You may already know that you want to become a teacher after you graduate from college. What you may not already know is that you don't necessarily need to be an education major to do so. While that is a fine way to pursue your goals, choosing a different undergraduate degree can give you the perspective and subject-area expertise that can enrich your teaching career. Not to mention, many people become educators after working in other industries.
Regardless of what you end up studying as a college student, to become a teacher you must earn a teaching certification. Here are some of the majors you might consider.
As an education major you will explore what education entails and how to improve it, often with a focus on public K-12 education. This means you'll study human and child development; the history, theory and purpose of public education; how it is delivered; the systems, institutions, policies and structural inequalities that impact educational outcomes for children and more. You may also be able to choose specializations like early childhood education, special education or specific subjects like social studies or biology. If you plan to teach high school or above, such a specialization might be your best option.
There's always a high demand for teachers who have a background in science, technology, engineering and math, since there tend to be teacher shortages in these areas. In fact, some alternative teacher certification programs are aimed specifically at those who have a STEM background.
Since you'll be working with children, learning about child development and human behavior can help you understand and manage the challenges that you'll inevitably face as a teacher. This is especially true if you work with special needs children, in underserved communities, or in a guidance or mentoring role.
Like psychology, this major provides you with a deep understanding of family and community dynamics, which can be a great asset when working in a school setting. This experience can be particularly helpful if you are interested in being a guidance counselor or working on the administrative side of education.
Majoring in history will help you develop a well-rounded knowledge of ancient and modern civilizations, government, geography and more. While these subjects are all key building blocks needed to become a social studies teacher in particular, a history degree is a great precursor to any teaching specialty. Why? Because if we don't understand our past, it's difficult to make much sense of our present.
Because literacy is such an important part of the K-12 curriculum, English majors are uniquely situated to be great classroom teachers. As a student of English literature you will spend your days learning to write and communicate effectively, think critically, analyze texts, conduct research and build logical arguments—all key skills for your future students, too.
General Tips to Becoming a Teacher
- Clarify your state's licensing requirements for teaching. Generally speaking, plan to earn a bachelor's degree and complete a required teacher preparation program, which may include spending a set amount of hours as a student teacher. From there, you'll have to pass a criminal background check and then pass at least one certification exam. There are also alternative teaching programs that are designed to fast track career changers into the teaching profession.
- Consider graduate school. If you plan to make teaching your lifelong career, you may want to earn a master's degree to rise in the ranks and earn a higher salary.
- Embrace your love of learning. In addition to fulfilling your teaching license requirements, use your elective credits to pursue your interests and gain expertise in the subjects you want to someday teach. The best teachers are the ones who are most passionate about their subject areas.
Becoming a teacher is a big educational commitment, so it's important to choose a field of study that really gets your heart racing. The reward is that once you become certified, you'll begin a challenging and gratifying career that allows you to share all of your hard-earned knowledge.