So, you've earned your bachelor's degree, and you're not sure what to do with your life. Maybe you've thought about teaching. Maybe you've even worked in schools as a substitute or paraprofessional. What now? Can you still become a teacher with a bachelor's degree if you didn't study education? Learn about the process of becoming a teacher and read stories of people who got an education degree so they could work in the classroom.
How to become a teacher.
In order to become any kind of teacher, from elementary education to high school, you'll have to have a bachelor's degree. An education program is usually required in order for you to become a teacher due to the coursework, student teaching, and licensure requirements that will need to be met. But if you already have a bachelor's degree that's not an education degree, you can still pursue a teaching career!
There are options to get started in the classroom before getting an education degree. You can utilize internship and substitute teaching programs to get going in a classroom setting. But in order to become a fully licensed teacher, you will have to have an education bachelor's or master's degree that meets your state requirements.
If you do not have a bachelor's degree, you'll need to find a degree program that leads to teacher licensure. This could mean you pursue an elementary education degree program, a special education degree program, or a secondary or high school level degree program. All of these unique degrees will give you important coursework that will prepare you to become a licensed teacher. Licensure requirements vary by state, so you'll want to understand what your state requires. For most states, there is a degree requirement, a student teaching or field experience requirement, and a final test you must pass in order to become licensed.
If you already have a bachelor's degree, there are graduate education programs that can similarly prepare you with the courses and field experience you need to pursue a teaching career. You will find graduate education programs in elementary education, special education, or secondary teaching similar to bachelor's programs. The goal of these programs is ultimately to prepare you in a subject and for an age of students to teach.
You'll need to pursue a degree program that specifically prepares you for the kind of teacher you want to be. For example, if you want to teach K-6 students, an elementary education program will likely be required. If you want to teach social studies at high school, a degree program that focuses on secondary social studies licensure will be required. These specific programs are crucial in being trained for exactly the classroom experience you want to have.
After pursuing your degree, you'll need to move forward with the other steps to teacher licensure. Make sure that the degree program you choose will be accepted and prepare you for licensure in your state. Doing research before getting started will help you choose a program that will work in your state, and will truly prepare you for the classroom. You'll want to be sure you know the subject, as well as specific training on how to work well with students so you can be the best teacher possible. Teaching elementary education is very different than teaching high school, and the right program will prepare you for the differences and ensure you're ready to take on whatever challenge comes your way.
Now that you understand a little bit about how to use a bachelor's or master's degree to help you become a teacher, read the stories below to see how these courses and programs are used in-action to help students pursue their dream career.
Grace, a psychology major, became interested in teaching after taking a class in college called Social Policy in a Global Perspective. "That changed everything for me," she said of the experience. The course focused on policy as it related to children. "After that class and thinking about ways the economy, health, and education all impact the child, I kept coming back to education. Education was the way I saw myself in the cause of social justice." Grace also took an urban education class with Pedro Noguera, a renowned sociologist studying discipline in schools.
After observing classrooms as part of that class, Grace realized she wanted to teach. She joined Teach for America and began teaching biology in an urban, low-income high school outside of Boston. "Part of why I loved teaching was because of the school I was in," Grace said. "I got a lot of support in my first two years, and I realized I could really see myself doing this in the long term. I love that light-bulb moment when kids understand something, especially with science."
Further reading: The Path from Paraprofessional Educator to Teacher
Grace enjoys being an advocate for marginalized children, and she likes partnering with families to ensure students are receiving the best education possible. For Grace, the requirements for teaching meant earning a special education license and then her master's degree.
In college, Nancy thought she might be a neurosurgeon or a research scientist. Her parents had dreamed she would be a doctor ever since she was little. Nancy loved school and learning new things. After she graduated with her bachelor's degree, she worked as a research assistant in a lab, cowriting papers and presenting at conferences. But she found the work to be isolating, so she decided to try something else.
After leaving that position, she worked two jobs waiting tables to make ends meet. But she wanted a job that had benefits and would enhance her resume. She heard about a paid internship program for teaching at the University of California at Irvine and applied.
Nancy thought that she would teach or be a substitute until she figured out her career plans. She never dreamed she'd stay in teaching. After her first assignment teaching third grade, Nancy was hooked. She loved her master teacher, who convinced her she had a gift for teaching, and she realized she could make a huge difference in many lives if she stayed in the field.
Nancy had to go back to school and take several prerequisite courses prior to starting her teaching credential program. She went on to get her master's in education and a reading specialist credential. Twenty years later, she still loves teaching, and she's proud to have had an impact on so many children's lives.
Paul's career took a few turns before he ended up in the classroom. He always wanted to be an archaeologist. He went to school to pursue this dream, and graduated with a bachelor of applied science degree in classical Mediterranean archaeology. But then he decided he wanted a singing career, so he moved to New York City.
After six years in the Big Apple, Paul moved to Massachusetts and closed the book on his career in music. He went back to school and earned a master's in history, figuring he'd get into archival or museum work. But the more he thought about it, teaching started to make more sense.
What drew him to the teaching profession was the idea that he could change minds for the better. He didn't want the future generation to just memorize-regurgitate-repeat; he wanted them to be able to look at an event, ask questions, gather evidence, and come up with an educated response. He wanted to treat history more like science or math, turning it into a laboratory.
To become a teacher, Paul needed to take the Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure. He earned his master's degree online and appreciated the convenience of online learning. He plans on taking more coursework to earn certifications in special education and teaching English language learners.
Taking the Right Steps
Requirements to become a teacher with a bachelor's degree vary from state to state, so find a program that is recognized in all 50 states. Every state requires that you have at least a bachelor's degree, and you will need to pass a background check. After that, you'll most likely have to take your state's teaching exams. In some states, you will be required to earn your master's degree soon after you start teaching.
The process doesn't have to be stressful or complicated. If you feel a pull or call to become a school teacher, nothing should stop you from pursuing your dreams. There are online bachelor's degree programs and master's degree programs like those offered at WGU that can help you get a teaching degree and prepare you for teacher certification. These programs are designed to help you continue to work full-time while getting the credentials and licensure you need to teach.
The world needs great teachers, and getting the education you need so you can be the best possible teacher is well worth it. You can make a difference in the lives of students—all you have to do is take the first step and pursue a degree that will qualify you to be a leader in the classroom.
Further Reading: Career-Change Teacher Stories
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career, and people take many paths to end up there. Changing careers takes courage, but applying to schools isn't as hard as it might seem. And a career in teaching is one worth pursuing; Grace, Nancy, and Paul all agree that it's a great way to positively impact lives and make a difference in the world.