Teaching Career Requirements

Teaching careers appeal to recent high school graduates and nontraditional learners considering a career change.

Updated December 12, 2023 · 5 Min Read

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Elementary, secondary, and postsecondary teachers guide students' social, emotional, and intellectual development. They achieve this through lectures, one-on-one assistance, curricula, and collaboration with other education professionals. Their work helps turn children and young adults into lifelong learners and productive members of society.

Successful teachers share traits that include honed communication skills, a desire to work with peers to solve problems, and the ability to adapt to new environments and circumstances. These professionals also strive to learn new skills through professional development and continuing education (CE) courses.

Teaching careers appeal to recent high school graduates and nontraditional learners considering a career change. Most educators enter the field with a bachelor's or master's degree. A degree provides the academic foundation new educators use to start building and honing their classroom skills. Public K-12 educators also need a degree to satisfy state licensure requirements for teaching.

FAQ on Teaching and Education Careers

Q. What degree do you need to be a teacher?

Teachers need a bachelor's or master's degree to qualify for an initial teaching license. These programs meet licensure requirements through rigorous coursework and student teaching.

Q. How do I start a career in teaching?

Individuals interested in teaching jobs but not ready to earn a degree should explore the education field through substitute teaching. Other options include volunteering at a local school.

Q. Do I have to major in education to become a teacher?

Many teachers possess a bachelor's or master's degree in a topic other than education. However, all public school educators must complete an approved teacher-preparation program to qualify for licensure.

Q. Do I need a license to become a teacher?

Teachers at K-12 public schools need a state-issued license to practice. Some states refer to this license as a certification or credential. Educators renew their license by completing CE courses.

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How to Become a Teacher

High school students interested in the education field should ask their teachers questions regarding the requirements for teaching, educator resources, and relevant undergraduate degrees. These conversations also reveal many of the profession's typical job duties, such as grading assignments and maintaining paperwork. This knowledge can help young adults decide whether teaching careers align with their interests and aspirations.

College underclassmen earning a teaching degree should select their specialty area as soon as possible, as requirements for teaching feature in-depth coursework in one or more academic subjects. Options include double-majoring in education and another topic, such as history, mathematics, or chemistry.

Although initial licensure requirements vary by state, candidates should expect to take one or more examinations, such as the Praxis. The Praxis CORE and subject assessments evaluate a test-taker's knowledge of teaching best practices and proficiency with one or more academic subjects. Some states like California do not use the Praxis but require state-developed exams.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Teacher?

All teaching careers require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree. For learners without prior college experience, a bachelor's degree takes approximately four years to complete. Teacher-preparation programs include student teaching and specialized coursework to help prepare learners for initial licensure.

Aspiring educators with a bachelor's in a subject other than teaching earn a master's in teaching or undergo alternative teacher certification. Shorter certification programs meet state requirements for teaching licensure but do not confer a degree.

Master's in education degrees help practicing teachers learn new skills and qualify for a raise or promotion. Like master's in teaching degrees, master's in education programs take approximately two years to complete.

Undergraduate education programs provide prospective students with numerous options, such as communicative disorders, elementary education, and secondary education. The latter two satisfy the requirements for an initial teaching license in one or more states. Students who enroll in a communicative disorders program or minor in special education may not qualify for licensure.

Students preparing for a career as a middle or high school teacher take courses in assessment issues, instructional strategies, and research methods. They also select a specialization aligning with the subject material they intend to teach. Most full-time degree-seekers graduate in four years. Some bachelor's programs also feature a combined BA/MA option requiring an additional year.

Graduates from nonlicensure programs find work at childcare centers and private schools. Newly licensed educators explore career opportunities in K-12 public education. Job-seekers may increase their employability with teaching endorsements added to their license. Doing so requires passing a Praxis subject test or equivalent state examination.

Master's degrees in education appeal to experienced educators looking to hone new skills or earn a promotion. Degrees require 30-36 credits, and majors include instructional design and learning and technology. These degrees take approximately two years to complete. Also, online programs provide the flexibility working professionals need to advance their education.

Unlike master's in education programs, master's in teaching degrees enroll college graduates without a background in education. These licensure programs feature concentrations in elementary or secondary education and help prepare students to teach one or more academic subjects. Coursework may include teaching for diversity, learning and teaching, and educating exceptional learners.

Master's in education graduates may qualify for a position as a vice principal, principal, or curriculum designer. However, some educators use the degree to provide their students with a better educational experience. Professionals with a master's in teaching can receive initial teaching licensure and apply to positions at K-12 public schools.

Educators can become experts in their field through a doctorate in teaching or education. Ed.D. programs enroll students working toward a school- or district-level administration position. Over three or more years, students earn approximately 90 credits through coursework in theory and research in learning, curriculum and change, and teaching. The program concludes with a research project leading to a dissertation.

Although Ph.D. in education programs attract experienced educators, they also help prepare students for a career in academia. These programs take at least five years to complete and involve coursework in applied data analysis, qualitative research, and education policy. Ph.D. in education degrees also require a dissertation and defense. Students earn 60-120 credits, depending on the program.

Popular careers for Ed.D. graduates include chief learning officer, provost, and school superintendent. The average annual salary for these positions exceeds $116,000. Professionals with a Ph.D. work as a university professor, college president, or researcher.


Colleges and universities awarding teaching degrees must possess regional accreditation from a U.S. Department of Education-approved agency. Regionally accredited schools' academic programs meet rigorous standards.

Schools with online programs need national accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC-accredited schools provide on-campus and online learners with the same educational experience. Also, top teaching degrees possess programmatic accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Certification and Licensure Requirements

Licensure requirements for teaching differ by state. However, all states require a teacher-preparation program involving student teaching. Licensure candidates must also pass subject-specific tests relating to the topics they intend to teach. Many states use the Praxis series of examinations to gauge licensure candidates' competencies with teaching fundamentals. The majority of Praxis tests feature a multiple-choice format. Language tests also involve one or more oral presentations.

Some states do not use the Praxis but require one or more unique examinations modeled off its curriculum frameworks. California educators-in-training must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test. California also gives subject-specific examinations in multiple subjects.

Eight states feature full licensure reciprocity, meaning they allow licensed out-of-state teachers to work without meeting other requirements. The other 42 states ask recent transplants to either pass one or more examinations or take additional college-level courses. No matter their state of residence, teachers maintain their license through CE.

In addition to licensure, experienced educators earn National Board Certification (NBC) to demonstrate their dedication to teaching and expand their career opportunities. Candidates must possess at least three years of teaching experience and complete four teaching components involving examination and portfolio development. Many states reward teachers holding an NBC with an automatic pay raise or promotion.

Continuing Education

Teaching jobs ask professionals to stay current with education trends and the latest best practices. CE meets this requirement through structured courses led by experts. Many teachers take CE during the summer with other faculty from their school or district. Doing so promotes collaboration and improved student outcomes.

Online courses from top colleges and universities give teachers another way to earn CE credit. Course topics include educational therapy, health and safety, and math skills. Many of these courses use an asynchronous curriculum, a benefit for busy professionals. Teachers should confirm approved CE providers with their school or district before signing up for an online course.

No matter the course format or topic, each involves reviewing the latest research, collaborating with peers, and taking assessments to prove mastery of new skills. Teachers maintain CE paperwork throughout the year and submit it for licensure renewal.

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