By Susan Ott
Most adults are aware of the time and energy it takes to go back to college, and for those who choose to complete their bachelor’s degree online, they also know that it means additional flexibility. But for those who wish to pursue an online bachelor degree in education, it’s important to understand that this degree cannot be completed totally in front of the computer.
Because an education degree is preparing you to become a teacher, there is much fieldwork involved to meet each state’s requirements for licensure. So before you start your program, you need to be aware of the additional commitments unique to the field of education.
Practicum, as it is called in many programs, is simply the act of going into a classroom and observing the teacher. Each program has different time requirements, but you should expect 100 hours or more needed to complete your degree. In most education degree programs, these hours are broken up into chunks assigned to specific courses. For example, a teaching theory class may require 20 hours, in which you specifically observe the teacher’s style; a methods of teaching English class may require 35 hours, in which you specifically observe techniques used to teach various components of an English class, such as grammar, literature and writing. The requirements should be clear from the beginning, but this means that you will have to spend a significant amount time each semester going into a school during the day to observe. And depending on your school, you may also be responsible for finding a teacher and/or school with which you can complete your hours (some online schools will actually take care of setting this up for you). So if you’re planning on working a day job while you go back to college, you’ll have to adjust your schedule accordingly.
After all of your practicum hours are completed, you’ll be required to complete a semester of student teaching before you can graduate or apply for licensure. This can take anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the program (some programs count the number of weeks, some, the number of hours). Student teaching is a mix of observation and complete, full day teaching. When I completed my student teaching, the beginning was for observation to get a feel for the classroom, then I taught lessons, and then I was the teacher—on my own—while the observing teacher came in and out of the classroom. I had to plan all of the lessons, teach, run activities, give quizzes and tests, and discipline students.
Student teaching can be very intimidating, but it’s necessary to not only get a taste of what your job will be like, you also must demonstrate proficiency in the profession in order to obtain licensure. Most student teaching experiences take place in two different schools, at two different grade levels so that you can get a true taste of the age and subject range you’ll be certified to teach. You’ll need to plan out your semester well in advance with your advisor, finding local schools where you can teach. Most online schools will assign you an advisor to help you with this step, but make sure you have all of the deadline information before you start. And even though you’re earning your degree online, this will be your “day job” for a semester. So whether you resign from your current job a semester early, work from home or at night, or take a leave of absence, student teaching is the least flexible and most rigorous aspect of obtaining an online bachelor degree in education.
Getting “licensed” or “certified” (the two terms are used interchangeably) is probably the most confusing part of an education degree. Unfortunately, instead of having a national standard for certification, the requirements vary by state. This means that you should have a good idea about which state in which you wish to teach before completing the steps to licensure. Obtaining a teaching license is not automatic upon graduation; it is a separate credential issued by the state, showing that you are fully qualified to teach within the education program from which you graduated (elementary ed, science ed, music ed, etc.).
The requirements should be a part of your degree, but check to make sure you complete all of the components needed to be licensed within your state of choice, not the state in which your online degree is located. Because online schools service all states, your advisor should be able to direct you to the proper requirements. In general, licensure requires a series of Praxis Tests (usually 2-3), which vary depending on which type of licensure you’re earning, as well as your state’s requirements. These tests are usually taken during your last semester of school, when you’re student teaching. That way, you can graduate and obtain licensure at the same time, so that you can pursue employment immediately upon graduation.
Besides the tests, you must pass certain courses, complete your practicum and student teaching, and graduate from your program. And if you end up pursuing employment in a different state than your certification, “Teaching Certificate Reciprocity and Transfer” exist; however, you may need to complete additional requirements (a course or test) to meet full requirements of that state, something that you can work out with your advisor or even sometimes future employer.
While online schooling is still a very flexible option for education majors, it’s important to be aware of the additional requirements when obtaining an online bachelor degree in education. The time and effort are worth it, but be sure that you plan out your strategy before you begin to give yourself as smooth of an experience as possible.