How to Become a Teacher
Most of us have a favorite teacher from our childhoods; maybe it was the teacher who taught you how to read or the one who taught you how to value diversity, or even the one who taught you how to play kickball. Perhaps that teacher is your inspiration for wanting to become a teacher yourself. If you’re asking yourself what degree do you need to be a teacher and are ready to learn about the steps for becoming the teacher you aspire to be, check out this How to Become a Teacher guide!
We’ve broken down the steps to becoming a teacher, including what degrees you’ll need and what exams you’ll have to pass. While there are many different paths to becoming a teacher, they all begin with a bachelor’s degree -- but they don’t all end there.
1. Enroll in a bachelor's degree program
What degree do you need to be a teacher? Well, the first step to becoming the teacher you aspire to be is to enroll in an accredited bachelor’s degree program, such as the ones offered through Gwynedd Mercy University’s School of Education. Most public school districts and other education employers require at least a bachelor’s degree in addition to state certification to teach in their schools.
2. Demonstrate your basic competence
Pennsylvania requires aspiring teachers to pass state-required examinations that assess general knowledge and basic skills, along with professional knowledge and specific subject area knowledge.
At GMercyU, all first-year students who want to become a teacher begin in the Education Studies program where you’ll complete your first 45 credits. Once you’ve completed at least 45 credits with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0, you’ll need to demonstrate a core competence in math, reading, and writing as required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. There are a couple of different ways to demonstrate your core competence:
- You can take the PAPA exam, which is offered through Pearson
- You can take the Core Academic Skills exam, which is offered through ETS
- However, depending on your ACT or SAT scores from high school, you might not need to take any or all of these exams
- A score of 500 in any of the sections on the SAT (math, reading or writing) will exempt you from the corresponding basic skills exam
- If you took the ACT exam after August 2016, the following scores will exempt you from the basic skills exam: Reading: 22; Math: 22; Writing: 8
Once you demonstrate your core competence in math, reading, and writing, you’ll be able to enter one of GMercyU’s early childhood education degrees.
3. Participate in student teaching
Most bachelor’s in education degree programs require you to spend at least a semester in a real classroom. During your student teaching experience, you’ll have the opportunity to practice managing a classroom, while still having the support of a cooperating teacher and your college professors. This real-world experience will elevate your confidence and prepare you for a successful teaching career after graduation.
When choosing where to earn your bachelor’s in education degree, be sure to choose a school that has a strong student-teacher placement program. At GMercyU, for example, we have a dedicated Field Placement Director who will support you throughout your student teaching experience.
4. Take the teacher certification test
In order to become a certified teacher, you’ll need to take the teacher certification exam that relates to both your course of study and the state in which you want to become certified. While passing scores may vary by state, all prospective teachers take the same exams. When choosing where to earn your bachelor’s in education degree, you also want to choose a school that has a strong program in place to prepare you to successfully pass these exams:
- If you’re going to teach Pre-K through 4th grade, you’ll take the Pennsylvania Educator Certification Test Early Learning Modules 1,2 and 3 through Pearson.
- For Special Education Pre-K through 4th grade, you’ll take the Pennsylvania Educator Certification Test Special Education Modules 1 and 2 through Pearson.
- For a Secondary Education Certification, you’ll take the Praxis II exam through ETS in the specific content area for which you’ll be teaching.
While a bachelor’s degree in education is the minimum level of education you’ll need to become a teacher, you have many options as to what and where you’ll teach. You can specialize in special education, secondary education, middle-level education, or early childhood education. Secondary education certification prepares you to teach in a high school setting, so you also will choose a specific field, such as science, math or history.
While there is always going to be a need for competent, qualified teachers, that need is greater in some subjects areas than others. According to US News, there is a growing need in the fields of special education, math, science, and bilingual education.
In most cases, having a bachelor’s degree is just the first step to becoming a teacher. Most states and school districts require teachers have passed the teacher certification exam, called the Praxis, before beginning employment.
Once you land your dream job in the classroom, you may choose to continue your education and earn an advanced degree. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found in 2011-12, 56 percent of public school teachers had a master’s degree or higher. What’s more: the NCES found that the base annual salary of those teachers who had their master’s degree was almost $11,000 more than teachers who had only a bachelor’s.
