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The demand for teachers is on the rise. A 2016 Learning Policy report projecting annual hires to be approximately 300,000 a year for elementary and secondary teachers alone. If you have a strong desire to inspire students and motivate them toward their fullest potential in life, a career in teaching may be waiting for you. The day-to-day skills typically needed include the ability to communicate effectively, creative use of resources to keep students engaged, and a good dose of patience and stamina.
If you are already working as a teacher and want to grow in your career by earning a more advanced degree, or if you're straight out of high school and want to work part-time and study, an online degree program in teaching may be just what you're looking for. Online degree programs in education and teaching can also work well for professionals working in any field who want to transition to a teaching profession.
An online program in teaching could more accurately be described as a hybrid program. While most coursework can be completed online, supervised classroom experience is still needed to apply for a teacher's license. Online colleges generally set up your in-classroom experience at schools and education institutes near you, making sure that you receive the same well-rounded education (with more flexibility!) that you would in a fully on-campus program. Read on to know more about the different types of online degrees in teaching and education, from certificate to doctoral levels, and what you can do after you complete each level.
What do teachers do?
Teachers work with children, adolescents, young adults and adults in educational settings ranging from preschool and kindergarten to universities and adult education. The duties of a teacher can include:
- Creating lesson plans appropriate to the age group and subject they are teaching
- Teaching an entire class or smaller groups of students
- Assessing students on their abilities and helping them overcome learning challenges
- Developing classroom rules and ensuring discipline is maintained
- Grading students' assignments and examinations
- Helping students prepare for standardized state tests
Occupations and Career Outlook
The Washington Post reported that every state had teacher shortages in key subjects at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year with many districts struggling to fill positions in subjects like mathematics, science, special education, history, art and music.
The table below, derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), shows the occupations related to the field of education along with job openings, average salary, total employment and job outlook for 2016 to 2026.
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
Once you have decided that teaching is the career for you, it can be a good idea to narrow down what kind of teaching job you would like to pursue. Preschool teachers require a minimum of an associate degree while kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school teachers require at least a bachelor's degree. An online master's degree program can help teachers enhance their skills allowing them to specialize in a particular aspect of teaching or prepare for further study.
Take a look at the different degree levels, what you may learn as part of the coursework and the outcomes that can be expected at each level.
Online Certificate Programs in Teaching
Certificate programs in teaching are rare. However, you may be able to find online certificate programs in early childhood education that may qualify you for entry-level teaching with young children.
Online Associate Degrees in Teaching
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
An associate online teaching degree can help individuals make their first forays into the world of education.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: This usually covers fundamental topics in education. You may find courses like:
- Introduction to education
- Relationships in classroom settings
- Mathematics for teachers
- Learning theory
- Psychology of childhood
Possible electives: You may be required to take general education electives like cultural diversity or exploring cultural anthropology.
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
An associate online education degree can work as a stepping stone toward an online bachelor's degree in education. It can also help you in home schooling your own children. Potential occupations are:
- Teacher's assistant
- Preschool teacher
- Child care specialist
- Substitute teacher
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Teaching
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
You may be able to complete your online bachelor's degree in education as a:
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) — B.A. programs allow you to choose more liberal arts and humanities subjects.
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) — these programs have stricter focus on mathematics and sciences than a B.A.
A bachelor's degree is the minimum level of teaching degree required to teach in public schools.
Online bachelor's degree programs in education may vary depending on the school grades and subject you want to teach. The degree programs for prospective middle and secondary school teachers may require concentrations in particular subject areas like English, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics or art.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: This can cover topics in pedagogy, creating educational curricula and child development. Courses you may find are:
- Theories for acquiring and learning language
- Children's literature
- Curriculum and instructional design
- Educational psychology
- Student teaching for secondary education
- Introduction to special education
You may also be required to complete a supervised teaching practicum.
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
An online bachelor's degree in education can allow you to explore a number of different occupations in the education field depending on the specialization you choose. Potential occupations can include:
- Training and development specialist
- Public school teacher
- Kindergarten teacher
Some states may require teachers to complete their master's degree program as a part of their licensing requirements.
