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How to Become a Teacher

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Great teachers are always in demand.

As part of a dynamic professional workforce, teachers help shape lives and strengthen communities. If you’re ready to bring your creativity and passion to work, we’ll help you find the path to the classroom that’s right for you! 

Like other high-skilled professions, you’ll need to meet the professional requirements, and each state has its own requirements. We’ll walk you through it all in our comprehensive guide to the profession.

What’s in this Guide?

Overview: The steps to become a teacher

  • Decide what you want to teach.

    The subject, grade or specialty you want to teach will help determine your next steps. (But don’t worry if you’re still undecided!)

    Read More
  • Earn a bachelor's degree.

    You’ll need a degree to teach most subjects. Which major? That depends on what you want to teach. Read on!

    Read More
  • Choose an educator prep program.

    Educator Prep Programs (EPPs) are where you’ll complete state requirements and get experience in the classroom. You can enroll during your bachelor’s or after you’ve earned your degree.

    Read More
  • Pass the teaching tests.

    You’ll likely need to pass one or more tests to earn your teaching license. We’ll outline the most common requirements.

    Read More
  • Apply for your teaching certificate.

    Once you’ve met all state requirements for your license, you’ll apply directly to your state department of education.

    Read More
  • Get a teaching job.

    Depending on your EPP, you may have already been a student teacher or completed a fellowship or mentorship program. Put all of it on your resume and start applying!

    Read More

Decide if teaching is right for you.

As a teacher, no two days are the same. You’ll plan lessons, work with students, use new technologies and collaborate with colleagues and school leaders. Teaching keeps you growing and learning—with opportunities to grow creatively and professionally.

Teaching Career Basics

Teaching salaries and job outlook


Wondering how much you’ll make? We don’t blame you. The truth is that teacher salaries vary widely from state to state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (1), nationally, teachers make a median salary of $61,600. 

Of course, a median salary just tells you the salary in the middle, which includes teachers with many years of experience. So, beginning teachers will start at a lower salary and experienced teachers will earn more.  

Check out the National Education Statistics report for more information and to find your state. (2)

Job Outlook

In addition, the Bureau projects that teacher employment will increase by 5 percent over the next decade. Between 2014 and 2024, there will be almost 2 million job openings for teachers across the country.

Job prospects are even better if you choose to teach in a high-needs subject, specialty or location. These change from year to year, but usually include math, science, English as a second language, world languages, special education and many subjects in rural schools.

Questions to ask yourself—is teaching a good fit?

For this ever-changing work, you can ask yourself a few of the more obvious questions (3). Do you enjoy being around kids? Are you dependable? Do you have a genuine passion for an academic subject? (Calling all history buffs, book worms and data nerds!)

We recommend thinking through some less obvious questions, too.

  • What’s your motivation? Some teachers became educators because they were inspired by their own teachers. Some are responding to a need in their community for teachers from diverse backgrounds with unique insights and experiences.
  • Can you try out teaching before you commit? If you’re able to explore jobs, consider trying out teaching through a job or volunteer experience. You can tutor, work as a teaching assistant or help with an after school program. If you decide teaching is right for you, having relevant experience on your resume will help you stand out.

A step-by-step guide to becoming a teacher

By now you know you need a teaching certificate to teach in public schools (some states call it a license—but it’s the same thing). Depending on your starting point and your state, your path may be very different from another future teacher’s path. We break down the key steps you’ll take no matter where or what you want to teach.
  1. 1

    Decide what you want to teach.

    Illustration of science teacher in a rocket

    OK—this doesn’t necessarily need to be your first step, but it can help you make a few key decisions if you have an idea what you’d like to teach.

    If you already know the subject or specialty you want to teach, consider heading over to your state department of education for a list of subjects and grade levels for your certificate (4). For instance, some states may certify middle school teachers with different requirements than high school teachers. Others may offer general or specific content areas, like secondary science versus biology or physics.

    If you’re still undecided, don’t worry, you’ll be able to narrow it down as you learn more!

  2. 2

    Earn a bachelor’s degree.

    Illustration of a woman in a cap and gown with a diploma

    You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to be eligible for a teaching certificate in almost all subjects. For some skilled career and technical positions—think electrical engineering or health sciences—you may be able to substitute work experience.

    Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree, though you may be able to work towards your degree while you’re already teaching. 

