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What Qualifications Do I Need To Be a Teacher?

Updated: Apr 19

Teaching can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding professions out there. It is the responsibility of teachers to help students learn the skills they might need in order to succeed in their own professional goals later in life. Still, teachers also play essential roles outside of their chosen subject areas as well. They often act as guides or supports to individuals or student groups. While some of the roles a teacher may fill will come with time and experience, there is training involved in order to ensure that each candidate has the necessary knowledge and skills to be effective in the classroom.

Once you have the necessary qualifications to become a teacher, you may wish to take your experience and expertise abroad to benefit international students. This can be a great way to get more on-the-job training in a foreign country, observe possible other teaching methods, and work in concert with your peers to exchange ideas about teaching methodologies that may be both different and equally valuable.


For example, teaching in the United States can give you relevant experience in a foreign classroom and enrich the lives of a new generation of students from another country.


If you are interested in working as a teacher in the US, we will take you through some of the legal processes that you would need to fulfil prior to beginning your work experience there. We will also outline some of the basic standards teachers are expected to meet at both the primary and secondary school levels in that country.


Entry Requirements

If you already have your sights set on spending some years teaching abroad in the US, there are a few things you may need to do in the UK before you leave. For the most part, there is an expectation that J-1 visa holders will already have relevant teaching degrees from UK-based institutions. Most schools in the US recognise UK standards and will accept these degrees as markers of qualification in the relevant fields.


Additionally, you will need to have some years of teaching experience under your belt already. Due to these requirements, we will go over some of the initial training that you’ll go through in the UK first, how to get it, and what it means for you.


Initial Requirements To Meet in the UK

If your plan is to teach at any state school in England, obtaining a Qualified Teacher Status is going to be a requirement, and it is often a first step on the road to teaching. Note that, while QTS is not necessarily a requirement for some other kinds of schools, it is still advantageous to have this listed on your CV, and it can only help your chances of gaining a good position. In order to gain QTS, you will need to start by completing what is known as an Initial Teacher Training programme, otherwise called an ITT.


Suppose you are curious about which schools in England may not require Qualified Teacher Status. In that case, you could check out various free schools, academies, or independent schools, all of which do not look for QTS when considering potential candidates, generally speaking. However, it will still work to your advantage to have QTS in these cases. Before we get into some of the broader entry requirements, it is essential to note that QTS qualifies a prospective teacher to become an instructor within any of the broad age groups into which the UK divides its students.


However, suppose you’ve trained with a particular age group in mind and would like to move to another. In that case, you will need supporting evidence that shows you have the necessary qualifications to instruct the new group appropriately.


Some of the entry requirements for teaching in the UK are broadly similar to one another, such as the necessary certifications for teaching a particular age group or obtaining QTS. However, certain requirements will differ based on where you might like to train and teach in the UK. With each region having their own standards, one of the best places to start will be to research the particular requirements for the one in which you are interested.


Further, different programmes that offer training may have some of their own requirements that you’ll need to meet as well. You can search for applicable programmes throughout England, Scotland, or Wales to see if there is one that you would like to enter. In short, many of the training programmes you will come across can appear broadly similar to one another, but the particular eligibility requirements between them could vary somewhat. It is also worth noting that different programmes may offer funding options differently.


J-1 Visa Entry Requirements for UK Teachers

If you are intrigued by the prospect of teaching at any state school in the US, there are some entry requirements that you’ll need to meet as part of the legal process of moving there first. Before we get into those, we should mention that the Department of Education has collated data that gives some insights into precisely where foreign teachers might be most useful.


Although there are ways to teach anywhere in the country, specific geographic areas lack enough qualified teachers in specific areas of study. You may wish to look into teaching in one of these locations or fields of study, but it is not necessarily a requirement.


As part of coming to the US, the Department of Education does recommend that new teachers from the UK start the legal processes necessary to be recognised there at least one full year before they would like to make the move and begin their careers. While each individual situation can be a bit different, some entry requirements to the country will simply take time to complete, submit, check, and approve. The earlier one can get started with this process, the better the chances are of completing it without any sort of issues cropping up closer to the departure date.


