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How To Become a Teacher

By the OnlineU team | Updated 5/18/2022

Teachers play an important role in developing local communities. Teaching may be the right choice for you if you're looking for a career that truly makes a positive impact. As a trained educator, you'll have the ability to shape young minds and prepare them for life outside of school. There are a variety of ways to become a professional teacher, but each pathway involves several levels of higher education, teacher certifications, and training before you can start your teaching career.

This guide will help you understand how to become a teacher, from considering your motivation to take on this career to education requirements, online courses, and advanced studies.

By the OnlineU team | Updated 5/18/2022

Teachers play an important role in developing local communities. Teaching may be the right choice for you if you're looking for a career that truly makes a positive impact. As a trained educator, you'll have the ability to shape young minds and prepare them for life outside of school. There are a variety of ways to become a professional teacher, but each pathway involves several levels of higher education, teacher certifications, and training before you can start your teaching career.

This guide will help you understand how to become a teacher, from considering your motivation to take on this career to education requirements, online courses, and advanced studies.

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Should You Become a Teacher?

Teaching is a noble profession, but it comes with many challenges. Before embarking on this career, it's best to understand the pros and cons of becoming a teacher. For example, many personality traits are helpful to develop before entering this job role, such as patience and discipline. Teaching can be very challenging. You'll be asked to shape the basic skills and knowledge of students, which includes imparting complicated information and educating them on the ways in which society functions. This can be a daunting task for some, especially when it comes to early childhood education which covers a wide swath of subject areas. A high level of discipline and patience is particularly important for prospective teachers of elementary education.

There are many rewards to becoming a teacher. For example, many teachers laud the benefits of their schedules. If you are a parent, your teaching job will likely align with your children's school calendar. Also, teachers receive a very consistent schedule, including time off for holidays, weekends, and — of course — summer vacation.

Whether they are children at the kindergarten grade level or adults learning a new language, this career involves a great deal of care and attention.

Teaching is ultimately about caring for your students. Whether they are children at the kindergarten grade level or adults learning a new language, this career involves a great deal of care and attention. This is true for building student relationships, but teachers are also encouraged to develop personal relationships outside of their study programs. Many parents like being involved in their children's education. For this reason, teachers generally have excellent interpersonal skills when it comes to communicating with both children and adults.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Teacher?

The path to becoming a teacher takes several years of professional development. Most teaching jobs require applicants to hold at least a bachelor's degree, which usually takes four years on a full-time schedule. In addition to a university-level education, you'll also be required to hold a teacher certification from the state you reside in. In many cases, these teaching credentials involve several months of on-the-job learning by way of internships that provide classroom experience. Those interested in being a new teacher often spend at least five years preparing for their career.

The length of time it takes to become a teacher also depends on your career goals. If you intend to be a professor at the college level, you'll likely need a master's degree in teaching.

What Do You Need to Become a Teacher?

In order to be hired as an accredited teacher, you'll need to pass certain milestones. Aspiring teachers are treated the same as lawyers in that state approval is required before becoming a teaching professional in either a public or private school. In order to receive a certificate or license to teach in your state, you'll need to possess a certain level of education and student teaching experiences, which are gained through teacher preparation programs.

Education Requirements

The first step in becoming a teacher is to obtain a college degree. This is required in order to apply for the next step of the process: certification. You can either study education courses in a traditional college environment, where you'll physically attend classes and lectures, or you can opt for an online learning pathway. There are many options for online teaching degrees that are worth exploring, especially if you want to study at your own pace.

Associate Degree in Education

An Associate's in Education is the minimum requirement if you want to teach in certain capacities. Bear in mind, this level of education won't qualify you for a professional teaching certificate. However, you can earn a job as a substitute teacher, teacher's aide, or preschool teacher. Associate degrees generally take two years to complete and are a useful first step in setting the foundation to pursue a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's Degree in Education

A bachelor's degree in education is required to earn a teaching certificate. During your studies you'll learn the basic fundamentals of education, such as theory, practice, classroom management, and curricula creation. Bachelor's degrees usually take four years to complete. Some students can begin working toward their teaching certificate while they study for their degree in education

Master's Degree in Education

A master's in education is not required to become a teacher if you've already completed a bachelor's degree in education and a teaching certificate. However, there are many benefits to achieving this level of education. For example, a master's degree in education can increase your teacher salary by more than $10,000 per year. You can also use it as a way to advance into management positions, such as administrator, principal, or superintendent. Importantly, if you hold a bachelor's degree in another field than education, you can still obtain a Master of Arts in Teaching to qualify for a teaching certificate. This degree will take an additional two years of studies.

