Teach Without a Degree: Start Teaching Now

t3ukisfmaby-tamarcus-brownHave you ever considered a career in teaching but been reluctant to pursue your dream because you can’t afford to return to school? While a degree in education is required for most teaching jobs across the U.S., in nearly every U.S. state, it is possible to teach without a degree (e.g., a B.Ed. or M.A.T.). According to the Learning Policy Institute, in 2009-2010, 31% of American teachers obtained a teaching license through an alternative pathway. (1) In most cases, one still will need a four-year degree from a recognized college or university, but thanks to alternative pathways to certification, a degree in education is not always acquired or at least not required to start working in a classroom on a full-time basis. This means that in many U.S. states, especially those with current teacher shortages, you may be able to start teaching now.

This article outlines how to start teaching without a degree in education. The article pays specific attention to those states and regions where previously unlicensed teachers are currently most welcome.  This article also offers links to a few established programs, including Teach for America, that have a track record of placing teachers in classrooms without traditional credentials. Finally, this article examines the pros and cons of jumping into the classroom without a degree in education.

Where to Teach Without a Degree in Education

The bottom line is that where there are teacher shortages, there is a greater willingness to let eager would-be teachers teach with out a degree in eduation.  Indeed, many states (and in some cases, specific regions) with teacher shortages have special programs that enable anyone with a four-year degree from a recognized college or university, clean criminal record, and passing score on a state’s required teacher licensure exam to obtain a full-time teaching job under a preliminary license. In nearly all cases, these licenses are only granted from one to three years and under the condition that the candidate will obtain a teacher education degree (e.g., a Master of arts in Teaching) on a part-time basis while working full-time in the classroom. If your ready to do this, consider programs in the following states and regions currently reporting a high need for teachers.

Selected National and State-based Programs

Teach for America: Competitive and well respected nationwide, Teach for America is the gold standard and alternative pathways to teacher certification. While not all of the program’s graduates choose to keep teaching over the course of their life time, many do. For more information on this nationwide program that helps you teach without a degree in education, visit the Teach for American homepage.

Arizona: Arizona continues to struggle to find enough teachers to staff its classrooms and as a result, it has created a robust program to help fast track teachers into classrooms statewide: the Teaching Intern Pathway to Certification. As stated on their Arizona Department of Education website: “The teaching intern certificate enables those that hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution to teach full-time. Candidates will receive full teaching salary and benefits, which ensures no loss of income.” In short, the program allows interns to work while completing the requirements for an Arizona provisional teaching certificate.” For more information, visit the Arizona Department of Education.

Florida: Florida is one of the most rapidly growing states in the United States and has a current teacher shortage. You may be eligible for a temporary certificate (non-renewable) if you meet any of the following criteria: 1.) Have a bachelor’s degree in the intended area of specialization; 2.) Have a master’s degree in the intended area of specialization; 3.) Have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and the minimum number of college credits in the intended area of specialization; or 4.) Have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and pass the Subject Area Exam (SAE) in the intended area of specialization. More information is available on the Florida International University website.

Indiana: Indiana is another state currently looking for teachers with or without a degree in education. Indeed, they offers several possible routes for people who fall into this category. If you have five years of work experience and a four-year college or university degree, you may qualify for their career specialists permit. If you hold a graduate degree, you may want to explore Indiana’s Advanced Degree option. Their Transition to Teaching program and Workplace Specialists license are other alternative pathways. For more information, visit the Indiana Department of Education’s site on alternative licensure.

Nevada: In Nevada, one of the fastest and most inexpensive ways to get into the classroom is the Nevada Teaching Corps. All you need to join is a bachelor’s degree, clean criminal record and to be a permanent U.S. resident.Without a degree in education, the Nevada Teaching Corp is a great option for any prospective teacher.

Nearly every U.S. state has one or more alternative pathways to teacher licensure. For more information on alternative licensure programs, explore Tobecomeateacher.org’s state-based licensure pages. From Alabama to Wyoming, our licensure pages have everything you need to know about launching a career in education nationwide. 

Selected City-based Programs

seussNew York City Teaching Fellows: Obtaining a full-time teaching job in New York City can be very competitive. However, there are still some ways to certify without completing an education degree. The most common way is to becoming an NYC Teaching Fellow. The program is designed to put qualified candidates into high-needs schools in New York City (e.g., 16% of teachers in the Bronx are currently part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program).

