How to Become a Teacher

a teacher reading to elementary students

People who decide to earn a teaching degree may do so for many different reasons. They may have had excellent teachers throughout their educational journey and want to pay it forward. Others may have had the opposite experience and want to give students the chance to thrive with an excellent and caring teacher. Still others want to be of service to their community.

No matter what your reason is for teaching, you should be commended for your decision and your commitment to education. Teaching is no small feat, especially as the education landscape begins to change rapidly to incorporate new technology and online offerings. Students are ready to learn in new and innovative ways and teachers have to be ready for the challenge.

Teaching is a rewarding career, though it may be overwhelming to navigate at first. Teachers need to have a bachelor's degree or higher and be certified in the state that they plan to teach in if they work for public schools. Additionally, some teachers may qualify for higher pay if they teach in certain locations or in fields like STEM, English as Second Language (ESL)/English Language Learners (ELLs) or special education.

Because of these differences in teaching jobs, the process of becoming a teacher can sometimes seem difficult to figure out, but we are here to help with this guide that explains what it takes to become a teacher. Please know that every state has different prerequisites and paths to becoming an educator, so this guide presents a common path to teaching, but not the only one.

What Can I Teach?

Teachers can work with a variety of students. You can focus your teaching degree on the subject you would like to teach or the age of learners with whom you would like to work. The following chart breaks this down in a little more detail. As you pursue your teaching degree, consider your preferences, because you will need to take coursework that allows you to find jobs in a specific field or type of school.

Early Childhood Education 0-8 years old
Preschool 3-5 years old
Elementary School 4-11 years old, grades K-5 (sometimes 6)
Middle School 11-14 years old, grades 6-8 (sometimes 7-8)
High School 14-18 years old, grades 9-12
Special Education All ages and grades
English Language Learners All ages and grades
  • Early childhood education and preschool teachers work with very young students. The curriculum is less structured and more about supporting children in learning some foundational skills that can help them once they start elementary school.
  • Elementary school teachers must teach multiple subjects. They often move around from grade to grade depending on the age of children they most enjoy working with.
  • Middle school and high school teachers tend to specialize in a particular area. They take courses in that area while completing a teaching degree.
  • Special education teachers earn specialized teaching degrees and can work with special needs populations at any grade level. The same goes for teachers certified to work with English language learners.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Teaching Degree?

Because you must have a bachelor's degree to teach in public school, it can take about four years to earn your teaching degree. You will need to complete general education coursework and then move into education-specific classes. It is in these classes that you will decide which path to follow; if you intend to become a middle school teacher or high school teacher you also need to take courses in the subject that you plan to teach.

Once you earn your bachelor's degree, in most states, you are then qualified to take a teacher certification test. Once you pass that test you can become a classroom teacher. It may be possible to schedule your certification test soon after graduation so that you do not have to wait much longer to get into the classroom.

What Is a Teaching Salary?

The salaries for teachers differ from state to state and even city to city. Teaching salaries can depend on the age level you teach, the degree that you hold, how long you have been employed by your school or district, the subject matter you teach and other roles you might play at the school. For example, high school teachers in STEM fields may earn more than general elementary teachers. A teacher with a master's degree generally earns more than a teacher with a bachelor's degree.

Research teacher salaries in your area or the district that you plan to job search in. Most public school districts have their salary tables published online so you will know what to expect when you receive a job offer.

Who Should Become a Teacher?

Anybody who is interested in teaching and caring about children and youth should consider the career path. Students need people who are passionate about education and want to put in the time and effort it takes to guide the educational journeys of others. This desire to teach and care about the development of all aspects of children and adolescents is an essential requirement for becoming a teacher. You will also need to complete all of the requirements for the teaching degree, including coursework and practical teaching in a classroom.

Finally, teaching takes excellent communication skills and a great deal of patience. If you can develop those skills and are willing to share them with students, you have the makings of a great teacher.

Do I Need a Teaching Degree to Be a Teacher?

You do need a bachelor's degree to become a teacher, but many schools will hire people without a formal teaching degree, especially if they have a degree in the subject they would be teaching.However, one of the best paths to becoming a teacher is by earning a teaching degree that leads to initial teaching licensure. For example, here are some degree paths that lead directly to the classroom:

In addition to teaching degrees, there are many national and local programs that help people with unrelated bachelor’s degrees get into the classroom if they are seeking a career change. These people are often given training by the organization that places them in a classroom. They take coursework that helps them become better teachers and may even lead to a master's degree in education.

What Is a Teaching Certificate?

Being a teacher is a profession, which means you need to be certified in your practice. All states have different requirements to each a teaching certificate. The basic process is:

  1. Earn your bachelor's degree.
  2. Complete a teacher preparation program. (Note: This is usually covered by earning a teaching or education degree.)
  3. Take the required district or state exam to earn a teacher credential.
  4. Submit your paperwork to obtain your state teaching license.

Whether you plan to become a preschool teacher or a high school chemistry teacher, Grand Canyon University has the right teaching degree program for you. Check out the offerings at the College of Education and consider joining us to get on the path toward your rewarding teaching career.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.