How to become a teacher: A complete step-by-step guide

Last updated: July 22, 2024
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How to become a teacher: A complete step-by-step guide
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Does the idea of becoming a teacher excite you? Do you have a passion for teaching others the knowledge and skills they’ll need to have successful futures?

Teaching can be a highly fulfilling and rewarding career. Not only will you get to use your love of teaching every day, but you’ll also make a difference in your students’ lives.

There are many avenues to teaching, including teaching at the preschool, multi-subject (elementary), and single-subject secondary (middle and high school) levels.

But how can you choose the right path for your goals? And what steps should you follow to pursue a teaching career?

This article will give you a step-by-step guide to becoming a teacher. You’ll also find information about your responsibilities as a teacher, how much you can expect to earn, and more.

What do teachers do?

Teachers, also called school teachers or educators, help students learn. Their jobs involve instructing and guiding learning so that students can acquire knowledge, virtue, and competence through the practice of specific tasks.

Teachers have a wide range of responsibilities. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Creating lesson plans: This can be a lot of work — especially for new teachers. Teachers need to get to know their students so they can adopt their preferred learning styles and find out how much they already know about the subject. This will help them set appropriate objectives and better plan their lessons.

  • Encouraging students to participate: Many students tend to learn more during engaging lessons where they’re motivated to participate. As a teacher, it’s your job to incorporate different teaching methods and techniques into lessons to make them more exciting and engaging.

  • Grading assignments and tracking performance: Teachers need to grade students’ papers and other assignments. Then, based on those grades, they can track students’ progress and performance.

  • Providing students with one-on-one support: Teachers will sometimes need to provide students with one-on-one support. This may include helping the student personally or arranging the support the student requires.

Discover what others are asking about the teaching profession.

What’s the job outlook for teachers?

The job outlook for teachers depends on their specialty. However, specialties look promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for teachers in different specialties are expected to grow as follows:

  • Preschool teachers: Increase of 15% from 2021–2031, which is much faster than average. There will be approximately 63,100 job openings for preschool teachers each year until at least 2031.

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers: Increase of 4% from 2021–2031. There will be about 12,300 openings for kindergarten and elementary school teachers every year until at least 2031.

  • Secondary school (middle and high school) teachers: Increase of 4% and 5% for middle and high school teachers, respectively. There will be about 47,300 job openings for middle school teachers and 77,900 openings for high school teachers every year until at least 2031.

How much do teachers earn?

Based on over 1,500 salary profiles on Payscale, teachers earn an average annual salary of $51,600.

However, teacher salaries vary significantly by state, county, district, experience, education, and the type of school the teacher works for (such as a private or public school).

In fact, according to The Washington Post, public school teachers earned about 30% more than private school teachers in 2020 and 2021.

Here’s some more information about how teacher salaries can differ based on their position, location, and skills:

  • Preschool teachers: These individuals earn an average of $30,200 per year. Those who live in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago can earn between 17% and 35% more. Specific skills can also increase their salaries. For example, those who can speak Mandarin can make 26% more than average.

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers: These individuals earn an average of $61,350 per year. Those who live in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis can earn between 8% and 30% more than average.

  • Secondary school (middle and high school) teachers: Middle school teachers earn an average of $61,320 per year, while high school teachers earn $61,820. Secondary school teachers who live in San Diego, San Jose, and Fort Worth can earn between 11% and 36% more than average. Certain skills, such as those in material science and mentoring, can also help secondary school teachers make more than average.

Is becoming a teacher right for you?

A career in teaching, while highly fulfilling, can also be challenging. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s the right job for you. You can make this choice by considering your skills, goals, and future plans.

People in the teaching profession need the following basic skills:

  • Creativity: You need to be creative if you want to keep students interested during each lesson.

  • Communication skills: As a teacher, you’ll be expected to communicate with students, coworkers, and parents. Thus, you need to be a strong communicator. Both oral and written communication skills are vital.

Discover the top effective communication skills for career development.

  • Empathy: Sometimes, students have a hard time learning. They may even go through tough times in their personal lives that affect their behavior and ability to absorb information. You’ll need to show empathy and have strong interpersonal skills to help them during these times.

  • Active listening: Hand-in-hand with communication skills are listening skills. You need to pay attention when students ask you questions so you can answer them to the best of your ability. You’ll also need to listen carefully when coworkers are talking to you so you don’t miss any important information regarding school events, specific students, etc.

  • Patience: Students can be challenging to teach. You need to practice patience so you can handle any situation that arises with a level head.

