If you’re looking for a challenging career that allows you to make a difference in people’s lives, consider teaching. As the population of the United States grows, so too does the demand for qualified and certified teachers. As a teacher, you can specialize in teaching at any level from preschool to adult education, and can choose whether to teach in public or private school systems.
To become a teacher, you generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in education or in a field such as science or history with additional education coursework. For certification, which is required for public school teachers, you will also need to complete supervised teaching and pass certification exams.
There are a number of online graduate programs that will allow you to complete the required coursework to become a certified teacher in your state. You can also pursue online graduate degrees and certification programs to advance your teaching career.
Teachers work as primary classroom instructors. They work with students in all grade levels from preschool to college. At advanced levels, generally middle school and higher, a teacher specializes in a specific subject area. In addition to regular classroom teachers, with a background in education you can pursue specialized degrees or certificates in counseling, vocational training, special education, adult education or teaching English as a second language (ESL). You can also go into educational administration, research, instructional technology, or other related fields.
Teaching is a challenging career that requires long hours, patience, and excellent people skills. You need to be able to explain concepts, manage groups, and in most cases, appreciate the company of children or young adults. Above all, you should enjoy the learning process. Depending on location and type of program, teaching may also have a lower salary than other jobs that require the same amount of training and experience. However, teaching can also be a very rewarding profession and allows individuals to make a real difference.
There are few undergraduate degrees in education available online that alone are sufficient to become a certified teacher. However, once you have earned a bachelor’s degree (online or from a brick and mortar college), there are many online master’s programs that will provide the necessary coursework and opportunities for student teaching that makes you eligible for your state certification exams.
While online degrees make it possible to complete educational requirements, in order to earn your teaching certificate, you will still need to complete supervised, full-time classroom teaching for a period of between 12 and 20 weeks. You should research your state’s teaching certification requirements, as well as any other requirements that may be in place for your local school district or private schools.
The major teaching responsibilities are the same for both kinds of schools, but there are a few important differences. Unlike public schools, admission to private schools is selective, and schools charge tuition. In private schools, classes tend to be smaller than those in public schools, and private school teacher salaries are often lower than those of public school teachers. Generally speaking, certification is not required to teach in private schools. Some private schools are associated with churches or have religious affiliations and they may hire teachers who share the values of that faith.
When looking for an online teaching degree program, it’s important to choose an institution that is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE accredits both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Attending an accredited school is critical if you wish to complete your teaching certification for the state in which you plan to teach. It may also be required as a condition of employment at private schools, as well as for admission to a graduate program in education.
In order to teach at a public school, you must have a teaching certification (sometimes called a teaching license or teaching credential). For middle school and secondary school teachers, you will also need to pass a proficiency exam in the subject or subjects you wish to teach, and receive an endorsement in that field. Some states require additional testing for teachers, including professional standards tests. All candidates for certification must also complete a teaching program that includes a supervised student teaching practicum. Private schools do not have the same certification requirements but may offer higher starting salaries and better opportunities for advancement to those who possess these qualifications.
Each state has different certification requirements for coursework, minimum student teaching requirements, and examinations. For specialized fields such as counseling or special education, there may be additional requirements, degrees or certifications that you will need to complete.
After you receive your certification, you will need to regularly complete continuing education credits in order to retain your teaching certification.
Preschool teachers are the only teachers who are eligible for work after earning an associate’s degree and an early childhood education certification. However, you should check with your state requirements, as many states do require preschool teachers in public schools to have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and be certified teachers. In addition, you may need certification as a Childcare Professional (CCP) from the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation to be hired as a preschool teacher.
Elementary school teachers instruct students from kindergarten through fifth or sixth grades. They usually teach several subjects in a single classroom. Therefore, elementary school teachers often earn their teaching credentials through bachelor’s degree programs in elementary education instead of concentrating in a particular subject, like history, mathematics or biology. In most states you will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in education or, for kindergarten specifically, a degree in early childhood education. Your bachelor’s degree should be from a state-approved teaching college or education department of a university, allowing you to be certified in your state after fulfilling the student teaching requirements and passing the certification exams.
