How do I become a teacher?
July 17, 2008 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I have several general (and some specific) questions about teaching high school in the U.S.

My situation: I graduated university in the U.S. in the early 90s with a degree in English, with a minor in German. I worked in customer service/tech-ish jobs out of college, and since 2002, I've been living and working in Japan teaching English. I've taught at private schools, mostly teaching adults, and for the past 3 years I've been teaching English at a few rather exclusive Tokyo high schools.

I'm planning on moving back to the United States and teaching at a high school, but there are some (probably painfully ignorant) questions I have:

1) Do I need to get a Masters in Education or Teaching Certification to be qualified to teach at a high school in the U.S.? Are they the same thing? Is it possible to be hired without a Teaching Certification? Where/how is a good route to get a T.C.?

2) I have eclectic interests and would feel comfortable teaching a number of subjects--English literature, history, languages such as German and Japanese. Do some schools "take a chance" on a new teacher teaching a subject that he/she is knowledgeable of, but one that doesn't necessarily show up on resumes or college transcripts? Do some schools allow teachers to teach more than one subject, a sort of switch-hitter?

3) I would like to move to a nice area of the country, perhaps Washington State, and probably the West Coast. What state has a good reputation for progressive schools, competitive teacher salaries, etc.?

I know it seems weird this is anonymous, but there's a good reason for it I won't bore you with--prying eyes, and all that. I've set up a throwaway email at for those generous enough to ask followup questions and comments. Thanks to all in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This totally varies state-to-state. Your BA in English/German is a good first step. With just that, you can teach at private schools in many states (like California).

T.C. will certainly help though.
posted by k8t at 9:18 AM on July 17, 2008

As k8t points out, you do not need certification to teach at a private school in the U.S. Check out the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) website for info and job postings.
posted by ericb at 9:25 AM on July 17, 2008

I only know about RI and MA education laws. You do not need a Masters to teach, but maintaining certification in both these states requires that you continue to take classes and/or workshops.
posted by mkb at 9:32 AM on July 17, 2008

Some states, like mine (Texas) are so desperate for teachers that "emergency certification" or similar programs are provided to anyone who can meet the basic requirements (having a pulse, probably having a college degree, I would hope there's a background check involved but it seems like they don't actually get looked at some of the time).

It will vary from state to state and in some cases district to district, but chances are pretty good you can find out 95% of what you need to know online before firming up details by phone.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 AM on July 17, 2008

1) Certification will be needed for public schools, which tend to pay better to much better. Better private schools will want experience. Some districts will place a high value on a masters, but lots of people start teaching without one.

Because evaluating teacher quality is so hard, pay within a district is almost uniformly based on objective qualifications: years experience, certification, education. NCLB is changing this, but slowly because teachers hate the idea. Districts have differing levels of funding, so that's the major determinant around the country.

2) Private schools and schools with teacher shortages do what they have to, but almost everywhere strongly prefers you to be objectively qualified to teach your topic.

3) etc. The thing is that intra-state variance is high. Almost everywhere raises funds locally, so the rich exurb can pay its teachers much better than the city schools nearby.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:42 AM on July 17, 2008

In California (not sure about other states) while a Masters is not required to teach in the public school system, your pay level goes up if you have one.
posted by The Gooch at 9:43 AM on July 17, 2008

Sample size of one, but the small private highschool I went to was always hiring teachers and often did just what you're suggesting re: switch-hitting even as broadly as math/english/computers by a single teacher. Wrong side of the continent to be specifically useful to you but I'm sure they weren't unique.
posted by Skorgu at 9:43 AM on July 17, 2008

You will need a teaching certificate issued by the state you want to teach in.
This may involve you taking a Praxis test in that subject area that your bachelor's degree is in, High School English.

I suggest you contact the Department of Education of the state you will be living to see what their requirements are. A masters is not necessary.

Regarding your question about teaching other subjects:

No Child Left Behind, in its effort to have all teachers be "highly qualified" has a nice little loophole that may allow you to gain additional teaching certifications without doing the coursework. (You mentioned history, and languages such as German and Japanese.) For example, my original certification is Elementary Education, which I taught for 15 years. I was interested in becoming a Reading Specialist to get a better job at another district. Because I already had the Elem. Cert, I was able to take the Reading Specialist Praxis test and after passing it, earned that certification as well. (I had basically taught reading for 15 years as part of my elem. job and just had to do some major studying and brushing up for the test.)

