Complete Guide to an Online Teaching Degree
Teaching can be an extremely fulfilling career; it's not unusual for a great teacher to influence a student's entire life path. To become a teacher, you will first need to complete an undergraduate degree, and then earn a teaching license. In all US states, public school teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree, as well as a valid teaching license.
It's very important to enroll in a teaching degree program that is recognized by the state in which you wish to work. Many states require teachers to have a degree that has been accredited by either the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), or the more recently formed Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Associate degrees in teaching are best for students who want to begin in a community college before transferring to a four-year university. Students will take general education courses, such as math, composition, and English, as well as basic teaching courses in curriculum, instruction, and evaluation. Students earning bachelor's degrees will take similar classes, but they will take more of them and further develop their teaching skills. Course options may include technology, teaching students of diverse populations, working with students who have learning disabilities, and developing creative teaching techniques. Many undergraduate students are required to study a foreign language.
Graduate degrees give students the chance to pursue a specialization of their choice. Master's degrees in teaching can feature subject-specific specializations (such as mathematics), age-specific specializations (such as middle school education), and areas like technology or educational leadership. To begin most master's degree programs, students are required to submit undergraduate transcripts and letters of recommendation. Some master's in teaching programs also require applicants to have professional classroom experience and Praxis exam scores. Doctoral degree programs in teaching are intended for people who want to master a specific area of education, like special education, and write a dissertation on the topic.
Choosing a high-need teaching area can make it easier to find a teaching position once you're on the job market. For kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school teachers, English as a second language (ESL) and special education will be high-need areas. For high school teachers, math, science, ESL, and special education teachers will typically have better-than-average job opportunities.
Comprehensive List of Online Colleges & Universities for a Teaching Degree
Associate degrees in teaching are intended to provide students with an introduction to the teaching profession, and they can be a first step in the process of becoming a professional educator. Although the minimum requirement to become a teacher is a bachelor's or master's degree, an associate degree can be a good introduction for students who aren't ready to commit to a four-year degree or who would like to complete the general education requirements at a community college and then transfer to a bachelor's degree program. Admission to an associate degree program requires a high school diploma or GED.
An associate degree in teaching introduces students to a number of foundational courses, such as English composition, math, history, and social sciences. The program may also offer classes in the humanities and fine arts. Introductory exposure to these liberal arts courses helps students build professional skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving. Once the core general education courses have been completed, students may choose electives in areas such as early childhood education, English Language Learners (ELL), special education, or physical education. Most four-year teaching programs have a minimum grade point requirement for the associate-level courses that students would like to transfer.
A bachelor's degree in teaching covers the foundational concepts necessary to nurture and instruct students. Students learn about the history of the education system, child and adolescent psychology, and instructional methods for different subjects. Depending on the curriculum, this degree takes four to five years to earn when students are enrolled full time. Applicants to bachelor's teaching programs must have a high school diploma or GED and a strong interest in education and teaching.
A bachelor's degree in teaching most naturally leads to a career in teaching. Teachers work with students between the ages of 5 and 18. Some bachelor's in teaching programs have certification options. Students complete a student-teaching apprenticeship and take any exams required in their state to earn their licenses at the same time they graduate with a bachelor's degree. This option may require additional coursework, as well. Prospective teachers should consult their state's certification requirements before pursuing a degree program, as some states require graduate training for secondary school teachers. In these states, the bachelor's may only be sufficient for instruction at the K-6th grade level. Prospective distance education students should also pay close attention to which online teaching degrees are state-approved for those seeking licensure.
Teacher education bachelor's degrees combine training in education methods, teaching theory, social science, and the instructional content area. For example, an elementary education major would take classes in early childhood development, instructional techniques for young children, and the history of elementary education in the United States. They would also take content area classes in the instruction of multiple subjects, like social studies, math, science, and reading. Specific teaching courses cover topics like curriculum development, lesson planning, student evaluation, and classroom management.
Teaching majors in middle school or high school education have a slightly different type of training during the bachelor's program. While they also take classes in psychology, sociology, and education theory, they concentrate in one subject area rather than taking classes in multiple subjects. For example, a student who wanted to instruct math at the secondary school level would take upper-division math classes like college algebra and ordinary differential equations. They would also take several classes in math instruction.
The master’s degree in teaching is a professional preparation program designed for educators entering the preK-12 school system. These degrees train future teachers in the instruction and classroom management skills necessary to earn state certification. Master’s programs take about two years to complete and require approximately 15 courses. Applicants need an accredited bachelor’s degree, along with experience working with youth.
The curriculum in the teaching master’s combines courses in education theory and psychology with a firm understanding of instructional approaches. The required classes in these programs will depend on the student’s teaching specialization area; students choose a particular grade level and focus within that grade level. For example, an elementary education major with a focus in literacy would take courses in childhood development, language acquisition, and reading curriculum design. A secondary education major with a focus in math would take courses in methods for teaching algebra, geometry, and calculus.
Besides online graduate courses for teachers, all accredited education degrees have student teaching requirements, which can account for up to 50 percent of the work in the program. This fieldwork places teaching students in real-world classrooms so that they can actually use the teaching techniques they learned in the degree program. Students typically complete several fieldwork experiences. In early practicums, student teachers observe experienced teachers and their instructional skills. In later practicums, student teachers actually instruct courses. Experienced teachers offer critiques and advice to student teachers on improving their teaching style.
