Many people have considered becoming a teacher at some point in their life, often inspired by a teacher from their childhood. The path to teaching, however, can be a complex one, with several steps along the way where that dream can be derailed. Requirements vary from state to state, subject to subject, and can even depend on the age of the students being taught. This high degree of variation can make it tough to give specifics, but today, let’s lay out the general road you’re likely to take to become a teacher in the US.

The first step required for nearly all teaching positions is a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Arts or Science in Education is the typical degree, and covers topics like educational psychology, handling students, and developing lessons. Students in an education degree program may have the choice of what kind of students they’d like to work with, which will also affect what they learn.

Teachers of elementary-age children, for example, need to possess an understanding of a variety of topics that they’ll be expected to teach, while a high school teacher typically specializes in one or two subjects. As a result, it sometimes possible for an individual who already holds a bachelor’s in one area, such as chemistry, to undergo an accelerated education program in order to teach high school students in that subject.

While education degrees are often available online, it’s very important to ensure that any degree program you sign up for is properly accredited and recognized in the state where you plan to teach.

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Towards the end of an education degree program and after graduating, aspiring teachers will be given the opportunity to perform supervised teaching as a student-teacher. Student teachers work with experienced teachers, learning from them how to handle real situations, and occasionally taking over the class while the experienced teacher watches. Completing a student teaching period is critical for receiving licensure to teach.

Another obstacle towards teaching licensure is the required exams, such as the Praxis tests. While the exact tests used differ from state to state, these exams aim to challenge an aspiring teacher’s knowledge of the subjects they will teach, in addition to their capacity to teach them.

Passage of these exams is necessary to obtain an initial teaching license, which will allow you to find a job at a school and begin working towards a more permanent license. No matter what stage your license is at, teachers are generally expected to maintain their knowledge, by performing continuing education before their renewal comes up.

Some states even expect teachers to earn a master’s degree within a few years of starting their careers. Master’s degrees will usually meet the requirements for continuing education and may lead to an increase in pay.

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Teachers in private schools may not have to meet state licensure requirements but will often have to deal with even stricter expectations, whether they’re licensed or not. Private schools will still be looking for teachers who have extensive knowledge of their intended subject area, and who are versed in the handling of students and structuring of lessons but may look to other certifications, such as National Board Certification, rather than state licensing. National Board Certification can be valuable to public school teachers as well, as recognition of their efforts and accomplishments and as a means of advancing their career.

While the road to becoming a teacher may not be the easiest career path to navigate, its complexity only comes from the acknowledgment of what a critical duty teaching actually is. By teaching the nation’s children, teachers are shaping the next generation of professionals, of voters, and of citizens, and that’s not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Those who are determined enough to see this journey through to its end have proven they’re deserving of this responsibility and will experience one of the most rewarding occupations there is as a result.