How to Become a Teacher

Teachers impact the lives of children and adults every day, making teaching one of the most rewarding professions. From K–12 schools to universities and corporations, teachers can be found in many places within a community.

In order to become a teacher, you will need to determine the type of setting in which you want to teach, where you want to teach and which subject matter you want to teach. You will then need to gain experience teaching.

Determine the type of school setting in which you want to teach.

The teaching setting you choose will determine the path you need to take to become a teacher. For example, becoming a public high school teacher will require different steps than becoming a private school teacher. An alternative certification program may be sufficient for one teaching job, but not another. Likewise, a teaching credential program may be a requirement or you may be able to teach with just teaching experience and Bachelor's degree.

Decide where you want to teach.

Where do you want to teach? Each state has its own requirements regarding teacher certification and not all schools will require a credential. Once you decide where you want to teach, you should research the tests, certifications and teaching experience required to obtain credentials in that state. For example, the USC Rossier School of Education’s online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) offers aspiring teachers the chance to be recommended for a teaching credential in the state of California, which can be transferred to another state through interstate reciprocity, or you can apply directly for your state’s credential.

Choose the subject area you would like to teach.

Teaching is more than a career, it's a passion. When determining what you want to teach, consider what subjects (e.g., math, science, English, art) you are naturally drawn to,, and then research teaching opportunities in that subject matter. In most cases, you need to have some experience or prerequisite coursework under your belt in your chosen field as you will need to pass subject matter exams for credentialing.

It is also important to decide both the grade level and the type of student you would like to teach. For example, those who earn their certification in elementary education teach all subjects, while those with secondary education certifications earn their degree in specific content areas. The USC Rossier MAT program offers concentrations in Multiple Subject Teaching (Elementary), Secondary English, Secondary Mathematics, Secondary Science, Secondary Social Science, as well as the opportunity to add on a Special Education Credential, Gifted Education Certificate or Bilingual Authorization for Spanish.

Once you determine what you want to teach, you should immerse yourself in that subject matter. You can join a Twitter chat, review research studies, read journals, news articles and blogs, as well as attend education conferences to stay up-to-date on the latest teaching methods and trends in education.

Gain teaching experience.

There are different ways to gain teaching experience and many types of teacher preparation programs depending on the environment in which you want to teach. Gaining experience teaching in a classroom will be extremely important for teaching in any environment.

The USC Rossier School of Education offers one way of gaining relevant teaching experience through their MAT and teaching credential program. The MAT program provides support to place you in a school and sets you up with a guiding teacher who acts as a mentor during your initial classroom teaching experience. Both the MAT and MAT–TESOL programs incorporate student teaching early on in the curriculum so you can gain hands-on experience in your chosen subject area. The placement team will find a school in your community where you can perform your observations and gain two 10-week sessions of field experience, where you will have the opportunity to apply what you have learned in a real-world setting. This in-depth experience will prepare you for a successful career in teaching.

The path to teaching will vary depending on your particular goals and past experience. Here are some examples of our MAT and MAT-TESOL students:

Matthew Giles

  • Earned Bachelor's Degree in English Literature
  • Worked in Finance and Legal for 5 years
  • Became an English teacher and business consultant in Costa Rica and the Philippines
  • Enrolled in the MAT-TESOL program at USC Rossier

Read more about Matthew Giles's path to teaching

Nidhi Singh

  • Earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration
  • Quit her job as an auditor and changed careers
  • Graduated from the MAT program at USC Rossier with a concentration in Multiple Subject (Elementary) teaching
  • Named Rookie of the Year by her district

Read more about Nidhi Singh's transition to becoming a teacher

David Vuong

  • Earned Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology
  • Taught ESL in Fukuoka City, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan
  • Became an English teacher at an International School in California
  • Graduated from the MAT-TESOL program at USC Rossier
  • Opened an English-language school, AYO English, in Taipei and consults for AyoTree

Learn more about David Vuong's teaching journey here

Sarah Tomlinson

  • Earned Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies
  • Worked as legislative assistant for the California State Assembly
  • Earned a TEFL certificate
  • Taught English in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Became an English Instructor in California
  • Graduated from the MAT-TESOL program at USC Rossier
  • Became a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Read more about Sarah Tomlinson's path to teaching

Edgar Perez

  • Earned Bachelor's degree in Spanish
  • Worked in banking and business development for several years
  • Graduated from the MAT-TESOL program at USC Rossier
  • Became an ESL Adjunct Instructor at Los Angeles City College

Learn more about Edgar Perez's journey to teaching

 Take the Next Step

Become a teacher by earning a Master of Arts in Teaching
and teaching credential online from USC.

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