How Many Years of College to Be a Teacher

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Becoming a teacher is a rewarding career choice that plays a crucial role in shaping the future of individuals and society. If you’re considering a career in education, you might wonder how many years of college education are required to become a teacher.

Becoming a teacher can involve several pathways, including obtaining a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and/or a teaching certificate and passing certification exams. In this article from Bold.org, we’ll explore the various pathways to becoming a teacher and provide valuable insights into how to kickstart your teaching career.

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How Many Years of College Are Required to Become a Teacher?

A prospective teacher can take several different educational routes to become an educator. The best degree or path for you will depend on the grade level and subjects you want to teach, your specific interests within education, and your career goals.

Depending on your degree program or route, becoming a teacher can take anywhere between 4-6 years of study.

Bachelor’s Degree in Education (4 Years)

A common route to becoming a teacher is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education. This pathway typically takes around four years to complete. It is well-suited for students who are committed to teaching from the outset and want to delve deeper into the theory and practice of education during their undergraduate degree.

Many universities offer undergraduate degree programs focusing on pedagogy, curriculum development, classroom management, and educational psychology for future leaders. In addition to coursework, aspiring teachers in an education degree program often complete student-teaching internships, which provide hands-on experience in real classrooms under the guidance of experienced educators.

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Undergraduate students with specialized interests in early childhood education or special education can further tailor their bachelor’s degree to fit their career goals in teaching. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education. These programs provide prospective ECE teachers with a deeper understanding of childhood development, teaching methodologies, and classroom management, preparing students to work in childcare centers or as preschool teachers.

Similarly, students who aspire to become special education teachers can begin their educational journey by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field, such as elementary education, focusing on special education. These programs take around four years to complete, like a general education degree. They may offer specialized tracks or concentrations in areas like autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, or behavior disorders.

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Bachelor’s Degree in a Subject Area + Teaching Credential (5 Years)

Suppose you’re passionate about a specific subject and want to teach it at the middle or high school level. In that case, you can pursue a bachelor’s degree in that subject area (e.g., math, science, English) and then obtain a teaching credential after undergrad. Like a bachelor’s degree in education, this path takes four years to complete the undergraduate degree component and an additional year to earn a teaching credential.

After earning their bachelor’s degree, students who want to teach specific subjects as high school teachers or middle school teachers complete a teacher preparation program. Teacher preparation programs or teacher certification programs are an alternative pathway for individuals with bachelor’s degrees who do not major in education. The program varies in duration and structure, usually ranging from a few months to a year or more to complete.

Teacher certification programs usually combine coursework with practical classroom experience. These programs are designed to provide the necessary pedagogical knowledge and skills to succeed as a teacher. As a result, teaching certification programs can be an efficient way to enter the teaching profession, especially for those who want to make a career change or are interested in teaching at the middle or high school level.

Master’s Degree in Education (1-2 Years)

For those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a subject, pursuing a master’s degree in education is another viable pathway to becoming a teacher. Obtaining a master’s degree in education usually takes an additional one to two years after earning a four-year undergraduate degree. This particular path to the teaching profession is suitable for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in education and those who majored in another subject.

Compared to a bachelor’s degree in education, master’s degree programs offer a more focused exploration of educational theory, research, and best practices that are particularly beneficial for individuals looking to transition into teaching from a different field or teachers who want to advance their teaching skills and knowledge. Master’s degree programs in education also often involve a student teaching component, wherein prospective teachers can gain hands-on classroom experience under the guidance of an experienced educator.

Learn more about how to get scholarships to fund your bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in education!

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How to Become a Public School Teacher

Obtaining a degree in education or completing the necessary teacher certification program is only the first step toward becoming a successful educator! Becoming a teacher involves several steps, including education, training, certification, and practical experience. The specific requirements will vary depending on the type of school you want to work at and your state, so it’s important to research the guidelines in your location.

Here’s a general overview of how to become a public school teacher:

Step 1: Education

Like with any teaching position, becoming a public school teacher begins by obtaining a degree in education or the specific subject area you’re interested in teaching from an accredited degree program. Some education programs may offer specialized training for elementary education, secondary education, or teaching specific subjects like math or science.

Step 2: Teacher Preparation Program

Many states require public school teachers to complete a teacher preparation program, which provides the necessary pedagogical training, classroom management skills, and practical teaching experience to become a teacher. A teacher preparation program can be part of your bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program, or a separate post-bachelor’s program for students who did not major in education.

