Going Back to College for a Teaching Degree

Earning a teaching degree can lead to a rewarding and in-demand career. Learn about earning potential, job outlook, and teacher satisfaction levels.

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by Marisa Upson

Published on April 28, 2022 · Updated on May 5, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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Going Back to College for a Teaching Degree
Image Credit: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images


Are you passionate about shaping the next generation and positively impacting young people's lives? Or maybe your interest in a particular subject compels you to share your knowledge. If you answered yes, going back to college for a teaching degree may lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career in teaching.

In the 2019-20 school year, there were about 3.2 million teachers in public schools and 0.5 million in private schools, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). These teachers educated almost 55 million students in preK-12 grades.

Nationwide, teachers are experiencing high demand due, in part, to the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and fewer students majoring in education programs.

What Is the Job Outlook for Teachers?

In 2022, a shortage of teachers has plagued cities and districts across the nation. The pandemic, and the associated stress and burnout, exacerbated an already existing shortage. According to a January 2022 National Education Association (NEA) survey, about 55% of its 3 million members reported they are more likely to leave or retire from education sooner than they planned.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that as of January 2022, 44% of public schools reported teaching vacancies. About 51% of these vacancies are due to resignations.

NCES reports that critically in-demand positions include special education, general elementary teaching, and substitute teachers. Additional long-term high-need areas are bilingual elementary teachers, English as a second language, and STEM educators.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 7% growth rate for elementary and middle school teachers and an 8% increase for high school teachers from 2020-2030. This amounts to a little over 250,000 job openings every year for K-12 teachers.

How Much Do Teachers Make?

Teachers' salaries vary dramatically based on the position and experience level. As the following table illustrates, the BLS reports that K-12 educators' median salaries in 2021 ranged from $61,320-$61,820. The median wage for special education teachers was $61,820 that year, while teachers at the postsecondary level earned a median salary of $79,640.

According to Payscale, entry-level pay for teachers averages about $43,000, while those with 20-plus years of experience earn an average of close to $63,000.

The location also has a tremendous impact on wages. For example, nationwide, elementary school teachers earn a median salary of $61,400. However, those in New York, California, and Massachusetts boast even greater earnings with average wages of $87,700, $86,470, and $83,790, respectively.

Due to the current staffing crisis, several states passed bills in 2022 to increase teachers' salaries. According to the New York Times, a few of these states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

Pay by Teaching Level
Teaching Level Median Salary (2021) Minimum Degree Required
College/University $79,640 Master's or doctorate
High School $61,820 Bachelor's
Special Education $61,820 Bachelor's
Middle School $61,320 Bachelor's
Kindergarten and Elementary School $61,350 Bachelor's
Preschool $30,210 Associate

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are Teachers Happy With Their Jobs?

Several surveys conducted throughout the years revealed that, despite the challenges, most teachers were happy with their career choice. For example, an NCES survey that used teacher responses from the 2003, 2007, and 2011 school years found 90-93% job satisfaction. A 2019 survey in Philadelphia found 86 out of 100 teachers very fulfilled by their jobs.

Then, the pandemic struck. Teachers found themselves adapting their lesson plans to online learning and, due to a shortage of substitute teachers, covering absent teachers' classes once in-person school resumed. About 80% of those questioned in the 2022 NEA survey reported unfilled job openings that led to more work, and 90% reported burnout as a serious problem.

The good news for prospective teachers is that demand is high. While the pandemic brought challenges to industries like education, hospitality, and healthcare, it also brought positive transformations. In 2021, at least 15 states increased teachers' salaries or proposed raising pay.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Teacher

Pros

  • Making a significant difference in students' lives and serving as a role model
  • Receiving benefits like healthcare, sick time, vacation pay, and retirement plans
  • Experiencing job security
  • Getting extended time off for summers and holidays
  • Connecting with staff members and other teachers
  • Continuing your education by continually learning and sharing your knowledge

Cons

  • Earning low wages relative to other college graduates
  • Dealing with challenging behavior management issues and lack of support from administrators
  • Experiencing unsupportive or overly critical parents
  • Spending your own money to buy classroom supplies in some school districts
  • Sitting through professional development training days regarding irrelevant topics
  • Taking work home, like grading papers or preparing lessons

How Do I Pursue a Teaching Degree?

