Online Teaching Degree Programs Resource
A strong education is a must for those hoping to work in the teaching field. A degree provides aspiring educators with the knowledge and practical skills needed to provide quality instruction and education to their students. The type of degree needed can vary depending on location, position, and the type of school, but generally, a bachelor’s degree is required before launching a teaching career. However, a two-year associate’s degree can pave the way for a wide range of jobs and careers in education, such as a teacher’s assistant (or teacher’s aide) or childcare specialist. Master’s degrees are required in some states for advanced teaching certification, but even in states where graduate degrees are not required, teachers often seek them to increase their pay or to become better qualified to teach. Doctoral degrees offer advanced courses of study for those who may wish to move into administrative positions or teaching at the college/university level.
As an alternative to traditional on-campus study, online teaching degree programs offer degrees at all levels, from associate’s to doctoral degrees. Continue reading below to learn more about the different education pathways that can lead to a teaching career.
Teaching Degrees by Level
The type of teaching degree you need depends on what kind of teaching job or career you intend to pursue. Some teaching jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree, though most do. Other teaching jobs have varying requirements in addition to a degree. For example, to become a substitute teacher, you may need a bachelor’s degree in addition to a substitute teaching license. Researching the licensing requirements in your state as well as the many types of teaching degrees and careers available is the first step in learning how to become a teacher.
|Grade Level Taught||% With Some College, No Degree||% With Associate’s Degree||% With Bachelor’s Degree||% With Post-Bachelor’s Certificate||% With Master’s Degree||% With Post-Master’s Certificate|
|Elementary School Teachers||—||—||75%||—||19%||3%|
|Middle School Teachers||—||—||73%||17%||—||8%|
|Secondary School Teachers||—||—||87%||—||10%||2%|
According to data from O*NET OnLine1,2,3,4,5.
An associate’s degree in education can prepare you for teaching support positions such as teaching assistant. In some states, an associate’s degree is sufficient qualification for preschool teacher positions and substitute teacher positions. Those who earn an associate’s degree may also have the option to transfer the credits earned towards a four-year teaching program.
A bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum qualification for earning teacher certification in K-12 public schools. There are many on-campus and online teaching degree programs that include a teacher preparation component in order to help prospective teachers prepare for successful careers.
Master’s degree programs in teaching and education may be designed for experienced teachers or for those who have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and are looking to transition into teaching. Online master’s degrees in education are a popular choice for working professionals.
If you have a passion for research and teaching, a doctorate in education can help you prepare for a career in administration and college teaching, among many other related fields. Those who earn a doctoral degree in education also often work in positions designed to help improve education policy on the state or national level.
On Campus vs. Online Teaching Degrees: Is Online Study Right for You?
A growing number of schools are offering online teaching degrees, particularly at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. An online program can be the right fit for motivated students who are seeking flexibility above that typically offered by on-campus programs. Prospective students considering an online program should ask themselves the following questions:
- Can I manage my time well enough to make sure that I “attend” class and complete coursework on time?
- Will I do well in a course where the learning is more self-directed, versus face-to-face with professors and peers?
- Am I comfortable enough learning new technologies to be able to complete coursework and learn using online software?
- Do I have a newer computer with reliable high-speed internet access?
- Will I be able to complete an internship or practicum in a school district local to me to earn this degree?
If you can answer yes to these questions and are comfortable with the responsibility of completing coursework and meeting deadlines independently, an online teaching degree might be an option for you.
Can You Get a Teaching Degree Online?
While there are many schools offering online teaching degrees, depending on your education level, the type of certification you are looking to earn, and the individual program, the curriculum might not be totally online. At the bachelor’s degree level, students are generally required to complete at least one semester of student teaching, which must be in person. Although you can likely arrange to complete this requirement in a school in your local area, this part of the coursework would not be fully online.
At the master’s degree level, there are numerous online education degrees designed for those who already hold teacher certification in at least one area that might not require any in-person component. In contrast, programs designed for first-time teachers commonly require student teaching and/or other in-person experiences, such as a two-week campus residency or an on-campus summer term.
Even though not all programs for earning a teaching degree through distance education can be completed 100% online, the components of these programs that are online can still offer greater flexibility than their on-campus counterparts. It also helps to keep in mind that in-person components such as student teaching are typically due to state teacher licensing guidelines – requirements like these are designed to help you become a better teacher!
