How to Become a Teacher

Why Become a Teacher?

Teaching is a great career choice for anyone who wants to positively affect the lives of others as well as challenge themselves. In fact, being a teacher is much more than a career: it's a lifestyle full of meaningful and supportive relationships with co-workers, inspiring connections with students, and ongoing professional and personal development.

How to Become a Teacher

  • The process of becoming a teacher starts with enrolling in a degree or certificate program at an accredited college or university. While some private schools may allow you to teach without a teaching certificate, most private and all public schools require a current teaching certificate, and that means school. Fortunately, many teacher education programs today are designed for flexibility. Busy professionals or homemakers can easily find flexible teaching programs that are offered in the evenings, on weekends or through online courses.
  • After completing your degree program, you will be required by your state to pass a series of standardized tests (Praxis I and II) that measure your basic academic skills, teaching skill, and knowledge of your content area (i.e. elementary education or mathematics).
  • Upon completing your degree and passing your tests, you are eligible to apply for a teaching certificate from the state. After receiving your certificate, you can apply for teaching jobs wherever the certificate is valid.

Requirements for Becoming a Teacher

Requirements for becoming a teacher may vary state-to-state. Teacher Portal is working to provide you with information from all 50 states about how to become a teacher. We will provide you information on certificate requirements, salaries, jobs available and much more!

Though the requirements for becoming a teacher can vary by state, at minimum, public school teachers need to have earned a bachelor’s degree and either possess a state-issued license to teach or have passed a certification exam. In some states, teachers can be fingerprinted and have a background check performed during the process (ctc.ca.gov, 2013). Requirements for teaching also vary depending on what level of teacher you intend to become. The requirements for employment in each teaching bracket, as listed by the BLS, are as follows:

  • Preschool teachers — Preschool teachers educate and care for children who have not yet entered kindergarten. While preschool teachers in childcare centers might be able to start teaching with only a high school diploma and a certification in early childhood education, preschool teachers in public schools are generally required to have earned a bachelor's degree or higher in early childhood education or a related field.
  • Kindergarten or elementary school teachers — Kindergarten and elementary school teachers provide primary education to children, covering the basics of reading, mathematics and the sciences. In public schools these teachers are required to have earned both a license and a bachelor’s degree. Some states even require teachers to earn a master's degree after they obtain their teaching certification.
  • Middle school teachers — Middle school teachers provide the first step in secondary education to students. Secondary education is the education level directly above sixth grade. All states require their public middle school teachers to have earned a bachelor’s degree. Some states require teachers have a degree in the subject they will teach, such as math or English; other states may instead require teachers to major in elementary education. Some states also require teachers to earn a master's degree after they obtain their teaching certification.
  • High school teachers — High school teachers provide the end of secondary education for students. These classes are more focused on specific areas, and the BLS notes that most states require their public teachers to have majored in the subject they are teaching, such as history or chemistry. As with kindergarten, elementary and middle school teachers, some states require high school teachers to earn a master's degree after they obtain their teaching certification.

Other teaching-oriented careers that don't quite fit into a particular level of teaching have their own requirements:

  • Teacher assistants — Teaching assistants, or teacher assistants, work under licensed teachers to provide further instruction and support for students while also gaining valuable teaching experience. At least two years of college education is often the minimal requirement for this position, but requirements can vary by state, school district and the position they are assisting. Some states require an associate degree of their candidates, and most states require teacher assistants who will be working with special-needs students to pass a skills-based test first.
  • Special education teachers — Special education teachers work with a diverse range of students who have a diverse range of learning, mental, emotional and physical disabilities. These professionals can work at just about any level of education; some work with whole classes of students, while others work with students on a one-on-one basis. Regardless of state or teaching bracket, a special education teacher must earn at least a bachelor's degree, although it does not need to be in special education; teachers may also major in elementary education or a content area, such as math or science, and minor in special education instead.
  • School librarians — School librarians take on the important responsibility of introducing students to the ways they can use and benefit from their school libraries. Becoming a school librarian is not as easy as you might think: candidates must earn a master's degree in library science, as well as a teacher's certification. This is because school librarians often act as teachers in their own right, working together with the other teachers at the school to develop lesson plans in both classroom and library and helping students to find materials relevant to their studies.

If you have other questions that weren't answered here, try our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Note: Not all programs lead to initial teacher certification.


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, Preschool Teachers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-1
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, Middle School Teachers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, High School Teachers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, Teacher Assistants, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/teacher-assistants.htm
  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, Special Education Teachers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2016-17 Edition, Library Technicians and Assistants, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/library-technicians-and-assistants.htm
  8. Commission on Teacher Credentialing, Fingerprint Information, https://www.ctc.ca.gov/credentials/fee-and-fingerprint

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