Teaching has often been called a noble profession, and with reason. Becoming a teacher requires time, dedication and the ability to inspire others to learn. Teachers can teach at any level from preschool to university, can be generalists in multiple subjects or specialists in a particular subject and may work with specific populations such as children who need special education or adults in literacy programs. Degree, experience and certification or licensing requirements vary according to the position.
With the exception of preschool teachers, some of whom may have an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for the teaching profession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A master’s degree is the minimum requirement for post-secondary teaching in community colleges and a Ph.D. is typically required for four-year colleges and university positions. Preschool teachers typically major in early childhood education or a related field, while kindergarten and elementary school teachers major in elementary education. Middle school teachers must major in elementary education or a content area such as math or science, depending on the state, while high school teachers major in a content area. Post-secondary teachers major in a content area.
Learning to Teach
All preschool, elementary, middle and high school teachers receive instruction in basic subjects such as child psychology, general educational theory and pedagogy -- the methods and practice of teaching. Teachers may also choose a particular content area as a major and courses vary according to the specific subject in which they plan to specialize. In addition to their basic education, most teachers must complete a student internship, in which they work under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Internships are designed to provide hands-on practice in the science and art of being a teacher.
Licensing and Certification
Each state regulates the practice of teaching and requirements may vary from one state to another. However, all states require teachers who teach in public schools to be certified or licensed, according to the BLS. Private schools are not required to have licensed teachers, but the BLS notes that most hire teachers with a bachelor’s degree in elementary or general education. Most states require background checks for teachers prior to licensing. Other licensing requirements vary, but student teaching is required. Some states may require a minimum grade point average. Most states require teachers to pass licensing examinations in both general teaching and in their content area.
Teachers may need to complete specialized training or meet other requirements. Depending on the state, preschool teachers may be required to hold nationally recognized certifications as a child development associate or child care professional. Special education teachers complete a degree in that field and learn about the different types of disabilities. Adult literacy teachers who teach English as second language may need to complete a post-graduate certificate in that field. Career and technical education teachers must have experience in the field they teach, and some -- nursing instructors are one example -- must have a professional license in the field. Check with the board of education in your state for specific requirements.
Job Outlook and Salaries
Although they are all members of the same profession, job outlook and salaries for teachers vary according to the position and specialty. For example, the BLS projects job growth for preschool teachers will be 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average of 11 percent for all occupations. The increased growth rate is due to a projected growth in the population of 3- to 5-year-olds. Most teaching professions, however, are projected to grow at average or below average rates. In 2013, the BLS reports average annual salaries for teachers ranged from a low of $31,420 for preschool teachers to a high of $74,620 for post-secondary teachers.