How Long Does It Take To Complete a Teacher Preparation Program

Teaching programs are challenging, requiring a combination of exams, coursework, and internships to prepare you for the classroom. However, if you have a clear vision of the path to success, you can become an amazing teacher!

Beginning Your Teacher Education Program

The traditional path to a teacher’s credential begins by applying to a four year teacher education program at an accredited college or university. The typical teacher education program is structured so that you complete the required credit hours to graduate in 8 semesters or 12 quarters. The first seven semesters are mainly attending courses at your university. The last semester credit hours typically are made up of your teacher internship hours. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in the subject area you want to teach, you may be able to complete the requirements in 1-2 years through a Master of Arts in Teaching or a Master of Education program.

Then there is deciding your major! While you might think your major is just teacher education, there are lots of sub-majors you will have to choose from before you get too far into the program. A sub-major will determine the age range your education courses will focus on because there is a big difference between teaching first graders and high school seniors. For example, if you want to eventually teach kindergarten or first grade, you will want to major in early childhood education. On the other hand, if you want to teach middle or high school, you will be asked to major in a content area for the appropriate age range, such as middle level science or secondary social studies.

Before You Start A Program

Some requirements for your teacher education program start before you ever set foot on your college campus. We want to make sure teachers are smart and qualified to teach students. As a result, many states require students applying to teacher education programs to pass the Praxis Core exam before they are officially admitted. This exam is designed to assess reading, writing, and math skills to determine whether or not a candidate for the teacher education program has the skills they need to succeed.

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However, many states, including Maryland and South Carolina, will allow you to substitute SAT or ACT scores for the Praxis Core if you scored high enough. In either case, preparing for these exams can be time consuming depending on your ability level. Local colleges typically offer all-day workshops to help prepare, but that may not be enough. You may need to spend additional time working on your own or in other test preparation programs. If you enter an MAT or M.Ed program to get your credential, you may be expected to take the GRE exam instead.

The Coursework Required for Teacher Certification

A typical teacher education program is set up to be completed in four years. During your first two years, the bulk of your coursework will be general education requirements such as math, history, and English. However, during those first two years you will also be expected to complete some of the lower-level courses in education, typically one per semester, in addition to your general education requirements. Depending on what you want to teach, your general education requirements may look a little different. Odds are more of the content courses for the subject(s) you want to teach will be on your schedule. By the time you graduate, you will need to have completed a state-specified list of subject-specific courses to be qualified for your license.

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During your senior year is when you typically are gearing up for your student teaching experience. At this point in your path to teacher certification, you will be expected to demonstrate that you have completed all required coursework, and in some cases even passed certain Praxis exams, before you are eligible to apply for your student teaching internship. Although the student teaching experience is structured a little differently depending on the school you are at, it is typically a two-semester process. The first semester, usually done in the fall of your senior year, you are placed part time with one or more teachers working a few days a week. During the second semester, you will be placed full time in the classroom to hone your teaching skills before you graduate.

Getting Down to the Praxis

Once you get admitted to the program, you won’t have to worry about exams again until your junior or senior year. During your junior year, it becomes time to think about your Praxis Professional and Subject Area exams. These exams vary a bit from state to state, however most require you to do a professional skills assessment and content exam(s) in the areas you are seeking certification. Some states suggest you start in your junior year because they require you pass all your exams before you are eligible for student teaching your senior year. Starting early allows for you to retake exams as needed. Other states do not require you pass Praxis II subject exams before you start student teaching. Instead, you have to pass them for your actual licensure application. When you enter a program, you will want to check specific requirements and recommendations.

One of the tests will be the Praxis Professional Learning and Teaching, or PLT. In this test, you will be assessed on a wide range of education topics specific to the age level you want to teach. It will cover some broader topics such as educational psychology and human development. However, it will also dig deep to test you on educational pedagogy. For example, portions of the test will cover instructional theory and curriculum planning. It also covers behavior, motivation, and assessment.

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The other exams you will be required to take are specific to your subject and grade level. Let’s say, for example, you want to teach middle school science and English language arts. Most states will require you to pass both the middle school English language arts and science exams. If you want to teach elementary school, you may be required to pass subject exams in math, science, language arts, and social studies. The requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to consult your local department of education for the most up-to-date information.

It also should be noted that the fees for Praxis exams are not cheap, ranging anywhere from $60 to $210 per test. So from a fiscal point of view, you want to put in whatever time is required to do well. While most colleges offer workshops to help you pass, it is always a good idea to purchase the official study guide for each exam. Within that study guide is a practice test that will give you a good idea of how much time you need to spend getting ready for the actual exam. Some people can prepare in a few weeks or a single workshop; other people may need to take a few months. Remember that without the exams, even if you graduate you won’t be eligible for your license. So it is better to start sooner rather than later and knock them out one by one.

Prepare for the Journey

There is no doubt that the path to becoming a teacher is challenging and expensive. There will be tuition, books, and required exams. However, we want children to be in classrooms with educated, intelligent, and highly capable teachers. As a result, teacher education programs are designed to ensure that new teachers have the skills they need to be successful and continue to grow in their profession long after they leave college behind. So embrace the challenge and become the teacher everyone will look up to!