Thoughts of school immediately bring to mind the fundamentals: reading, writing and arithmetic. These are essential building blocks in the foundation of an education that opens up limitless opportunity. Those who find the art of words, the craft of writing and the infinite world that opens through reading compelling, are ideal candidates to become English teachers.
All states in the US require at least a bachelor’s degree in order to become a teacher, and in some states additional education is required. You’ll want to research the specific requirements that your state sets in order to teach, but you’ll probably find that one of these processes are required:
Get a bachelor’s degree in education. If you want to be an English teacher, there will be a requirement established for the amount of credit hours you need to in your specialty area in order to be qualified to teach English. Somewhere between 30 and 45 credit hours in the area of English is common.
Or, complete a post-baccalaureate program to get your teaching credential. In other states, you might complete a short program (typically 1-2 years worth of full-time coursework equivalent) that teaches you teaching principles and practices. If your existing bachelor’s degree is not in English but that is the subject you want to teach, your state will likely have established a minimum course of study within the subject to qualify you to teach it.
Or, complete the endorsement process if you already have a relevant bachelor or master’s degree. If you have a degree in English, English Literature, Comparative Literature or Writing, you may qualify for an endorsement credential where your existing degree is allowed to meet the education requirement. Your state may still require supplemental coursework to teach education principles.
Educations also vary depending on the type of teaching you want to do. If you are passionate about the area of English, reading, writing and literature, you may choose to pursue a single-subject credential that allows you to focus in that area. A single-subject credential allows a graduate to teach in middle or high-schoolsin a specialty area, while multiple subject credentials allow a graduate to teach in elementary schools.
While learning education theory and practical instruction guidelines are required of all teachers, the orientation of these subjects is different for different ages and the education programs are oriented to ensure that a graduate is well-qualified both for the subject and grades he or she wishes to teach. A graduate with a teaching credential or certification with an emphasis in English will still teach all instructional subjects if he or she pursues a multiple-subject credential to teach elementary or primary grades.
It is also important to research the specific program you are considering to ensure that it is approved by your state to qualify you to become a teacher. Some states establish individual qualification criteria, some require that a school be accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), and some require that both state and NCATE approval are required.
2. Take the Required Teaching Exam
Almost all states require that tests are passed in order to receive a credential, license or certification. There are two types of tests: basic skills tests look at the general areas of academic ability (reading, writing, mathematics, basic history, etc), and then there are subject area tests that assess the qualifications in a specialty - to become an English teacher you’ll need to pass specialty area testing in English and English instruction.
Whether or not a teacher needs to pass both a basic skills test and a subject area test is up to the state. Some states will require single-subject credential applications to only pass a specialty area test, and some will require that they also pass a basic skills test. Additional, a state may have its own test for local laws and education practices.
States may use their own examinations, or they may use Praxis Examinations. Praxis is a national testing organization, and many states direct candidates to the Praxis testing program. Praxis has nationally recognized competency examinations in both basic skills areas and specialty areas. They both administer and score the test (in some cases, testing can be done online) and can then share the test results directly with the state licensing/credentialing authorities. Both state sponsored and Praxis tests often have several segments or parts, and the state will determine which portions of various examinations must be passed in order for an applicant to meet the competency requirements.
In states that offer endorsement programs, competency tests will still be required.
3. Get Your Classroom Experience
While teaching principles and practices can be learning from a professor, teaching actual children can’t. Nothing can prepare a future teacher for the realities of classroom instruction better than being in actual classroom can.
All accredited and state-approved teacher education programs require that a teacher candidate complete a student teacher experience. These experiences are scheduled in the later portion of an academic program, so the candidate has had the benefit of most of the theoretical instruction. There is often a GPA requirement for coursework that must be met before a candidate can pursue their student teaching experience, and some states also require that the necessary examinations be met. Schools may require proof of immunizations or evidence of physicals in order to complete a student teaching experience there.
A student teaching experience is organized by the academic program and requires certain activity from the mentor teacher the student teacher is paired with. Site visits from a coordinator from the college or university is common, and the experience earns course credit towards the completion of the academic degree.
The student teaching experience varies depending on the credential/certification you are pursuing. Candidates oriented toward a younger-grade credential will generally be placed in elementary settings, while single-subject credential candidates will be placed in middle or high-schools. However, an academic program may require that a teacher candidate gain a basic understanding of all grades and the various expectations that come with them, and move a teacher candidate through a wider variety of placements.
Student teaching experiences are designed to give a teacher candidate hands-on experience in the various areas of academic instruction relevant to the ages they are teaching. Some of the skills that a teacher is meant to develop through their student teaching experience include:
Applying education practices in a classroom environment
Progression of classroom responsibility
Data recording and distribution
A student teacher who is pursing a single-subject credential in the in the area of English will learn the practical aspects of teaching:
Composition and grammar
Assignment grading and testing
Literary analysis and critical thinking
The amount of time a teacher candidate spends in student teaching experiences is established by individual college and university programs, but 300 to 500 hours is common. Additional, a requirement is often set that establishes how much of that experience must be spent in actual classroom instruction.
4. Get the right Teaching License
States establish the specific requirements for all teachers that want to be certified, licensed or credentialed there. But the basic steps are comparable across the country:
Complete the necessary education.
Pass the required tests.
Complete the state’s application process.
All states have a governing board for teachers – a state board or department of education, a state teacher’s council, a professional standards commission, or other agency that is responsible for the oversight of a teacher’s education and testing process.
Specific steps may include:
Completing the state’s specific application
Mailing certified copies of your transcripts to the state board
Sending testing scores to the state board
Completing a background check
Registering your fingerprints with the state
Sending letters of recommendation
Paying an application fee
If you already have a teaching license/credential in another state, the process may be different than the one a new graduate will follow. Check your new state’s governance board for its reciprocity policy.
In most states, licenses must be renewed every two to four years. This generally involves updating residence information, paying a renewal fee, and may include completing a certain amount of continuing education.
In addition to the standard credential, license or certification, a teacher may choose to complete additional courses of study or pass additional exams that earn then supplemental credentials. These credentials communicate a more advanced understanding of the specialty area, or additional training in the area of education practices. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (www.nbpts.org), for example, offers a national certification in the areas of English Language Arts and Literacy. Other supplemental credentials are available through a variety of agencies.
5. Stay current with English Teacher Education
Teaching practices change as new research improves our understanding of the learning process. Policies may change with legislation to improve the country’s education programs. Because our understanding of the nuts and bolts of teaching continues to grow, it’s important that teachers continue to grow in their profession as well.
Most states require that a teacher complete a certain amount of continuing education in order to renew their licenses or maintain their credentials. Each state will determine the amount of hours necessary for their teachers, but requirements average 8 to 12 hours per year. Because some states require approval of continuing education providers, make sure to investigate any courses you’re considering to ensure that it meets your state’s guidelines for continuing education.
You may also find valuable information about evolving practices and current research in the area of teaching as well as English and Literature by becoming involved in one of the many organizations that advance the teaching profession. The National Council of Teachers of English (www.ncte.org) and The National Education Association (www.nea.org) are two organizations whose mission is to allow professional educators to network with each other and continue to grow professionally. When you commit to being a teacher, you will find that your professional satisfaction as an educator, and your enthusiasm for giving a child a stellar academic foundation is enhanced by connecting with other teaching professionals and continuing to learn and improve.