Question: What Degree is Required to Become a Teacher?
Answer: Every state requires teachers to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and to complete a state-approved education preparation program. However, prospective teachers should carefully review the licensing requirements in their state of residence to determine the exact steps required.
While each state maintains licensing or certification requirements for teachers, every state requires teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree and to complete a state-approved educator preparation program. This is the case in all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia. Initial teacher credentialing standards are administered by each state but commonly follow published standards maintained by organizations like the Professional Educator Standards Board Association (PESBA), which is now part of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).
Teacher preparation programs, whether they are part of or separate from a bachelor’s degree program, are typically approved by a state licensing board and may also be certified by a national body such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). However, a shortage of teachers in the U.S. has driven several states to develop alternative credentialing processes, which allow students who hold a bachelor’s degree outside of education to qualify for initial certification.
Degree Requirements to Become a Teacher
As all states require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and the completion of an educator preparation program to teach in their state, it is common for aspiring teachers to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Education (BAE) or Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE) program. Prospective teachers who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree should explore programs that are designed to prepare students for their initial teaching licensure/certification. These programs typically include classroom observation hours and student teaching experiences, sometimes called field experiences.
BAE and BSE programs often focus on a certain grade range and/or content area. For example, programs may prepare graduates for licensure in preschool through third grade (PreK-3), kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5), or various middle and high school grade ranges, such as fifth grade through eighth grade, seventh grade through 12th grade, and others. Some teaching programs are designed to prepare graduates for K-12 or PreK-12 licensure, especially programs in special education, bilingual education, and curriculum and instruction.
Elementary school teachers are usually trained in multiple content areas, including literacy and reading skills. Secondary school teachers usually study a specific content area, such as math, science, history, English, art, music, or foreign language.
Alternative or Non-Traditional Teacher Preparation Programs and Pathways
Several states allow individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than education to obtain their initial teaching credential while they are enrolled in an alternative teacher preparation program. Some states also offer an interim, temporary, or provisional license to those who do not have the required credentials but have a teaching position or an offer, and are enrolled in an alternative teacher education program. These licenses are typically valid for the length of the teacher preparation program. For example, to apply for an alternative teacher license in Colorado, a candidate must meet one of three conditions: have a degree in the content area, have completed at least 24 semester credits of coursework in the content area, or have a passing score on the Colorado State Board of Education-approved Praxis exam.
In the State of Illinois, candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field outside of education can pursue an alternative or non-traditional pathway to licensure. In Illinois, students seeking licensure must have completed an undergraduate major (or have at least nine semester credits) and pass an exam in the content area in which they wish to teach. Eligible candidates then complete a teaching intensive and are issued an Educator License with Stipulations. Once licensure requirements are met, candidates complete a two-year residency under a mentor teacher while enrolled in an alternative educator preparation program.
Additional Requirements to Become a Teacher
In addition to a bachelor’s degree and the completion of an educator preparation program, almost every state requires applicants for initial teaching licensure to pass state-approved exams in one or more areas. For example, Alabama requires applicants to pass the Alabama Educator Certification Assessment Program (AECAP) Praxis content area test(s), a Foundations of Reading exam, and an edTPA subject test offered by Pearson Education.
Some states also require training in social issues and challenges. For example, Alaska requires applicants to complete four mandatory trainings covering sexual abuse and dating violence awareness, drug and alcohol-related disabilities, and suicide awareness and prevention. Other topics may include working with exceptional children in the classroom, teaching second language learners, educational law, and/or teaching literacy/reading.
Licensure Requirements for Career and Technical Educators
A Career and Technical Educator (CTE) teaching license differs from a standard knowledge-based teaching license in that it places an emphasis on career and occupational development. CTEs prepare high school students for specific occupations or further training in an occupation. For example, Minnesota offers CTE teaching licensure to applicants who hold an associate’s degree in the occupational field, a professional certificate in an area directly related to the field, or for individuals who have five or more years of work experience in an area directly related to the field. Applicants may also need to have a job offer from a Minnesota public or charter school and meet additional requirements.
Pathways to Become a Teacher Based on Educational Background
Pathways to becoming a teacher vary based on prior education, training, certifications, and work experience. Below are three pathways for prospective educators including recent high school graduates who want to become teachers, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education, and graduates or professionals with a bachelor’s degree in a field outside of education. These pathways should be used for example purposes only as requirements vary by state, as well as by an individual’s academic and professional background.
Requirements for High School Graduates Who Want to Become Teachers
The following pathway is recommended for high school graduates who want to become teachers.
- Inquire with their state of residence’s teacher licensing board about the specific requirements for teacher credentialing in their state.
- Complete a state-approved Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Education program designed to prepare students for their teaching license.
- Complete the required student teaching hours included as part of their bachelor’s program.
- Pass any and all required state examinations that are part of the licensure process.
- Fulfill any potential additional state credentialing requirements.
- Apply for an initial teaching license or certification.
Requirements for Graduates with a Bachelor’s in Education Degree
The following pathway is typical for prospective teachers with a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Education degree that leads to teaching licensure or certification.
- Inquire with their state of residence’s teacher licensing board about the initial teacher licensure or certification requirements.
- If a candidate’s bachelor’s degree was completed in another state, ensure the state credentialing board will accept the degree. If not, inquire as to what additional requirements should be completed to apply for initial credentialing.
- Fulfill any special course requirements and additional training as specified.
- Pass the required examinations outlined by the state credentialing board, and apply for an initial teaching credential.
Requirements for Graduates or Professionals with a Bachelor’s Degree in a Field Other Than Education
For recent graduates or professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than education, the following alternative pathway may lead to an initial teaching credential.
- Inquire with their state of residence’s teacher licensing board about potential alternative pathways that lead to an initial teaching license or certification.
- Find and apply for a state-approved teacher preparation program, which can typically be found on a state’s credentialing website.
- Candidates should ensure that their bachelor’s degree is in the content area in which they wish to teach and that they have the required number of credits or experience in that content area.
- Pass the content area exam(s) and any other exams required by the state.
- Apply for an alternative license or certificate, which may be called a provisional teaching license, teaching license with stipulations, or similar name.
- Depending on the state, candidates who already have a job offer, may be able to begin teaching, provided they are concurrently enrolled in an alternative teacher preparation program.
- For candidates who do not yet have a job offer or for states that require student teaching hours, fulfill an internship or student teaching experience under the guidance of a mentor teacher while completing an alternative teacher preparation program.
- Candidates who have not already passed the state content area exam, typically must do so by the time they have completed their alternative teacher preparation program.
- Meet all other requirements for teaching in the desired content area and apply for a standard teaching license.
Degree Requirements by State and State Entity
The following table identifies the state and the organization responsible for the certification or licensure of teachers in that state. (Note: Educators are advised to visit their state licensing body for the most up-to-date and complete licensing requirements in their state of residence, as requirements can change over time.)