The Fastest Ways to Get a Teaching Degree

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Day-to-day life is busy, especially for teachers looking to further their own education. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible — or even unlikely — to earn a degree. There are several courses of action and common questions, which will be reviewed below, including how to get a teaching degree fast.

In addition to industry-specific skills, researchers say that lifelong learning is tied to psychological and social benefits. For teachers, that means more than a strong professional foundation and career advancement opportunities.

In fact, a study from the Pew Research Center found that 87% of survey respondents (people who advanced their education in the most recent calendar year) said they felt more capable and overall more well-rounded as a result of completing courses. Others cited new perspectives, strong personal connections and a drive to get more involved in volunteer work.

Keep reading to learn more about specific processes and options to advance your career with a teaching degree.

Standard Timeline to Pursue a Teaching Degree

Landing a teaching job requires a degree and certification, collectively earned over a matter of years. Specifications vary by state, but these are the basic requirements:

Bachelor’s degree

Employers typically prefer to hire teachers who have earned a bachelor’s degree in education. But a teaching career is not out of the question if your degree is in another subject area. This degree traditionally takes four years to complete.

State-specific teacher education program

Specific requirements to become a teacher vary by state, district and grade level. However, all U.S. public schools require teachers to pass a licensure exam to become certified to teach. Though candidates with bachelor’s degrees may be eligible to earn their teaching license, some schools still prefer candidates to be working toward their master’s degree or a teaching certificate.

Background check

Every U.S. state has enacted its own laws surrounding whether K-12 educators need to undergo criminal background checks. Schools are able to screen applicants with the assistance of state and federal sources of criminal data, including law enforcement records and the FBI Interstate Identification Index. The latter is an automated system that allows the shared use of arrest and conviction information. More information about background checks can be found here.

General teacher certification or licensure exam

A teaching certificate, alternately called a license or credential depending on location, is needed to become a teacher. Here you can find a state-by-state guide compiled by federal education officials.

Subject test for desired classroom topic

If you plan to teach a specific subject, such as mathematics, history or English, state-specific subject tests may be necessary. Check with your state’s board of education for requirements.

How to Get a Teaching Degree on an Accelerated Timeline

Not all teachers follow the traditional path to earning a degree. Those already working, or who simply want to begin working sooner, have options such as the following:

  • USD’s 100% online master of education degree is designed for K-12 teachers actively working in the field of education and can be completed in just 20 months. Applicants can have varying classroom backgrounds, from public districts to charter schools and independent or non-traditional schools, but should apply with at least two years of experience.
  • Certificate programs can prepare teachers to specialize in a certain subject area. USD offers a multitude of programs, covering subjects as specific as international school counseling, effective classroom management solutions, bullying prevention and mental health first response. Review the latest topics being covered here.
  • Internships or first-hand experience in a school district is another way to start your teaching career. Use your professional network to find opportunities to volunteer or help out in order to learn more about the needs of a specific school district.

Alternative Certifications

Alternative preparation programs are intended for nonteachers to begin a career in the classroom. In 2015-16, approximately 18% of public school teachers entered the field through an alternative route to certification program, according to a national study. These types of programs are offered as state, district or university programs.

Research shows that perception of this option has changed in recent years. In the 1990s, certification programs were strictly considered a way to meet demand for qualified teachers. Now, such programs are designed to recruit mid-career professionals looking to transition to the educational setting, for example, from STEM work.

Programs are all uniquely structured, but here are some options:

  • Transition to Teaching, a government-backed program intended to recruit and retain high-quality mid-career professionals, such as paraprofessionals, as teachers in high-need schools.
  • Emergency and provisional teaching, granted when classroom roles need to be filled but a candidate has yet to complete their degree or teacher certification. The National Council on Teacher Quality maintains a geographic breakdown of requirements by state.
  • In-district training, in which first-hand work experience is gained while formal education is underway.
  • Equivalency or portfolio review, allowing people in some states to substitute licensure testing with a portfolio showing teacher preparation efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions

How fast can I get a teaching degree?

A teaching degree can be earned in less than two years. USD’s MEd program offers courses exclusively online and delivered in an asynchronous format for maximum flexibility. It takes 20 months to complete.

What are some course topics I can expect?

The guiding principles for USD’s MEd online courses are in line with the USD School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ core values of diversity, inclusion, and social justice; excellence in teaching; care for the whole person and common home; community engagement; and excellence in scholarship. Students can choose a specialization in STEAM, curriculum and instruction, inclusive learning, leadership and technology and innovation.

Is there a difference between completing a program and becoming certified?

It is possible to complete a program without becoming certified. The certification process involves taking, and passing, a test that will gauge your knowledge of subject material.

What criteria should I consider when choosing an advanced degree program?

Take into account your personal and professional goals, both short- and long-term, when you’re in the research phase of choosing an advanced degree program. Faculty and networking opportunities are also important, in addition to whether you can financially afford a program and balance it with any existing responsibilities.

Now that you’re familiar with some different ways to get a teaching degree, consider which option works best with your personal circumstances. For more guidance, get the free USD eBook, “Top 11 Reasons To Earn Your Master of Education Degree.”

Top 11 Reasons to get Your Master of Education Degree

Free 22-page Book