Indianapolis Teaching Fellows: If you have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a clean criminal record, are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and want to teach, you’re eligible to apply to be an Indianapolis Teaching Fellow. The program will help you obtain a full-time teaching job and acquire additional qualifications along the way. While you will need to cover the cost of your master of arts in teaching (about $11,000 over two years), by the end of the program, you’ll have not only been working full-time for two years but have earned as a master’s degree, which also means you’ll make more money down the line.

Teach Las Vegas: If you hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject and have 7 years of work experience and have passed the Praxis exam, you can teach in Las Vegas. The program’s mandate is clear: To recruit great teachers in Clark County, one of the nation’s largest school districts. For more information, visit the Teach Las Vegas website.

Teach NOLA: If you’re already living in New Orleans or have ever dreamed of living in one America’s most culturally rich and dynamic cities, you may want to apply to Teach NOLA. All you need to start your application is a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, a clean criminal record and proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.

Special Incentives for STEM Professionals

Finding qualified STEM teachers is difficult for a simple reason. While graduates of arts and humanities programs often have few high-paying job opportunities available upon graduation, most STEM graduates do. Persuading a STEM graduate to work as a teacher, then, can be difficult. For this reason, STEM subjects are more likely to be under staffed and in some states, there are many special programs to help STEM graduates teach without a degree in education.  There are also programs designed to support STEM experts while they become teachers. One established program is the Woodrow Wilson National Teaching Fellowship. The program offers STEM experts with a master’s degree up to $30,000 to spend a year acquiring the credentials needed to become a certified teacher and then assist in placing graduates in schools.

Teach Without a Degree in an Independent School

eliteThere is one context in which you can nearly always teach without a degree or at least without a degree in education: the independent school system. In only rare cases do independent schools require a degree in education, but this doesn’t mean they are not looking for high-quality candidates. Depending on the school, factors ranging from your “pedigree” (e.g., Are you a graduate of a prep school? Do you have an ivy league degree?) to level of education (e.g., Do you hold a graduate degree?) to additional skills (e.g., Were you on the Olympic rowing team and can you also serve as a rowing coach at the school?) can all play a major factor in hiring. In short, elite private schools, which typically offer the highest compensation, tend to hire people who are highly accomplished, connected and of course, able to mix and mingle with students’ parents who are often paying well over $50,000 annually to send their children to school. If you think you can compete, however, obtaining a position at a top-ranked independent school can be a great way to make a living. Many schools offer compensation that competes well with college- and university-level salaries, as well as additional benefits from tuition relief for one’s own children to subsidized housing. For more information, visit the National Association of Independent Schools job opportunities site and start exploring how to teach without a degree in education.

Teach Without a Degree: The Pros and Cons

In most cases, no one will ever know if you completed a traditional program or alternative pathway to certification. However, there are some teachers and principals, as well as teacher educators, who do feel that the traditional route to teacher licensure is more thorough and ethically responsible. There are two critiques of candidates who opt to start teaching without an education degree in hand first.

First, when candidates complete a bachelor’s degree in education or master of arts in teaching prior to obtaining their first full-time job as a teacher, they have usually spent hundreds of hours working in the classroom under the supervision of a seasoned classroom teacher and taken dozens of university-level courses on critical topics such as classroom management and curriculum development before they ever attempt to handle a classroom on their own. Are they more prepared? The bottom line is that these traditional candidates are probably better prepared to handle everything that will come their way on the job. Since we also know that the number one reason teachers quit in their first two years is lack of preparation, one can understand why many principals are more inclined to hire candidates who has already survived an extensive teacher training program.

The second critique of alternative certification routes is that they are usually used to respond to teacher shortages in high-needs schools. Some teachers and many anti-poverty activists complain that it is simply unfair to place the least prepared teachers in classrooms with the highest needs kids. Again, the critique is legitimate. Why put a teacher with virtually no prior training into a classroom where students are coming from high-needs backgrounds and likely need additional support and put teachers with four or more years of training in classrooms with the most privileged kids? While passion and compassion can and do go a long way, so does experience in classroom management and expertise on everything from child psychology to assessment.

While neither of the above critiques are a reason to not pursue an alternative pathway to teacher certification, it is useful for potential teachers to at least understand how their decision to teach without a degree in education may be perceived by some hiring committee members.

1. For more, see the Learning Policy Institute, Solving the Teacher Shortage (2016).

Contributor: Cait Etherington, Dec. 24, 2016


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