How Long Does It Take To Become a Teacher?

Students at their desks raise their hands in a classroom setting.

Teaching is more than a profession. It’s a calling. And it demands passion, dedication, and a specific skill set and knowledge base. There are various paths that can be taken to enter the teaching profession, but each requires prospective teachers to gain the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed. 

Individuals who feel called to teach can learn how long it takes to become a teacher, how long it takes to earn a degree in education, and what degree paths are available for aspiring teachers at different life stages.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher in Early Education or Elementary School?

Early childhood educators typically teach preschool through second-grade students, while elementary educators teach kindergarten through eighth-grade students. These teachers may also be known as primary or intermediate school teachers. They help their students acquire the crucial educational foundation needed for lifelong learning.

Becoming an early childhood or elementary educator typically involves pursuing formal education, gaining practical experience, and acquiring specialized skills. The length of this journey can vary depending on the educational path the aspiring educator chooses, with the following key steps being common across most pathways:

1. Earn a Degree

Completing an education-focused degree program is the most common first step for those looking to become primary or intermediate school educators. All bachelor’s degree programs include practical teaching experience, the duration of which is explained in the next step.

A bachelor’s degree program specifically focused on early childhood education typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. The curriculum is designed to cover child development, educational psychology, and pedagogical methods.

A bachelor’s degree program in elementary education encompasses both general education courses and pedagogy, focusing on teaching methods, educational psychology, and subject-specific content relevant to the elementary curriculum. The duration of these programs is generally four years of full-time study. Teaching roles in high school settings also require a four-year bachelor’s degree in a teaching-focused field, such as a bachelor’s in secondary education.

For positions that don’t require a state teaching license or certificate, such as roles in many preschool and childcare settings, a two-year associate degree may suffice. However, state teaching licensure or certification, which requires earning a bachelor’s degree from a state-approved institution, is required for most teaching roles. 

Some prospective teachers who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a nonteaching field may choose to enter the teaching profession by earning a credential such as a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction or a Graduate Certificate in Curriculum and Instruction. These graduate programs can take one to two years to complete if pursued full time, though many educators opt for part-time study while working, which can extend the duration. 

2. Complete Student Teaching Requirements

As part of their bachelor’s degree curriculum, aspiring educators must fulfill a student teaching requirement. Student teaching provides hands-on experience in a classroom setting under the supervision of an experienced educator.

Student teaching typically spans three to four months, aligning well with a university semester and covering at least one full academic quarter in K-12 schools. This duration allows student teachers to practice planning, instructing, and grading while also developing a comprehensive understanding of classroom dynamics. Some states and programs may opt for shorter periods, such as eight to 10 weeks, but a full semester, 12 to 16 weeks, is more common to meet the expectations of both educational institutions and K-12 schools​.

Each teacher training program has its own requirements and schedules for student teaching, so students need to consult with their academic advisor or program coordinator to find out the exact expectations and duration for their specific program.

3. Secure State Licensure

Upon completing their degree program, aspiring educators must obtain certification or licensure to teach in public schools, a process that varies by state. This typically requires passing a series of exams that assess both subject matter competency and knowledge of teaching practices. Some states also mandate a background check. 

The certification process can take additional months beyond the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree.

4. Pursue an Advanced Certification or a Specialization

Educators looking to specialize or advance in their careers may pursue an additional certification or endorsement in an area such as special education, English as a second language (ESL), or educational leadership. 

These programs vary in length, from a few months to several years, depending on the nature of the specialization and the mode of study.

5. Complete Continuing Education and Professional Development Requirements

Many states and school districts mandate ongoing professional development for early childhood educators and elementary educators through the completion of a specified amount of continuing education units (CEUs) every five years to maintain their license and stay current with educational practices.

Some states also require that teachers earn a master’s degree within a certain number of years after their initial certification. 

Factors Affecting the Timeline From School to Teaching

The journey to becoming a teacher traditionally begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in education for those who wish to enter the classroom directly after college. This degree is paired with obtaining a teaching license or certificate, a crucial step that involves passing specific exams and completing a predetermined number of teaching hours under supervision. 

The exact timeline for completing these necessary steps can vary due to several factors. In particular, a student’s enrollment status has a big effect on how quickly they can earn their education degree and meet all the additional requirements for becoming a teacher.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment

Choosing part-time study can extend the amount of time it takes for students to earn their degree but offers flexibility for individuals balancing other life commitments. Conversely, full-time students can immerse themselves in their studies and progress swiftly toward their teaching careers.

Online vs. In-Person Learning

With the rise of online education, aspiring teachers now have unprecedented flexibility in terms of when and where they learn. Online education degree programs cater to individual students’ unique needs, allowing them to complete their studies while also managing their personal and professional responsibilities. This flexibility ensures that more individuals can pursue their passion for teaching without compromising on the quality of their education.

Advanced Degree

While earning a Master of Education (MEd) degree can further enhance a teacher’s skills and career prospects, it requires an additional one to two years beyond the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree. This advanced study can lead to specialization in an area such as curriculum design, counseling, educational technology, or administration.

Additional Resources to Explore

To pursue this career path effectively, prospective teachers should access and review current research and guidelines from professional organizations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Additionally, prospective educators should learn about the standards set by the educational institution, school district, and state where they hope to work. They can visit the websites of reputable educational institutions and the U.S. Department of Education for the most current curriculum standards, certification requirements, and teaching practices.

Begin Your Career in Teaching

Pursuing a career in teaching offers numerous rewards, including the deep personal fulfillment that comes from making a difference in young children’s lives. Moreover, the demand for qualified teachers makes it a stable career choice. With opportunities for growth through further education and the potential to work in various educational settings, teaching is a career that promises both diversity and dynamism.

To learn more about becoming a teacher, including how long it takes to become a teacher, explore Mid-America Christian University’s online, hybrid, and on-campus education degree programs, including the Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education, Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, and Master of Education in School Counseling programs. Learn how we can get you ready to thrive as an educator.

The amount of time it will take for you to become a teacher will depend on the path and mode of study you choose. However, the impact you can have as a teacher is immeasurable. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to advance your career, there has never been a better time to step into the world of teaching. Let us help you turn your passion into a rewarding career that changes lives every day. Join us, and be the change you wish to see in the world.