A university's school of education, also known as a "teaching school," offers specialized degree programs meant to teach how to convey knowledge from one individual to another, en masse or individually. To do this, a teaching degree program combines psychology, counseling, leadership and the practices of successful teachers throughout the years. Possible specializations for teaching degrees include the following:
- Early childhood education — focus on prekindergarten age
- Childhood or elementary education — kindergarten to middle school age
- Secondary education — also known as a single-subject focus
- Special needs education — emphasis on teaching special needs students
- Physical education — focus on teaching physical education courses
Teaching schools approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) — the accrediting body of teacher programs in the nation — have had their programs approved by the state the institution resides in. Graduates from these teaching programs can take their state's licensing examinations, which all states require their public school teachers to pass, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov, 2017).
The curriculum for teaching programs usually varies by degree specialization. Studies for physical education can include first aid and safety, health and fitness, evaluation and management; meanwhile, early childhood education courses typically cover child development, psychology and communication as well as methods of assessing learning, literature and mathematics.
Many of these classes can be completed online, and NCATE approval has been awarded to multiple online teaching schools. However, in order to be licensed and to complete most NCATE-approved teacher programs, prospective teachers need to complete fieldwork at an approved institution. While this does not allow for a "purely" online degree in education, many colleges have agreements with other schools in different cities (or even states) that can allow a student to complete their fieldwork at an off-campus location. As such, distance learners are still able to earn their licensure.
Which education degree do I need?
While teacher degree programs can be offered from the associate up to the doctoral level, degree specializations are not one-size-fits-all in the professional world. A high school diploma or an associate degree may qualify a candidate to be a preschool teacher, while kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school teachers typically need a bachelor's degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov, 2017). Some schools may require their teachers to have a master's in education in addition to a bachelor's in a specific subject.
As for their major, kindergarten or elementary school teachers should have a bachelor's degree in education, the BLS notes (BLS.gov, 2017). However, most public high school teachers instead need a bachelor's degree in the subject they intend to teach (BLS.gov, 2017); for example, a high school history teacher would probably earn his or her BA in history. However, this is in addition to some form of education training -- such as a teacher's education program or an associate degree or minor in education -- not instead of.
Visit our how to become a teacher page for more information about the education requirements for teachers in specific subjects, and what degrees may be needed for specific teaching levels.
Is a degree in education worth it?
According to the evidence, yes. The BLS projects employment for kindergarten and elementary school teachers to be growing steadily, at about the same pace as the national average, between 2016 and 2026 (BLS.gov, 2017). In addition, the cost of earning an education degree can potentially be lowered through scholarships for teachers, especially for those who plan to teach in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Just a few of the many teaching scholarships out there include:
- The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, awarded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to students who are looking to become K-12 teachers of STEM subjects.
- The Outlaw Student Teacher Scholarship program, which awards four scholarships per year to students who are currently teachers or are pursuing a program with the intent of becoming a teacher.
- The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) educational foundation scholarships, awarded to students enrolled in a STEM subject for the purpose of teaching at the middle or secondary school level.
- The Edwyna Wheaton Postgraduate Scholarship, hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), awarded to English or language arts teachers working in public education, who are looking to continue their postgraduate education in teaching.
- National Center for Alternative Certification, National Center for Education Information
- The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
- National Science Foundation
- National Council of Teachers of English
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2017