Teachers can have a profound impact on a child’s life. As these children grow, they might decide they want to pay it forward to the next generation. It isn’t always easy or obvious, however, what needs to be done to accomplish that goal—the education levels needed, licensure through the state, choosing a specialty or even just deciding what age you’d most like to work with can be overwhelming.
While each of these areas is a hurdle that you’ll need to pass, they aren’t insurmountable, and taking them one at a time as they come can help you to reach your final goal.
Determining exactly what kind of teacher you wish to be is a critical first step, because different kinds of teachers will need to meet varying requirements. Teaching young children in elementary schools is quite different than teaching teenage high school students.
For example, since elementary teachers will often be responsible for a single class of students, teaching them all subjects, while high school teachers typically have a sole subject area that they teach, standing before several classes of students each day.
Younger students also have to be handled differently, and teachers may find themselves performing more care-taking duties. Special education teachers often need a familiarity with the physical and mental disorders that their students struggle with, in order to best accommodate them.
It’s also important to consider where you plan to teach. Each state has its own rules determining who is allowed to teach in its public schools. If you hope to teach at a private school, or a religion-based school, then you may have a host of other factors to consider.
A teacher at a boarding school, for instance, might have far more responsibilities expected of them than a public school teacher would. While you don’t need to have a particular school in mind, at least knowing what type of institution you’d prefer and what state you plan to live in will simplify the process significantly.
Once you’ve made a decision, the next thing an aspiring teacher will need to do is obtain some level of post-secondary education. Those hoping to work with younger students will likely need a degree in elementary education, designed to provide teachers with the educational philosophies and framework to help students learn, while also ensuring they possess the necessary level of understanding to teach and explain the material.
For those aiming towards secondary education in high schools, there’s more flexibility in this area than you might think. While you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree, there are options that can allow you to turn almost any major into a teaching degree, rather than requiring a degree specifically in education. Minors in education are one way to accomplish this, as are dual majors.
For those who’ve already obtained a bachelor’s degree in the past, a master’s degree in education can allow you to begin teaching in the field of your bachelor’s, and in many states may help you to secure higher pay as well. With public schools around the country expanding their career and technical education programs, the need for teachers with education in areas beyond traditional subjects, like business and agriculture, is greater than ever.
After obtaining a degree, you’ll need to find out what the laws governing licensure of teachers required in your state. Many degree programs in education will include certification as a teacher in the state where the university resides, but it’s important to check that it does before applying.
Since state rules can vary extensively, it’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all guide to obtaining teaching credentials, but there are some commonalities you can expect. All states will require a bachelor’s degree in some area, and some form of education in how to teach students.
Some means of demonstrating competence in the subject matter you will be teaching, such as an exam or completion of a teacher prep program, may be required.
A formal application after meeting the requirements is often needed, and a background check is required. This will usually result in a temporary or provisional license to teach, during which time you will work under the guidance of an established professional while completing any requirements needed for the full license.
Another option is to pursue alternative certificate programs, which can be obtained through programs approved by the state’s department of education.
These alternative programs can allow for you to work as an intern and teach during the period while you earn your license, which usually takes one to two years. Alternative certificate programs can have more extensive requirements than the state, but must at least measure up to the state’s mandated requirements.
There are also national certification organizations, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which can be used to help obtain a license to teach in a number of states or to help maintain and renew licenses.
Credentials may differ by subject, by the age of the students being taught, or for special education students, so you will likely need to pursue a program that’s tailored to the particular credential you wish to hold. Do the research to find out your state’s requirements and get started on the path towards licensure as soon as possible.
Once you’ve received a degree, earned your license, and found a school to work at, you might think you’ve finally finished, but for a teacher, the journey of learning never really ends. To give your students the greatest education you can, you’ll need to keep acquiring new information and stay up to date on the material you teach.
States encourage teachers to pursue continuing education and may have requirements that must be met every so many years in order to maintain licensure. Taking courses, attending seminars, earning certifications and perhaps even returning to school for a graduate degree all remain ahead of you.
The shaping of young minds is a major responsibility, and as such those who choose to pursue it are expected to meet a high bar. The requirements can be daunting, but by maintaining focus and keeping your eyes on the next goal, you will one day be able to stand at the front of the class, as a new school year begins. You will know that you’re ready to help these children, just as your teachers once helped you.