Learn How to Become a Teacher – Career Paths

Beginners Guide and Steps to Take

Is Teaching for You?

Becoming a teacher is a great career choice and can be very rewarding. Teachers play a big role in their students’ lives and also help define the kind of people their students could grow up to be. Aside from parents, teachers are one of the biggest role models for their students and, therefore, need to ensure they always use positive values in their student’s presence. The quality of their performance can make a student’s education more pleasant and successful.

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Quick Facts:

Why Earn a Teaching Degree

Education and Infancy

Tutoring and Responsibility


Teaching is not for everyone. There are numerous qualities that one must possess in order to thrive in this profession.

Patience, tolerance, and commitment - Patience is the number one required quality when it comes to teaching students, especially when working with children who have learning disabilities, as it could take them much longer to comprehend. You should also be able to tolerate the actions children take when they get frustrated by not learning as fast as they would like. You’ll need to commit to trying different approaches until something finally clicks.

The following are more important qualities for a teacher to possess:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Listening and understanding
  • Organizational, planning, and strategic skills
  • Friendly, caring, trustworthy, and approachable
  • Strong knowledge of the subject matter you teach
  • High expectations with a no-child-left-behind attitude
  • Creative, challenging, fun, and witty

Try doing some volunteer work in schools to see what teaching is really like first-hand, before deciding if it’s right for you.


The education required to become a teacher depends on what you want to teach and the grade level you will be teaching. While a bachelor’s degree in education will allow you to become an elementary school teacher, to teach at a high school you would need a degree in the specific subject area you will be teaching.

For example; if you are going to become a math teacher in grade school, then you may want to major in education and minor in math, or if you prefer to teach science at a grade school, then you would still major in education but minor in science. Aspiring high school teachers would commit to studying whatever they wish to teach; prospective art teachers would major in art, where those pursuing a career as a high school math teacher would major in math while both will also take education either as a second or combined major, so that they are prepared to take their state-approved exam for teacher licensure..

Special education teachers can either major or minor in special education. In addition, you can also choose to supplement your education by focusing on other areas as well. To become a preschool teacher, you can complete a 2-year degree program in any field related to child development.

No matter what you teach, you will be required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree and pass state licensing exams, which is mandatory in all states in order to be able to teach. To enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, you will need a high school diploma or equivalent (GED). With a high school diploma, you may also be able to gain an entry-level position in a preschool to start building upon experience in a school setting while attending college.

While obtaining your degree, you will complete a teaching certification program that will lead to you becoming a state licensed teacher. Those who earn their degree in an area other than education, but who decide to become a teacher later, can complete one of these alternative certification programs to become licensed to teach in their state.

Choosing a Degree and School with a Teaching Preparation Program

Teacher preparation programs are courses that aspiring teachers can take to help prepare them to pass state exams required to obtain licensure and become a full-fledged teacher in their state. These programs are usually included in your coursework when you earn a bachelor’s degree. Certification courses can also be taken by individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in an area other than education who decide to become a teacher later in their career, or for those who simply wish to enhance their teaching career and focus on different subjects. While enrolled in one of these teaching programs you will learn everything you need to know in order to be able to sit for and pass the state exam.

In the US, education is the responsibility of the state the individual will be teaching in, therefore, each state will have their own requirements. To find out about teaching certification requirements specific to your state, contact your state education board.

However, the process is very similar in all states and requires that you earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, complete a teaching preparation or certification program, pass the skills and knowledge tests like the PRAXIS series exams, and also pass a drug and background check.

Tests for Licensure

Almost every state requires you to pass a standardized test in order to become a licensed teacher in your state. These tests are put in place to measure a prospective teacher’s skills and knowledge and ensure they are qualified to teach. Because every state sets its own standards, the testing requirements will vary between states. For example, to be able to teach in New York, you will have to obtain a teaching license in New York by passing the New York State Teacher Certification Exam (NYSTCE) and if you want to be eligible to teach in California you would have to take and pass the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST).

There is also a new computer-based test for teachers provided by Pearson, a professional development organization that specializes in education technology and teacher education. The new test, called the National Evaluation Series (NES), was designed to measure an aspiring teacher’s qualifications and knowledge. It covers a broad range of academic subjects including English, math, English as a second language, and technological skills. It’s important to note that not all states will accept the NES so be sure and check with your state’s board of education.

