There is no easy answer to the question, “How long does it take to become a teacher?” You could, after all, declare yourself a tutor or guitar teacher and start teaching right away — there are no laws or regulations to stop you. You may teach in a private school or religious school without acquiring the certification, licensure, and specialized training required of public school teachers. If those schools are willing to hire you, there are no laws that would prevent them from doing so.
If you want to teach public school, however, you will run up against state regulations that require time investments to meet. These differ from state to state. Further, they can vary within a state depending on the grade level and subject area you intend to teach and whether you plan to be a special education teacher. All of this is to say that the answer to the question, “How long does it take to become a teacher?” is “It depends.”
While there is no single answer, most states adhere to similar processes and requirements, which this article summarizes. Various education programs lead to the head of a classroom, including one — teacher residencies — that provides those with non-education bachelor’s degrees extensive hands-on training and a master’s degree in teaching.
The most common pathway to teaching: a bachelor’s in education
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, many undergraduates — over 80,000 each year — major in education. Many of those do so because they plan to teach after graduation.
Earning an undergraduate degree in education, which entails completing a rigorous academic program and a student teaching assignment, is the most common way to become an educator. Students who complete their bachelor’s in education and earn a state teaching license — which typically requires passing one or more standardized exams and a background check — meet most state certification requirements and may subsequently lead a classroom.
High school teachers face additional requirements. They must be subject matter specialists because they teach a single academic discipline. Accordingly, most states require high school teachers to show sufficient undergraduate course work in their area of expertise alongside the requisite education classes. Additionally, many states require teachers in specialized classes, such as English for English-language learners (ELL) and special education, to hold a master’s degree in their area of specialization (also referred to as “content area”).
A bachelor’s degree can get you started on your teaching career, but most states require teachers to continue learning throughout their professional lives. A few states require teachers to earn a master’s degree within a fixed period after starting teaching, but most do not. Still, many teachers pursue master’s degrees to fulfill the continuing education requirement, particularly in states that offer pay increases to those with higher academic degrees.
Teaching with a non-education bachelor’s degree
Studying education as an undergraduate may be the most popular way to begin a teaching career, but it is hardly the only way. College graduates with non-education majors also qualify to teach, although they must undergo additional education and training to earn their teaching license.
One option is to enroll in a teacher preparation program. These programs are offered through universities, private companies, and nonprofit organizations such as Teach for America. These programs do not confer a graduate degree. The benefit of these is that they can take less time to complete than a master’s program.
A second option is to enroll in a master’s degree program, such as a master of arts in teaching or a master of education. Master’s degrees for students whose undergraduate degrees are not in education often require two years of full-time study to complete. That’s because students must fulfill a slate of undergraduate education course requirements before beginning graduate-level study. Part-time students with similar credentials may take three or more years to complete a master’s.
A third option is to enroll in a one-year teacher residency program like the NYU Teacher Residency. Teacher residencies enroll students in a one-year master’s program and place them in a simultaneous year-long teaching residency at one school location. As a result, residency teachers learn advanced pedagogic skills and concepts in a setting in which they can apply what they learn immediately in their classrooms. That’s one reason that the National Center for Teacher Residencies calls residencies “the most comprehensive model of teacher preparation in the country.”
Become a teacher in one year through NYU’s Teacher Residency program
The NYU Teacher Residency program offers two master of arts in teaching degrees: one in Inclusive Childhood Education, which qualifies you to become an elementary school teacher, and one in Secondary Education, which qualifies you to teach middle school and high school. Each prepares you for teacher certification and confers a master of arts in teaching in a little over one year.
If you have a bachelor’s degree with 18 to 30 credits in English, history/social studies, mathematics, science, or the liberal arts, you qualify for at least one of these master of arts in teaching degrees (eligibility requirements vary). Secondary-level education degrees require single-subject mastery, as previously discussed.
Because the program places you in a teaching residency with one of its partner schools, to qualify, you must live within commuting distance of New York City, NY (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens); Albany, NY; Syracuse, NY; San Francisco, CA; Danbury, CT; Palm Beach County, FL; or Washington, DC. Master’s classes convene virtually in the evening, so you can access them anywhere you can connect to the internet.
