How To Become a Teacher in 4 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 15, 2022 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated September 15, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An illustration of a teacher in a classroom with a student raising their hand. A chalkboard with the numbers 1-4 in circles is behind the student.

Teaching can be an inspiring and rewarding career. If you’re interested in becoming a teacher, you likely have a good deal of patience and empathy, in addition to a joy of working with children or young adults. In this article, we explain what teachers do and how to become one, plus answer some common questions about this career path.

What do teachers do?

The primary role of a teacher is to educate students on one or several subjects, often through structured lesson plans. To accomplish this, teachers must perform some or all of the following daily tasks:

  • Create and deliver effective lesson plans

  • Grade student work and offer feedback to both students and parents

  • Manage classroom supplies

  • Create and reinforce classroom rules

  • Prepare students for standardized tests

  • Coordinate with other teachers, staff and administration

  • Learn different teaching methods to increase effectiveness

Read more: Learn About Being a Teacher

How to become a teacher

Exceptional teachers do more than just educate their students. They inspire and encourage students in all areas of their lives, not just academics.

You should consider following these four steps if you plan to pursue teaching as a career path:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Teachers must hold at least a bachelor's degree to meet the requirements of a teaching position. You can choose to major in education studies, the subject you wish to teach or both.

The following are some common college majors for people who wish to become teachers:

Early childhood education

Early childhood education teachers learn how to work with young students up to age 8 and study theories in child development. This degree will help you prepare for teaching kindergarten or elementary school. You may also qualify for non-teaching positions, such as education administration.

Secondary education

A degree in secondary education allows teachers to work with middle and high school students in public and private schools. Additional certification may be required depending on the state in which you teach.

Special education

If you want to work with children with special needs, a degree in special education is required. Unique training in this program prepares teachers to handle the needs of students with learning or developmental challenges.

Physical education

For teaching roles involving physical education (PE), including coaching athletic programs in a school setting, this degree focus is necessary. PE teachers, sports management personnel and school dietitians are included under this category.

Education administration

Teachers with degrees in education administration often move into administrative or research roles. If this is something you know you want to pursue, you can major in education administration and get a head start on that career path.

Related: How To Become a Teacher With a Business Degree

2. Gain classroom experience

Hands-on experience is important in the educational field. Classroom hours are usually acquired during your undergraduate studies in the form of an internship at a school, or post-graduation. Teachers must have a certain number of classroom hours where they supervise in an educational environment before taking their teaching certification exam.

Once you’ve spent some time in the classroom, consider your interests and talents and research state requirements to help you decide where you wish to teach. A teacher's career path determines the grade level, subject and location of where they teach as well as the type of school.

Related: 8 Qualities of a Good Teacher (and Tips for How Develop Them)

3. Obtain your teaching license

Research your state teaching certification requirements to begin the process of obtaining a teaching license. Most states require prospective teachers to pass three Praxis tests to become licensed: the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators (Core), the Praxis Subject Assessments and the Praxis Content Knowledge for Teaching Assessments. The Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching is also required in some states and usually taken halfway through your education program.

Certification usually follows grade levels with separate certificates for the following segments:

  • Preschool through third grade

  • First through sixth grade (or first through eighth)

  • Seventh through 12th grade

If you have a college degree in a non-teaching field, most states offer alternative licensing options. These programs allow prospective teachers to begin teaching immediately under the direct supervision of an experienced teacher. After the completion of the alternative program, the candidate will then receive full certification.

You may need to apply to the state's Department of Education, take exams or perform additional coursework to receive your state license.

Related: 10 Teacher Careers: Requirements, Salaries and Duties

4. Continue with higher education

Teachers often desire to earn a higher degree once they have classroom experience to boost their pay. All public school teachers are required to complete a certain number of continuing education course hours to maintain their state certification. Professional development courses also are common as teaching methods and material continue to evolve.

Related: 10 Steps You Can Take To Make More Money as a Teacher

Becoming a teacher: FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about becoming a teacher:

How much money do teachers make?

The national average salary for a teacher is $23,838 per year, with a range of $14,500 to $45,749 per year. However, the average teacher salary varies depending on specialty, level of education, years of experience, location and the type of school. For example, a kindergarten teacher in the U.S. makes an average of $35,905 per year, while a high school teacher makes an average of $47,414 per year.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.

What’s the job outlook for teachers?

The job outlook for teachers depends on their specialty, but is fairly promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for the following types of teachers are expected to grow between 2020 and 2030:

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers: Increase of 7%, as fast as the average for all occupations, with 111,500 new jobs expected over the decade

  • High school teachers: Increase of 8%, as fast as the average for all occupations, with 78,200 new jobs expected over the decade

  • Postsecondary teachers: Increase of 12%, faster than the average for all occupations, with 156,700 new jobs expected over the decade

What skills do teachers need?

Teaching is a profession that requires a varied skill set, based in part on the age of the students you’ll be teaching. However, each of the following soft skills are necessary for any teacher:

  • Communication skills

  • Patience

  • Empathy

  • Organization skills

  • Active listening skills

  • Creativity

Related: Top 10 Skills To Include on Your Teacher Resume

Can you be a teacher without a degree?

All states require K-12 public school teachers to hold at least a bachelor's degree, usually in elementary education or secondary education, or majoring in a content area such as math or science for older grades.

Can I still become a teacher if I don’t have a degree in education?

While it’s more common to have a bachelor's degree in some form of education, prospective teaching candidates with a bachelor's degree in a different field can still become teachers once they’ve taken a state licensure exam. For example, if you have a degree in mathematics and you want to teach high school math, you’ll need to take a teacher certification exam, such as the Praxis, which measures academic skills and subject-specific content knowledge needed for teaching.

How long does it take to become a teacher?

It usually takes about four years to become a teacher, including earning your bachelor's degree and passing certification exams. Time will vary based on if you’ve already received a degree before deciding to pursue teaching.

Related: ​​Professor vs. Teacher: What's the Difference?

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