Teaching is more than just a career. It’s a calling. And it’s one that demands a lot — you’ll be charged with shaping the minds of the next generation, and you’ll often be asked to care for their physical and emotional needs along the way. It’s a huge responsibility and, as such, the preparation for it can be rigorous. Here, we’ll try to simplify the process by breaking it down into five simple steps. Let’s get started.
1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Education
Every state in the United States requires public school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree. There are some Pre-K and private school positions that might only ask for an associate’s degree but those are rare and so we’ll stick to the traditional route for becoming a teacher. Most bachelor’s programs require a GED or a high school diploma and some may require a minimum GPA and scores on the SAT and ACT.
If you’re looking into programs, it’s important to think about what grade level you plan to teach. If you want to teach in elementary school, a bachelor’s degree in education is your best bet. Most undergraduate degrees in education include a concentration in early childhood education or elementary education and the coursework in these programs are designed to get you ready to meet the educational needs of children in this stage of development.
If you want to teach at the middle or high school level, you’ll want to look for a degree that combines coursework in education with a specialization in the area you’d like to teach; something like biology, history, or social studies.
In addition, some states might require teachers to pursue a master’s degree within a set amount of time after accepting a teaching job. Even if they don’t, a master’s or doctoral degree can help educators refine their skills and take on positions of leadership within the school system.
2. Get Practical Experience
All the textbook-based learning in the world won’t prepare an aspiring teacher for the challenge that awaits them in the classroom. While all that theoretical information is important, cutting your teeth with practical experience in a real-world classroom is the best way to become a teacher. State boards of education understand this. It’s why most require would-be educators to log a certain number of hours in front of a class.
College programs in education understand it, too — most require a mandatory supervised practicum or clinical experience to graduate. If the program doesn’t, you can close it off your list. In this experience, you’ll typically join a teacher in his or her classroom, take over instructional duties sometimes, and be evaluated by the administration.
3. Pass Your Teaching Exams
Every state in the U.S. requires teachers to hold a teaching license. Though some have developed their own tests (the TEXES in Texas, for example), most use an exam called the Praxis. The Praxis is actually a series of exams that cover a wide range of topics. The Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators is the one that covers the basic skills and content knowledge that every teacher needs. If your state requires a Praxis, you’ll probably need to take this one.
You may have to take other Praxis exams in addition to the Core. There are over 90 Praxis Subject Assessments and they’re designed to test your knowledge in specialized areas you might end up teaching. For instance, if you want to teach in grades K-6 in the state of North Carolina, you’ll need to take the Core and the Elementary Education: Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics CKT Subtest.
If you want to teach science in middle school in the state of Kansas, you’ll have to take the Principles of Learning and Teaching: Grades 5–9 exam and the Middle School Science Praxis test.
Special education teachers often have additional exams to take including Special Education: Core Knowledge and Mild to Moderate Applications, Gifted Education or Special Education: Teaching Students with Visual Impairments.
Some states have adopted another requirement called the EdTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment). With it, soon-to-be teachers evaluate their own performance in the classroom. This extra evaluation is currently required in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Each state has its own testing requirements so you’ll want to check with the state where you want to work to make sure you take (and pass) the correct exams.
4. Get a Teaching License
Surprise — every state in the U.S. has its own set of requirements to get a teaching license and you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of them before you choose a teaching program. These typically include a bachelor’s degree, practical teaching experience, a minimum GPA, a passing score on the requisite teaching exams, and a background check.
As with all of these steps, it’s critical to check with your state’s requirements to make sure you can meet them. Once you have your license, you can officially take on a job as a teacher.
5. Participate in Professional Development
To maintain your teaching license, you’ll be asked to participate in professional development activities. What qualifies as a professional development activity can vary from state to state. For instance, in Idaho, you’ll need to complete the equivalent of six professional development credits every five years and these credits must meet these requirements:
- They must enforce the pedagogical best practices for teachers.
- They must push your professional development as a teacher.
- They must be specific to the area in which you teach (science, math, etc).
- Three of the six credits have to be taken at an approved college or university.
Your state’s requirements may look similar or they may be completely different. Again, check with your state’s department of education to see what you need to do to keep your license valid.
With these five steps, you can realize your dream of becoming a teacher. And kudos to you — you’ll be changing the world with your work! For more details, check out Study.com’s Guide to Becoming a Teacher.