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Part of Western Governors University

October 3, 2018

Teaching & Education

A 'how to' for aspiring teachers.

How to become a teacher

Considering the classroom.

Teachers are role models who truly make a difference to their young students. The job is more than helping kids learn to read and do math. Teachers show kids how to behave, and they help them dream and aspire to reach their goals. They challenge, encourage, and teach kids how to reason carefully and well.

Is teaching the right career for you? If you’re ready to get started, there’s no better time than now to pursue a career as a teacher. With teacher shortages across the country, there’s an ongoing need for dedicated and talented new teachers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2014 and 2024, almost 88,000 new kindergarten and elementary school teaching positions will be created nationwide—and that’s not counting the additional special education and STEM positions that will also need to be filled.

This is an exciting time of change in education. With new technology resources and innovative teaching strategies available, today’s classrooms are a different world than they were even a few years ago. Students have more resources at their fingertips, and so do teachers.

Qualified teachers are a vital part of an educated society. If you are interested in becoming a teacher, consider the steps below to help you begin the certification process. It's never too late to pursue a rewarding career. Of course, earning your degree and teaching license takes an investment of time, money, and effort.

This brief guide will help you:

1) Determine if you have the talents and temperament for success as a teacher.

2) Decide if going back to school is a wise investment for you.

3) Reduce the stress of applying to school. 


Steps to become a teacher

Am I a natural teacher?

If you are considering becoming a teacher, some important questions to ask yourself before you start are:

Are my skills and temperament a good match for the classroom?

Will I actually enjoy the daily reality of teaching? 

10 traits of great teachers.

The following is a list of 10 common teacher traits identified by longtime teacher, principal, and superintendent, Suzanne Capek Tingley.

You don’t need to have all 10 traits to become a great teacher, but see how many resonate with you!

  1. You're a good organizer. Whether it’s planning a vacation or organizing the kitchen cupboards, your friends and family like you to take the lead. They know you have a knack for making things run smoothly, and that you’ll seek the best outcome for everyone.
  2. You give directions people can follow. You can explain things in simple steps others can follow. What's more, you like helping people succeed, and you can even help them do things they may not find particularly interesting (like figure out how to properly use vacuum attachments).
  3. You have the patience to let kids be kids. While you prefer and encourage good manners and behavior, you also understand that kids are still learning. There may be spills, or pranks, or even tears, but as long as everyone is trying to be their best, you don’t expect six-year-olds (or even sixteen-year-olds) to behave like adults.
  4. You have a great sense of humor and can laugh at yourself. Some things are just funny. When you say the wrong word, notice a smear of mustard on your shirt while meeting with your boss, or watch all your posters fall at the exact moment that your big presentation freezes, you can still find the funny in life’s awkward and stressful moments.
  5. Your voice can command a room. Not only can your voice withstand hours of presenting each day, when you speak, people listen. And they know when you mean business.
  6. You have eyes in the back of your head. You pay attention and are aware of your surroundings. You can listen to others even while you are speaking. And you know that with kids too much silence sometimes means trouble.
  7. You're an optimist. You truly believe things will turn out for the best. You believe that people are basically good. And most importantly, you believe that all kids can learn and get better at whatever challenges them—it may take a little longer for some, but everyone will get there in the end.
  8. You're a good storyteller. At social gatherings, you’re the one people listen to. You can captivate an audience, and have great timing. You can also appreciate other people's stories and jokes. Even the corny ones.
  9. You listen when others talk and you expect them to do the same. 
    You are respectful and actually listen when other people talk (you don’t just wait for your turn to respond). Even if you don’t agree with someone’s opinions, you allow them to respectfully express their thoughts. Conversely, you expect others to extend the same courtesies.
  10. You actually like kids. From coaching or tutoring to being the favorite aunt or uncle, you enjoy kids—listening to their stories, encouraging their talents, and helping them find their strengths.


If you’re still not sure if you’d truly be comfortable in the classroom, try one of these next steps:

  • volunteer to help at your local school
  • talk to local principals and see if you can sit in and observe a teacher in action
  • speak with teachers you know

Current teachers can be a great resource. Ask them what their typical day is like. Find out what they like best about being a teacher, as well as which parts of the job they find challenging. The more familiar you are with everyday realities of teaching, the more you’ll know whether it’s the right career choice for you. 

Get the full guide.

