How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

Photo by Bob Cotter

If you are interested in becoming a teacher and are wondering how long the process takes, the answer depends largely on where you want to teach and where you are in your life. Each state has its own requirements for teaching certification, but some common steps are required across the country.

Earn a bachelor’s degree
On the traditional route to teacher certification, all states require teachers to earn either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree from an accredited college or university. Most states require elementary school teachers to major or minor in education; a few states require elementary school teachers to earn a master’s degree. Middle school and high school teachers can major and minor in the subjects they want to teach. A bachelor’s degree can usually be completed in four years.

Complete a teacher education program
Most states require teaching candidates to complete a teacher preparation program in addition to an undergraduate degree. In some states, the teacher education program can be part of a bachelor’s degree. Other states require separate graduate level coursework. Earning a Master’s in Education or a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) can satisfy this requirement while increasing your chances of being hired and advancing in your teaching career. (See Masters in Teaching vs. Masters in Education to learn more about the differences between these two graduate degrees.) A teacher education program or master’s degree generally requires 12 to 24 months to complete.

Become a student teacher
Working in a classroom as a student teacher is the culmination of the teacher education process. Every state requires teaching candidates to work alongside an experienced teacher. Student teachers observe, create lesson plans, assign work, and interact with parents and school administrators. They may eventually take over for the classroom under the experienced teacher’s supervision. Student teaching allows teaching candidates to put their knowledge to use while learning practical classroom management techniques. The duration of the student teaching assignment is usually one semester and is included in the teacher education program.

Gain certification
After completing all of a state’s educational requirements and working as a student teacher, a teaching candidate must pass a teacher examination. This could be either a state test or the standard Praxis exam; the type of examination required will depend on the subject and grade level that the teacher has chosen. Upon successful test completion, the next step in becoming a teacher is to obtain a teaching license or teacher certification (different states use one or the other term). Teaching certification is usually valid for a specified period of time; a teacher must complete additional coursework or training in order to renew certification. Some states require teachers to eventually earn a master’s degree to remain certified.

Are you a candidate for alternative certification?
If you already have a bachelor’s degree you may be able to obtain teaching certification without first completing a teacher preparation program. According to the National Center for Alternative Certification, alternative teacher certification is available in 48 states and the District of Columbia (Alaska and Oregon are the exceptions). The requirements for this type of certification vary by state, but most alternative certification programs allow teaching candidates to begin working in the classroom while completing teaching coursework. Find out more in this article about the pros and cons of alternative teacher certification.


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Before you begin your journey to become a teacher, it’s important to decide what age group and subject you plan to teach, and to learn more about teacher certification requirements in your state. You can visit Certification Map’s state-by-state overview for more details about how to become a teacher in your state.

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