The educational system in the United States performs administrations at the local level, otherwise known as the state level. Therefore, each of the 50 US states will have individual teacher certifications that foreign educators must meet in order to qualify for teaching positions in those respective states. To make the process easier, we recommend researching the specific requirements that are listed in the particular state in which you are interested.


Some states also have programmes aimed at foreign educators that will give them temporary positions for teaching foreign languages or various subjects related to cultural studies. If you are at all unsure about where you would like to teach, you can check information from USNEI or embassy websites for further advice on precisely where in the US might be a good fit for you.


In terms of the requirements for being allowed entry into the country, our article will detail some aspects of the J-1 visa, a common means by which UK teachers can apply for temporary approval in going to the US for the purpose of teaching. There are some benchmarks that UK citizens will need to meet in order to be approved for this visa.

  • Your visit must be for the purpose of accepting a position to teach at either the primary or secondary school level in the US

  • Have a minimum of three years of experience teaching already, or have any relevant professional experience that amounts to the same

  • Satisfy any standards set at the local level for the particular US state in which you would like to teach

  • Have the credentials to be an accredited primary or secondary school teacher in the UK

  • Be able to communicate with US students in the English language

  • Relevant and accredited teacher training programmes must be completed by this time

  • You must hold at least a Bachelor’s Degree or applicable foreign equivalent.

The following sections will provide prospective teachers in the UK with some advice on how to get into either primary or secondary school fields. In this way, they can gain relevant work experience they might need before going to the US on the J-1 visa.


Relevant articles - Can A British Teacher Teach In America?


How To Become a Primary School Teacher?

Primary school teachers will focus on working with children who may range from ages 5 to 11. While you will focus on some broad educational curriculum, there is an expectation that you will also foster your students' social or emotional development in tandem with their instruction. Additionally, you'll work with similar age ranges if you teach primary school in the US as part of the J-1 visa programme. Students on the higher end of this age range would be middle school students in the US.


Primary School Teacher Entry Requirements

Broadly speaking, you will need your GCSEs in the sciences, maths, and English. These GCSE scores should be at grades 9 to 4. If you’re going for a degree, you’ll need at least two or three A levels in order to meet the minimum standards. Further, should you opt for a postgraduate course, you’ll want to go for a degree in that chosen field, too.


If you do not feel ready even though you hold the entry requirements necessary, you can opt for a subject knowledge enhancement course. These courses are tailored to different subjects in school, and you can choose the main one from which you are planning to teach.


Ways To Achieve the Requirements

There are several paths open to you that might allow you to get the relevant experience or training you would need to meet the entry requirements for the field of primary school teacher:


Apprenticeship: If you have a degree and would like to teach this age group, you can join a postgraduate programme that trains you as an apprentice to become a primary school teacher. The GCSE requirements mentioned earlier would all apply here. Additionally, you would need to hold a degree for a teaching apprenticeship. The aim of an apprenticeship is to give you practical work experience in teaching that is combined with theory and instruction. As an apprentice, you’ll work with staff who are already trained for this job, and they will help you gain useful experience. As with most training programmes, you may need to work with different organisations depending on the region in the UK in which you’ll be teaching.


Job Shadowing: You could also start down your path to becoming a primary school teacher by getting part-time work. In such cases, you will work part-time as a teaching assistant while also working on your degree for a postgraduate course in further teacher training.


Volunteer Work: Although this is not essential, you could also gain more experience by working with children in the primary school age group via volunteering at a local school. There are also paid options that could give you more experience. This can be a good option if you know you want to teach but don’t feel that you have enough experience tending to children yet.


How To Become a Secondary School Teacher?

If you want to become a secondary school teacher, you’ll be primarily working with students who range from ages from 11 to 16. Should you gain a post in a school that includes sixth form, you’ll also work with students who go up to the age of 19. Similarly, you could be working with students up to the age of 18 if you are teaching secondary school in the US as part of the J-1 visa programme.