The PRAXIS Series exams, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), are used by 40 states to determine if prospective teachers are eligible for certification/licensing by focusing on the skills and knowledge that aspiring teachers possess. While some states may require one PRAXIS exam, others may ask that you complete two and each state will set its own acceptable score values. To view each state standards, visit the PRAXIS State Requirements website.

The National Board Certification for Teachers (NBCT), provides certification to generate continuous improvements in schools throughout the nation as well as recognizes, develops, and retains accomplished teachers with the belief that all students deserve to have an accomplished educator teaching them. They also offer a professional certification for providers of K-12 education that is the most respected certification available.

To be eligible for the NBPTS certification, one must have a bachelor’s degree, be licensed, and have at least three years’ experience. Once all prerequisites have been met, teachers seeking national certification can choose between 25 specialization subjects to apply for.

There are four components included in the process:

  • An explanation of how their student work portfolio illustrates their capabilities
  • A computerized test that measures pedagogical and subject knowledge
  • A reflective and effective practitioner component that’s in the process of being created by the National board since 2016
  • A written analysis and an in-class video that demonstrates their student interaction skills

Student Teaching Requirements

Student teaching is a full-time, unpaid internship. This culminating course provides college students interested in becoming a teacher with supervised classroom training for field experience, required for those pursuing a teaching certificate.

You can expect to spend 6 to 7 hours per day or 30 to 35 hours per week teaching in a classroom. This is also a good way for you to experience what it will be like to be working with kids in a classroom all day, every day so that you can decide whether or not it is the right career choice for you.


The State Department of Education requires that those seeking teacher certification must complete their student teaching under the supervision of the college or institution they will earn their degree from.

The eligibility requirements for student teaching are as follows, students must:

  • Be in their senior year of college with at least ninety semester credit hours.
  • Have been registered with the College of Education and Human Development for a minimum of three semesters.
  • Pass all PRAXIS I PPST parts in Mathematics, Reading, and Writing.
  • Have a degree or cumulative GPA of 2.5 or better.
  • Have earned a “C” grade or better in all required courses that have also been completed.
  • Passed Content Specialty Area Tests and PRAXIS II exams; Principles of Teaching and Learning.
  • Have completed certain Education courses.
  • Have completed their illustrated capabilities portfolio.
  • Applied for student teaching.
  • Been approved by the Student Teaching Director.
  • Have received a statement from the Department Head that certifies they are competent in the subject they are seeking certification for.


There are some student teaching alternatives that can be done to achieve the appropriate experience, which may be school-based and paid. The applicant must be legally employed according to the Commissioner of Education’s standards. For the consideration of substituting the requirement for the paid experience, you are required by the Office of Teaching Initiatives to submit a Verification of Paid Experience Teaching Certification Form, completed by your school superintendent.

Continuing Education

In order to improve and upgrade their teaching skills while providing quality education to students, teachers must renew their license regularly. To renew your basic teaching license, most states require around 5 semester hours for a 5-year extension. Teachers must obtain continuing education units or credits (CEUs) to update their certification.

Every 10 participation hours in organized and approved continuing education classes, training by a qualified instructor, or another approved event provider are equivalent to one CEU. Earning CEUs will ensure that professionals are kept up to date on new techniques and the latest knowledge. Even if your job does not require that you earn CEUs, you can still earn them if you would like to learn new things about your area or get ahead of others in your field.

There are a variety of ways you can earn CEUs; the following are just some of them:

  • Taking an online course is probably the easiest way to earn CEUs.
  • Attending an organized conference not only will provide you with CEUs but will also give you some valuable networking experience as well.
  • Continue your education by taking a class. Completing a course will earn you CEUs and also upgrade your knowledge keeping you ahead of the game.

