If you’re reading this, you’ve probably realized you want to be a teacher. But you didn’t major in education.
Maybe you didn’t know during high school or early on in college that you wanted to pursue becoming a teacher and you’ve recently graduated.
If you find yourself wondering why you majored in sociology, computer science or biology, when the truth is, none of those are fields you actually want to pursue as a long-term career, you’re in good company. That nagging feeling that you’re not suited for what you just spent four or more years studying? You shouldn’t ignore it.
Or maybe you’re contemplating a career change. Just because you’re on a dedicated career path doesn’t mean you have to stay on it forever, right? Perhaps you’ve been feeling bored or frustrated at work lately. Or, you work in an industry with failing job opportunities.
If you’re looking for a fresh challenge, it’s never too late to switch to a career in education. And here’s the really good news - you don’t have to go back to school and get another bachelor’s degree in education to make it happen.
So let’s walk you through how you can still become a teacher, even if you didn’t graduate with an education degree.
Can I really become a teacher with just my bachelor’s degree? It’s not in teaching!
You can absolutely still train to be a teacher without a degree in education. Virtually every state in the country offers alternate routes to certification explicitly designed with you in mind.
Word of caution: There’s lots of red tape involved with getting certified to teach. What makes it even trickier to navigate is that each state department of education has its own certification requirements.
That’s why it’s critical that you carefully research licensure requirements in the state you want to teach in before applying to any sort of teacher preparation program, as different rules will inevitably apply.
If you do want to get into education as a long-term career, though, enrolling in an alternative certification program is generally a pretty safe bet. More on that below.
What kind of degree do you need to be a teacher?
As mentioned above, having a non-education degree will not prevent you from becoming a teacher.
For example, some private, charter and not-for-profit schools don’t require applicants to have a teaching degree or hold state licensure.
If you want to teach in the public school system (either as an elementary or high-school subject teacher), however, you will need a teaching license or teaching credential.
Substitute teaching gigs can also be an excellent way for graduates with no teaching background to get some real classroom experience under their belt.
Note: Most states set a four-year bachelor’s degree as the minimum education requirement for K-12 teachers. So, while you probably can’t find work as a teacher if you have an associate’s degree, you could still qualify for jobs in education, either as a teaching assistant, preschool or substitute teacher.
How to use your current degree to become a teacher.
First stop: Check whether your state offers emergency teaching certificates.
This is where bachelor’s degree holders can apply to teach subjects that are presently experiencing a shortage of qualified candidates. A few select states, including Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Mississippi, California and Arizona, grant temporary licenses to teachers in high-need areas like special education, as well as foreign language and STEM subjects.
If you’re planning on teaching more advanced subjects in public high schools, such as math or science, and have a degree in a related field, that’s generally enough for you to get an emergency status teaching job in one of these states. At the end, you can opt to take the state licensing exam and become a fully certified teacher.
Don’t panic if your state doesn’t have an emergency certification pathway, however. There are plenty of alternative programs you can opt for instead.
Can I get a teaching license with a bachelor's degree?
OK, so we all know about the most obvious way to become a teacher:
Obtaining an undergraduate degree that includes completing an accredited teacher preparation program, ultimately leading to licensure from your state’s board of education.
Hundreds of accredited colleges and university offer blended degree and educator prep programs to that end. The process of getting certified by your state usually entails passing an examination, such as a state test or Praxis exams. There’s usually a student teaching component required, too.
Depending on the state you want to teach in, however, there are other state-approved alternative routes to certification available to you.
Here are two other ways you can get certified to teach in the US (other than a tradiionial educator preparation program as part of your undergraduate degree).
1. Get your master’s degree in education/teaching.
There are two main options here: a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Education. Of the course, the downsides are obvious - the cost of graduate school is high, you’ll need to prepare for the GRE and commit to a couple of years of full-time study. In short, it’s not an option that’s viable for everyone. The bonus is that you’ll often have a higher starting salary. when you do finally qualify as a teacher.
2. Enter an alternative certification program.
As the name implies, alternative certification programs are an alternative to traditional, degree-based teacher certification programs. They’re specially designed for people who decide to become a teacher in a K-12 public school settng after completing their bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field.
Those who earn an alternative teaching certification usually teach in the subject area in which they majored in. Once you’ve completed your alternative teacher certification program, you can then apply with the department of education in the state you want to teach in for a teaching role.
There are a wide range of city, state and national alternative certification programs, offered by accredited private organizations and school districts, that let you earn your teaching credential while training in a classroom. The US government also provides financial aid to people enrolled in alternative certification programs.
If you’re interested in teaching in a rural or inner-city school, you can also get hired without formal education training. Teach For America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) are two notable examples. Some states will also let you teach full-time, on the understanding that you’ll go back to college and finish your education degree within a specific time period.
Alternative certification teacher programs can be online and classroom-based. Making a decision about which format to take will be influenced by many factors, including your personal and work schedule and the options available in your area.
How long does it take to get a teaching certificate with a bachelor’s degree?
Alternative certification programs allow students with a bachelor's degree and career experience to earn a teaching license outside of the traditional route mentioned above. These programs will typically get you teaching in the classroom faster than a traditional education prep program.
They are short, intensive programs designed to get you into the classroom as quickly as possible - some in as little as nine months, in fact. If your bachelor’s degree isn’t education and you’re looking to fast track your teaching certification, there are even online teacher certification programs that let you teach while earning your teaching credential.
I have a master’s degree, how can I become a teacher?
If you have an advanced degree in your chosen field, then you’re in luck. It’s more than possible to find work as a teacher in most states without an education degree. Lots of public and private colleges and universities, for example, are keen to hire people with a master’s degree or PhD.
Final word of advice on how to get a teaching certificate if you already have a bachelor’s degree.
While it can feel daunting to start over after four years spent studying one very specialized field, a career in teaching is incredibly rewarding.
If you love working with young people and have a sense of accomplishment from helping students grow, then it might be worth tutoring on the side, shadowing teachers, or even working as a substitute teacher before you pursue obtaining your teaching credential, either through the traditional or alternative means mentioned above.
Either way, congratulations on having taken the first step toward becoming a teacher. Good luck and happy teaching!