If you love education and want to become a teacher, going back to college for a teaching degree will set you up on an exciting and fulfilling career path.

Should You Go Back to College for a Teaching Degree?


  • Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers, offering long-lasting fulfillment.
  • Due to a growing teacher shortage, K-12 teachers are in high demand.
  • Most K-12 teachers make around $60,000 per year, though some earn over $90,000.
  • To become a teacher, you'll need a bachelor's degree and teacher certification.

There are approximately 3.7 million public and private elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States teaching more than 56 million students. That's a lot of teachers molding a lot of young lives.

Going back to school to be a teacher is a worthwhile pursuit for many. In this highly rewarding career, you'll serve as a role model and mentor while preparing the next generation of leaders, innovators, and inventors. You'll not only shape the lives of young people but also leave your mark on future generations.

The amount of influence one great teacher can have on their students is remarkable. We all remember our favorite teachers. They challenged us to think critically, they were passionate about the subject they taught, and they instructed in a way we could easily understand. They made learning something we looked forward to every day, rather than a daily chore.

As a teacher, you’ll not only shape the lives of young people but also leave your mark on future generations.

One of the best things about being a teacher is the variety of levels you can teach at, including preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and special education. You can also work in administration or pursue a graduate degree to teach at the college level.

Before you earn your teaching degree, you need to decide what type of educator you want to be. Would you rather work in the classroom or in an administrative capacity? Do you prefer teaching younger or older children? Do you want to focus on a particular subject? Do you want to work at a private or public school?

These are all questions you should be able to answer before making the decision to go back to college to become a teacher.

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Are Teachers Happy With Their Jobs?

The truth is that no one decides to become a teacher for the salary alone, and it can sometimes be a thankless job. But for the most part, overall teacher job satisfaction runs high. A 2019 poll of teachers by Philadelphia Magazine found that 86% of the teachers surveyed reported feeling satisfied or fulfilled by their job.

Similarly, a research study from the Colorado School of Mines revealed that teachers are happier in their jobs — and have more public respect — than workers in almost any other sector. This data backs up an earlier Gallup poll based on over 170,000 interviews. Teachers in that survey rated their lives better than all other job groups, trailing behind only physicians.

One of the most often reported sources of satisfaction for teachers is the "light bulb moment," or when something finally clicks with a student and they understand the concept being taught to them.


Will There Be Enough Teaching Jobs?

The simple answer is yes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of K-12 teachers is projected to grow 4% between 2019 and 2029, which is in line with the average for all jobs. But this number doesn't tell the whole story.

Teachers regularly switch professions, and many are expected to retire this decade. The BLS projects that 270,000 teachers will leave the occupation each year through 2026, including more than 100,000 elementary school teachers.

The BLS projects that 270,000 teachers will leave the occupation each year through 2026.

The coronavirus pandemic, combined with frustrations with distance learning, are persuading more teachers to retire early — a trend that will likely continue into the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, enrollment in college and university teaching programs has decreased significantly in recent years: Over one-fourth fewer students were enrolled in 2018 than in 2010. Some areas of the country are already experiencing a teacher shortage.

Due to the high demand for teachers in underserved areas, more than 20 states now offer a program or incentives to recruit high school students into the teaching profession. High-need areas include STEM subjects, special education, and foreign languages.

How Much Money Do Teachers Make?

Teacher salaries can vary dramatically by location and experience level. According to the BLS, median salaries for K-12 teachers run around $60,000; however, some experienced K-12 teachers make more than $90,000 a year, on par with the incomes of many college professors.

Teaching Level Median Salary (2019) Minimum Degree Required
College/University $79,540 Master's or doctorate
High School $61,660 Bachelor's
Special Education $61,030 Bachelor's
Middle School $59,660 Bachelor's
Kindergarten and Elementary School $59,420 Bachelor's
Preschool $30,520 Associate

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Some public school districts give teachers the option to spread out their salary over 12 months or get paid only during the months school is in session (usually late August or early September through late May or early June).

