How Long Does it Take to Become a Teacher?

How Long Does it Take to Become a Teacher

Due to a nationwide teaching shortage, educators are in high demand. The demand for teachers is especially urgent in California, which is grappling with the third most severe teacher shortage in the United States. But how long does it take to become a teacher, and what sort of degree or credential is necessary?

The credentials you need depend on what type of teacher you wish to become. However, regardless of the credential you pursue, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree at minimum to meet state education requirements for teachers. You may fulfill this requirement in one of two ways:

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education (BAECE), before continuing on to pursue your credential separately. How long does it take to get a teaching degree and credential? This process typically takes about five years: around four years to earn the degree and up to 18 months to earn the credential.
  2. Complete a state-approved blended program that allows you to simultaneously pursue your bachelor’s degree while earning the credential you need. An example is the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with an Inspired Teaching and Learning Preliminary Multiple Subject Teaching Credential offered by National University.

Some students also choose to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree, which may be required to teach at the postsecondary level.

Read on to learn more about California’s teaching credential requirements and how long they typically take to complete.

Decide the Age Range You Want to Teach

Every teacher has the opportunity to share knowledge, create lesson plans, and help their students cultivate skills — but the context for these activities changes radically depending on the student’s age. For example, there are obvious differences between lecturing about abstract calculus in a collegiate setting, showing high schoolers or middle schoolers how to perform basic algebra, and teaching young children how to count to ten. While all three scenarios broadly involve teaching math, the student’s age level is ultimately what determines the appropriate teaching style, curriculum complexity, classroom activities, and learning environment.

No matter what subject (or subjects) you plan on teaching, one of the first and most fundamental decisions you’ll need to make is deciding which grade level or age range you want to teach. Alternatively, you may be interested in educating a specific student population, such as becoming a special education teacher or teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).

For some students, this decision might feel easy. For example, maybe you’ve always dreamed of becoming a college professor, or perhaps you already know that you love working with kids. However, if you’re not sure whether you’d rather teach at the postsecondary (college), secondary (high school and middle school), primary (elementary), or Kindergarten/T-K level, here are a few points to consider:

  • Different credentials are required to teach different grade levels, as the next section explains in depth.
  • Certain teachers are in greater demand — and are paid higher salaries on average. This data is explored under “Salary and Job Outlook for Teachers” below.
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies With an Inspired Teaching and Learning Preliminary Multiple Subject Teaching Credential (California) Program Pages

Educational Requirements for Teachers

If you’re interested in becoming a teacher in California, you’ll need to meet state-specific educational requirements per the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). These requirements vary depending on which type of teacher you plan to become, as we’ll explore them in this blog. In general, however, teachers in California are required to complete five years of postsecondary education and training.

Traditionally, many aspiring teachers have satisfied this requirement by earning a bachelor’s degree, then obtaining credentials and, potentially, a master’s or doctorate degree. Another potential path is completing a blended credentialing program, which is a program that combines the bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation credential program into one approved by the CTC.

It’s important to note that teaching credential requirements vary by state and that private schools may impose or be subject to different credentialing requirements than public schools. Therefore, if you plan on becoming a private school teacher, be sure to review each institution’s policies to determine what education or credentials are required.

With that in mind, let’s review California’s credentialing requirements for different types of public school teachers. Each credential program takes about 12 to 15 months to complete, depending on your pace of learning. Once issued, Preliminary Credentials in California are valid for 5 years, at which point they must be renewed. Renewal requests can be completed online and are generally processed within 10 days.

Early Childhood (TK) to Kindergarten

Aspiring preschool teachers must complete an Elementary Multiple-Subject Teacher Preparation Credential program.

To become a kindergarten teacher in California, you must obtain one of the teaching credentials listed below:

  • Multiple Subject Credentials (K-12)
  • Specialist Instruction Credential in Early Childhood Education

The time required to obtain these credentials varies, but, as stated above, most California teaching credential programs can be completed in a little over a year.

Learn more about Multiple Subject Credentials in California, or explore academic programs like our BA in Early Childhood Development with an Inspired Teaching and Learning Preliminary Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. You may also be interested in exploring NU’s K-12 Certificate in Multicultural Teaching: Asian American Studies.

Primary and Secondary School (K-12)

California requires separate credentials for elementary and secondary school teachers.

To teach elementary school, you may need a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. To teach secondary school, which includes middle and high school, you will need a Single Subject Teaching Credential. Explore our complete list of teaching programs and certifications here.

Special Education

Whether you wish to be a special education teacher at an elementary, middle, or high school, you will need to earn an Education Specialist Instruction Credential. This credential may be earned through a college or university program, including an internship program, or by completing a public school district intern program.

