Becoming a teacher expresses dedication to making a difference in the lives of children. While some choose to become teachers at a young age, others realize later in life that becoming a teacher is their true calling. Either way, the steps to becoming a teacher take time, and require you to temporarily prioritize your education over other things in your life. Whether you have dreamed of being a teacher since childhood or are changing careers, Noodle can help you explore an alternative teacher certification process and determine how to get a teaching degree fast.

Traditional path to the classroom

Each state has its own process and requirements for teacher certification. Traditionally, prospective teachers hold a bachelor's degree in education — or in the subject they will teach — from accredited institutions. Many states require teachers to complete a post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program in addition to earning their bachelor's degrees in education. These programs usually take one year to complete. They are often referred to as fifth-year programs, because they are completed immediately following four-year baccalaureate programs.

If you live in a state that requires a teacher preparation program to qualify for a teaching license, you may consider an integrated program, which combines your bachelor's degree in education with a teacher preparation program, allowing you to finish both programs in just four years. For example, California pushed for an expansion of integrated programs in 2016 to address the state’s teacher shortage crisis.

Once all of the educational requirements are satisfied, a prospective teacher must pass any state-required exams and submit an application for a teaching certificate. Once the application is approved, that individual is officially a state-certified teacher. Teachers typically have to go through a temporary license process before obtaining their permanent licenses, but these certification regulations differ by state.

Alternative ways to become a teacher

A non-traditional method for becoming a teacher can be found in the alternative certification process . This is the fastest way to get a teaching certificate if your bachelor's degree is in a subject other than education. Alternative certification provides pedagogy training to supplement your bachelor's degree and prepare you for the classroom. This is useful for career changers, because it mitigates the necessity of completing a master's degree or secondary bachelor's degree.

Alternative certification programs are similar to post-baccalaureate teacher preparation programs. They can be taken at colleges or universities, or, for students who need flexibility due to family or career demands, through online transitional programs.

Alternative programs also help schools fill critical teacher shortages. From 2009 to 2014, U.S. enrollment in teacher education programs dropped by 35 percent, largely due to budget cuts and layoffs resulting from a suffering economy. By 2015, stories began to surface that there were teacher shortages across the country. According to the Learning Policy Institute, nearly 8 percent of the workforce continues to leave teaching positions each year — most of them before retirement age. Some school districts are getting so desperate to fill vacancies that they are placing uncertified teachers in the classroom; the worst of these situations can be seen in Oklahoma, Texas, Alaska, and Illinois. Thus, an alternative certification provides a path for eager prospective teachers to quickly prepare; this can mitigate severe shortages.

Alternative certification program vs. master's degree

An alternative certification program is not a master's degree, unless it is specified as such. An alternative certification program is considered a post-baccalaureate certificate, which is a great way to enhance your education once you have completed your bachelor's degree. Some universities do, however, offer a fast track teaching program for those students who wish to complete their teaching credential program and earn a master's degree at the same time. These programs consists of all the units needed to prepare for a teaching credential, in addition to master's level coursework. The curriculum will qualify students for teacher licensure, and will award them with a master's; however, such programs tend to take much longer to complete than certification-only programs.

Many states offer a pay raise to teachers once they have obtained a master's-level degree, and some even require this credential after a certain number of years of teaching. So there are many benefits to completing a combination certification and master’s program. However, if your goal is to become a teacher as quickly as possible, it may be advantageous to complete the teaching certification program first, begin teaching, and then pursue your master's degree once you have secured a job. In fact, it is common for teachers to finish their master's degrees within their first couple of years of teaching. This route will also give you the opportunity to test the waters and determine whether you want to specialize your master's program.

Learn more about the difference between a Master's in Education vs. Master's in Teaching.

Degree and licensure requirements for teachers in the U.S.

In the United States, public school teachers must have a bachelor's degree or higher. Ideally, teachers will have a bachelor's degree in education or a subject that is taught in K-12 schools. Majoring in a specific subject, such as English, mathematics, or history, is a great way to become specialized and have a positive educational impact on students — especially if you hope to teach college preparatory courses. If you have a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, you can satisfy the necessary credits and enter the classroom by completing a teacher preparation program through a university or community college.

A state-issued teaching certificate is also required to teach in public schools in the United States. Teaching certificates are obtained by satisfying the degree, coursework, and exam requirements of the state in which you plan to teach. Some states require prior experience, such as student teaching, in order to be qualified for a teaching certificate. Student teaching is often part of a bachelor's in education curriculum, or built into the teacher preparation program.

If you are already a credentialed educator and are interested in moving to a different state, read Noodle’s advice on Teaching Reciprocity.

