Teachers continue to be in demand. If you're interested in starting a teaching career but you're asking yourself, "What degree do I need to be a teacher?", this guide can help steer you in the right direction.
The Good News
You’ll be pleased to know that for individuals wanting to teach in preschool, elementary school, or middle school, state departments of education typically don’t require you to have a specific degree, as long as you have at least a bachelor’s degree, complete an accredited teaching credential program, and meet the state’s subject matter competency requirements.1 For example, the Requirements for Teachers Prepared in California state only that applicants must “complete a baccalaureate or higher degree from a regionally-accredited college or university.”2
However, in your case, what do you need to become a teacher? There are different degrees to be a teacher but in many ways, an education degree better prepares you for the classroom and can shorten the amount of time it takes to become a teacher. However, your teacher training really depends on what kind of teaching you want to do. So before exploring your teacher degree and educator certification options, let’s talk about what your ideal career looks like as one of the aspiring teachers.
What Is Your Teaching Goal?
Once you've decided to be a teacher and pursue an approved educator preparation program, the obvious question is: What do you want to teach, and to whom do you want to teach? Based on your interests, you may have already imagined yourself in a specific scenario, like teaching math to a classroom full of second graders, or conducting a middle school orchestra. If the answer isn't obvious whether it's an elementary school teacher or high school teacher, you may also want to consider where you wish to teach, as location and school districts greatly affect teacher salaries. Whatever vision of teaching experience you have, keep it in mind as your career goal. It will help inform your next steps toward becoming a teacher.
Most likely you see yourself working in one of two ways:
- As a multiple-subject instructor who teaches a single group of students the whole year
- As a single-subject instructor who teaches multiple groups and grade levels throughout the year
Multiple-subject instructors are mostly found in elementary schools, where students have one teacher the entire year. All elementary school teachers that want to teach different courses have to do a teacher education program that involves a variety of subjects. However, it is becoming increasingly common for students in grades 4 and 5 to rotate between a homeroom and several single-subject classes – such as math, science, and social studies. In middle and high schools, special education instructors often teach multiple subjects to small groups of students or even one-on-one.3
Single-subject instructors are also found in elementary schools, and typically teach subjects like physical education, music, and technology. Most teachers in middle and high school also teach single subjects – like math, English, history, science, and individual elective subjects.
Of course, college and university professors also specialize in particular subjects. However, this career pathway is somewhat different since professors do not need teaching credentials, and are instead qualified by advanced degrees and research experience. So in discussing which degree you need to be a teacher, let’s assume you intend to teach at the elementary, middle, or high school level.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher?
As discussed, to become a certified teacher, a bachelor's degree in education is usually the minimum level of education you'll require. Once you receive your teaching degree or credential, you have many options available as to what and where you'll teach. With a specific teaching goal in mind – multiple or single subjects, primary or secondary school – you should have a better idea of how to choose your degree and teacher certification. Here’s a look at common bachelor’s degrees that PreK-12 educators hold:
- Early Childhood Education. This degree program prepares you to work with children in the earliest stages of learning, anywhere from infancy to kindergarten. Many graduates with this degree who acquire a teaching credential go on to teach in Head Start, preschool, and kindergarten classrooms.
- Elementary Education. This degree program is the most common degree for multi-subject teachers in K-5 elementary classrooms, though some states also require this degree for middle school teachers.
- Special Education. This teacher preparation degree helps you to understand and work with students with special needs or learning disabilities, and to provide the individualized instruction that will help them achieve in school.
- Degree in a Specific Content Area. Getting a bachelor’s degree in a particular subject – such as art, English, music, and science – will allow you to teach that subject at any PreK-12 level, provided that your single-subject credential endorses you to do so.
As a prospective teacher, remember that requirements for getting your teaching certification will vary from place to place. Some education requirements may include student teaching internships. For current educator or teacher licensure information, check the Department of Education website for the state and school districts in which you plan to teach.
Ready for a teacher preparation program to start your teaching career? At Alliant International University, we offer a variety of different degree programs, as well as educator certification program options for all future educators, many of them offered online, making it easier for you to pursue your teaching career.
As you think about your next steps, consider Alliant International University. We offer credentials in single-subject, multiple-subject, or education specialist teaching. You can also earn your Certificate in California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) through Alliant. Learn more today from an Alliant Admission Counselor at (866) 825-5426.
- “How to Get Your Teacher Certification: Requirements by State,” AllEducationSchools.com, accessed November 23, 2021, https://www.alleducationschools.com/teacher-certification/.
- Multiple subject teaching credential (CL-561C), accessed November 23, 2021, https://www.ctc.ca.gov/credentials/leaflets/multiple-subject-teaching-c…-(cl-561c).
- “Elementary School Teacher,” Teach, accessed November 23, 2021, https://teach.com/careers/become-a-teacher/where-can-i-teach/grade-leve….