There are many routes to becoming a teacher, but many teachers choose to go to college and major or minor in education. All states have different requirements, but generally speaking, teachers must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and become certified or licensed for the grade and subject level they wish to teach. The college course of study depends on many factors, including which grade level and subject matter they wish to teach and any special groups they may wish to work with.
Kindergarten and Elementary Teachers
According to Baylor University, elementary teacher candidates take classes focusing on four main areas: building positive learning environments, assessment, curriculum planning and instruction, and professional development and collaboration. They also study child psychology, cognitive development, effective teaching methods and literacy. These courses prepare prospective teachers to work with students of varying abilities in kindergarten through sixth grade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' "Occupational Outlook Handbook" points out that some states require elementary teachers to major in a content area, such as math or science, and also take classes in child psychology and education.
Middle and High School Teachers
In general, teachers at the secondary level often teach in a more departmentalized fashion and are certified in a specific content area. In addition to taking classes in pedagogy or teaching methods, those who want to work with upper-level grades often have a major or minor in an academic subject, such as math, science, English or social studies. In California, for example, this is called a Single Subject Teaching Credential. In states like Texas, some teachers, such as those in science or social studies, can earn a "composite" certification, which allows teachers to teach a variety of classes.
Working With Special Populations
Some teachers choose to work with special populations, such as bilingual, gifted students or those who have physical, mental or emotional disabilities. Students wishing to work with these types of students take additional classes specific to their field in addition to classes in general content areas like math, science, and social studies. Those who work with special education students also must know about specific federal and state laws and current research pertaining to these students.
Internship and Certification
The "Occupational Outlook Handbook" states that programs or degree plans for potential teachers usually include some type of fieldwork, commonly called student teaching. This experience is often a one-semester, unpaid, full-time internship where future teachers are paired with mentors to guide them in honing their skills so they can take on their own classrooms. In college, this usually takes place during the last semester. All states require that public school teachers pass certification exams to demonstrate that they have full knowledge of current teaching methods and their specific content areas.