Teacher Qualifications

Qualifications Needed to Become a K-12 Teacher

Teachers embark on their careers to make a difference in their communities and inspire the next generation. Becoming a teacher takes hard work and dedication, but the result is a rewarding experience and a job that is always in demand.

Teaching jobs at the elementary, middle school and high school level has a six percent projected growth rate through 2024, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While teacher pay varies by state, a 2015 national survey found that kindergarten and elementary school teachers earned a median salary of $54,550 per school year; middle school teachers earned $55,860; and high school teachers reached $57,200.

Educational Requirements

Most states require that K-12 teachers have a bachelor’s degree, either in education or the field they plan to teach. In some cases, a college-level teaching certificate will suffice.

Because elementary school teachers usually instruct students in several subjects, including mathematics, language arts and social studies, prospective teachers take classes to learn how to teach multiple subjects. They also take classes to prepare them to instruct and interact with younger children, such as child psychology, curriculum design, literacy instruction and child development.

Unlike elementary school teachers, most middle and high school teachers focus on fewer subjects. They also take classes in the subject they plan to teach, as well as the required teacher education curricula in which they learn about lesson planning and curriculum assessment.

"Prospective teachers must gain real classroom experience before they can get a full-time teaching job."

Real Classroom Experience

Prospective teachers must gain real classroom experience before they can get a full- time teaching job. On-the-job training allows future teachers to work with students one-on-one and to observe experienced teachers running a classroom.

Many teaching degree programs let students complete their fieldwork off-campus while working on their degrees. The number of in-the-classroom hours required varies by state and degree program.

State Licensure

All public school teachers must be licensed in the state where they plan to teach; most private schools, on the other hand, do not require a teaching license. State requirements for teaching licenses vary, but most include:

  • A bachelor's degree
  • The completion of a teacher education program
  • Supervised teaching experience
  • Passing a test for writing and math skills

Some teachers obtain National Board Certification, which is an advanced teaching credential offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). This certification, however, does not replace a state teaching license and only complements it.

The grade-level you plan to teach will ultimately determine the credentials you will need to become a teacher. Some jobs only require a single-subject credential, while others require multiple-subject certification. For instance, if you plan to teach elementary school science and physical education, you might need a multiple-subject credential. Check with the school district you plan to work for.

A Second Career in Teaching

More professionals are turning to teaching after working in other fields for many years. To accommodate these individuals, some colleges offer alternative certification or licensure programs for people who already have a bachelor’s degree that is geared for another occupation.

The programs can last up to two years, and, while attending classes, students work as teachers under supervision. The teachers undergo extensive education and assessment before they even set foot in the classroom. In the end, many are very happy they made the switch to teaching.