Steps to Becoming a Teacher

While many people join the teaching profession in their early twenties, some people pursue teaching as second or subsequent career. In addition, depending on the subject area and level, a person’s path to becoming a teacher can require substantial planning and education, or little planning and education  — depending upon that person’s future goals.

Becoming a Preschool Teacher

The quickest way to become a teacher is to choose to teach the very young. In order to become a preschool teacher, an individual must graduate from high school, or earn an associate degree. In most cases, preschool teachers have also completed a certificate in early childhood education. The most common pathway to becoming a preschool teacher is to complete a Child Development Association (CDA) certificate, which is awarded upon completion of a set number of hours of professional education and professional experience.

Becoming an Elementary, Middle or High School Teacher

Teachers are hired on the basis of three factors: educational background, previous experience working with children in an educational setting, and civic standing and engagement.

1)  Educational Background:  Anyone interested in becoming an elementary, middle or high school teacher must complete a bachelor’s degree, and if they want to get hired, it is highly recommended that they complete a degree in a core subject (mathematics, english or history), rather than something only occasionally offered at the elementary, middle or high school levels (philosophy or gender studies).

Unless a person chooses an alternative pathway — enrolls in a program, like Teach for America, he or she must complete a bachelor of education degree simultaneous to, or following, their bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. The bachelor of education, or BEd, is a degree that typically leads to initial licensure in the teaching field. In some cases, candidates may complete a master of arts in teaching, or MAT instead (this is a graduate level degree that leads to initial teaching licensure).

2)  Previous Experience:  Previous work and volunteer experience is often a major consideration when admitting students to BEd programs, and hiring new teachers. In order to gain entry into a bachelor of education program, previous experience working with children — at a summer camp or in an after- school program — is often considered desirable or required. Indeed, aspiring teachers are strongly encouraged to have some relevant volunteer or work experience with children in an educational setting.

When hiring teachers, previous experience is also a consideration. Candidates with experience coaching children’s soccer or working as a camp counselor, are often favored over candidates whose only previous experience was the time they spent in a classroom as part of a teacher-training program. In other words, the more experience an individual has working with children and young adults in all types of settings, the stronger candidate they will be.

3)  Community and Civic Involvement:  In order to become a teacher, it is also expected a person be an upstanding citizen in all respects. People with prior, pending, or current criminal convictions need not apply. In addition, most schools prefer to hire teachers who are well-rounded and community-oriented, and additional skills and exceptional talents are always welcome. In other words, if you have CPR training, have played second violin in a community orchestra, or tried out for the Olympic rowing team, be certain to highlight these skills and accomplishments on your resume.

Becoming a College or University Professor

Anyone hoping to teach at the college or university level should be prepared to spend a substantial amount of time in school. College or university professors spend a minimum of eight years in university following high school, but in most cases, much longer. The majority of college and university professors have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree, a one-    to two-year master’s degree, and PhD (usually a four-year program, but in many cases, earning a PhD can take six to eight years to complete).

Since it is common in many disciplines to also complete one or more postdoctoral positions, which last on average, one to two years, many professors have between twelve and fifteen years of postsecondary education by the time they obtain their first full-time teaching position. The only exception to this rule is in the visual and performing arts. In contrast to professors in the arts and sciences, professors of studio art, drama, music, and the like, are often hired on the basis of their reputations as artists, actors, directors or musicians, and may or may not, have the same formal academic credentials as their colleagues in other disciplines.

In addition to the fact that college and university professors may have much more, or much less education than the average elementary, middle or high school teacher, they likely have no formal training in the science of teaching. While some may have taken a required or voluntary workshop on teaching, most have not, and for this reason they may, or may not be good teachers. This is especially true at the university level where researching and publishing is typically considered more important than teaching; teaching may be considered a minor part of the job.

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