Online Teaching Program Accreditation and CAEP, NCATE, and TEAC
Another important factor to keep in mind is the accreditation of the teaching programs you consider, whether those programs are online or on campus. All states have strict accreditation requirements for teacher preparation programs. At a minimum, you should make sure that the school you are considering holds regional accreditation and that it holds state board of education approval for the preparation of teachers. Additionally, each state sets its own education requirements for prospective teachers, and while these requirements are broadly similar, there may be differences in prerequisite coursework for licensing teachers from state to state.
In addition to regional accreditation and approval from the state board of education, many schools seek additional accreditation from organizations like the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP is a widely recognized national accreditor for teacher education programs in the United States which was formed through the consolidation of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC). While CAEP accreditation does not replace regional accreditation requirements for teacher preparation programs in all states, some states will consider it as a factor when licensing new teachers.
Although the official merger of TEAC and NCATE to form CAEP was completed in 2013, the differing length of the accreditation cycles from both NCATE and TEAC (NCATE: 7-year cycle; TEAC: 2-, 5-, and 7-year accreditation cycles depending on the case; CAEP: 5- or 7-year cycles) means that current TEAC- and NCATE- accredited schools are still considered accredited through legacy standards. Accreditation continued through spring 2016, so educator preparation programs are able to use previously earned NCATE/TEAC accreditation through 2023. CAEP is still working to phase these programs into the new standards review and accreditation process. It is a good idea to check with your state’s teacher licensing office to see which accreditations are recognized as meeting teacher certification requirements.
Focus Areas for Teaching and Education Degrees
As you research whether an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree would be the best fit for your career goals, you should also consider a specialty area. Most bachelor’s degree students complete one to two years of general education courses and begin taking courses in the specific content area(s), such as reading or math, that they want to teach prior to applying to their school’s teacher preparation program. When you apply for admission to a teacher education program, you will typically need to identify the subject(s) and grade level(s) you wish to teach. Some schools also offer pre-professional education programs that can help students explore different areas of teaching and meet admissions requirements prior to formally applying to the school of education. A pre-professional education track may be declared as early as the first semester of the freshman year, depending on the school’s admission policies and requirements.
This process aligns with the teacher certification process at the state level, since the areas in which you are certified to teach (your specialties) are known as endorsements. Each endorsement area has different coursework and testing requirements, which are set by the state board of education. This means that to make sure that you qualify for the subject(s) and grade level(s) you want to teach, you should take the time to review your state’s certification guidelines and plan your education accordingly. The advising office at your school can also assist you in designing a course plan that fits your goals.
Since teacher preparation is specialized in this way, different types of teaching degrees can lead to different career paths. Following is an overview of a few of the major categories of teaching degrees.
A degree in curriculum and instruction prepares graduates to work in a strategic role in an individual school or in a school system, helping write and develop the curriculum for each grade level. This specialty degree, which can come in the form of a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctoral degree, teaches graduates how to implement state requirements in the curriculum while ensuring student achievement through effective learning. Coursework may include Cognition, Development, and Instruction, Instructional Decision-Making, 21st Century Teaching and Learning, and Curriculum Development and Evaluation.
Early childhood education programs are designed for teachers focusing on the education of young children, usually from birth through age eight. Undergraduate and graduate early childhood education degrees prepare graduates to teach young children using techniques that relate to their natural development, often through play and demonstration. Courses in an early childhood program may include Instructional Technology, Foundations of Language and Literacy Instruction, Intuitive Thought and Symbolic Function, Child Development in the Family, Media for Children, Child Development, Learning, Motivation and Assessment, and a practicum.
Educational technology degrees focus on teaching through computers, online methods, and mobile technology. Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are available in this specialty and prepare students to work in K-12 schools, government agencies, and even corporate enterprises. Students in these programs may take courses such as Educational Technology Field, Theory, and Profession, Instructional Design, Educational Psychology, Online Course Design, Graphic Communication and Interface Design, and Educational Game Design.
Education administration degrees prepare graduates for careers in administration and management. There are bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees available in this specialty, but most programs are offered at the graduate level. People with this degree go on to hold such jobs as school principals, deans, and consultants. Common classes in an education administration curriculum include Leadership Development, Organizational Analysis, Facility Design and Fiscal Management, Personnel: Administration, Supervision, and Evaluation, and Curriculum: Theories, Development, and Evaluation.