You must hold some kind of certificate in the first place in order to "add-on" any other areas.

Here is the link for PA:

Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 10:21 AM on July 17, 2008

To teach in public school you will absolutely need teaching certification and there is a lot of PITA red tape you'll have to go through to get it. For more information, try your state board of ed; just google name of state board of education teacher certification and you'll get a lot of helpful links: I did Washington for you. If you're prepared to teach in a shortage area, which varies from district to district but is often anything in middle school, ESL and special ed at all levels and high school math and science, then you may be able to speed up some of the red tape by going through an alternative route to certification. Some states also offer a sort of career change option to certification where they give you credit for life experience and you only have to take a short set of classes. The other workaround is that some schools, if they're desperate enough, will hire you on the condition that you seek certification during your first year of teaching.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:44 AM on July 17, 2008

I am an IT professional trying to change careers into teaching, and so have looked into this a bit. These sites may be useful to you:

National Center for Education Information: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification

National Center for Alternative Certification
posted by zainsubani at 11:00 AM on July 17, 2008

In case you're interested in New York:

One caveat is that the NYC school system starts out with pretty low compensation, but teachers typically do better later on in their careers, and they also often jump out to the suburbs after a couple of years, which usually bumps up their pay a lot.
posted by Citrus at 11:13 AM on July 17, 2008

"One caveat is that the NYC school system starts out with pretty low compensation"

Umm... "Currently, the starting salary for most first-year teachers is $42512." That's pretty good for a college graduate with no particular professional qualification (and teaching fellows don't have one yet) in New York City.
posted by Jahaza at 12:44 PM on July 17, 2008

Somewhat relevant previous answer of mine (actually, a whole thread you might find helpful)

Short answers:

1) You won't need a Master's, but you will need to be certified (or, sometimes, working on it is good enough). The keyword, as some used above, is "alternative certification". Here's Washington State's program.

2) Do some schools "take a chance" on a new teacher teaching a subject that he/she is knowledgeable of, but one that doesn't necessarily show up on resumes or college transcripts? -- While there was a loophole mentioned above, No Child Left Behind (at least in my experience) has tended to limit this somewhat, because you have to be certified in each area you teach. (Get used to hearing about NCLB -- it turns out that bipartisanship + good intentions = total PITA for teachers.)

Do some schools allow teachers to teach more than one subject, a sort of switch-hitter? -- I would suspect this is more likely in smaller systems, where maybe they can't afford to have a full-time teacher for, say, German, but if you could spend half the day teaching English, it might work out. But even my public HS in a medium-sized city had a few people doing stuff like this, almost always combining a subject where it's hard to find teachers (like foreign language) with a subject that, ostensibly, is easier to teach (by which I mean, not requiring as much specialized knowledge, compared to calculus or something) but that has a lot of people needing to take it (like English or social studies). As long as you're certified in both, that is...

Can't help with question 3, but teacher salaries are public record, so you should be able to figure that part out at least. Good luck!
posted by SuperNova at 1:01 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

You will need a master's degree if you plan on teaching in New York for a while. You can teach for five years in New York without it, but you have to have that master's degree after the five years, or you can't teach in public schools any more. FWIW, I don't think your pay goes up much if you have that master's degree, ($1000 a year more, I think?) so it makes one wonder if it's worth bothering to teach for more than five years. In New York, at least.
posted by nushustu at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2008

"One caveat is that the NYC school system starts out with pretty low compensation"

I have friends who are teachers and they seem to do fine. Of course, they don't live in a gigantic loft in prime SoHo. More like the nicer areas of the Bronx.

You can also become a principal at some point, if you have the right skills, which pays quite well.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:18 PM on July 17, 2008

If you move to the east coast, specifically New England, you'll find a lot of private schools who will snatch you up for your worldly experience. You can get housing by being a dorm parent, and if you have coaching skills of any kind, you'll be a winner. Apply at Carney Sandoe, a free-for-teachers placement agency who can connect you with schools who need what you can offer. Salaries are generally a little less than public schools, but the lack of governmental involvement is worth it. Lots more freedom to be creative with lesson planning, and lots less paperwork in my experience. Another place to look for jobs is Not having a teaching certificate is not the end of the world at independent schools. Your overseas experience speaks a lot.
posted by orangemiles at 4:22 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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