  • Organization: Creating lessons, teaching classes, and grading papers takes a lot of hard work. You need to be highly organized to make sure you complete all your tasks on time and provide the best possible learning experience to your students.

Learn more about the skills you need to become a teacher.

Steps to become a teacher

If you want to become a teacher, there are a set of steps you’ll need to follow to earn the necessary qualifications and licensing.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

All teachers (except preschool teachers who only need Early Education units) must hold a bachelor’s degree to attain a teaching position.

You can major in education studies, the subject you want to teach, or both.

Common college majors for people who want to become teachers include the following:

  • Early childhood education: These teachers, who study theories in child development, learn to work with children up to the age of eight. This major is ideal for people who want to become kindergarten or elementary school teachers.

  • Secondary education: These teachers earn a degree in the subject they want to teach. They can work with middle and high school students in either private or public schools.

  • Special education: These teachers learn to work with children who have special needs, including learning and physical disabilities. The unique training this program provides prepares future teachers to handle these students’ needs appropriately.

  • Education administration: If you’d like to work in an administrative or research position in the future, majoring in education administration sets you up for this career path.

  • Physical education: PE teachers instruct students on physical development, sports, proper nutrition, and more.

2. Become a substitute teacher

Hands-on experience in a classroom is essential in the educational field. Schools need to know that you’re able to work well with students. Thus, you need to complete a certain number of hours in an educational environment before you can take your teaching exams.

You can gain classroom hours during your undergraduate studies in the form of internships. Or you can choose to gain experience post-graduation.

As a substitute teacher, you’ll gain field experience and valuable skills that you can use in your future career as a licensed teacher. These include classroom management, assisting students, and developing lessons.

3. Get a teaching credential

Most states require teachers to pass the following three Praxis tests as a prerequisite to getting into a credential program:

  • Praxis Core Academics

  • Praxis Subject Assessments

  • Praxis Content Knowledge for Teaching Assessments

Once you’ve passed these tests, you can get your credential through a one-year graduate program or as part of your bachelor’s degree.

Sometimes, this credential is combined with a master’s degree. There are many different options, and you need to pick the one that best suits your needs — and your wallet.

Note that requirements for teachers differ by state, so be sure to do your research about the requirements for the state in which you’re planning to work.

4. Create a resume

Once you have your degree, experience, and credentials, you can add them to your resume. It’s important to include both your hard and soft skills on your resume.

To save time, you can look at resume examples in your industry or use a template. You should also spell-check it to make sure it’s as professional as possible.

And most importantly, always remember to update your resume based on your professional development, including any new skills you learn or experience you gain.

Follow our teacher resume tips to create a resume that’ll help you land the job.

5. Find a teaching job

Now that you have everything you need to attain a teaching position, you can search for your ideal job. You’ll likely be able to get a full-time position at the school you interned for.

If not, you can search Jobcase’s Job Board to find a position near you or in your desired location. Simply type in the job you’re looking for alongside the area in the search bar.

Several jobs will come up in the search, which you can go through to find a position that suits your qualifications and needs.

6. Find opportunities for higher pay

There are numerous ways you can increase your pay. These include the following:

  • Get a master’s degree. This will increase your units, and the more level units you have, the higher your pay will be.

  • Tutor students in your spare hours. Tutoring — especially in specific subjects, such as math — can be an excellent way to increase your income. You can even consider online tutoring.

  • Transition to an administrative career. Many teachers who seek higher salaries eventually become school administrators since the pay is often higher. This is especially true for district administrators, who have the potential to earn more long-term.

Ready to start your career as a teacher?

Are you ready to pursue a career as a teacher?

If you already have the necessary qualifications, you can go ahead and search for teaching jobs on our job board.

Not sure if you want to become a teacher? Explore other high-paying bachelor’s degree jobs. Or check out our resource center for more articles like this one.

FAQs about teachers

Can you be a teacher without a degree?

All states require K–12 public kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school teachers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. This degree usually needs to be in education or a specific subject, such as science.

How long does it take to become a teacher?

It typically takes around four years to become a teacher if you complete your training hours while you’re studying. This includes earning your bachelor’s degree and passing your exams.

Can you still become a teacher if you have another degree?

You can still become a teacher if you don’t have a degree in education, but in another field, once you’ve passed your exams and earned your teaching license.

For example, if you have a degree in science and you want to become a science teacher, you’ll need to take a teacher certification exam, such as Praxis, to determine whether you’d be a good fit for this career.

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Dora Rose
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This is a very useful guide for people without experience and skills. I fully agree with this plan. Recently wrote an article about myself, you can check that if you want. There I described in detail the same guide as I became a teacher. I agree that it is not easy, there is a lot to know.

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