A degree in elementary education prepares graduates to teach students at the elementary school level, from kindergarten through fifth grade (and up to sixth grade, in some states and school districts). Elementary education programs focus on developing the ability to teach all core subjects, including math, science, and reading, to grade school students. Bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees are offered in elementary education. Typical course examples for this type of program include Principles of Education, Classroom Management for Teachers, Educational Philosophy for Teachers, and science, math, and reading courses.
English as a second language (ESL), also known as TESL (teaching English as a second language), ELL (English language learners), ESOL (English for speakers of other languages), or TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), can be a graduate or undergraduate degree or certificate. Graduates of these programs are prepared to teach students for whom English is a second language at public or private schools, overseas, and in tutoring environments. Coursework may include Foundations of First and Second Language Learning, Pre-K-12 Methods of Teaching ESL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and a practicum.
Some schools offer a bachelor’s degree in education (commonly abbreviated as a B.Ed) with a specialization in the subject areas to be taught, such as a B.Ed with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. Broader education degrees are more common at the master’s level and are designed for those who already hold a teaching certificate. Examples of general education degrees at this level include master’s degrees in teaching and learning, teacher education, and comparative education.
Library science degrees are offered at the baccalaureate and graduate levels and prepare graduates to work as school librarians, in public libraries, and in corporate libraries. Library science degrees may offer specializations such as archives and records management, digital humanities, information architecture, or library technology management. Those who are looking to work in school libraries generally specialize in academic or school media and may take an additional specialty in a secondary area such as science or Western literature. Coursework may include Human Information Interactions, Resource Selection and Evaluation, Overview of Research Methods, and Management for Information Professionals.
Physical education degrees may be offered as associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or master’s and doctoral degrees and focus on the study of health, wellness, and the body. Physical education teachers will be equipped to teach children (or adults) about the importance of physical exercise and healthy eating habits so that they can carry those habits across the lifespan. Physical education programs commonly include courses such as Human Anatomy and Physiology, Educational Psychology, Lifespan Motor Development, Assessment of Learning in Physical Education and Sport, and History and Philosophy of Sport and Physical Activity.
A degree in secondary education prepares graduates to teach high school students (grades nine through 12). Most students in a secondary education program major in a specific subject area such as English, science, biology, mathematics, or a foreign language. Secondary education degrees may be bachelor’s degrees or graduate degrees. Coursework for a secondary education program may include classes such as Psychology in Teaching, Learning and Cognition in Education, Adolescent Development, Education and Social Issues, and Philosophy of Education.
Special education degrees, which are usually offered at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, follow a tightly focused curriculum in order to teach future educators how to work with students with exceptional needs. Special education teachers may work with children from pre-K to 12 with learning disabilities and/or emotional or psychological disorders. In some areas, special education teachers take courses to prepare to work with students in gifted and talented programs. Coursework may include Diverse Family Systems & Transitions, Global Perspectives and Foundations in Special Education, Management Behavior & Instruction, Language Variance and Assistive Technology, and Elementary Curriculum Methods for Special Educators.
Teacher’s aide degrees are usually found at the associate’s degree level. Teacher’s aide graduates often work in public or private schools, daycares, nurseries, or after-school programs as teaching assistants. The traditional job of a teacher’s aide is to offer support to other teachers, but this role can vary widely with each position and workplace. Teacher’s aide degree programs may include classes such as Skills for the Effective Teacher Aide, Child Development, How Children Learn, Classroom Management Techniques, Technology in the Classroom, and After-School Day Care Programs.
Job Outlook for Graduates
The job outlook for new teachers varies by location, grade level, and subject area. Visit our teaching careers page to learn about the national job outlook for teachers.
RT @npr_ed: “…[American] teacher shortages: the most frequent shortage areas are math, science, bilingual education and special education.”
— TCD (@teacherdegrees) September 27, 2016
Top US States to Be a Teacher
Below is a map of the top 10 states in the US to be a teacher. See our Best States to Be a Teacher Index for the entire list and more details.
