How to Become a Teacher

by Tanika Johnson

Updated October 20, 2022 • 5 min read is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Individuals seeking to switch from other careers to teaching may pursue a traditional or alternative route to licensure.

Career changers with or without degrees can transition into teaching through multiple paths. With alternative certification programs, for example, a second bachelor’s degree is not required, and candidates teach while completing their license and certification requirements. Also, private, parochial, charter, and international schools offer career pathways for candidates with non-education degrees.

A second career in teaching is possible. Use your real-world, professional experience as an asset to help students grow and achieve their goals.

How to Transition to a Teaching Career

A teaching career begins with classroom observations and an exploration of content areas. Future teachers should research degrees, teacher education programs, and licensure requirements. Once licensed, teachers will want to craft their resumes for a successful job search.

Follow more tips as you transition to a new teaching career:

1. Spend Time in a Teaching Setting

Spending time in a teaching setting allows prospective teachers to observe instructional strategies, lesson planning, and teacher-student and peer-to-peer interactions. The following roles allow you to observe classroom management strategies and student learning outcomes:

  • Substitute teacher
  • Teaching assistant
  • Preschool teacher
  • Job shadowing
  • Tutoring
  • Mentoring
  • Volunteering

2. Decide What Type of Teacher You Want to Be

Do you want to teach in person or online? Which grade level? Which subject? Consider these questions as you determine the type of teacher you want to be. For instance, traditional teachers complete a four-year program and student teaching. If available, accelerated programs may speed up the process.

Explore this list of teaching career options as you decide:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Elementary Education
  • Middle Grades English/Language Arts
  • Middle Grades Mathematics
  • Middle Grades Science
  • Middle Grades Social Studies
  • American Sign Language
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Chinese
  • Economics
  • English
  • French
  • Geography
  • History
  • Latin
  • Algebra
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Art
  • Computer Science
  • French
  • Gifted Education
  • Music
  • Physical Education
  • Theatre
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Special Education (SPED)
  • Braille
  • Agriculture
  • Business Education

3. Pursue Teacher Education and Certification

Prospective teachers may enroll in traditional or alternative certification programs to gain relevant education, training, and experience. Teaching candidates with limited or no background in education can still meet state licensure requirements.

Teaching requirements vary with state laws. Candidates should research their state’s requirements for teaching degrees. Basic requirements include a bachelor’s degree, completion of a teaching education program, and qualifying scores on Praxis® exams. State licensure requirements do not apply to private schools.

Alternative Teacher Certification

An alternative teacher certification offers a nontraditional route for career changers with a bachelor's degree. Teaching candidates enroll in a college or university and complete a teacher education program that typically lasts 1-2 years. A second bachelor’s degree is not required.

Candidates teach while completing their license and certification requirements. Timelines, coursework, and training vary with each state. Some states allow up to three years to teach on an initial teaching license. Students should make sure to enroll in alternative teacher certification programs that are approved by their state's teacher licensing board.

Provisional Teacher Certification

A provisional teacher certification is similar to an alternative teacher certification. Some states use both terms interchangeably. This certification allows career changers another option to teach with a bachelor’s degree.

Teaching candidates pursuing a provisional teacher certification enroll in a college or university and complete a teacher education program. These programs typically last 1-2 years. Another bachelor’s degree is not required.

Candidates complete their license and certification requirements while teaching. Timelines, coursework, and training vary with each state. Some states allow teachers to work up to three years with their initial teaching license.

Emergency/Nontraditional/Temporary Certification

An emergency certification is also similar to an alternative and provisional teacher certification. Again, some states use these terms interchangeably. This certification allows career changers a third option to teach with a bachelor’s degree.

Like with alternative and provisional teacher certifications, candidates enroll in a college or university and complete a 1-2 year teacher education program. A second bachelor’s degree is not required.

Timelines, coursework, and training vary with each state. Some states allow up to three years to teach on an initial teaching license.

Certification for Teaching in a Private, Parochial, Charter, or International School

State laws do not apply to private and parochial schools. These schools can hire career changers without a bachelor’s degree or teaching licence.

Religion education teachers at public schools are required to earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a teacher education program. Qualifying Praxis® test scores and state licensure and certification are required.

Charter school teachers are also required to meet state requirements. Some international schools require a bachelor’s degree, foreign language, teaching certificate, and education experience.

4. Focus your resume on transferable teaching skills

Newly certified and licensed teachers can land a teaching position by tailoring their resume with their best transferable skills. Focus on communication skills, teaching methods, and character traits as well as relevant education experience like student teaching, volunteer work, tutoring, and mentoring programs. Spotlight any instructional courses or training sessions you have led.

Resumes are a selling point for demonstrating adaptability, creativity, and leadership in a classroom environment. Teachers may focus on their knowledge of learning styles, classroom management, and lesson planning.

Online Education for Teacher Training

The best online bachelor of education programs offer flexibility for career changers. Teaching candidates earn their four-year degrees through online courses and complete clinical residencies with partner schools. The best online master of elementary education programs offer an advanced curriculum for excelling as a teacher for today's youth.

Traditional and alternative certification routes require student teaching or field experience. Prospective teachers can also earn a master of arts in teaching and SPED or master of education in literacy with an emphasis in ESL.

The best online master of secondary education programs cater to those interested in English, biology, and government. Online programs are just as long as face-to-face programs. Finally, candidates may want to explore the advantages and disadvantages of synchronous vs. asynchronous programs and courses.

Common Questions About Teaching as a Second Career

Can I Transition From the Military Into Teaching?

No. The Department of Defense cancelled the Troops to Teachers (TTT) program. TTT resources have been reallocated to higher priority programs aligned with the National Defense Strategy.

What Education Is Needed for a Teaching Career?

Those teaching in public elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as in career or technical schools, generally need a bachelor's degree. The same goes for instructors teaching special education and English as a second language.

What Are Pros and Cons of Being a Teacher?

Pros of teaching are summer vacations, leadership opportunities, and forming bonds with students and their families. Potential cons of teaching are managing challenging student behaviors, grading assignments, and preparing lesson plans outside of work hours.

Is Teach for America Hard to Get Into?

Yes. Teach for America (TFA) has a 15% acceptance rate and requires at least a bachelor’s degree with a 2.50 GPA.

Portrait of Tanika Johnson

Tanika Johnson

Tanika Johnson is an Education Consultant, Continuing Education Contributing Faculty Member, Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health Service Provider, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Board-Certified Telemental Health Provider, and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She holds professional teaching licenses in both psychology and special education. Additionally, she earned her Ed.D. and Ed.S. from Carson-Newman University, MA from Argosy University, BS from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and completed her teacher education program at Freed-Hardeman University. She has a wealth of experience with early childhood education, social and emotional development, education advocacy, and serving the special education community and exceptional needs of children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities.

Header Image Credit: Jessie Casson | Getty Images

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