Salary Outlook for Teaching Careers

  • The average salary earned for each profession varies between states. For example, an elementary school teacher in Las Vegas, NV earns an annual average salary of $44,976, but in Chicago, IL they earn $49,996.
  • Secondary school teachers in Phoenix, AZ make an annual median salary of $40,455, but in New York, NY they earn a whopping $61,417.
  • Secondary special education teachers in Atlanta, GA earn an average annual wage of $48,160 wherein Dallas, TX they earn $51,625.
  • A high school teacher in Boston, MA earns an average annual salary of $52,529 where in Miami, FL a high school teacher earns $45,794.
  • A middle school special education teacher in Memphis, TN earns an average annual salary of $47,857, but in Los Angeles, CA they earn $49,954.
  • An average college teacher in Colombia, SC earns an average annual salary of $57,000 whereas, in Milwaukee, WI they only earn $42,000.

Career Variety & Paths

There are a variety of teaching careers available for those who want to pursue a teaching degree, whether you want to mold young minds or give adults the training they need to switch to more fulfilling careers. One thing you need to decide is the age group you would rather teach. Do you want to work with younger children ages 4 through 12, older children ages 13 to 19, or adults from 22 and up?

Another thing you should consider, is that teachers can choose to teach general classrooms at the lower grade levels, or they can specialize in different subjects such as math, science, English, art, or other at higher grade levels. You also have the option to work in various settings. For example, you can work in a public or private school, at a preschool, high school, a middle school, college, or other.

Here are some of the specific curriculum teachers can be responsible for:

  • Economics
  • Health Specialties
  • Physics
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Music
  • Gym
  • Special Education
  • And More


A preschool teacher, who works in a general classroom setting, works with children typically between the ages of 3 and 5. Teachers must engage these young students in activities that are fun and educational, such as finger painting, counting games, games that help to learn letters, singing songs, memory games, and more.

Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher Assistant

Depending on the employer, a preschool/kindergarten teacher’s assistant typically assists preschool/kindergarten teachers by offering basic child care and supervision to younger students while also helping to prepare classroom activities for their amusement and education.

Special Education Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher

Special education Preschool/Kindergarten teachers work with young children who have various learning disabilities. They usually aim to help transition these young students, into regular classes, or merely to help improve their functionality.

Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher

A kindergarten/preschool teacher (not in special education), teaches students foundational skills while generally laying a strong learning foundation, as children will soon transition into more formal modes of education for the first time.

Education Administrator, Preschool

A preschool education administrator’s primary goal is to provide educational assistance to teachers and their assistants. Some of their duties may include ensuring that students are learning and progressing efficiently while also allocating funds for student’s education and supplies.

Preschool/Kindergarten Director

Preschool/Kindergarten Directors are basically the point of contact and administrator for parents and employees who also manage regular activities for the students. They may oversee programs, policies, budgets, and staff as well.

Elementary School Teaching Careers

After preschool, children will transition to an elementary school where they will get an elementary education, also known as primary education. This level of education is usually the first formal stage of education and consists of children who range from ages 5 to 10 years old in kindergarten through the 5th grade.

Elementary School Teacher

An elementary school teacher is hired to educate students in the 1st through 6th grade. These teachers are not likely to have a specialization. Rather they teach general education, such as writing, science, reading comprehension, history, arithmetic, and more.

Special Education Elementary School Teacher

Like special education preschool teachers, elementary school special education teachers work with students who have various learning disabilities. Job duties may involve assisting children with mobility or hygiene while helping to improve their functionality and education.

Elementary School Guidance Counselor

Elementary school guidance counselor’s main focus is to assist students in achieving academic goals as well as social and personal development. In addition, they may also assist new students in transitioning into a new environment; helping them to adapt and adjust.

Elementary School Administrator

Administrators in elementary schools usually work long hours while school is in session. They include the school principal and assistant principal who most likely will work behind a desk and anywhere else around the school grounds to keep things running smoothly.

Elementary School Principal

An elementary school principal may be certified or licensed and hold a master’s degree or a PhD in education or a related area. Interpersonal and leadership skills are necessary for this position as well as work experience evaluating and supervising staff in an education environment.

Middle School Teaching Careers

Middle schools consists of children between the ages of 11 and 13, who are in 6th-7th or 8th grade. Some schools also cover 9th grade, it just depends on how schools work in your region or district.