Doctoral Degree in Education

A doctoral in education is the most advanced level in the education field. Those pursuing a doctorate will earn either a PhD or a Doctorate in Education (EdD). The former opens the door to working in academia as a researcher or professor, while graduates of the latter normally pursue administrative roles in higher education. Doctoral degrees in education can take anywhere from three to six years to complete on a full-time schedule.

Student Teaching

Student teaching is another way for you to advance your education. It involves working alongside a certified teacher who will mentor you on curriculum, student management, and different approaches to teaching, to name a few. You can pursue a student teaching position while also studying for your bachelor's degree. This is a college-lead internship that's instructional by nature. It's meant to give you a headstart in preparing for your teaching certificate. Consult your school's advisor to see what opportunities are available at your local school district.

Certification Requirements

The final step to become a teacher involves completing a teaching certificate program, which often requires getting a background check. Students must earn a state-approved teaching certificate before they can be hired by an employer in any US state. Online programs can prepare you for real-world teaching situations at the elementary, middle school, high school and postsecondary levels.

Before choosing your licensure program, make sure to check that it's from an institution that's approved in your state. Once you receive your certificate, you can apply for a license to teach. You may also have to take a state board exam at the end of the program.

How to Become a Teacher Online

Earning an online degree in education is easier than ever. Today, more and more institutions are offering online programs that set the foundation for a career as a teacher. You can study for an associate degree, bachelor's degree, and all the way up to a doctoral degree. These innovative programs offer a combination of live and recorded lectures, interactive forums, and online coursework through learning management systems. This way you can study on your own schedule while maintaining a job or simply keeping up with your home life.

Teaching certificates are available online through many education degree programs. Once you complete your certificate and earn your degree, you can apply for a teaching license in your state.

Some advanced education programs for EdD students allow you to combine your work with your studies. As a working teacher studying for your doctoral degree, you may be able to use your own classroom for this portion of a program.

Choosing a Teaching Program

Maybe you've already completed some college credits? Or maybe you even hold a bachelor's degree in a similar field? These components will change your path to becoming a licensed teacher.

Before you apply for a degree program, it's important to consider your previous experience, your budget, and your availability. At minimum, you'll be required to achieve your bachelor's degree alongside a teaching certificate. Since these programs require a good deal of time and money, it's beneficial to consider all of the aspects that come with choosing a teaching program.


Prerequisites for a degree in education vary from school to school. For example, some institutions don't allow enrollment in specific education programs until your junior year. In this case, you should aim to focus your studies on similar fields or a specified area of study in the field you want to teach, such as foreign language or physical education. Other programs require you to obtain an associate degree in your area of expertise. Check with your school to fully understand the prerequisites for your teaching certificate program.

Applying to a Teaching Program

The most important thing to consider when applying for a teaching program is accreditation. You'll need to ensure the program you're interested in is accredited by the state you intend to work in. Also, look ahead at the prerequisites for the bachelor's program so you can plan your associate degree around them. This will make the application process as seamless as possible and prepare you for the coursework ahead.

The application process for a degree program in education differs across schools. At some universities, for example, you'll need to prove that you maintained a 3.0 GPA in your previous two years of school. Along with your transcripts, you'll often need to submit several forms, including your biographical information and essays that outline your credentials and career intentions as an educator.

Additionally, the following insights may be useful to keep in mind:

Some online programs may be difficult to apply for if you are an out-of-state applicant. Most students live within the state that their program operates in, even if it's online.

When it comes to licensure, each state has their own application process to apply for a teaching certificate.

You'll need to choose a program that aligns with your career goals. This can include options such as child development for prospective elementary school teachers or specific subjects that middle school and high school teachers focus on, including mathematics and history.

Specializing in a Subject Area

Each teaching career path involves unique challenges and benefits. Before you start on your journey of becoming a teacher, it's important to develop a plan regarding your ideal specialty in this field.

If you have a particular fascination for biology, math, geography, or even sports, you can pursue a specialized teaching role. This way, you can work within your preferred field while sharing your passion with others. For those who are particularly passionate about a subject, eager to learn new information, and plan to inject a sense of care into their study programs, teaching can be a fulfilling line of work.