Best Advice for New Teachers
“As soon as you begin preparing for your teaching career, find support wherever you can, whether it is with co-workers or with your online personal learning network. Ask for help, accept suggestions, visit as many classrooms as possible, and work to find your teaching voice.” -Kathryn Laster, Texas math teacher and campus instructional specialist
“There will most likely be a student who tests you, or presses your buttons. While it can be your greatest challenge, try to connect with that student. This is crucial because if you can find a way to make that student shine, then you are doing your job well. I would [also] say that flexibility has been key in my teaching – with students, colleagues and families.” -Marisa Kaplan, New York instructional coach and past elementary school teacher in New York
“I wish I had known and been taught more about standards-based grading, research-based teaching and assessing methods. As I have researched more about these, my teaching has improved and I’ve learned more effective ways to teach and assess. My students’ grades are better, they are learning more and they are having a much more enjoyable time in my class.” -Chris Mitchell, science teacher in Seoul, South Korea
“Be prepared to clearly articulate your learning goals and assessments. As teachers, we like to think lessons are about learning, but to many students and parents they are more grade centric. If you have clear assessment policies and expectations, it will make your job easier. I wish I had been exposed to more assessment research and theories before entering the classroom…Looking back to the beginning of my career, not all of my assessments graded what I thought they did.” -Lisa Butler, Pennsylvania middle school Spanish teacher
“Don’t expect yourself to be perfect at everything at once. Pick the two most important areas of instruction in your teaching assignment and hone in on crafting those skills. When I began teaching, I focused on small-group reading instruction and math because I felt those areas would have the strongest impact on my students’ success.” -Megan Favre, Texas third grade language arts teacher
“There’s a huge amount of expectation among brand-new teachers. I would encourage them to stick with it. I know that a lot of them give up and say ‘It’s just too much.’ But, I think that teaching, in many ways, is a calling, and despite the fact that American society has been undervaluing their teachers, I would encourage them to keep at it because the rewards are great when working with others.” -Jon Bergmann, co-author, Flip Your Classroom and Illinois K-8 lead technology facilitator
NCTQ Ratings of Teacher Preparation Programs
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its first report on the quality of more than 1,100 teacher preparation programs in June of 2013. The list has now expanded to include data on over 2,500 teaching programs. The NCTQ’s review is intended to be a consumer tool for comparing the quality of teaching programs. The NCTQ is a non-partisan organization that advocates reforms to increase the number of effective teachers. Our schools page provides more information about top programs nationally and by state.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What’s the best teaching degree for someone who wants to teach elementary school?
Answer: If you want to be a teacher in an elementary school, an elementary education degree is typically the best route towards earning certification. Elementary education programs focus on the unique developmental and learning needs of young children and generally include coursework in active learning methods as well as student internships in elementary schools. If you’re considering pursuing a career as a teacher in preschool to third grade, an early childhood education degree might also be a good option.
Question: How long does it take to earn a teaching degree?
Answer: The length of time it takes to earn a teaching degree depends on the program and whether you are studying full-time or part-time. With full-time study, a bachelor’s degree in most areas of education can typically be earned in four years. If you already have a bachelor’s degree and are looking into switching careers, many schools offer master’s degrees in teaching that can be earned in as little as one year.
Question: Can I earn my teaching degree online?
Answer: If you are a first-time student looking into earning a bachelor’s degree, you will likely need to complete student teaching to qualify for a teaching license, which must be done in person. However, many schools do offer bachelor’s degree programs for teachers that allow other coursework to be completed online. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree and are looking to swith careers into teaching, an online master’s degree might help you meet certification requirements. There are also alternative routes to teaching that may have components that can be completed partially or fully online.
Question: If I already have a bachelor’s degree, do I need to earn another bachelor’s degree to become a teacher?
Answer: In most cases, a second bachelor’s degree is not necessary to become a teacher. Most states have established alternative routes to teacher certification for those who previously earned a bachelor’s degree but did not complete an education program. Depending on the routes available in your state and your educational background, you may be able to qualify for a teaching license in as little as one year. Earning a master’s degree is another option that can help you qualify for a teaching career in many states.
Question: How do I find out if a teaching degree is accredited?
Answer: There are various different accreditations that a school or teacher preparation program can have. If you are looking to become certified as a teacher, the two most important accreditations are regional accreditation from an agency recognized by the US Department of Education and approval from your state’s board of education. Each state’s board of education publishes a list of approved teacher preparation programs on its website, which you can check to make sure that the program you are researching will help you meet the requirements for certification. Some states may also accept CAEP or other national accreditations.
- Teaching Career Center
- Beginner’s Guide on Becoming a Teacher
- Traditional Route Teacher Certification Center
- Guide to Alternative (Non-Traditional) Teacher Certification
Accredited and Online Teaching Schools
1. O*NET OnLine, Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2011.00
2. O*NET OnLine, Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2012.00
3. O*NET OnLine, Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2021.00
4. O*NET OnLine, Middle School Teachers, Except Special Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2022.00
5. O*NET OnLine, Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2031.00