Middle School Teacher

Middle school teachers may teach a number of different subjects, such as science, math, reading, social studies, history, English, and more. They base lesson plans they create on the school’s syllabi or state guidelines. While much of their work is done in class, a lot of it is also done outside the classroom to prepare for class. These teachers may sometimes have a full class of 30 or more students.

Special Education Middle School Teacher

A special education teacher at a middle school generally educates students in 6th to 8th grade who have disabilities. These students may be around 10 to 14 years old and may be mentally challenged and/or have physical disabilities that make it hard for them to learn like normal children. Therefore, they need special attention and a different learning plan, which is provided by a special education teacher.

Middle School Administrator

Middle school administrators basically consist of the principal and vice principal. They work year-round — even when school is not in session — to ensure the school follows the correct curriculum set by the state education board and the school is on the right path towards success.

Middle School Principal/Headmaster

The principal/headmaster is basically the head of the school. These leaders have many different titles, such as chief administrator, headmistress, principal, head teacher, headmaster, school director, and more. They have the most responsibilities at the school and are in charge of running practically everything.

High School Teaching Careers

High school is also known as secondary education and consists of grades 9 through 12 where students usually enter at the age of 14 and graduate when they are 18 years old. While middle school helps to prepare students for high school, the basic purpose of high school is to help prepare students for the next educational level, which is college, or for the work force if they choose not to enter post-secondary education.

High School Teacher

High school teachers are also known as secondary school teachers who provide students with instruction in one or more study areas within a private or public high school. These teachers may also proctor testing exams, supervise extracurricular activities, and assist with college preparation.

Special Education High School Teacher

Special education teachers in high schools help guide and instruct kids who have mild to moderate disabilities. They develop a general curriculum to meet the individuals' specific needs to help give them the basic skills they will need in life.

High School Counselor

High school counselors are available to help students meet their goals and/or improve academically and emotionally in the most turbulent phase of life. They should know how to identify students with emotional problems. School counselors are known as the go-to person that kids can look to for help with any situation.

High School Administrator

High school administrators specializing in a secondary school environment usually consist of the principal and vice principal, who generally work long hours during a school year. They typically are on-site hours before and after school is in session and are the ones responsible for ensuring that the teaching staff follows lesson plans off the chosen curriculum.

High School Principal

High school principals are the ones responsible for all aspects of a high school’s administration. Besides supervising teachers, the principal assesses and updates the curriculum to provide educational planning. They are the final authority and lead administrator within their institution.

Vocation School Instructor

Vocational school training instructors teach students all they need to know about specific occupations while training them to perform the required job duties for employment in jobs like automotive trades, HVAC (heating, venting, and air conditioning), cooking, plumbing, healthcare, hairdressing, and more.

Moreover, a vocational training instructor may be provided with training material to teach from or they may be required to develop their own lesson plans / curriculum based on the institution and course standards. To become a vocational school instructor, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree and certification specific to what you will be teaching.

College Professor Teaching Careers

After graduating from high school, usually at the age of 18, you may enroll in a 4-year college or university to earn a degree in your field of choice. The four-year degree is known as a bachelor’s degree, it is the highest and last level of an undergraduate program. An associate degree is the lowest, which you can get in 2 years, but many employers prefer that you hold a bachelor’s. if you wish to get a graduate degree you can earn your master’s within 6 years.

Assistant Professor, Postsecondary

An assistant professor requires at least a bachelor’s degree. This position is a unique opportunity where you will help shape a younger individual’s education and research to further their interests in the field. The job description of an assistant professor can be summarized into two separate categories: research contribution and teaching.

Professor, Postsecondary

A professor in higher education or postsecondary level involves both teaching and lecturing students in classes in humanities, sciences, philosophies, or other specific subjects. As with all education, the higher level you are teaching the more specific your specialty will be.

College Lecturer

College lecturers perform numerous tasks in postsecondary institutions. Their responsibilities lie in delivering seminars and lectures while developing and implementing teaching methods. They also construct assessments and exams, grade work, serve on committees, attend staff meetings, assign final grades, and more.

College Administration

A college administrator may be the university registrar who provides services to both the faculty and students at the institution. They are responsible for posting classes and ensuring that students can register for the class while also processing, posting, and distributing student grades. Other administrators include department deans, provosts, university presidents, and more.