Henry Brooks Adams once wrote, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Truly great teachers can be transformative and inspirational, but they must also understand how to best reach and teach a wide breadth of students from a diversity of backgrounds. Patience and passion may seem innate, but practical, day-to-day teaching skills are usually honed through a teaching degree program.
Teacher training: How to become a teacher
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) reports that all public elementary, middle and high school teachers must earn at least a bachelor's degree. Preschools may require less training, while colleges usually require a master's degree or beyond. Some states even require a master's degree for high school level positions. Students usually earn degrees in fields related to whatever subject they hope to teach, but many colleges also offer more general teaching degree programs. Many students choose to enroll in a teacher training program at their college while earning their degree. According to the BLS, these programs provide students with guidance on how to present material, and how to work with students with a wide breadth of abilities and backgrounds.
The BLS reports that all states require public school K-12 teachers to be licensed to teach, though requirements vary by state. While all states require teachers to earn their degrees before certifying them, some states also require the completion of a certain number of supervised student teaching hours in the field. Still other states require a minimum grade point average. According to the BLS, licensure also generally requires passing a general teaching exam and an exam relevant to the subject he or she hopes to teach. Once licensed, teachers usually need to complete professional development courses to maintain certification.
Bachelor's degree holders who want to launch teaching careers, but studied in an unrelated field, can usually take an alternative route to certification. According to the BLS, all states offer programs specifically for these teaching hopefuls. While some programs require candidates to complete courses before they can assume a student-teacher position, others allow candidates to begin teaching right away -- under the supervision of a licensed educator -- and actually earn their certifications while gaining classroom experience. Note that while graduate-level degrees are not usually required, the additional training could improve one's salary or career potential down the road.
Completing teacher training online
Students who cannot or would rather not complete their teacher training in a traditional classroom may be able to enroll in online teaching degree programs. Students can usually choose between fully online programs and hybrid programs, which combine classroom and online instruction. Because most states require students to complete a certain number of hours as student teachers in a working classroom, even online exclusive programs usually require some face-to-face training. As with traditional colleges, online teaching degree programs can vary tremendously from one school to the next, and some cater to certain goals or learning styles more than others. It might be helpful for potential students to research a number of programs before enrolling in one.
Next steps: The career of a teacher
Teaching can be a demanding, but gratifying, profession. According to the College Board (collegeboard.org, 2012), the ideal teaching student is curious, creative, patient, flexible and tireless, not to mention compassionate. While a teaching degree program -- online or otherwise -- can provide many of the practical teaching basics, much of a teacher's training is really honed on the job, working directly with children. No two students or classes are the same, so it is important to adjust perspective -- and methods -- whenever necessary. While many educators choose to remain teachers, the BLS reports that others pursue additional training or certification to become school counselors, administrators or instructional coordinators.
Potential teaching students who want to learn more about how to become a teacher, or what it is really like to teach, are encouraged to contact their state teaching boards or a professional organization, such as the Association of American Educators (aaeteachers.org).