The general requirements, licensure and number of college credits to become a teacher can vary by states and among universities nationwide. Most states generally require a bachelor’s degree with some sort of education credits if the major is not in education, while other states require the minimum of a master’s degree in the field of education. Despite the degree requirements, almost all university education programs require the completion of a student teaching experience, and almost all states require a passing score on a teaching exam and a teaching certificate.
Most universities in the U.S. require 110 to 130 credit hours for a general bachelor’s degree. These requirements do vary by major though. Earning a bachelor’s degree in education is the first step in becoming a teacher, but there are two main options for obtaining the degree: Prospective teachers can either earn the degree in the field of education or earn a bachelor’s degree in their subject area and then take additional educational courses before pursuing the teacher certification that all preservice teachers must take no matter their field of study. Most bachelor's degree programs are four years in length with courses that will emphasize both subject content knowledge as well as pedagogical skills.
Some states require a master’s degree before becoming a teacher. In these states teachers typically receive a pay raise for each additional degree earned. Teachers who want to obtain their master’s degree have two program options. One option is the Master’s in Teaching (MAT) program, which is 30 credit hours and a semester of student teaching. The second option is a Master’s Degree in Education (MEd), which is a postgraduate master’s degree with specialties in instruction and curriculum, school administration or counseling. This option is still around 30 hours but without the student teaching experience. Students can also earn degrees online, but credit hour requirements will vary.
Sometimes, credit hour requirements differ from early childhood education majors to middle and secondary education majors. Teachers of younger children need knowledge in all content areas whereas middle and secondary teachers typically focus on one or more specific subjects or content areas. As a result, early childhood education majors may need only 21 semester credit hours in a specific subject area compared to middle or secondary majors who may need 40 semester credit hours in their particular subject area.
The Student Teaching Experience
For education majors, a portion of the college credit -- on average six credits -- will come from the student teaching experience. Prospective educators usually undergo their student teaching in the final semester or year of the bachelor’s or master's degree program. Preservice teachers, under the guidance of a mentor teacher, practice actual scenarios in the classroom. Many colleges may also require course credit in field experience earlier in the program in addition to the final semester of student teaching. While programs vary, almost all programs will require some field experience in the classroom.