Much like the primary school teacher, there is an expectation that you will have some auxiliary skill sets that could be useful in addition to knowing the subject matter. In secondary schools, patience, calmness under stress, flexibility, leadership, and administrative skills are of particular importance.


Secondary School Teacher Entry Requirements

Again, anyone applying for a secondary school teaching position will need four or five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grades 9 to 4. Additionally, two to three A levels are necessary for the degree. You’ll also need a degree in a particular subject-matter field to pursue a postgraduate course.


Ways To Achieve the Requirements

The basic ways to get the necessary entry requirements for teaching at a secondary school will be similar to the ones you read about for primary school teaching. Namely, an apprenticeship, volunteer work at a school, or part-time job shadowing of other professionals while you pursue the degree of your choice.


There are nine qualification levels across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The first three entry levels tend to be the most difficult. Each level comes with a list of its own qualifications that you must meet, and it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the list of requirements in them.


Career Tips

This section covers some general career tips that prospective school teachers may find helpful for both primary and secondary. Some of these tips may be useful to you as you spend your initial years of teaching in the UK in order to get the minimum that might be needed to award you a J-1 visa.


Primary School Career Tips

Because primary school teachers are responsible for teaching a variety of subjects to students, broad knowledge of educational material and adaptability are two key components prospective candidates should try to foster within themselves. Being an outwardly motivated teacher can be an important characteristic of the primary school teacher. Motivated teachers can inspire students to learn their subjects with equal vigour or interest. Although each day brings new challenges, the adaptability of the primary school teacher can be a big help.


Teachers’ Standards are a set of guidelines that staff must follow when assessing new primary school teachers in their professional environments. While these standards are in place for the benefit of new teachers, they can see some use throughout all stages of a teacher’s career.


General subject knowledge, teaching skills, planning, organisation, student outcomes, and professional conduct are just a few of the major areas that the Teachers’ Standards address. There are also regular teacher appraisals that are designed to assess the performance of the teacher candidates. Appraisals gauge possible areas for improvement, and they can help set objectives that seek to meet those goals.


In terms of the career path, primary school teachers may wish to become assistant headteachers or, eventually, fill a Headteacher role. Should teacher candidates display exemplary leadership roles, there are ways to put them on faster tracks toward becoming headteachers. Further, some primary school teachers may wish to reach middle-management roles by becoming Advanced Skills Teachers. ASTs still maintain very similar roles to their regular counterparts, but they’ll spend some time outside of their classrooms teaching best practices in other schools in their regions. As a starting point, here are some general tips you can follow:

  • Establish good, professional relationships with pupils that foster a caring learning environment

  • Maintain your own organisational skills to ensure that you are always prepared. Be ready to adapt when necessary

  • Find out what the curriculum objectives are, and try to develop your lesson plans appropriately to meet these objectives at key milestones

  • Communicate student responsibilities clearly and concisely

  • Stay motivated


Secondary School Career Tips

Secondary school teachers will be experts in particular fields of study. They are responsible for imparting that knowledge to students in a way that is easy for them to understand and digest. It is important to get key concepts across to pupils, and part of this is remembering that different people may learn at different rates. Although secondary school teachers can be experts in their chosen subject matter, it can be easy to forget that students are not. Good secondary school teachers know how to adapt the knowledge they’ve learned to meet their students' needs best.


Much like the primary school teacher, new secondary school teachers will be monitored to ensure that they meet various Teachers’ Standards milestones. Many secondary school teachers should also have access to in-service training initiatives. These programmes foster continuing professional development for secondary school teachers. For the most part, they will focus on the needs of the school or the primary roles of individual secondary teachers. CPD in-service training can include things such as subject leadership, target setting, special needs for students, issues with curriculum, pastoral care, and more.


