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If You Want to Be a Teacher - What Should You Major In?

Jan 28, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you want to teach, it can be difficult to know what to major in. There are many different options, and regulations governing public school teacher qualifications vary by state.  But different types of teaching jobs require different degrees—and not all schools abide by the same rules as public schools. Here’s an overview of the types of degrees you’ll need to teach within certain broad areas.

High school teachers

If you want to teach at the high school level, you have a few options. Most states expect people going to school specifically for teaching to major in education—with a concentration in the subject you are going to teach. Because
teaching at the high school level is usually specialized by
subject, you can also major in the subject you plan to
teach—but in some states, you may have to take postgraduate
courses in education before or during your full-time teaching
job if you didn’t take education classes in college.

See Also: Online Secondary Education Degrees

Pre-K to third grade teachers

Most teachers working with young children major in early childhood education. This degree teaches aspiring teachers the basics of child psychology and how children learn at early developmental stages. It also teaches future teachers how to serve as a role model for students.

See Also: Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

Elementary school teachers

A major in elementary education can qualify you to teach anywhere within the kindergarten to eighth-grade level. This degree gives you greater flexibility in the age levels you can teach, as an early education degree qualifies you only for earlier levels and a major in the subject you plan to teach is usually more useful at the middle school or high school level.

See Also: Online Teaching Degrees

Middle school teachers

Those teaching at the sixth- to eighth-grade level have a few options when it comes to degrees. You could major in elementary education, which works for a broad range of ages from kindergarten to eighth grade. You could also major in the subject you plan to teach, as middle school teachers are frequently divided by specialization. Or you could major in elementary education with a focus on your chosen subject.

It should be noted that you’ll need more than a Bachelor’s to teach in public schools. While state regulations for teacher qualification vary, all require licensure—which requires passing a state test, usually the PRAXIS and possibly the PRAXIS II, depending on the subject and level you teach. It also requires a certain amount of student teaching and classroom education credit; if you didn’t major in education, you may have to take as much as a year’s worth of classes to fulfill the requirements.

If you are coming to teaching from a non-teaching background and don’t have a degree in education or the subject in which you plan to teach, many school districts have alternative certification programs—especially in high-needs areas and for people teaching high-demand subjects such as science and math. These usually require taking education classes, either before or in conjunction with a full-time job.

Some states require teachers to have a Master’s degree in education. In some school districts, particularly those in high-needs areas, teachers have a certain amount of time—as many as five years—to earn their Master’s after hiring.

College professors

If you want to teach at a college, you will need a higher-level degree. Most college professors have Ph.D.’s in their chosen field—which can require four years of education after a Bachelor’s degree at minimum, and sometimes more. Some college professors have Master’s degrees, but this is more common at community colleges or in subjects where doctoral degrees are rare—such as concentrations within the fine arts, in which an MFA is the most common college-level teaching credential.

Private school teachers

Federal regulations don’t apply to private schools, and teachers working for one can legally teach with any degree. However, most private schools prefer to hire teachers with at least a Bachelor’s degree in the subject they plan to teach. For younger grades, a degree in early childhood or elementary education can also be desirable.

Most school districts are quite accepting of accredited online degree programs. In fact, many school districts will encourage teachers to use distance education to earn further certifications or Master’s-level degrees as needed—especially if these teachers are working in the classroom as they learn. Online degree programs allow greater flexibility for teachers to work their studies around a full-time job. The exception is higher-level academia, in which it’s difficult to land a professor position with an online degree.

Becoming a teacher isn’t easy since No Child Left Behind. But for many, it’s worth it. Perhaps the easiest way to become a teacher is to work at a private school, where education requirements are less rigorous for teachers—although pay at private schools can sometimes be lower than what you’d find at a public school, especially at entry level. Investigate your options before earning your degree—and you should be able to get qualified as efficiently as possible.



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