Last Updated: May 25, 2015
Whether you decided at an early age that you wanted to be a teacher or you're just realizing that working with kids is your ultimate career goal, you'll need to make sure you have the educational requirements to get to the classroom.
So, what's a typical path for becoming a teacher? There are certain nuances depending on the age you want to teach, so your educational path might look different depending on if you plan to teach kindergarteners or high schoolers or even college students.
In general, teachers must hold a degree, become certified, and earn state licensure, which involves passing a licensure exam. Teacher education is a formal mix of both the subject matter you will eventually teach and separate course work in how children learn, managing a classroom, making lesson plans, and child development.
First, choose your path
A preschool or elementary school teacher isn't required to have the same level of college education that a college professor will need. Many preschool teachers hold an associate or bachelor's degree and as you advance in the age of your students, your degree requirements will also likely increase. If you plan to teach kindergarten or elementary, middle, or high school levels, a bachelor's degree is generally mandatory, and a master's degree is desirable and sometimes required within a certain time frame after you begin teaching. If you have your sights set on working as a college professor, earning your doctorate in the subject matter you plan to teach is essential.
What is becoming a teacher like?
Prospective teachers don't just go from learning in the classroom to teaching in the classroom. As you earn your degree in early childhood education (preschool and elementary) or childhood education (elementary and middle school), you'll combine educational course work that will give you the foundations to teach a class effectively with classes in different subject matter that you might be required to teach. You'll also complete programs that will give field experience in real-world classrooms.
High school teachers generally earn a degree in their chosen field (e.g., chemistry, English, history) to gain expertise in the subject matter and then will combine that course work with secondary education classes to gain a career component. Teaching programs also include practicums, internships, or student-teaching experiences that you'll complete as part of your degree program. These programs give you an opportunity to teach a class on your own while under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
After graduation teaching requirements
Once you've earned your degree, most states require teachers to become licensed to teach in the public school systems (private schools do not have to require this). To get a license, you must pass a licensure exam in core content and have had supervised teaching experience, which is often part of your degree program. Some states also require you to pass a certification exam in the content area you plan to teach as well.
Each state has different requirements for licensure and many also require established teachers to take additional classes or earn professional development credits to keep their licenses valid. Depending on the state you are teaching in, you might also be required to earn your master's degree within a certain period of time after being certified as a teacher. Check your state's education department to find out their licensure requirements.
All these steps ensure that when you're in charge of a classroom, you're knowledgeable about both the subjects you're teaching and the kids sitting in front of you.