this will be a degree in education, though this is not imperative. For example, a high school math teacher may choose to earn a degree in mathematics as opposed to pedagogy.

Through completion of a degree program, along with classroom experience, teachers should hone a number of core skills that contribute to effectiveness in the classroom. These skills include:

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Active listening
  • Organization

A Teacher’s Salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teachers earn the following median annual salaries as of 2021:

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers: $61,350
  • High school teachers: $61,820
  • In general, teachers in a private school system earn less than teachers in public schools. When considering how long it takes to become a teacher, new graduates may seek to teach in private schools, as these positions only require a bachelor’s degree in the subject of choice and do not require a state-issued license. This could shorten the path to becoming a teacher and entering the workforce.

Deciding which school system to work in is a big decision and should be thought through carefully, but regardless of which path a teacher chooses, the potential rewards are worth it.

Why Should You Become a Teacher?

A two- to three-month break for summer, a couple of weeks off for the holiday season, and opportunities for advancement are just a few of the advantages of becoming a teacher. Many teachers, however, will say that the perks and compensation aren’t the reasons they love their jobs.

The opportunity to share knowledge can also be appealing to those looking for a new career. Teachers who have previously worked in social services, the military, healthcare, or business can bring real-life knowledge and experience to the classroom. This experience can offer a unique perspective to students who are looking for concrete answers to the question, “Why do we need to know this?”

For new second-career teachers, skills such as managing people, public speaking, and project planning are easily transferable to the teaching profession, which can make the transition to working in a classroom much easier.

Start Impacting Student Lives as a Teacher

Teachers create an inspiring environment for students. When students walk through the classroom door each day, they bring both their aspirations and their difficulties. By sharing knowledge and celebrating successes, teachers can make a real difference in the lives of children and young people. This can make classroom teaching an indescribable experience.

One of the first steps toward gaining that experience is enrolling in a teacher education program, which can help build the necessary expertise to be a successful educator. American University’s online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is one such program, with three pillars in Antiracist Pedagogy, Practice-Based Teacher Education, and The Science of Learning to help students become progressive-minded teachers.

Explore AU’s MAT program and find out how it can help you become a future-oriented teacher.