Average teacher salaries are highest in states along the West Coast and East Coast, including New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington.


The Biggest Pros and Cons of Becoming a Teacher

Pros

  • You'll serve as a role model and mentor
  • You'll help shape students' lives
  • You get to teach subjects you enjoy
  • You'll have summers off, along with extended holidays and break periods
  • You'll get day-to-day variety
  • You'll have good job security
  • You can continually learn from others and yourself
  • You'll build positive relationships with students and the community
  • You can teach just about anywhere
  • You may get pension benefits
  • You'll have a sense of camaraderie with your fellow teachers

Cons

  • Hours are often long
  • Classes can be large, making it hard to keep track of students
  • Some parents may be annoying and unreasonable
  • Workplace politics and bureaucracy can pose problems
  • You'll need lots of preparation time
  • Stress levels may be higher
  • It can be emotionally exhausting
  • Teachers are generally paid less than similarly educated workers
  • You'll be responsible for the safety and well-being of your students
  • You must meet standardized testing and evaluation benchmarks
  • You may have to pay for class supplies out of pocket

Requirements for Becoming a Teacher

If you wish to become a teacher, you'll need to possess certain skills and traits, in addition to a bachelor's degree and state licensure or certification. You can develop and hone many of these skills through jobs and your teaching degree program.

What Skills Should Aspiring Teachers Have?

  • Organization
  • Patience
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork
  • Technical skills
  • Ability to motivate
  • Enthusiasm
  • Time management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Dedication
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy
  • Leadership

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Teacher?

Those who want to become K-12 teachers have two options: pursue a degree in education at an accredited school, or major in the particular subject area they wish to teach.

There are many types of education degrees relating to different levels and specializations. These degrees vary by school but generally give students the opportunity to focus their studies on specializations like early childhood education, special education, education policy, educational leadership, elementary education, or secondary education. Many bachelor's in education programs are also available entirely online.

There are many types of education degrees relating to different levels and specializations.

The other road you can take to become a K-12 teacher is to earn a degree in the subject area you plan to teach, such as mathematics, biology, or English. A minor in education can complement your subject-focused major.

Once you've earned your undergraduate degree, you must meet your state's teaching certification requirements to be able to teach at public schools. This normally means taking an exam, passing a background check, and completing a student-teaching program.

Some schools or states may also require you to earn a master's degree in education or teaching. Many of these programs are available remotely. If you're interested in furthering your studies, you could even earn a doctorate in education. (Note that you'll always need at least a master's degree — more commonly a doctorate — if you wish to teach at the college level.)


2 Ways to Help Pay for Your Teaching Degree

Federal TEACH Grant

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant provides up to $4,000 a year that you don't have to repay, so long as the following qualifications are met:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen with demonstrated financial need
  • Have submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
  • Be enrolled in a participating institution as an undergraduate or graduate student
  • Meet minimum academic requirements (usually at least a 3.25 GPA)
  • Agree to work in a high-need field at a school that serves low-income students

Federal Pell Grant

Pell Grants are generally only available to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need; however, the Higher Education Act now allows certain students with bachelor's degrees to receive a Pell Grant when enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program.

Should You Go Back to College for a Teaching Degree?

If you're planning to change careers to become a teacher, you're not alone — not everyone gets their career path right the first time around. Many adults who already have degrees are going back to college. In fall 2019, 6.1 million college students (including graduate students) were over the age of 24.

And when it comes to teachers' ages specifically, you're unlikely to feel out of place. Department of Education data shows that U.S. teachers are an average of 42 years old. What's more, over half of teachers are between the ages of 30 and 49.

As you can see, age shouldn't be a factor if you're considering a career in teaching. Before you go back to college, though, make sure teaching is the right decision for you. Take time to weigh the pros and cons and get a sense of the skills you'll need to work on.

Becoming a teacher isn't a walk in the park, but as long as you are committed to the profession, have a deep love of learning, and are passionate about helping students realize their potential, it could be the most rewarding choice you've ever made.


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