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How to Become a Teacher - Complete 2018 Guide

A woman smiling. Besides her we can see a children's classroom. There are some children drawing seated at a desk

Some people are certain from a young age that their calling is to be a teacher. Others have fulfilling careers in another specific field and later decide that they want to become teachers to share their knowledge with the generations to come. In either case, there are a few steps to be aware of that are necessary to take in order to become a teacher.

First, though, it’s important to understand the full picture of what being a teacher entails. Teachers are responsible for developing their own curricula for their students, planning and teaching courses, proctoring exams, and focusing on each student to help him or her achieve academic success.

Teachers can choose the environment in which they would like to pursue teaching, such as teaching at a university or at an elementary school, or even running an online course for students who are earning their degrees remotely.

You can determine what type of teacher you’d like to be—elementary, middle, high school, or higher education in a collegiate atmosphere—by knowing what goes into each.

Teaching for Each Age Level

Kindergarten and Elementary School

Kindergarten and elementary school are where learning basic skills, such as reading and math, take place. You will find that many elementary schools incorporate select activities, such as art and language, to help young students begin to expand their minds and learn about a wider subject matter. Students also begin to learn personal skills, study habits as they start to do homework, and interpersonal communication skills by being in a classroom setting. That being said, someone hoping to help develop a student’s basic study and life skills would be interested in pursuing a career in elementary education.

Middle School

Sixth through eighth grades are considered middle school grades. Most schools hire teachers who have expertise in certain content topics, such as chemistry or physics. During this time in their lives, children are becoming more advanced learners and can be held to higher standards of educational performance.

High school

High school teachers teach a specific area of study, such as English or American history. Their main priority is expanding students’ knowledge and preparing them for pursuing higher education at a university. A side responsibility of a high school teacher may be to mentor students for college admissions essays or standardized testing to achieve high scores.

Higher Education

A similarity among teachers of all ages is their schedule, as most teachers are employed during regular school hours and also have two or three months off from work during the summer. College professors’ schedules may vary, depending on when they teach class and when they are researching, though they can also take summers off or choose to teach summer courses.

The Future of Teaching

Before committing to any career path, it is critical to know the potential for growth in your professional development in the future, as well as the prediction of need for your job in years to come.

Some teaching positions are expected to be needed more than others in the foreseeable future. Teaching jobs in health care education will open up at a faster rate than others, as the industry has an increasing need for graduates with proper health care training.

Postsecondary teachers will have some of the highest growth, at 19 percent nationwide, thanks to the growing number of students choosing to attend college.

Preschool teachers are also predicted to see a job growth of 17 percent from 2012 to 2022 because of a higher demand for early education. Those who graduate from their undergraduate programs and are certified at the preschool level are expected to have an easier time securing a job than other types of teachers.

In addition to trends in teaching, job growth potential is heavily determined by where someone chooses to work. Some states need teachers more than others. An instance of this may be when there are more inner-city or rural areas that have higher employment opportunities.

How to Become a Teacher

Now, there are many routes to take in order to become a teacher. Below are some of the most common ways to pursue a fulfilling career in teaching.

1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree

If you fall into the first category of knowing you want to teach as your profession by the time you enter college, it is a viable option to pursue an undergraduate degree in education. In fact, all states do require K-12 public school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, specifically in elementary education for kindergarten and elementary school teaching.

Requirements for the type of undergraduate degree you hold vary from school system to school system. Some require K-6 teachers to major in a content area, such as social science or math. It’s also common for high schools to prefer that their teachers have earned a degree in a particular subject area rather than an education degree.

If you do pursue an undergraduate degree in something other than education and come to find that a degree in education is required of you, there are other options available. A common alternate path is pursuing a higher education graduate degree that will provide you with the knowledge and skill set to successfully take a state licensure exam. Thus, the undergraduate degree you earn will not impose on your teaching career.

As you begin to explore teaching programs, you will see that there are multiple degree options in education alone. It is suggested to move forward with the degree program that is most tailored to your interests and goals within teaching. Some of the most popular teaching degrees are special education, physical education, education administration, secondary education, and early childhood education.

Special Education

Special education is a great path for those who want to work with children with special needs, who require unique education and training. After graduating with a degree from a special education teaching program, one would be prepared to handle the needs of students with developmental or learning disabilities, as well as emotional, behavioral, or physical disabilities.

Physical Education

Physical education is a degree that should be considered for those who hope to teach physical education, coach athletic programs in a school setting, or develop the athletic and physical capabilities of students who may wish to pursue a degree that focuses on athletic training, such as sports management or dietetics.