    Finally, if you don’t already have your bachelor’s degree, you can often earn your degree and your teaching certificate at the same time. If you’re wondering about your major, we answer those questions below!

  3. 3

    Choose an educator preparation program.

    Illustration of a woman showing another woman a picture of a building

    You will need to complete a state-approved educator preparation program (EPP) to earn a teaching certificate. Your EPP will provide you with the coursework, tools and resources you need to be successful in the classroom. 

    In many states, you can enroll in an EPP while still in your bachelor’s program, so you graduate with your degree and your teaching certificate. If you’ve already earned your degree, you can choose an EPP that offers a master’s degree or a certificate-only option.

    Some EPPs are designed with working adults in mind, so you can find an option that allows you to work and get certified at the same time. You may even be able to start teaching while working towards your certificate. There are many options! Check out our Program Explorer to start your search for programs in your state.

  4. 4

    Pass the teaching tests.

    Illustration of a man with papers flying around

    Depending on your state and the EPP you choose, you’ll need to take one or more tests as part of your certification process. Usually this includes a subject-matter test that shows you know enough about your chosen subject to teach it.

    Most states require the Praxis tests (5) in your subject. Some may also require a test covering teaching methodologies or an assessment that includes a portfolio of teaching materials. Finally, some states have their own state-specific tests, such as the TExES in Texas or the MEGA in Missouri.

  5. 5

    Apply for your teaching certificate.

    Illustration of a person walking in front of a map of the city

    Once you’ve completed your program and passed the required tests, you’re almost a certified teacher! Since teachers are licensed at the state level, you’ll need to apply to your state education agency to make it official. 

    You’ll typically provide proof of your degree, your EPP and your test scores. You’ll need to pass a background check as well. States might have additional requirements depending on your grade and subject. Your EPP should help you prepare for this final step.

  6. 6

    Get your teaching job!

    Illustration of a woman in front of a white board with hands raised

    As you complete your requirements, you’ll start looking for your first teaching job. Check out district job fairs, virtual fairs and recruiting events with your EPP. In some cases, your EPP may have connections with one or more specific school districts. 

What is “alternative certification"?

You may have heard the terms “alternative certification,” “alternative licensure” or “alternate path to teaching.” Don’t let the name confuse you—there’s nothing “alternative” about the training and preparation you’ll receive in high-quality alternate path programs.

These programs are typically created with working adults in mind, so they have different processes and timing than traditional undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Many programs offer online and part-time modules or shorter timelines that get you in the classroom faster.

Here’s a few examples of an alternative certification program:

  • Residency programs prepare teachers for certification with on-the-job training. With a residency program, you get a paid job at a school and work with a mentor teacher. Some residency programs allow you to earn a master’s degree at the same time. 
  • Accelerated programs are designed for mid-career professionals interested in teaching. If you’re thinking about a career switch but need to keep working while you earn your license, an accelerated program could work for you. They typically offer hybrid online and in-person coursework and flexible arrangements for practice teaching.
  • School district programs allow you to apply directly to a school district that has teacher openings to fill. In many cases, these programs run in large school districts that have the resources to prepare their own teachers. You’ll apply in the spring or summer, take courses in the summer or fall and then work during the school year with a mentor teacher before taking over your own class in the district.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Didn't see your topic above? We answer a few other common questions below. It's a good idea to talk with staff at the teacher prep programs too. They're experts on teacher certification in your state!

Want to keep exploring?

We know this is a big decision, so take the time you need to explore your options and do your research. Here are a few more resources that can help.
  • Learn More

    Check out how-to articles and expert stories about teaching and applying to programs.

    Read More
  • Plan Your Career

    From the classroom to the boardroom, a teaching career can take you far.

    Learn More
  • Get Certified

    Read our deep dive article about certification programs and pathways.

    Get Started


  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook https://www.bls.gov/OOH/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
  2. National Education Association. Rankings of the States 2018 and Estimates of School Statistics 2019. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/2019%20Rankings%20and%20Estimates%20Report.pdf
  3. Seymour, Justin. "Is Teaching the Right Career For You? (6 Questions to Ask Yourself)."  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/is-teaching-the-right-career_b_10107856
  4. U.S. Department of Education. State Contacts. https://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html
  5. Educational Testing Service. The Praxis® Tests. https://www.ets.org/praxis