Educators must obtain a state teaching license to be authorized to lead elementary, mid-level or secondary classrooms. Many aspiring teachers begin preparing for their careers by earning a bachelor's degree in education in a program that also licenses graduates to teach. However, teachers may use alternatives routes to the become the head of a classroom. You can obtain a license regardless of which bachelor's degree you hold.

Research State Requirements

The first step for any prospective teacher should be to research state licensure requirements. Each state determines its own standards for professional educators, and qualifications can vary widely between states. Teach.org, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, lists the licensure and certification requirements for every state. Additionally, each state department of education website lists the state’s respective requirements.

Universal Basic Requirements

Some requirements are common to every state. Prospective educators must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. You must also complete a teacher-preparation program at a traditional academic institution or in an alternative licensure program that is recognized by your state. To enter and complete any preparation program, you must take state-specified standardized tests that cover basic knowledge and teaching principles. To teach a particular subject at the mid-level or secondary level, like history or algebra, you must also take exams that cover content-area knowledge.

Master’s Degree in Teaching or Education

Earning a graduate degree in an education program is one path to licensure. There are two types of graduate education degrees: the master of arts in teaching (M.A.T.) and the master of education (M.Ed.). Generally, graduate students who do not have professional teaching experience enroll in M.A.T. programs, while licensed educators enroll in M.Ed. programs. However, each university determines its own admissions requirements. If you are in the process of completing your bachelor's degree, your school may have a graduate program that allows you to take an additional academic year to earn an M.A.T. and teaching licensure. Programs that facilitate that transition often have admissions and financial aid incentives that benefit the student, such as undergraduate scholarship or student loan extensions. If you have already graduated from college, you can apply to a master’s program in education at any time after completing your bachelor's degree. Many graduate programs that lead to teaching licensure do not require applicants to have an education-related bachelor's degree. If returning to a college campus full or part time does not appeal to you, numerous online graduate education programs allow you to complete coursework from home. U.S. News and World Report's education page on its website lists many of those programs and provides their respective admissions standards.

Alternative Licensure Programs

Most states offer alternative licensure programs for college graduates. Some state departments of education run their own programs, which entail two years of coursework in teaching pedagogy. There are also independent organizations that train aspiring educators, like Teach for America and the New Teachers Project. If you enroll in a state-run or independent alternative licensure program, you will receive a provisional teaching license that allows you to teach full time while you complete the pedagogical training. There are two primary differences between state-run programs and their independent counterparts: cost and competitive admissions. State departments of education generally accept all applicants who meet the state’s testing and undergraduate grade point average requirements; independent organizations accept a fraction of their qualified applicants. They also cost teachers about five times more than state-run programs, as of publication.