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Step 3: Obtain Teaching Certification

Meet State Certification Requirements

Each state has its own certification requirements for public school teachers. These requirements usually include passing exams, completing specific coursework, and demonstrating classroom teaching skills.

Pass Praxis Exams

Praxis exams that assess your subject knowledge and teaching skills are commonly required for teacher certification. There are different praxis tests for various subjects and grade levels; for example, the praxis exam to become an elementary school teacher and the praxis exam to become a high school Algebra teacher will differ. Be sure to do your research on the material of the praxis exam for your grade level and subject.

Step 4: Student Teaching

Most teacher preparation programs include student teaching requirements, which involve working in a classroom under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Student teaching requirements provide hands-on teaching experience to future teachers, helping you apply the skills you’ve learned in your coursework through work with real students.

Step 5: Apply for Teaching Positions

Once you pass your praxis exams, meet state certification requirements, and complete your student teaching requirements, you’ll become a certified teacher. You can now start searching for teaching positions at public schools! Public school teacher job openings are commonly listed in school districts on websites, education job boards, and other job platforms.

Step 6: Ongoing Professional Development

After becoming a public school teacher, ongoing professional development is crucial to stay updated on teaching methods, educational research, and best practices. Many school districts require teachers to engage in continuing education to maintain their teaching credentials, whether that be through coursework, seminars, or workshops with other educators. As part of the teaching profession, you’ll be expected to model the qualities of a lifelong learner to your pupils.

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How to Become a Private School Teacher

Becoming a private school teacher and a public school teacher share many similarities, but there are also some key differences in terms of requirements, teaching environments, and other factors.

For example, public school teachers in most states are required to hold state-issued teaching certifications or licensure. As we discussed previously, this certification typically involves completing specific education and training requirements, passing exams, and meeting other state-specific criteria.

In contrast, private schools have more flexibility in hiring practices, and some may not require the same level of formal teaching certification. While many private schools prefer certified teachers, some private schools hire individuals with subject matter expertise or relevant experience without requiring the same teaching credentials as public schools.

As a result, aspiring teachers interested in working at private schools may not necessarily need to get a master’s degree in education or complete a teacher preparation program. In some cases, a bachelor’s degree in education or a master’s degree in a subject matter can be an educational requirement to teach at a private school.

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Becoming Certified in Early Childhood Education

Prospective teachers interested in working in ECE may need to take additional steps to become certified after earning an undergraduate degree.

After graduating with your associate’s or bachelor’s degree in ECE, you may need to obtain state licensing or certification to work in ECE. ECE certification can involve completing specific training, background checks, and health screening, which may take anywhere between a few months to a year.

The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential is a widely recognized certification in the ECE field and is often required for certain positions in childcare centers and preschools. The time required to earn the Child Development Associate Credential can vary depending on your prior experience, the specific training program you choose, and the time you dedicate to completing the requirements. Still, teachers should expect to spend around 6 to 12 months obtaining the credential.

Becoming a Special Education Teacher

Becoming a special education teacher may take around four to six years. Still, the timeframe can vary based on factors such as the level of education you pursue and the specific requirements in your state.

After earning your undergraduate degree in special education or a related field, special education teachers must complete a teacher preparation program specific to special education. This program will provide aspiring teachers with the pedagogical knowledge and hands-on classroom experience necessary to work with students with diverse learning needs. Teacher preparation programs for special education can take around one to two years to complete, depending on whether you pursue a master’s degree or a post-bachelor’s certificate program.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Teacher

Is a master’s degree required to become a teacher?

No, a master’s degree is not always necessary to become a teacher. A bachelor’s degree in education or a teaching credential can be sufficient to enter the teaching profession. However, a master’s degree can enhance your teaching skills and career prospects, especially if you want to specialize or advance in the field.

Can I become a teacher without a degree in education?

Yes, you can become a teacher without a degree in education. Many teaching programs and alternative pathways are designed for individuals with degrees in other fields. Teaching certificate programs, for example, provide the necessary pedagogical training to transition into the teaching profession from another field or with another major.

How long does it take to become a teacher with a teaching certificate?

The duration of teaching certificate programs varies. Some programs can be completed in a few months, while others may take a year or more. The length of the program often depends on factors such as the program's structure and whether you're studying full-time or part-time.

Although the path to becoming a teacher isn’t easy, if you’re heart is set on becoming an educator, investing the time and energy into a teaching degree will be well worth your effort. Scholarships for future teachers can help provide financial peace of mind so that you can focus on your degree and graduate on time.

Check out our Scholarship Blog to learn more about full-ride scholarships and tips and tricks for earning scholarship money!