What Degree Do You Need To Be A Teacher?

Richard Lawrence
Richard Lawrence
Elementary school principal; M.A. in School Administration
Vector poster image of a computer, books, an hourglass, and graduation cap.

The first thing you need to keep in mind about this topic is the difference between obtaining a degree and becoming a certified teacher. You need a degree to become a certified teacher, but there are some other steps along the way to becoming fully certified.

The second central point to understand is the grade level and specialized area you wish to teach play a big part in what degree you’ll need to obtain. With those two issues outlined, let’s delve deeper into the topic.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher?

In all states, you’ll need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree to teach. This up to a short time ago was universal, but some exceptions have been made due to the pandemic and resulting teacher shortages. I would not view this as anything beyond emergency measures.

The list of states requiring teachers to earn master’s degrees is rather small. In Ohio, Maryland, and New York, all teachers must earn a master’s in education within five years after signing their first teaching contract.

Are there advantages to requiring a master’s degree to teach? This topic could encompass a full research paper, but let’s keep it short here. If you want to weed out more candidates and create a more specialized pool of would-be teachers, requiring a master’s degree will go a long way in doing that.

For more specific and detailed information, you should research exactly what is required in the states you are interested in teaching in. You will find some basic commonalities, but requirements can get very specific.

Do Different Teachers Need Different Degrees?

The short answer to this question is yes. If you want to teach high school chemistry, you are going to be required to have a degree in science. If you’re going to teach preschool, you will need an early childhood education degree. Elementary education teachers are viewed more through the prism of educational generalists, as they teach multiple subjects. Secondary teachers are content specialists who focus on a far narrower degree of expertise.

One is not superior over the other. It’s about equipping the aspiring teacher with the needed understanding of the content they will teach and the students they will deliver it to. Secondary teachers will need to grasp more technical content. Elementary teachers will need to know how to deliver more general content in a wide variety of subjects.

Both take high degrees of skill to do successfully, and the overall hope for students is that they will have consistently strong teachers throughout their time in school, building on a solid foundation established as far back as preschool.

What Does a Graduate Teaching Degree Program Encompass?

M.A.Ed., M.A., and M.Ed. programs typically take 25-30 credit hours, though available are shorter and longer programs. Graduate programs typically cover topics such as curriculum and instruction, differentiation, assessment, and data-driven decision making in much more detail, and virtually all programs involve an experiential learning component, such as a teaching practicum.

So why would you choose such a program? There are usually incentives for higher pay on most teacher scales. Still, the most common reason is that you are interested in becoming a greater expert in your field, including curriculum, instructional strategies, educational philosophy, classroom management, and more.

Which Teaching Degree is Right for Me?

To know this, make a list of some basic questions:

  • What grade levels do I wish to teach?
  • Am I interested in becoming a generalist or specialist?
  • What type of trajectory do I see my career taking long-term?
  • Am I more apt to stick with one elementary or secondary, or is it possible that I’d like to change from one to another?

Some of these questions are easier to answer than others, but it’s a good idea to go through and ask yourself all of them, maybe even add additional questions to ponder. Make sure you are thorough as you plan your foray into teaching. It will be a long-term benefit and may save you a lot of time and heartache. Best wishes on your teaching journey!

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