Education Administration

Education administration is a common degree that is pursued by students who already have several years of teaching experience, or hope to continue their education, earn their doctoral degrees, and ultimately move into research and curriculum development.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is specific to teachers who want to work with high school students. This prepares future teachers for the unique challenges of this age group while allowing them to gain extensive knowledge in the subjects that they hope to teach. This degree also translates nicely to teaching middle school.

Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education teaches aspiring teachers how to work with young students up to age eight. Principles and theories in child development are emphasized.

2. Get Experience in a Classroom

Equally as important as an undergraduate degree is hands-on experience in the classroom. This is the part of becoming a teacher that would prove to be tricky if you earn a degree in a field other than education; however, it is not impossible.

Teachers must have a certain number of hours supervising in an educational environment in order to take the exam to earn a teaching license. This can be done during undergraduate studies, through an internship at a school, or during the time in between graduation and starting full-time employment.

American University requires students in both the on-campus and online MAT programs to obtain over 600 hours of hands-on classroom experience to graduate. We work closely with online students to find collaborative student-teaching experiences in partnership with high-quality teachers in locations near their homes.

3. Earn Your Certification or Licensure

Public school teachers must have earned a license or be certified teachers. Certification follows grade level, with separate licenses for preschool through third grade, first grade through sixth (or first through eighth), and seventh grade through 12th.

Certification and licensure regulations vary from state to state, so it is crucial that prospective teachers look into their respective states’ specific rules. Most states do require teachers to successfully pass a general teaching certification test, in addition to tests in the individual subjects that they are interested in teaching.

All states offer alternative routes to certification for prospective teachers who hold a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses necessary for immediate certification. These alternative programs often allow candidates to begin teaching immediately under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Candidates are awarded full certification upon completion of the alternative program.

It is important to note that private school teachers are not required to be licensed by the state. However, many private schools mandate that their teachers hold valid state certification. It is generally recommended that all teachers obtain the appropriate license or certification of their respective states so that they will not be limited in their employment options.

4. Further Your Education

While a master’s degree is not necessary in most places to become a teacher, as mentioned above, a postsecondary degree brings major benefits no matter where you are or what you want to teach.

Essentially all public school teachers are asked to complete a minimum number of continuing education or professional development course hours in order to maintain their state licenses.

Many public schools do encourage their teachers to earn a master’s degree. This also provides the opportunity to be eligible for higher salaries, greater job flexibility, and a career projection into administrative positions.

Once you’ve decided to earn your master’s in teaching, you need to prepare for the application process. Applicants to AU must take the Praxis Core exams and show that they have earned a satisfactory score or better. Each applicant must also submit a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and a résumé.

American University offers its master of arts in teaching degree (MAT), both on campus and online, for students with no background or preparation in education who intend to earn licensure in one of four areas: early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education (English, social studies, math, biology, chemistry, and physics), or English for speakers of other languages (K-12).

After completing AU’s MAT program, you will be eligible for licensure. It is important to note that granting teaching licenses is a state responsibility as opposed to a process offered by any university. AU’s MAT program is approved through the District of Columbia, which encourages the earning of your licensure there. This process involves passing the Praxis Core and Praxis II and completing an application that includes a background check.

One of the many benefits of completing AU’s MAT program is the access to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). This is due to a partnership and reciprocity agreement with the city of Washington, DC. If you plan to pursue licensure to teach outside of DC, your certification earned from the AU MAT program can allow you reciprocal certification in over 40 states.

Another way to pursue professional development in teaching is to obtain National Board Certification, a voluntary and advanced teaching credential. To earn this status, teachers must complete a rigorous peer-reviewed certification process that includes submitting videos of their teaching and student work samples, as well as passing a three-hour exam.

Obtaining a Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree is the goal for those who desire to enter the highest administration levels of education, such as superintendent of a school, or to become professors of higher education or another area of expertise. The degree could also support an educational goal for students wanting to pursue research, curriculum development, or high-level governmental positions.

The doctoral degree takes several years to obtain, as opposed to a master’s degree, which takes up to three years. The time to complete a doctorate in education depends on how long the student takes to complete his or her dissertation, or research project, which the student must also defend before a panel.

Students who take doctoral courses can expect to learn the newest research and studies on education. It is the highest level of in-depth learning, providing students with a skill set that will help them pursue new responsibilities. Quality control, research analysis, strategic planning, assessment techniques, and data management are some of the many skills that a doctoral degree in education will provide.

Teaching Salaries

Salaries vary widely based on multiple factors, the main one being the state in which you live and teach. Working in private or public schools, whether you teach summer school, the subject taught, experience level, the grade taught, and the degree held are other variables that contribute to teacher salaries.

Securing a job with a great salary is made simpler when you have an alumni network across the country. An extensive network provides insight into many different teaching jobs and school systems. When you graduate from AU, you become part of a diverse network of talented students from all over the United States and more than 150 countries.

To learn more about American University’s online education programs, click here.

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