Steps to obtaining teacher certification

Each state has its own laws and policies surrounding the teacher certification process, but the general steps to becoming a teacher are very similar across the country. Although some states may have unique requirements, this outline provides an overview of steps you must take to become an educator in the United States:

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor's degree in education, teaching, or the specific subject you wish to teach from an accredited institution.

Step 2: Research your state's licensure requirements, and, if necessary, complete a teacher preparation program. Some states allow a teacher to become licensed without completing additional training beyond a bachelor's degree, while others require teacher preparation courses even if the bachelor's degree was in an education-related field.

Step 3: Take and receive a passing score on all of your state’s required basic skills exams.

Step 4: Submit an application to obtain a teacher certification for the state in which you wish to teach.

Fastest way to get a teaching degree without a bachelor's in education

If you do not yet have a bachelor's degree, the fastest way for you to become a teacher is by completing your bachelor's degree in education. However, if you already have a bachelor's degree in a non-related field, don’t worry! There are some fast track teaching certification programs that can help you get into your own classroom as quickly as possible.

It is important to ensure that the program you choose follows state guidelines for teacher preparation. Prior to committing to a program, check with your state's Department of Education to ensure they approve of the alternative certification program you have chosen.

Below we have provided various alternative certification programs that will get you on track to becoming a teacher.

Teach for America (2 years). Teach for America provides all of the necessary training and curriculum for you to become a licensed teacher. As a Teach for America corps member, you commit to teaching in a low-income area somewhere in the U.S. for a minimum of two years. Throughout the process, you are provided classroom training and support, and are linked with the necessary entities to become fully certified. To apply for this highly selective program, you must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5, and must be a citizen, national/legal resident, or a DACA recipient.

American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (less than 1 year). The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence allows you to complete a teacher certification program entirely online. This credential complies with teaching certification laws in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin. Once enrolled, you have up to one year to complete the program, but the courses are designed to be completed on your own time, at your own pace. You must have a bachelor's degree and pass a background check in order to be eligible. Once you complete the program, you are recommended to be certified as a teacher, and can proceed with the credentialing process in your state. This program features a free trial to ensure that it is the best fit for you.

Teach-Now (9 months). Teach-Now offers an online teacher certification program for Washington D.C. and Arizona that is designed to be completed in nine months. The curriculum takes students through intensive, comprehensive modules, and synchronous, virtual classes, with 10 to 15 students in each cohort. Students complete projects and clinical activities asynchronously outside of scheduled sessions.

iTeach (6 months). With programs in Texas, Louisiana, Nevada, and Hawaii, iTeach offers an online teacher preparation program that can be completed at your own pace, although coursework must be completed within six months. Following the training and testing period of the program, you will get the chance to teach in a classroom for a full school year, during which time you will receive a salary and full benefits.

There are many other state-level teacher certification programs that prepare you to become a teacher in your region. Once you are certified, Noodle offers addition advice on the many different Career Paths from which you can choose. Noodle also provides guidance on What Grade to Teach. Furthermore, the Learning Policy Institute provides an excellent resource for states that have the largest shortage. Their report on the 2015-16 school year outlines the number of Uncertified Teachers and Teacher Vacancies throughout the country.

Other ways to start teaching right away

If you want to start teaching before you begin an alternative certification program, there are a few other options to consider. If you have your bachelor's degree and have passed the necessary exams, you may consider becoming a substitute teacher. This is a fast way to get in the classroom, and allows you to make sure that teaching is something you really want to do long-term. Another option is to work with your school district to obtain an emergency credential for a position that has proved hard-to-fill, or to participate in a teacher internship program. You may also consider teaching at a private school, since private school teachers are not required to have teaching credentials. Teaching at a private school may also satisfy prior experience requirements in some states, and will get you closer to becoming fully certified.

Don't let the desire to teach pass you by

For more detailed information on how to become a teacher in a high-demand area, visit Noodle's collection of posts on how to Get Certified. Once you hit the classroom, you might want to seek additional supports. Noodle understands how overwhelming life can be as a new teacher, especially in the first year, so we have some additional tips for How to Manage Stress as a Teacher.

If you have the desire and motivation to teach, it can happen for you — regardless of what subject you studied as an undergraduate. Do not be discouraged by the requirement for additional education through the alternative certification program. The demand for teachers in the U.S. means that school districts are looking for people just like you. You will have plenty of options and support in seeking the quickest way to become a teacher.

Lizzie Perrin

Lizzie is a writer and content marketer, with experience in education, finance, public policy, and leadership. She earned a bachelor's degree in communication from UC Davis and a master's degree in public administration from CSU Bakersfield. Lizzie is also a musician and lives in California with her husband and son.