Online Master's Degrees in Teaching
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
At the master's level you may find different types of online teaching degrees such as:
- Masters of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) — these tend to focus more on teaching skills
- Master of Education (M.Ed.) — the emphasis can be more on educational support and leadership topics
- Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) — these may stress more on pedagogy, curriculum methodology and instructional design
Professionals already working as teachers may use a master's degree to advance their careers. Those who have a bachelor's degree in another major, and who want to enter the teaching profession, may also consider earning a master's degree in education.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree
Typical coursework: Subjects covered may include classroom management, theoretical and applied teaching methodology and topics based on your chosen specialization. A few examples of courses are:
- Instructional design
- Research fundamentals
- Science education
- Foundations of teaching
- Mathematics education
You may have to complete a teaching practicum as a part of your master's program. You may be able to choose from a number of different specializations.
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
A master's degree can allow you to pursue a number of careers depending on your specialization. Potential occupations can include:
- High school teacher
- Adult education teacher
- Instructional coordinator
- Education administrator
Online Doctoral Degrees in Teaching
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
There are two main types of doctoral degrees:
- Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) — this program tends to lean toward a research-based focus
- Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) — this program may emphasize leadership roles in the education industry
Students are normally required to take classes that help them develop their research capabilities.
Typical duration: Three to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree
Typical coursework: Apart from courses on research methodologies, students may be required to study other educational topics depending on the chosen specialization and program. Some examples of courses are:
- Theories of historical and social foundations of education
- K-12 educational data
- School law
- Practices in school organization
- Supervision and leadership in schools
As a part of your online doctoral program you can expect to write and defend a dissertation based on original research.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
A doctoral degree can open up opportunities for high-level and policy-making careers in the educational system. Some potential occupations are:
- School superintendent
- Curriculum director
- Educational policy maker
- Academic researcher
Specializations in Teaching
There are plenty of specializations to choose from during the course of your study. Some of them are:
- Curriculum and instruction
- Educational technology
- English as a second language (ESL)
- Special education
- Elementary education
- Secondary education
- Adult education
- Education administration
Transition to a teaching career from another field:
Alternative certification pathways
All states offer individuals with a bachelor's degree in subjects other than education the opportunity to enter the teaching profession through alternative certifications. This can allow you to obtain the necessary credentials to become a teacher in approximately one year instead of starting over on a brand-new four-year teaching degree. Many of these programs focus on "on the job" instruction where you learn through coursework and supervised teaching sessions.
Some states like New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas offer residency programs through programs like Transition to Teaching. Programs are tailored to educate aspiring teachers to teach particular subjects or work in high-needs schools with a commitment to work there for a certain amount of time.
Approximately 20 percent of teachers enter the profession through these alternative pathways according to a 2016 study by the Education Commission of the States.
All states have accreditation requirements for teaching licensures. The main accrediting body for teaching and education programs online is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) . Programs may be regionally accredited as well. Check your state's licensing requirements to see which accreditations are recognized before enrolling in your preferred online teaching degree program.
Certifications and Licensures
The rules for licensures and certifications in teaching may vary from state to state. Some states may need teachers to be both licensed and certified. All states require their public school teachers to be licensed or certified to teach their specific grade levels and/or subjects.
The general prerequisites for certifications or licenses are listed below:
- Have a minimum of bachelor's degree
- Complete a teacher training program and supervised teaching practicum
- Passing a background test
- Pass a certification test
The National Board Certification is one of the highest levels of certification that K-12 teachers can receive. It is an optional certificate which can help ease certification transfers between states and offer teaching opportunities with higher salaries.
Tests you may need to take
Obtaining your certification in most states may mean you need to pass certain standardized tests. The main tests you may need to take are:
- Praxis core academic skills for educators test
- Praxis subject assessments test
- Praxis content knowledge for teaching assessments
Depending on your state you may also need to take the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT) test. Certifications need to be renewed periodically by passing an examination and/or through continuing education courses.