In Pennsylvania, the difference in salary between classroom teachers with a bachelor’s degree and those with a master’s degree are comparable to the differences nationally. In the chart below, you can see the average salaries of classroom teachers in Pennsylvania for the 2015-2016 school year.
|Average 2015-2016 Classroom Teacher Salary (PA)|
In general, it will take at least four years to become a teacher. Your individual timeline depends on your course of study when you decide to take your state certification exams, which subjects and grades you want to teach, and your location.
Most school districts require at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes at least four years to complete. During that time, you’ll gain real-world experience through student teaching and classroom observations. After your four years, you’ll feel prepared and ready to inspire your future students! There are more career paths in education than just teaching. Our Careers in Education guide can help you determine your best path.
But even before beginning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll have to decide what you want to teach. Are you interested in pursuing a dual degree in a subject such as history, math or special education? You should also think about what grade level you’re interested in teaching; do you see yourself working in a preschool or elementary school, or would you rather teach high school students? These are important things to consider before enrolling in a teacher preparation program. If you’re not sure which direction is best for you, take a few minutes to complete our What Kind of Teacher Should I Be? quiz.
As part of your bachelor’s degree program, you will sit for the state certification exams. These exams will test both your specific content knowledge and your academic knowledge. Teacher certification is generally required to work in public schools and is state specific. So, if you intend to teach in Pennsylvania, for example, you should make sure your Praxis results are sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
How to Become a Teacher in PA
Earlier, we laid out the steps to becoming a teacher. However, teacher requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. So while the basic requirements are similar to what you read above, Pennsylvania has some specific requirements for all teachers, which are spelled out below:
- Complete your degree program. Pennsylvania requires aspiring teachers to complete their education at one of the more than 100 teacher preparation programs approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. These programs consist of classroom work and student teaching. Pennsylvania requires a grade point average of at least 3.0 to sit for the certification exam.
- Pass the certification. After you earn your degree, you’ll be eligible to sit for the required state exams. Required tests – as well as qualifying scores—are occasionally reviewed and updated by the PA Department of Education, so check the department’s website before you take the exam to make sure you have the most current information.
- Get hired. Once you’ve got your teacher certification on hand, you’ll be able to interview for jobs at public and private schools in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Teaching Salaries & Benefits
Teacher salaries in the state of Pennsylvania will vary by region and school district, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled a list of the mean annual wage for teachers in the state:
|Grade Level/ Certification||Annual Mean Wage in PA (2017)|
|Early Education and Special Education||$64,280|
|Middle School and Special Education||$65,270|
|High School and Special Education||$64,470|
Pennsylvania Teacher Shortages
For the 2016-2017 academic year, the state of Pennsylvania had a statewide shortage of teachers in the following academic disciplines or subject matter:
PreK-12: Special Education
Nursery-12: Hearing Impaired, Speech and Language Impaired
Secondary: Foreign Language and Literature, Life and Physical Sciences
Grades 7-12: Mathematics
All levels: EL
Vocational Subjects: Building Maintenance, Business, Carpentry, Electronic, Health-Dental, Masonry, ROTC
In addition to the degree you hold, there are some other factors that influence a teacher’s salary, including geographic location. As you can see, the mean annual wage of teachers in 2015 was higher in the Philadelphia area than nationally.
Taking Your Education Career a Degree Further
After earning your bachelor’s degree and state teacher certifications, you may decide to go on to earn a master’s degree in education. If you’ve been teaching for a few years, a master’s degree in education administration could prepare you for the role of Principal or Vice Principal, or a master’s degree in special education can prepare you to offer specialized support to students if you’re looking for another way to make a difference in your school community, you might decide to pursue a master’s degree in school counseling.
Master’s degrees are generally at least 30 credits and can be taken online or in a traditional classroom setting. The number of classes you take at one time can determine the amount of time it takes you to complete your master’s degree.
No matter what degree you seek, as a teacher, you’re destined to be a lifelong learner. With every new subject or lesson you teach, your perspective will change and grow. Throughout your teaching career, there are going to be new strategies to try, new regulations to implement, and new research on how to better reach students. Communicating with fellow teachers, collaborating on lessons, and checking in with students will help you become the teacher you aspire to be.
At GMercyU's School of Education, we've compiled a team of dedicated professors who are committed to helping you hone your own superpowers on your quest to become a teacher. With tools such as the Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP) and student teaching, you will gain the hands-on experience needed to transform the lives of your students.
- Through GMercyU’s Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP), undergraduate education majors participate in classroom observations beginning in their very first semester on campus and then continue to gain valuable hands-on experience through pre-student and student teaching opportunities.
Ready to apply? Submit your application for admission today!