The master’s in teaching is typically used to meet the state requirements for instruction in a public school setting. Graduates can go on to gain employment in preschool, elementary, middle, and secondary private and public institutions. There are also other master's level programs for teachers who are already certified but who wish to continue their education in order to be eligible for post-secondary teaching opportunities or in order to further specialize in area like literacy or curriculum and instruction.
Doctoral degrees in teaching are designed for educators interested in pursuing a career in academic leadership. There are two degree options for those who wish to study instructional planning and teaching at this level: a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is an option suited for people interested in curriculum design and research, and a Doctor of Education (EdD), which is the option tailored for people who prefer to work as school staff members and administrators.
Admission requirements for either type of degree program vary by school. Though schools generally require applicants to have an undergraduate degree, teaching credentials, and GRE scores, some schools may additionally require applicants to have a master's degree. This affects the length of the doctoral degree program. These programs can require between 50 to 90 credit hours of study and take three to five years to complete.
Whichever degree option you choose, as a doctoral degree student in education, you can expect to take courses in such subjects as literacy education, instructional styles, and research methodology. Students in PhD programs might also take coursework in statistics. As part of a doctoral program, you will initiate research projects and complete a paper known as a dissertation on a topic of interest. EdD students might also find that their online schools will place them in a fellowship at a traditional university in order to put their research into practice.
Students who complete PhD programs in teaching are likely to pursue careers at colleges and universities, where they can educate future teachers and find resources to further their research. EdD graduates often find their path in elementary and secondary school administration, where they can directly influence an educational setting.
The graduate teaching certificate is generally used to fulfill the state requirements to sit for the teacher licensing exam necessary to become a certified educator. Postbaccalaureate teacher certification is designed to train future teachers in the education theory, curriculum design, and instructional skills to teach in K-12 settings. Successful graduates can enter K-12 teaching roles in both public and private schools.
Certification requires 10 to 20 courses and hands-on teaching practicums. These programs generally take one to two years to complete, depending on the applicant’s previous education coursework. Applicants for primary education certificates need an accredited bachelor’s degree in any discipline, while secondary education certificates generally require the bachelor’s degree to be in the particular subject area that the student plans to teach.
The curriculum in the teaching certificate is designed to cover state standards for teaching in the public school system. The particular classes required will depend on the student’s desired teaching area, whether that be becoming a kindergarten teacher, or pursuing a career in elementary, middle, secondary, or special education. Foundational courses in most programs discuss topics like childhood development, history of the education system, and strategies for teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Besides the general social science and education theory topics, students also study instructional skills for their particular educational area. Future elementary education teachers learn instruction and curriculum development for all subject areas, while secondary education majors learn the skills for teaching a particular subject, such as chemistry, world history, or economics. All online teacher certification programs require that students participate in on-site supervised teaching practicums in a real school setting.
In order to have the best opportunities for success in the teaching profession, it's in a student's best interest to attend a degree program that has been carefully evaluated and vetted by an accreditation agency. To ensure that educators have received an adequate education themselves, most states require teaching license applicants to have an accredited bachelor's or master's degree. Most teaching degree programs are regionally accredited by one of six accrediting boards. Students can check the accreditation status of any school by visiting the national US Department of Education website.
There is also a national accrediting board that specifically evaluates and advocates for teacher training programs called the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP is a consolidation of two previous teaching program accreditation agencies, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Current TEAC- and NCATE-accredited programs will phase out their old accreditor designations when they are due for accreditation review. Check out your state's teacher licensing board to make sure that any degree program you are considering meets their requirements.
A teaching certification, also known as a teaching license, is required in all states for public school teachers. To earn a teaching license, you will need to complete an approved teacher training program and pass your state's teaching exam. All states require a teaching certificate, but the rules for earning this credential are different in each state.
In some states, an education bachelor's degree is the shortest option. These four-year degrees include practice teaching experience and result in a teaching certificate. In other states, students need a postbaccalaureate teaching certificate. This means that people enter a teacher preparation program after completing a bachelor's degree. Postbaccalaureate teaching certificates take one to two years to finish. In these states, it takes five to six years of preparation to become a teacher.
Other states require public school teachers to have a master's degree. Master's programs in teaching take two years to complete when students enroll full time. These programs often require education research and a thesis, along with teacher training. Private schools set their own rules for teacher training. In some cases, these schools may require only a bachelor's degree. Others require the same teacher certificates required by public schools.
In some states, it is possible to enter the teaching profession without a teaching license, provided that you meet the requirements of an alternative certification program. For example, in some states where there is a shortage of math and science teachers, people with a degree in these subjects can work toward their teaching license while they teach in a public school classroom. The National Center for Alternative Certification has more information about alternative certification opportunities.
Many states require a final exam before candidates can earn the teaching license. This may be the Praxis II test, or an exam developed by your state. The certification board may also require a criminal background check and drug test. Visit Teach.org and the National Education Association to learn more about specific state requirements for becoming a teacher.
- American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://abcte.org.
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://caepnet.org.
- High School Teachers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed June 7, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm.
- Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed June 7, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm.
- Licensing and Certification Requirements. TEACH. org. Accessed June 6, 2014. https://www.teach.org/teaching-certification.
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www.nbpts.org.
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www.ncate.org.
- Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www.teac.org.
- Postsecondary Teachers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed June 7, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm.
- PRAXIS Series. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www.ets.org/praxis.
- Regional and National Institutional Accrediting Agencies. US Department of Education. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg6.html#RegionalInstitutional.
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