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What do I have to do if I become an elementary school teacher, but later decide to become a high school teacher, or vice versa?

I am a sophomore in high school and would like to become a teacher, either elementary or high school. I want to have experience in both, and figure that if I do one for quite a while then I might want to try the other. I was just wondering what the process might be to do this?

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Alison’s Answer

Hello Rachel,


The major difference between the two age groups for an education in teaching really isn't extremely different, but it does help a lot to know which area you want to go to at least by your sophomore year in college. I recommend if you know you want to be a teacher relax into it as it is very much a calling and in many cases is second nature. As you get further up in the education ranks there will be demands for higher degrees. In my field for example, a full-time tenured professor of Bachelor level classes must have a doctorate in most cases. The rule of thumb though is if you're wanting to teach one level then you must be the level above that or higher. Bachelors prepared teachers with previous work experience in their chosen subject and a certificate can teach high school. Early education depends on your focus, but a good job to consider while in school is either as a nanny or daycare teacher. Among other things this will cement for you the age group you desire to teach as well as give you that extra push when looking for post-graduate internships.

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Maija’s Answer

It CAN be difficult but it does not have to be.All states require separate therefore, more intensive testing for such separate license. Some specialties grant K-12 licenses, such as Music, there may be others. Since you are thinking about this early you can plan a college career accordingly. Many university education departments can offer a course plan where you can satisfy all the requirements for a dual-license Check with you planned state of residence's board of Education. I am speaking from experience. I hold a K-12 license to teach French. Our French program is ending soon. I still want to teach and French won't be practical for my area. I was also a Political Science minor in college. I am NOT certified to teach Social Studies in Minnesota even though I meet the qualified teacher. I must retest and more methods courses, effectively getting a Master's.

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Dionne’s Answer

Most schools welcome volunteers. Work with your high school guidance counselor and see if s/he can schedule job-shadowing for you at both elementary and secondary schools. During the summer, volunteer to work at camps or summer extended year programs.


Another great place to seek out help with your future career is at the college of education located at your closest college or university.


I started my teaching career by teaching 3rd graders at an after-school program. Since then, I have had the pleasure of teaching middle school, high school and college students.

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Kelly’s Answer

You need to check with your college or university as they have the information required for state licensing. In my state you can get a preK-4 certification, K-6 certification and 1-12 certification. You can also get an All-level certification for music, art, special education, etc. Secondary education requires that you must elect a concentration such as science, math, social studies, etc. Not sure how it is now. When I graduated I was given a Lifetime certification, but states like Kansas gives a provisional certification that requires the teacher to obtain a master degree within 5 years of issuance.

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Stephanie’s Answer

When I became a teacher I wasn't sure either. I would very highly recommend that you volunteer in a summer camp to get experience with both age groups. They are very different, have very different needs, and the curriculum you will need to study in college will be different. As a teacher you will discover which age group you really enjoy working with. I found out I love 7th and 8th graders.


But, I can tell you that even though I became an elementary teacher, I spent over 10 years teaching adults - most were people who needed a GED (high school diploma substitute). So, I taught older "high school" students with my elementary certificate.

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Lou’s Answer

I would echo what Alison said. Typically, your certification will be for either elementary (depending on state K-6) or secondary (7-12). From there, it's a matter of going through the certification requirements to change designations. At some schools, such as private or charter schools, this doesn't matter as much. But in general, it's not terribly hard to move - just know that once you establish a routine at one grade level, you almost need to start from scratch when you change!

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Farhana’s Answer

You can start volunteering in schools to see if you're interested in elementary education or secondary education. After you see, which one interests you more, you can get a Bachelors of that subject-area and later on, after some experience, you can come back to university to get your certification on your second choice.

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Elaine’s Answer

You've gotten some great answers from the people who wrote comments to you. Thank ou. Red to check your state's requirements for teaching each level. But I would think it is not that difficult to switch from one area to another, perhaps having to take specific area courses to teach middle or high school. I nice had ai male intern in. Y kindergarten class who said he didn't want to work with such young children, but it was the only thing available. When he got his teaching degree, he decided to teach pre-k and has been doing that for the past 15 years. Just get some experience with each age group and see what is most cmffprtwnle to you.

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Rachel’s Answer

It really depends what type of teacher you would like to be. However the main pathways are generally the same and the options vary but go along the same lines.


  1. You need to graduate high school.
  2. You need to attend a college/university and earn a four- year B.A. degree. You will want to get a bachelors degree in the subject-matter that you want to teach, this makes certification in your state and subject-area feasible. You may opt to minor or double-major in education. You do not need to have a bachelors in education to be a teacher. I would suggest getting a bachelors degree in the subject you would like to teach. (for example: I am an English teacher, I majored in English literature and now have a bachelors in English).
  3. Once you graduate college with your bachelors degree you have a few options:

A. Go directly to Graduate school and obtain your masters in the area of teaching/education you want to teach (ie. Masters of Education, Masters of Teaching, Masters of Secondary English, Masters of Teaching in Secondary English, Masters of Teaching in Elementary, Masters of Special Education etc.). You may also opt to get a masters degree in the subject-are you wish to teach. However, while in graduate school you must obtain a masters degree in some variation of teaching/education. So you will have either a MAT (Masters of Teaching) or MED (Masters of Education). Most graduate schools have one of the two programs and offer a variation depending on the subject (ie. Masters of Teaching in Secondary English or Masters of Education in Secondary English). This option is ussually a fifth year pathway that allows you to student teach at a school while earning your masters degree.

B. You can apply to an Alternative Route to Certification (if you state has options/offers this). This would look like a program like TeachForAmerica, AmeriCorps TutorCorps, or other Teacher Residency Programs (ie. KIPP Teaching Fellows, MATCH Schools, or charter schools that offer Teacher Resident positions. Look up the options in your state or the options available if state is not a boundary for you. During the year or two-year commitment of these programs you would typically also have classes or being earning a masters degree. This option is for teachers who want to start working directly after they graduate college. Some programs lead to Certification in your state and others lead to BOTH Certification and a Masters Degree. The ARC programs lead to 90 day certifications, which then lead to Initial Educator Certification OR Resident Teacher Certification (ALL are pathways to FULL certification in your state).


  1. Regardless of which route you take you will need to take the certification exams in your state. MOST states, including CT (which is the information I know because it is my state) require the PRAXIS exams. You will need to research certification requirements within your own state for more information. However, while you are earning your masters (or after you have earned your bachelors) you will want to also prepare for and take the PRAXIS Core (which can be waived if your SAT/ACT scores are high enough) and the PRAXIS II which cannot be waived and MUST be passed for certification.
  2. Once you have obtained your Bachelors degree AND Masters degree AND Passed your state certification exams AND done some form of students teaching (whether that is during college or in a residency program) you can then:
  3. Go to your state board of education website and complete your certification information.
  4. Then, you can APPLY as a LEAD teacher in the area you are certified.

MOST pathways take 4-6 years. You will be able to start your first year of teaching as a lead teacher generally in year 5 or 6.

This professional recommends the following next steps:

  • Earn a bachelors degree in the subject area you would like to teach in AND or a bachelors in Education.
  • Decide if you want to do a teaching Residency program like Teach For America or if you would like to go straight to graduate school to earn your masters degree.
  • Apply to Graduate schools and Teaching Residency programs. During your senior year of college.
  • Begin your first year of grad school or teaching residency.
  • Earn your Masters degree in Education or Teaching, in the area you would like to teach in.


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