A Look at the Degree Requirements for a Secondary Education Major

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Basic Information to Know

Those wishing to teach in a middle school or high school will need to seek a secondary education degree. Education is a regulated field so students will need to know there are set guidelines that they must follow in order to teach. Knowing the degree requirements for secondary education is a good place to start. The national government works with the state government and the requirements are set. Once you complete your education, students must be licensed or certified. Each individual state sets their own requirements for licensure and certification of secondary education teachers. It is also important to know that these guidelines apply to those wishing to work in the public school sector. Private schools set their own requirements thus, you may not need a license to teach but many do require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Teacher Education Programs & Degrees

Secondary education typically covers grades seven through twelve. However, some states may start at sixth grade. Secondary education programs typically look for students who have finished their GED or have a high school diploma. The typical way students earn a degree in secondary education is by attending a four-year university or college. Most colleges or universities will have a teacher education program that is accredited. These colleges or universities have put together programs that they feel best prepare students to teach at the middle or high school level.

Teacher education programs are accredited by one or both of the following groups: The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. These programs are highly regulated and have met the standards the state governments have set. Each state regulates their own licensing process so it is wise to check with the state’s department of education for information on what the state requires for licensing.

At nearly every university or college, a student will need to apply and be accepted to get into a secondary education program. Most schools recommend that students do so by their sophomore year of college. Once a student has applied and has been accepted into the program, they will need to choose an area to teach. To prepare, students choose to major in that field; as well as majoring in a secondary education program. For example, if a student wants to teach math they would major in secondary education and math. If a student wants to teach a foreign language, they would choose to major in a specific language, such as Spanish, and also in a secondary teacher preparation program. It is basically like having a double major. Every college and university will have different concentration options available.

Within the secondary education program, students can expect to find a variety of courses. A student will find courses in these general teacher preparation areas: educational theory, curriculum development, teaching methods, technology in the classroom, and instructional courses. Some programs offer courses in pedagogy which is the study of teaching and the process of teaching. In today’s job market, it is wise to also seek specialization in Special Education or ENL (English as a New Language) on top of your concentrated area. Depending upon the college or university’s set program, these specializations may only require students to take an additional two or three courses but will aid graduates in finding a job. Many colleges or universities also require students to complete a minimum of one semester of student teaching; although, some may offer or recommend a full school year of student teaching.

Testing and Licensure

Once a student has completed a secondary education program, they must take an exam that will test their knowledge and skills. This test will cover basic skills such as reading and writing; as well as proficiency in their selected area of study. This test is called the PRAXIS Exam. It tests your proficiency and preparedness to enter the classroom. Many teacher education programs require a certain score on the PRAXIS in order to graduate from their program. Most states require this test in order to be licensed. Some states have their own individual assessment tests as well.

If you are licensed in one state but plan to move to another, your license may be transferable. Most states have a reciprocity agreement meaning they will accept a license from another state equal to their own. Other states may require further education or retesting in order to get a license to teach in that state. Again, public schools will require a secondary education teaching degree and a license while private schools will have their own set of regulations that may not require the PRAXIS or licensure.

Individual States

Each state has its own set of requirements for licensure so it is best to plan ahead and do research. For example, the state of Florida only requires a bachelor’s degree and 15 credit hours of teacher preparation course work at the undergraduate or graduate level for a temporary license that is valid for three school years. Also in Florida, you do not need to have a degree or concentration in the subject area that you desire to teach. In California, candidates will be granted a license that must be renewed within five years. In order to renew the license, further coursework or professional development must be completed. The state of New York and New York City itself have different guidelines to follow. New York City requires 40 days of experience in a supervised classroom setting in order to get an initial license (this is in place of a semester or year long student teaching experience). But both the state of New York and New York City have a system set where the initial license only lasts for five years and then teachers will need to further their education and apply for a professional license. Teachers must also attend a few workshops and must have fingerprint clearance in order to be granted the initial license.

These are just a few examples of what a state may require of a candidate who is applying for a secondary education teaching license. All states require some preparation in a secondary education degree program at the college or university level. The future is bright for those entering the education field. Those with interest in teaching within the areas of math or the sciences will have the best chances of finding a position once all requirements are met, for these are the most popular. Check out www.teach.gov for more information on each state’s requirements and help in choosing your path to teaching.


Bureau of Labor

Department of Education

New York City Department of Education

New York State Department of Education