Most teaching positions require at least a bachelor's degree. Prospective teachers may earn a degree in education or their subject area, such as math, history, or art. Many teaching programs concentrate on a specific grade level, such as elementary education. Secondary education programs typically offer specializations in content areas.

To ensure the highest standards in education and qualify for licensure, aspiring teachers should ensure that the education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

You'll also need to complete a teacher preparation program consisting of a set number of hours as a student teacher. All states require applicants to pass at least one certification exam and a criminal background check to apply for a teaching license.

For those with a bachelor's degree in another field, many states offer alternative teacher certification programs that allow you to teach while fulfilling missing requirements. Some students choose to earn an advanced degree in their area of interest, such as a master's in early childhood education.

If you're planning on making teaching a career, consider earning a master's in education. The NCES reports that in 2018, teachers with a master's degree earned over $13,000 more than those with a bachelor's degree, on average.

Basic Skills for Teachers

Should You Go Back to College for a Teaching Degree?

Before you decide to go back to college for a teaching degree, consider the time and effort it will take to finish your schooling, earn your credentials, and excel in your profession.

Prospective teachers may consider becoming a substitute teacher or volunteering at their local school to ensure they possess the passion and resilience required for this profession. Teaching is regarded as one of the best careers for ENFJ personality types.

Frequently Asked Questions About Going Back to School for a Teaching Degree

What degree is best to become a teacher? true

The best degree in teaching depends on what you would like to teach and at what grade level. At the preK-3 grade levels, aspiring teachers often major in early childhood education. Prospective elementary and high school teachers may major in elementary education or secondary education and specialize in core subjects like math, English, or biology.

Special education teachers can major or minor in special education. Most programs designed for educators include a teacher preparation program consisting of the required student teaching hours.

How long does it take to get a teaching degree? true

Generally, it takes a little over four years to earn your teaching degree and become a teacher. This includes the four years it usually takes to earn a bachelor's degree, complete the state-approved student teaching or teacher preparation program, and pass state-specific teacher certification tests.

Keep in mind that the time to completion varies based on full-time or part-time enrollment and the state where you earn your certification. Additionally, earning an online teaching degree may reduce the completion time. After passing tests and a criminal background check, prospective teachers apply for certification.

Aspiring teachers with a bachelor's in a different field may fulfill state requirements by attending a teacher preparation program. These programs can take 1-2 years to complete.

Can I get a teaching certificate without a degree? true

While every state sets its own rules for earning teacher certification, they all require that K-12 grade teachers hold at least a bachelor's degree. The minimum requirement to become a preschool teacher also varies, with some states and schools requiring an associate degree in early childhood education.

Additionally, some states and school districts offer emergency substitute teaching certificates that do not require substitute teachers to hold a degree. For example, in New Mexico you must be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and pass a background check.

Is it hard to get a job as a teacher?

The current teacher shortage and the growing concern that more educators may resign translates to high demand and available teaching roles. Additionally, fewer students are choosing to major in education. The Center for American Progress reported that enrollment in teacher preparation programs dropped by more than one-third when comparing 2018 enrollment to 2010.

The need for teachers varies by state, school district, subject, and grade level. For example, teaching positions with shortages include special education, elementary teachers, and substitute teachers.

Is becoming a teacher worth it?

If you're passionate about helping the next generation live up to their full potential and contributing to your community, a career as a teacher can be highly rewarding. You can also specialize in your area of interest — such as art, special education, or a foreign language — and continue to learn about your chosen field.

That said, if your prospective salary ranks as a top priority, you may want to consider another career. Several degrees offer higher starting salaries, such as computer science, nursing, and engineering. However, if you feel called to spend your days teaching, planning lessons, and helping students, becoming a teacher may be your best career choice.

Ready to teach online? We offer 10 tips for successful online teaching. Find out what questions to ask when searching for high-quality online schools, and get expert tips on how to determine the quality of an online program. Student teaching is an unpaid professional experience that gives you the opportunity to develop your skills as an educator. Learn more about how it works.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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