Keep in mind, teachers not only choose to specialize in specific subjects or grade levels, they can work in diverse environments instructing learners in a variety of subject matter. Those who are more interested in working with adults can still pursue teaching careers, for example. There are education specialists, such as adult literacy teachers, English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, and post-secondary teachers at the college and university level.

Financial Aid

The National Center for Education Statistics says the average tuition for an undergraduate degree is $13,360 while advanced degrees cost over $19,000 per year. Given the rising cost of higher education, many online students look to financial aid for assistance in paying their tuition. There are various types of financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study programs.

Scholarships for Teaching Programs

Unlike loans, students do not need to repay scholarships. They're a popular option for students with impressive credentials or those in need of financial assistance. There are a wide variety of scholarships from public, private, and government institutions.

The US Department of Education has several scholarship options, ranging from discretionary funds — which are based on merit — to formula grants distributed by Congress.

As a student, you can explore scholarships, such as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Teachers Graduate Scholarship. This competitive offering awards $2,500 to graduate students who are working toward a teaching degree in any STEM department.

Another example is the Prospective 7-12 Secondary Teacher Course Work Scholarships, which will support $10,000 worth of tuition fees for students actively pursuing a teaching career in mathematics.

Continuing Education

There are many study opportunities for students in the school of education. Once you've received your bachelor's degree, you're eligible to pursue a master's program in education, which can range from a master's in elementary education to educational leadership. This can bring more mobility to your career, such as higher salaries and specialized administrative roles.

If you'd like to continue your education beyond a master's, doctoral programs are available for long-term, advanced learning. During this time you'll work toward a PhD or EdD and focus on research in education.

Advanced Online Degrees

Since your area of expertise will be well-established by the time you complete your bachelor's degree, determining your next steps won't be too challenging. Whether your focus is educational leadership or health education, there are many ways to continue your education in an online setting. There are even doctoral education programs that can be completed online. If you're determined to become a leader in the field of education, these programs will set you up to make policy decisions, complete theoretical research and design complex curriculums.

Beginning Your Teaching Career

Once you've completed the required degree programs and certifications, you're ready to enter the world of teaching. At this point, you'll have established connections at schools in your community through the student teaching requirements in your state. Rely on these connections to apply for a role in your desired field within a school. If you're not able to immediately secure full-time work as a teacher, you can explore options as a substitute teacher, counselor, or instructor. This will broaden your opportunities by allowing you to look at education institutions as well as private companies for employment.

Alternative Careers Similar to Teaching

If you're unsure where you want to end up as a teacher, you can always use your education as the foundation to explore different options. If you see yourself as a teacher outside of traditional education, you can look to a career as a counselor, education policy expert, community director, or coach.

Those with an education degree will be set up to pursue careers that look after children outside of a school setting. Working in after-school programs and becoming youth organizers are popular career choices for those with education degrees. Similarly, librarians often have backgrounds in education and teaching. With the skills you'll develop through coursework and experience, you can also look for work as an instructional designer in the private sector.

There are also teaching-adjacent jobs, such as a textbook author, curriculum representative, student life coordinator, or admissions counselor. A degree in education can prepare you for many unique jobs, including a camp director, museum tour guide, or private tutor.

FAQs About Online Teaching Degrees

Can I Get a Teaching Degree Online?

Yes, there are many options to obtain a teaching degree online. You can earn your degree at each level of education — including the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Although achieving your teaching license requires in-person student teaching, most of your coursework can be completed online.

Are Online Teaching Degrees Legitimate?

As long as your school is properly accredited, online degrees are just as legitimate as traditional in-person learning. Before settling on a school, ensure the institution offers a pathway to a teaching license in your state.

What Is the Fastest Way To Become a Teacher?

There is no real way to fast-track your career as a teacher. Given the fundamental role teachers play in society, many important steps are required before becoming a professional. The fastest way to become a teacher is to earn your bachelor's degree as a pathway to a teacher's license while gaining real-world experience along the way. The more experience you gain while studying, the easier the certification process will be and the quicker you'll land your dream role.

How Do I Get Started as a Teacher?

The first step in becoming a teacher is to decide on a specialization, such as math, special education, or physical education. The earlier you decide on your area of expertise, the easier it will be to plan your study program. From there, you'll research schools that have accredited education programs for bachelor's degrees that offer a pathway to a teacher's license.

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