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How to Become a Teacher: Steps and FAQs

How to Become a Teacher: Steps and FAQs

You want to become a teacher but have no idea where to start when it comes to education paths, training, or certifications. This guide can help you take the first step. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a teacher.

Teachers play a critical role in shaping the next generation of changemakers and innovators. They work tirelessly to nurture student development and foster an inclusive learning environment for students of diverse backgrounds and capabilities. On a day-to-day basis, teachers prepare and deliver lessons, assess student progress, manage classroom behavior, grade assignments, and support students as needed. 

While it’s a rewarding profession, teaching is not for everyone. So, how do you know if becoming a teacher is right for you? If you’re considering becoming a teacher, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you aspire to make a difference in the world?
  • Are you patient?
  • Do you enjoy working with kids?
  • Are you a good communicator?
  • Do you have a passion for education?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then teaching is likely the right career path for you. So, how do you become a certified teacher? While the specific steps will ultimately depend on your state and district, many states have similar general requirements. In this guide, we’ll cover the basic step-by-step process for how to become a teacher and outline specific requirements for several popular teaching specializations.

How to Become a Teacher: Step-by-Step

Each state and district will have its own set of requirements you need to meet to become a teacher. Typically, you’ll have to attain a certain level of education, complete a student teaching experience, receive passing scores on educator exams, and apply for your state teacher certification. Some states may also require additional steps, such as workshops or extra field experience. Continue reading to take a deeper look into the step-by-step process and learn how to become a certified teacher.

Step 1: Earn a Degree in Teaching

All 50 states require teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, but the type of degree will depend on individual state requirements and your journey. Some teachers may have an undergraduate degree related to education, such as a bachelor’s in elementary or secondary education. Other teachers may have bachelor’s degrees in specific content areas, such as math or science. Both are acceptable in most states, but if your bachelor’s degree is not directly related to teaching, you’ll also need to complete a teacher preparation program.

A teacher preparation program provides you with the knowledge, training, and experience to be an effective educator. If you major in education, you’ll usually complete the teacher preparation program as part of your undergraduate coursework. If your bachelor’s degree is outside of education, you’ll need to enroll in a teacher preparation program to meet this requirement.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of elementary and secondary school teachers in public schools also hold a master’s degree. Some states, like Connecticut, may require you to earn a master’s degree within a certain period to renew your teaching license. Plus, earning a master’s degree can provide you with benefits like higher pay and greater confidence in the classroom.

On average, it takes 4-6 years to become a teacher. Luckily, there are many online education degree programs to help make your teaching journey more flexible and convenient. 

Step 2: Complete Your Student Teaching

Student teaching is an essential step to becoming a teacher. You’ll gain real classroom experience to build your confidence and help you grow into a competent educator. During student teaching, you’ll learn to manage a classroom, develop lesson plans, deliver content, and build meaningful relationships with students. Student teaching experiences typically last one to two semesters to help you get a full picture of what a career as a teacher entails. 

How you find a student teaching placement will depend on your university. Some may require you to find a placement independently, while others partner with local schools and can pair you with a certified teacher, called a cooperating teacher.

Your cooperating teacher will serve as a mentor to help support and guide you through your student teaching experience. You’ll also work closely with an advisor from your university who will regularly come to observe you teaching and provide feedback on your performance. 

While student teaching experiences are typically unpaid, you may be able to work as a substitute teacher, depending on your state and district requirements. Being a substitute teacher likely won’t count towards your student teaching requirements, so making time for both is essential. 

Step 3: Take and Pass Your Educator Exams

To become a teacher, you’ll need to pass a standardized test that measures your knowledge and teaching abilities. Each state has its own testing requirements that you’ll need to meet to become a teacher in that state. For example, you’ll need to pass the New York State Teacher Certifications Examinations to teach in New York, but passing those exams won’t allow you to teach in New Jersey. 

Here are some of the most common tests used for teacher certification:

  • Praxis: One of the most popular teacher certification exams, the Praxis measures the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the classroom. 
  • National Evaluation Series: Administered by Pearson, the National Evaluation Series is a computer-based exam that measures the qualifications of aspiring teachers.

Each state sets its own passing score for the exams, so make sure you look up your state’s individual testing requirements. 

Step 4: Apply for State Certification

Once you’ve completed the first three steps outlined above, you’re ready to apply for your state teaching certification. A teaching certification demonstrates you’ve met the requirements to become a teacher. Applying for state certification will look different in each state, but you’ll typically need to apply, complete a background check and fingerprinting, send in your official transcripts, and provide proof that you’ve completed the requirements.

Earning your state teaching certification is not a one-time deal. Your first teaching certification is just an initial license, which you’ll need to renew every few years. Many states have specific standards you need to meet to renew your license. You’ll usually need to complete several professional development hours, undergo performance evaluations, and participate in an induction program, at least in the early years of your career. The cost of applying for state certification will vary, but you should expect to spend anywhere from $40-$250.