Your immersive five-day-a-week full-day residency pairs you with an experienced teacher-mentor for an entire school year (four- or five-day-a-week half-day residencies are also offered at some locations). You’ll receive further on-site support from your residency director, partner staff, and peer residency teachers. Secondary Education candidates enjoy additional support from their content mentor. Your residency enables you to build skills and increase your responsibilities under the supervision and support of an experienced professional as you prepare to lead a classroom on your own.
In the evenings, you’ll complete a master of arts in teaching curriculum consisting of asynchronous content and two online synchronous classes per week. Secondary Education candidates complete a 10-module program; the Inclusive Childhood curriculum consists of 12 modules. Each program covers pedagogy, learning theory, assessment and measurement, ethics, classroom management, partnering with families, and research skills. Commitment to diversity, redressing societal inequity and injustice, building and respecting community, and restorative justice permeate the program’s philosophy and course content. The program evolves each year to adapt to the changing circumstances and needs of underserved students.
The parallel structure of the teacher residency and academic work means you’ll be able to immediately apply what you learn in your master’s program to real-life classroom situations. Over the program, you’ll develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become a certified teacher in your state (this usually involves passing required teaching certification exams as well as a background check). And, you’ll graduate with a master of arts in teaching (MAT), a graduate-level teaching degree that triggers an automatic pay increase in many school systems.
The NYU Teacher Residency program delivers a unique combination of hands-on experience and high-level academics from a nationally recognized institution. In compensation for your full-day residency, you will receive a stipend or salary that can help defray the cost of your education (half-day residencies do not offer compensation).
Eligibility for NYU’s Teacher Residency Program
Your eligibility for NYU’s Teacher Residency program depends on which degree you seek.
To pursue the master’s degree in Inclusive Childhood Education, you must hold a bachelor’s degree with at least 24 credits in a liberal arts major or concentration. Candidates with fewer than 30 credits must make up the remaining credits before or during their residency.
To qualify for the program, you must have completed the following college course work:
- 3 semester hours of English
- 3 semester hours of natural or physical science
- 3 semester hours of mathematics (statistics is acceptable)
- 3 semester hours of social science or social studies
- 3 semester hours of a language other than English (ASL is acceptable)
You can also study Inclusive Childhood Education with a special education concentration. To qualify, you’ll need a total of 18 college credits in:
- Natural or physical science
- Social science or social studies
To pursue the master of arts in Secondary Education, you need a bachelor’s degree with 18 to 30 credits in one of the following areas:
- History/social studies
Candidates seeking high school placements must have a minimum of 24 undergraduate credits in their area of specialization. Candidates with fewer than 30 credits must make up the remaining credits before or during their residency.
The master of arts in teaching in Secondary Education offers a special education concentration. Applicants must also have 18 to 24 undergraduate credits in English, history/social studies, mathematics, and science. Those credits can be spread across two or more of those disciplines.
All candidates must demonstrate English proficiency. ESL candidates must demonstrate proficiency through TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE Academic unless they have studied for at least four years in English-language post-secondary institutions.
Why choose the NYU Teacher Residency program?
In the NYU Teacher Residency, you’ll earn a master of arts in teaching from a leading graduate teaching program without ever having to visit the University’s Washington Square location. All your course work is accessible online, including your twice-weekly live sessions.
You’ll earn your degree while immersed in a residency that reinforces your course learning with real-world experience. Multiple residency sites mean expanded opportunities to participate in this program around the country. Your host school will share NYU Steinhardt’s goal to transform teacher education and optimize learning opportunities for underserved students, including emergent bilinguals and students with disabilities.
Throughout the program, you’ll enjoy the support of NYU Steinhardt faculty and staff, residency site teachers and staff, your support coach, and your exceptionally diverse fellow students (the NYU teacher residency every year has had a minimum of 60 percent new teachers of color, compared to the national average of 20 percent).