Secondary school teachers work at the middle school and high school levels to teach students in the sixth through twelfth grades. Middle school teachers build on the skills that their students learned in elementary school and prepare them for high school, while high school teachers teach at a more advanced level and prepare students for careers and college.
Secondary school teachers usually earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject that they plan to teach, such as math, foreign languages, science, or English. They also complete a teacher education program, either during their undergraduate education or through an alternative teacher certification program.
If you are a specialized teacher such as a band or orchestra director, an art teacher, a coach, or if you want to teach AP classes, you will need a higher degree or additional certification in your specialization.
Few undergraduate online programs prepare students to become certified teachers after completion of a bachelor’s degree. However, many colleges and universities offer master’s programs that lead either to certification, add additional teaching fields/endorsements, or provide career advancement for current teachers.
Here are a few examples of programs that offer a balance of great instruction and affordability:
Colorado State University offers a master’s in science education degree entirely online. Coursework expands on a student’s understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science with the goal of learning how to teach these subjects at the middle school and high school levels. With this program, students can meet certification requirements for teaching across the US.
Southwestern College in Kansas offers a Master of Arts in Teaching. This online program prepares people to teach grades 6-12 after they have received a bachelor’s degree or higher in a subject field that is recognized by the state of Kansas for licensure. It also allows students to pursue licensure for degrees in music or physical education. At the completion of this program, students are eligible to apply for a teaching license in the state of Kansas.
At Arizona State University, students can complete online graduate degrees making them eligible to teach English as a second language, early childhood education, or in a gifted education program. The college also has a graduate preparation program for K-12 licensure, as well as curriculum and instruction and special education degrees.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater offers an online Master of Science in Education for students who already have obtained teaching certification and wish to be licensed to teach special education. The school also offers a Master of Science in Special Education for teachers already working in this field who want to obtain advanced credentials.
Central Michigan University has a wide range of graduate programs in education. The master of arts degree in education provides an entry point for those new to education, as well as for those who want advanced understanding of teaching trends and practices. There are also programs in educational technology, reading and literacy, school counseling, and training and development.
In order to become a teacher, depending on the age group you wish to teach, you may pursue a bachelor’s degree in Education or complete a major in a field that mirrors one of your state’s recognized subject fields (like math, natural science, foreign language, or English). For education fields such as special education, education administration, curriculum design, and instructional technology, you should expect to complete a master’s degree or PhD in the field you wish to pursue.
Depending on your interests, there are a number of degree programs in education, with many options available online:
Career opportunities and salaries are usually determined by the population within a school district. Keep in mind that growing municipalities often have more opportunities, and that property taxes are a large source of public school funding, which can have an impact on salary ranges.
The following information is generalized based on aggregate data across the United States, and some cities may have significantly more or less demand for new teachers.
As the area of teaching with the fewest requirements, the average annual salary for preschool teachers is lower than other teachers, with the average teacher earning $$27,130. The projected job growth for 2010–2020 is at 25%, suggesting preschool teaching is expected to have a high growth rate.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn (from some calculations) $53,090. Many public school teachers throughout the country belong to unions, which advocate for saving teaching jobs and increasing salaries. The two largest are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). The projected job growth from 2010 to 2020 is a little less than preschool, at 12%, with an estimated addition of about 281,500 jobs to the existing 1.7 million.
Middle school teachers can expect salaries averaging around $53,430, with 12% growth projected over the next ten years. The average salary for high school teachers is $55,000, but the job growth outlook is slower than average, at 6% over the next decade, which translates to 71,900 additional high school teaching jobs. This is likely due in part to national programs that allow selected college graduates to spend two years teaching after graduation.
One alternate career that many with certification choose to pursue is school counseling. This position has an average salary of $53,610 and has a 12% growth rate, which is better than high school teaching and about the same as other teaching areas.
*Data source from BLS