Explore special education programs at National University, such as the Preliminary Education Specialist Authorization: Extensive Support Needs Teaching Credential with Internship Option.

Postsecondary (College and Universities)

CTC credentialing requirements do not apply to college professors in California. However, most institutions of higher learning expect staff members to hold master’s or doctoral degrees. Learn more about earning a doctorate, such as your Doctor of Philosophy in Education, or explore our graduate degree programs like the Master of Science in Higher Education Administration.

Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a California Preliminary Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential Program Page

Salary and Job Outlook for Teachers

You’ve probably heard about the ongoing national teacher shortage, which has been creating challenges for school districts throughout the United States. All it takes is a glance at the news: in March of 2023 alone, USA Today released a report titled “Number of teachers quitting hits new high,” while lawmakers in the state of Pennsylvania introduced a new bill to address the crisis, and the governor of Illinois proposed a $70 million plan to the state’s most understaffed school districts.

Like many other states, California’s education sector has also been deeply impacted, ranking number three in the nation for having the worst teacher shortage as of November 2022. The only two states with more severe shortages are Florida and Oregon, respectively ranked first and second.

This crisis is driving heightened demand for educators, who are urgently needed in states like California, where shortages are significant. Hiring needs are especially great in Santa Ana Unified (Orange County), Long Beach Unified (Los Angeles County), Stockton Unified (Stanislaus County), and Oakland Unified (Alameda County), which EdSource identified as “districts with significant shortages” as of August 2022.

So how is this issue impacting job growth within the education sector? And what about compensation for teachers? The following data is sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which provides detailed information on salary and job growth for various types of teaching careers.

Type of TeacherMedian Salary (as of 2021) Salary for Top 10% of Earners Projected Job Growth (through 2031) 
Kindergarten or elementary school $61,350 $99,420 4% (about average)
Middle school $61,320 $99,4704% (about average)
High school (secondary school) $61,820 $100,310 5% (average)
College professors (postsecondary education)$79,640 $172,130 12% (much faster than average) 
Special education teachers$61,820$100,040 4% (about average) 
Teacher assistants$29,360 $46,5305% (average) 
data is sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

As you can see by comparing the numbers in this table, your employment opportunities and earning potential will be impacted by what type of teacher you choose to become — specifically, whether you intend to teach at the university level. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to consider the age range you want to teach and obtain the appropriate credentials.

Work Environment for Teachers

Educators work in a wide variety of settings, including public and private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, technical or vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. However, a teacher’s job duties don’t necessarily end when the school day or academic year does. Teachers frequently work long hours — as many as 54 per week, according to some findings — which include designing lesson plans, responding to emails from students, and taking papers, tests, and assignments home to grade.

It’s also important to acknowledge the enormous trend toward online learning, which initially surged due to social distancing but continues to maintain popularity among learners of all ages. In addition, this shift toward virtual learning has created numerous opportunities for educators to work remotely from home, providing alternatives to the traditional classroom setting.

Learn more about the potential pros and cons of specializing in online education, or explore National University’s comprehensive course in online teaching, which is offered to graduate and undergraduate students who are enrolled in our accredited teacher education programs.

Bachelor of Arts in Social Science with an Inspired Teaching and Learning Preliminary Single Subject Credential (California) Program Page

Five Reasons to Consider Becoming a Teacher

Teaching is a challenging but rewarding profession that provides the opportunity to advance the pursuit of knowledge while positively impacting future generations. Here are five reasons to consider becoming a teacher and earning your teaching degree or credential:

  1. Make a difference: Most people can remember a favorite teacher who made a positive difference in their lives. You have the power to make the same impact.
  2. Educate future minds: Teachers can inspire younger generations, igniting a passion for learning in tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.
  3. Work Schedule: Teachers often work long weeks but have lots of built-in vacation time.
  4. Stable Career: Educators will always be needed, especially with the national teacher shortage.
  5. No two days are the same: Dread the thought of a monotonous job where every day is routine? You’ll never have that experience as a teacher, where every day brings a new set of activities, lessons, and material.

Become a Teacher with a Degree or Credential from National University

Ready to pursue your teaching degree or credential in California? National University offers various accredited teaching and education programs for graduate and undergraduate students, including online programs incorporating Multiple or Single Subject Teaching Credentials or Special Education. So whether you’re searching for bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, or credentials and certificates, you’ll find a program that supports your goals at National University.

Explore our comprehensive catalog of education programs and teaching credentials, or talk to our friendly admissions counselors about applying to NU today.

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