In terms of career progression, some secondary school teachers may opt to become the heads of a year, department heads, or coordinators that work in cross-curricular fields. Additionally, some secondary school teachers follow a career path that takes them out of teaching proper and into related jobs in higher education. These might include advisory roles, initial teacher training experts, or exam board administrators. As a starting point, here are some general tips that prospective secondary teachers may wish to follow:

  • Different schools have different timings, and figuring yours out early can be helpful to scheduling

  • Know where you can get support from mentors as a new secondary school teacher

  • State your expected routines for students, and apply them with both clarity and consistency

  • Although trying new things is good, repetition in some areas may be necessary in certain parts of lesson planning weekly

  • Use the available school resources as much as you can


FAQs

Below are a few of the most common questions prospective primary or secondary school teachers may have when starting their journeys to becoming professionals in UK-based education. In turn, the experiences you gain or degrees you complete can help you meet the initial requirements for the J-1 visa programme.


How To Get the Work Experience You Need To Teach?

There are multiple ways that you might approach the hands-on portion of the experience you’ll need in order to become a competent teacher in the UK. To start, it is important to remember that many training providers throughout the UK can offer the relevant experience you will need. Each provider may have similar but unique requirements you’ll need to meet, but all of them will have ways to help you get the experience that will come in handy later. Below is a list of some of the common ways that you can get experience. Note, however, that not all types of work experience may be available throughout the whole of the UK.


School Experience Service: For final year students who want to gain some knowledge of the classroom or are planning to apply for a teaching programme, school placements lasting several days may be available. Typically, the student will choose a placement that matches their preferred field of study.

Internships: There may be some paid internship opportunities for students in STEM fields to gain work experience while getting a wage. If one is working toward a degree in physics or math, internships of several weeks may be open to students as a way to gain experience.

Tutoring: Some schools will allow you to go into classrooms to and help the primary teacher with their classes. This is a great way to get an introduction into the classroom environment.

Volunteer work: Many volunteer courses need prospective teachers who can work with students more individually. You may work one-on-one with a student who needs extra help in particular areas.


How Do You Apply for Postgraduate Initial Teacher Education and Training?

There are different ways to get your initial teacher education or training as part of a postgraduate programme. Typically, there are both school-centric and university-centric routes that you can take. However, either of these will ask that you meet similar requirements to complete the training. Both will require several weeks in at least two classrooms to give a candidate some of the necessary hands-on experience they are expected to have.


Academic study in your chosen field, training in classroom management, and mentoring by a qualified peer are also part of the programmes offered. School-led options allow you to gain experience on the job as you’re working toward your status as a qualified teacher. You can find out more about these routes and how to get started using one of our helpful links below.


Becoming a Qualified Teacher

There are many paths to becoming a qualified teacher in the UK. Most of them will ask candidates to meet some standard benchmarks, and the basic requirements strive to ensure that each candidate has the requisite knowledge and skills to succeed in the classroom. You can select from among a wide range of courses in order to get the Qualified Teacher Status specifically. Once done, you can enter a postgraduate training programme for further study. In case you are interested, you can also check how much you get paid teaching in the USA if you sign up for a cultural exchange programme.

Links

This section includes a few helpful links that provide new candidates with useful resources or information.


School Experience

Gaining Work Experience

Qualified Teacher Status Information

Skill Assessments, Courses, and Career Options

Postgraduate Training Routes

UK Embassy Information on the J-1 Visa Process

General Information on Working Abroad in the States

Individual Requirements for US-based Teaching by State


Conclusion

Whether you might be in the UK, teaching at either the primary or secondary school levels can be a rewarding experience. It is not without its challenges, and the training involved can seem so intense as to be daunting at first. However, there are many resources out there to help new candidates settle into their new roles or meet the training requirements as they go down this path.


Once you have obtained the relevant degrees in your field and some years of work experience, you may wish to expand your horizons beyond the UK’s borders. The J-1 programme can be a fantastic way to do this, and it allows UK-based teachers to visit a foreign country with both the academic and language skills they already need in order to succeed. You’ll gain access to different teaching methods that you might apply back home in the UK, and you’ll gain valuable experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.


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