Step 5: Apply for Teaching Jobs

Now that you’ve completed all the requirements to become a certified teacher, it’s time to start applying for jobs. The first step to applying for teaching jobs is to think about your professional goals and what you want in a teaching position. Do you want to work in a public or private school? What grade do you want to teach? Is there a specific district you want to work in? 

There are many ways to find open teaching positions. You can take the traditional route of using job boards like Indeed or LinkedIn. You can also look on your local district’s website to see if they have any openings. Additionally, you may be able to reach out to the school where you completed your student teaching. Many schools hire student teachers once they’ve completed all their requirements. 

The interview process will look different for each role you apply to, but you’ll typically be interviewed by the principal, department head, and a peer. The questions you’ll be asked will focus on various topics that will help the interviewers learn more about your abilities and teaching philosophies and how you would handle specific situations. Depending on your school, you may also be asked to teach or prepare a lesson so the hiring committee can get a better sense of your strengths.

It’s important to come to your interview prepared. Bring several copies of your resume and a teaching portfolio if you have one. Before the interview, research the school and who will be interviewing you.

Teaching Specializations to Consider

There are many teaching specializations to choose from, all of which may have additional requirements you need to meet. For example, to become a special education teacher, you may have to earn additional certifications or complete specific coursework. To get started, here’s an outline of how to become a certified teacher for several of the most popular teaching specializations.

How to Become a Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there are over 100,000 openings for kindergarten and elementary school teachers each year. The path to becoming a kindergarten or elementary will look different for everyone, but gaining experience with younger children is vital. Outside of experience, teaching requirements will vary by state, but at the very least, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree, complete a student teaching internship, and earn the required certifications.

How to Become a Preschool Teacher

Depending on your state, the requirements to become a preschool teacher may be less rigorous than other teaching roles. Typically, the minimum education requirement for preschool teachers is an associate degree, but some states require a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. You also may be required to obtain the Child Development Associate credential, which involves coursework, a written exam, experience in the field, and getting observed working with children.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers are in high demand across the United States, with 78% of K-12 public school principals finding it difficult to hire a fully certified teacher for special education at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. To become a special education teacher in the United States, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree, gain real-world experience through student teaching, obtain a teaching license, pass a background check, and receive a passing score on the Praxis II exam.

How to Become a High School or Secondary Teacher

If you want to specialize in teaching a specific subject or focus area, you’ll likely want to become a high school or secondary teacher. To become a high school or secondary teacher, like any teacher, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, high school and secondary are strongly encouraged to major in a content area, like math or English. High school and secondary teachers will also need to obtain licensure and gain classroom management experience through student teaching.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substitute teachers are in high demand as there are only 600,000 substitute teachers that cover the 30 million teacher absences in K-12 schools each year. Despite popular belief, there’s more to substitute teaching than giving students a worksheet or putting on a movie, especially if you’re a long-term substitute. The minimum requirement for substitute teachers in most states is holding a bachelor’s degree. However, most states will also require you to pass a skills proficiency exam that covers basic reading, writing, and math.

State-Specific Teacher Requirements

Every state has its own requirements for becoming a teacher. Each state will have different standards for teaching preparation programs, the number of student teaching hours completed, the type of exams you’ll need to pass, and which certifications you’ll need to hold. Some states may also have additional requirements outside of the steps we highlighted here. To give you a better idea of how to become a certified teacher, here are a few examples of state-specific teacher requirements.

How to Become a Teacher in California

California is one of the many states where teachers are in high demand. Here’s how to become a certified teacher in California:

How to Become a Teacher in Texas

With over 1,000 school districts and charters, Texas has an abundance of opportunities for teachers. Here’s how to become a certified teacher in Texas:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree and finish a TEA-approved teacher preparation program
  • Complete at least 300 hours of coursework and training and 30 hours of field experience before starting a student teaching internship
  • Complete student teaching
  • Pass the state-required certification exams, such as the TExES and PACT
  • Undergo a background check and fingerprinting
  • Apply for your initial state teaching certification

How to Become a Teacher in New York

With a strong commitment to education, it’s no wonder why New York is considered one of the best states for teachers, If you want to become a certified teacher in New York, you must:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • Successfully complete a state-approved teacher preparation program
  • Pass the required state teaching exams, which include the Educating All Students (EAS) test, the Content Specialty Test (CST), and the Ed Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA)
  • Complete the state’s mandatory child safety workshops
  • Submit to a federal and state background check and fingerprinting
  • Apply for your initial teaching license

How to Become a Teacher in Florida

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, there were roughly 7,000 teacher vacancies across Florida. To help with the statewide shortage, here’s how to become a certified teacher in Florida:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree
  • Complete a state-approved teacher preparation program with student teaching experience
  • Earn a qualifying score on a competency exam and relevant subject-specific exams
  • Apply for a Florida state teaching license

Florida allows those with nonteaching bachelor’s degrees to earn a temporary teaching license. These teachers will then have three years to complete an approved teacher certification program and apply for a professional license.

How to Become a Teacher in Georgia

As the first state to offer universal Pre-K in 1993, Georgia has been helping to push education forward. To become a teacher in the innovative state of Georgia you must meet the following requirements: