By Susan Ott
When I finally decided to become an English Education major (after trying out two other majors first!), I was excited that I’d found a program that fit my strengths and interests. I had always loved my English classes, as well as psychology, public speaking, debate and theatre, so teaching English seemed like a natural fit. But since I was the first teacher in my family, I was unaware of the unique set of teaching degree requirements facing an education major. Not only did I have to take classes outside of my major to graduate, the teaching degree requirements included a lot of off-campus work as well.
Since education majors are studying to become teachers, their job in college is two-fold: graduate with an education degree (issued by your college) and obtain a teaching license (issued by each state). This process can seem confusing at first, but once you understand what’s required of you, you can plan out your program accordingly. Below are the main education major requirements you’ll need to graduate and realize your goal of becoming a teacher.
Core College Classes
Many college students think that they’ll only have to take classes in their major, but this is rarely the case. Most students must take basic courses such as English, math, science, history and language. These vary by school, but even if you plan on teaching a specific subject, you must have basic knowledge in all subject areas to be an effective teacher, especially since the trend of integrated learning is popular in many schools (different subject areas incorporating other disciplines into their teaching for a more comprehensive learning experience). I was disappointed to learn that I’d need to take biology, earth science and calculus at my liberal arts college, but I got them out of the way early so that I could focus on my major for the latter half of my degree. And if you are going back to college, you probably have most of these types of classes under your belt already, so you can focus more on your actual major.
Subject Area Classes
If you are planning to become a teacher in one subject such as math, science, history, etc., you’ll take many classes in this one subject area that cover all sorts of topics within the discipline. Some subjects, such as music, require quite a breadth of courses, since you’ll need to be qualified to teach music from kindergarten through twelfth grade, including specialties like band and orchestra.
If you plan on teaching elementary school, you’ll be required to study all major academic areas. Elementary teachers instruct students in all subject areas, but are usually also licensed to teach middle school grades, which would require you teaching a specific subject.
Education classes vary depending on what you are going to teach, but most of them have the same goal: to help you become an effective teacher. Certain classes focus more on the history and theories of education. Here, you will learn how education has evolved over time, what has been effective and what has not, and all of the different theories about how to educate students. You’ll develop your own personal philosophy of education, which will shape the way to teach and help you articulate your teaching goals when with prospective employers.
You will also have very practical, hands-on education classes as well. You’ll learn how to develop lesson and unit plans, how to construct effective tests and how to grade them, and how to use materials and resources in effective ways to teach the subject area(s) you’re studying. After you’re done with these education classes, you should have a solid portfolio of lessons and resources to show prospective employers and use in your future classroom.
Even though you’re not training to become a guidance counselor, it’s important to understand the basic psychology behind your students so that you can relate to and help them better. Teaching is more than just conveying information; good teachers have a solid relationship with their students, coming alongside them and helping them learn more effectively. In these classes, you’ll learn about human growth and development, both physically and psychologically. Once you understand how children learn and develop, you can fine-tune your expectations to match the grade level you’ll teach.
Practicum and Student Teaching
One of the most unique facets of your education degree requirements is the amount of time you’re required to spend outside of the classroom. Many of your education classes will have an additional requirement other than homework: practicum. Practicum is an observation of one or more teachers to learn more about how teaching and classrooms work on a practical level. Depending on the class, you’ll observe the classroom for different things: organization of lessons, teaching style and philosophy, resources for your particular subject area or even classroom discipline. Most programs, both traditional and online, require 100 hours or more total of the course of your degree, which means you’ll need access to transportation to get to and from the schools where your observations take place. This was a big surprise to me, and I was reliant on friends and fellow education majors to get around to practicum assignments until my senior year, when I finally had my own car.
However, the most time-consuming aspect of your education degree will be student teaching. This lasts for your entire last semester, and forces you to put into practice everything you’ve learned. During student teaching, you’ll probably have two different teaching assignments to expose you to the breadth of grade levels you’ll be qualified to teach. And during these assignments, you’ll have to plan lessons, construct quizzes and tests and run the entire classroom just as a real teacher would. While these may seem nerve-wracking, it’s essential in preparing you for your future vocation and in obtaining licensure.
Your teaching license is necessary to teach in public schools, as well as most private schools. But this license is not issued by your college or university; it’s issued by the state in which you wish to teach. In order to obtain licensure, you must take and pass a series of tests, as well as have practicum and student teaching experience. So while your education degree classes will prepare you to take this step, you actually have to do this part separately from a class. Most students complete this step during their student teaching semester so that when they graduate, they also have their license and can go right out and apply for jobs.
Your advisor will help you plan all of this out, but it’s important to be aware of this extra step in becoming a teacher. And if you find yourself searching for jobs in a state other than where you’re licensed, your advisor or even future employer can help you temporarily transfer your license (in most cases) and get the tests and possibly classes you need to complete to be licensed in a new state.
Becoming an education major is a wonderful choice for many students going back to school, but it’s important to understand the teaching degree requirements before you start. Once you know and understand the full range of teaching degree requirements, you can plan out your program and gather all of the tools you’ll need to become an successful education graduate and effective teacher.