Looking for a complete guide? Read our comprehensive reference for your journey to becoming a teacher.

Download guide.

Choosing an area of study.

The first and most important step is to choose your teaching specialty. Teach what you love. If you excel in science, you'll probably enjoy teaching something like physics or chemistry. Look into the teaching degree programs of your chosen university to help you make your decision.

Pursuing a teaching degree.

Now that you know you want to be a teacher, the next big decision is where to go to school to earn your degree. Choosing a school can be daunting, as can finding the right path to licensure for you. Your path to licensure— bachelor’s degree, Master of Arts in teaching, alternative route to licensure, etc.—is determined by how much schooling you have already completed. The degree you choose to pursue depends on your current level of education.

For first-time students:

Earn your bachelor's degree. Once you've decided on an area of study, it's time to apply, enroll, and earn your B.A. degree. In addition to coursework and assessments, all teaching students must complete preclinical experience that includes observation hours and teaching lessons and demonstration teaching.

For those who have a bachelor's degree:

Complete a teacher preparation or master's degree program. After earning your bachelor's degree, teaching grads must complete a teacher preparation program in order to qualify for state licensure. You may choose to go further by pursuing a master's degree in education as well. This path offers advanced teaching methods and coursework, providing you with deeper knowledge and a competitive edge in the job market.

It’s a great time to become a teacher, with a strong job market and exciting innovations. If you are interested in teaching, and think you’d be a strong match for the classroom, you really should consider going back to school for your degree and teaching license.

Some teaching programs will allow you to accelerate and graduate faster, while others will follow a fixed semester schedule. All programs will include several weeks of student teaching. It will take time to earn your credentials, but it will be worth it.

students on tablets

After you've earned your teaching degree: get your teaching license.

All teachers must pass a background check before working in a classroom environment. The final phase before getting your teaching licensure is to pass Basic Skills, Content, Praxis, and Pedagogy exams.

The final step in securing your new career is licensure. Teaching licensure requirements vary depending on state laws and may include a number of factors, such as:

  • Completion of a bachelor's degree program

  • Submission of transcripts

  • Completion and clearance of a background check

  • Passing of required entrance exams and basic skills tests

Licensure by state.

Get the details of the state you live in or you're interested to teach in.

See state requirements.

Career outlook for teachers:

According to the BLS, employment of teachers is expected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026. Rising student enrollment should increase demand for teachers, but employment growth and job availability depends on your state. There is also high demand for certain types of teachers, including math, science, English as a second language, and special education.

In May 2017, the median annual wage for teachers was between $55,000 and $59,000, just depending on the specific type of teacher and whether they taught pre-school, elementary students, or high school students. The lowest 10 percent of teachers earned less than $38,000 while the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also says, “Many teachers work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Although most do not teach during the summer, some may teach in summer school programs which they are paid for.”

If you’re interested in becoming a teacher, getting started on the process is easier than you think! Look into teaching programs at Western Governors University today to get started.

FAQ's for aspiring teachers:

Traditional programs generally take three to four years to complete. A competency-based program, like those offered by WGU, may allow for faster completion of your degree, since you can complete courses as quickly as you demonstrate mastery of the material. The average time to a WGU degree is two to four years for a bachelor’s degree, and two years for a master’s degree.

A majority of university students receive some form of financial aid to help cover educational expenses. Discuss payment options, and learn about scholarships and other financial aid opportunities by speaking to the financial aid counselors at your school of choice.

If you plan to seek federal financial aid, you will need to fill out the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). To complete that form, you’ll need your tax return as well as the FAFSA code for the school to which you’re applying. Most schools will list their FAFSA number in the financial aid section of their website. (WGU’s FAFSA code is 033394.)

The career outlook for teachers is on par with the national average for job growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of teaching positions in the United States is expected to grow at least 6% by 2024. That means, for example, that over 116,000 new elementary school teaching positions will be created nationwide between 2016 and 2024. There’s also an ongoing national initiative (100Kin10) to recruit, prepare, and retain 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021. 

Accredited teaching programs that lead to licensure (including WGU’s) require an in-classroom student teaching experience that typically lasts between three to five months. Some prospective teachers choose to take a leave of absence from their current job to make time to student teach, while others choose to quit their jobs. You’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you can complete the student teaching requirement. 

This article was originally published January 10, 2014. We've updated the information for aspiring teachers.

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