What is a Teaching Degree?

For those who would like to make a difference in society, a career in teaching may be a viable option to consider. The reasons for wanting to be a teacher can be as personal and as unique as each individual that is called to become one. However, the one common denominator is the desire to impact people’s lives and to effect change. There is an enormous need for great teachers and for those who want to improve the quality of education.

When it comes to teaching, there are several academic paths one can take - postsecondary certification - bachelor’s degree - master’s degree - doctorate. Choosing which academic path to take can be made simpler by deciding what grade level one ultimately wants to teach, or what specialty one wants to pursue. (See Program Options below for details on the various academic paths.)

What we are focusing on in this article is a teaching degree, or a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT). This degree is not required in most states to become a teacher, however many teachers choose to pursue an advanced teaching degree in order to get practical experience in putting lessons together and working with children. Those who choose this degree have made the decision to take teaching to the next level and become better teachers by gaining practical and effective teaching and classroom management skills.

Program Options

As previously mentioned, when it comes to teaching, there are several academic paths one can take. Most involve some form of practicum or internship to help individuals build practical skills. The best fit is personal, and depends on a person’s goals, interests, and lifestyle:

Associate Degree in Education - Two Year Duration
Even though an associate degree is not enough to become a professional teacher, having it can be a great introduction to the world of education. Preschool teachers may be able to land employment with an associate degree, however there is now a strong push towards having a bachelor’s degree for the preschool level as well.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) Degree - Four Year Duration
All states require public school teachers (from kindergarten to grade 12) to have at least a bachelor’s degree, however some school systems now require a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree provides general liberal arts education training, emphasizing content and teaching skills. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers need to hold a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and many school systems require their teachers to major in a subject area such as math, history, or science.

There are specialized training programs for teaching elementary school, special education, English as a second language, or early childhood education. Some employers require a master’s degree for these positions, though others only require a bachelor’s degree.

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) Degree - Two Year Duration
Both these degrees are focused on advancing a teaching career. The Master of Arts in Teaching is focused mainly on advancing a teaching career, and is of interest to those who want practical teaching experience and who would prefer working face-to-face with students.

A Master’s in Education program is focused on teachers who are looking to broaden their range and advance their careers outside of the classroom, and into the education system itself. Examples are: working in administration, curriculum design, and policy change.

PhD in Education or Education Doctorate Degree (EdD) - Three to Five Year Duration
The most important difference between a PhD in Education and an Education Doctorate Degree (EdD) is the focus of curriculum in each program. Those interested in pursuing a career in academia tend to choose a PhD in Education (or a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education). This degree is oriented toward researchers and enables one to do research and exploration in a given field of study.

Those that prefer a more hands-on leadership role tend to choose a Doctorate in Education (EdD). This degree is oriented toward those pursuing leadership roles in education, government agencies and nonprofits.

Degrees Similar to Teaching

Early Childhood Education (ECE)
A degree in early childhood education provides students with ECE fundamentals and helps them develop leadership and advocacy abilities, as well as the administrative skills required to work in the field. Typical coursework in degree and certificate programs focuses on child growth and development, behavior guidance, supporting children and families, children with exceptionalities, and effective curriculum planning.

Elementary Education
Naturally aligned to early childhood education is elementary education. Both sectors are devoted to children’s mental, emotional, and social development.

School Counseling
School counseling and early childhood education degrees both address child development, assessment, and consultation. Counseling at the elementary and secondary school levels, however, goes beyond these childhood-focused mandates. It includes student and family counseling, specific adolescent counseling, gender identification and cross-cultural counseling; as well as career planning and decision making.

Secondary School Education
Students who wish to teach secondary school generally major in the specific subject they wish to teach. This differs from the requirements for ECE or elementary education; students who pursue a career in these sectors typically complete a degree in education, which focuses on effective teaching and curriculum development and methodologies.

Social Work
Education and social work go hand in hand. Both professions involve constant exposure to other people. Both are about helping people learn skills that promote their health or capacity to function in society and support themselves economically.

Special Education Teaching
The education sector, of course, spans many levels and many specializations. Individuals who consider majoring in early childhood education may also investigate pursuing a degree in special education and working with students with physical or mental disabilities. Like ECE teachers, special education teachers help students develop basic life skills and must be prepared to adapt their curriculum to do so.

Skills You’ll Learn

A teaching degree provides very usable transferrable skills, no matter what career path one chooses. The following are just a few skills students learn:

The number one most important quality in teaching is patience. Kids can be very difficult to deal with, and many lack respect for authority. In order to find a way to work with students and earn their respect, having patience is key to being successful in the classroom.

Not only do expectations and learning standards constantly change, but students learn in different ways, and according to their own capabilities. Teachers learn to adapt their lesson plans and use unique teaching tools to accommodate their students. Being able to adapt is a skill that every teacher practices in order to offer an optimal learning experience.

One of the most important skills is the ability to be clear, concise and to the point, both in words and in writing. The curriculum really drives home the importance of improving one’s communication skills, as no teacher will succeed if they don’t have this ability.

Critical Thinking
Asking critical questions is one of the best ways to teach, as well as to learn. An academic background in teaching helps to ask what, when, how, who, and why. Learning critical thinking skills enables teachers to think about and understand their own thinking and behaviour on issues, so they in turn can teach their students how to do so.

Learning to set deadlines, planning for the future, balancing priorities, and scheduling time is addressed. Organized teachers lead more effective learning environments for their students. Teachers are taught to organize and prepare for the unknown.

Teachers are taught to inspire and empower students to think critically, solve problems, be innovative, creative, adaptable, passionate, and flexible. Leading by example means giving their students the tools to self-direct and succeed, not only in school but in life.

What Can You Do with a Teaching Degree?

A Master of Arts in Teaching degree can prepare individuals for success in many fields, both in the school system and beyond. The following are just a few fields one can consider:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Elementary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Adult Education & Mentoring
  • Childcare
  • Education Administration
  • Curriculum Design
  • Education Policy & Research
  • Social Media Managment
  • Program Marketing
  • Consulting
  • Counseling
  • Corporate Training
  • Content Development
  • Writing/Publishing


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