It's a question commonly asked: Can you become a teacher with an associate degree? The short answer is no. The minimum educational requirement for K-12 educators is a bachelor's degree.
However, there are alternative academic and career paths for individuals interested in teaching-related positions that only require an associate degree in education, such as teaching assistant, child care worker and preschool teacher. As of 2014, more than 2.2 million individuals were employed as para-educators across the United States.
To get a better understanding of the academic and career opportunities for individuals with an associate degree in education, we spoke to Dr. Teresa Bridger, Department Chair of the Teacher Education Program at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland. In her role, she advises students, supervises faculty and staff, administers grant programs and oversees the day-to-day running of the department. In addition, she serves on statewide committees, such as the Maryland State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care.
Dr. Teresa Bridger is the Department Chair of the Teacher Education Program at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland.
What Career Paths are Available to Students that Earn an Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT)?
AATs are designed only for students who wish to become certified classroom teachers and are typically state-wide agreements. For example, within the state of Maryland, students who want to begin at community colleges and then continue in a teacher education program at a four-year institution within the state can complete an AAT. The AATs are in:
- Early Childhood Education
- Elementary Education
- Special Education
- Secondary Education - Chemistry
- Secondary Education - English
- Secondary Education - Mathematics
- Secondary Education - Physics
- Secondary Education - Spanish
To graduate in one of the AAT programs, a student must meet the state-required minimum GPA of 2.75, complete all of the coursework (at many colleges with grades of C or higher), including appropriate field work, and pass a basic skills test (ACT, SAT, or Praxis CORE).
With the AAT degree, the student can then seamlessly transfer to a four-year institution which has that specific program. The AATs allow a student to save a great deal of money by taking the first two years of a teacher education program at a community college and then transfer seamlessly to a four-year institution to complete their bachelor's degree in a teacher education program.
Should Prospective Teachers Earn a Bachelor's Degree or Even a Master's Degree?
You cannot become a teacher without a bachelor's degree in any state. Private schools may hire people without bachelor's degrees or those with bachelor degrees in other fields to be teachers, but more and more private schools are also now requiring teacher certification. For those without a college degree already, this means that a bachelor's degree is the only way they can become certified teachers.
Most educators also receive master's degrees because teachers must continue their professional development throughout their entire teaching career in order to keep their teaching certification current and, in many cases, move up the career ladder (supervisors, principals, etc.). It makes more sense to take courses which lead to a master's degree than to take a bunch of unrelated coursework which will not assist a teacher in moving up the career ladder. At the master's level (and doctoral level), teachers can specialize in a variety of sub-fields within the field of education.
What Other Educational Options Exist for Students who want to Teach?
Community colleges have two-year degree programs called the Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education (AAS in ECE). These degrees lead the student directly into the work force, allowing students to teach in a private preschool that does not require teacher certification. Or, in the case of Maryland, direct a child care facility of more than 20 children in the state of Maryland.
The AAS in ECE degrees are a bit more flexible than the AAT's because they are work force and college driven, not state-wide agreements based on state agreed upon outcomes. It does provide students with more flexibility in their coursework, and are geared for those students who wish to stay in the field or child care instead of public school teaching.
What Type of Coursework and Field Work can Students Expect from the AAT Program?
All AATs require field work, which is what we call classroom experience. Field work for the AAT's requires 45 hours. Depending on the AAT program and the college, this may be one 3 credit (45 hour) field work experience, or it may be attached or combined with 3 separate courses, where each field work experience is 15 hours. In all of these field work courses, students observe, write up their observations, and reflect upon a variety of educational practices and theories.
The fieldwork courses at the two-year level are crucial for two reasons:
- They help students look at schools, classrooms, and learning differently than they have in the past (for example as a student themselves) and these experiences help them decide if teaching is the career for them.
- They provide students with real-life examples of what they are learning in their education courses, and this application allows students to learn these concepts at a deeper and more meaningful level.
What are the Benefits of Earning an AAT, rather than a Bachelor's Degree in Education?
An AAT is no more valuable to a student than any two-year degree would be. The AATs are designed to streamline the transfer process to teacher education programs at four-year institutions. An AAT allows students to take all the first two-year college requirements for teacher education at a more affordable rate and typically with smaller class sizes. In addition, many of the AAT courses can be completed online, which may or may not be true at four-year institutions.
For Graduates with an AAT, are there other Certificate or Certification Programs Available to them?
The AATs are designed for those students desiring to be teachers. Therefore, the only certificates students can earn are teaching certificates for the state after completion of an approved teacher education program at a four-year institution.
Because the early childhood education associate is a workforce degree, there are a variety of certificates students can earn along with (or instead of) a two-year degree in early childhood. These are certificates to provide child care professionals with additional proficiencies in a variety of skill areas, such as infant/toddler development, special education and school age care/management. These are not certificates for public school teaching, but to enhance the skills of child care professionals at the two-year college level.
Why Would you Recommend Someone Consider a Career as a Teacher?
Teaching is a great field for those who are enthusiastic and looking for a challenge and a way to make a difference in the world. Each day in teaching is different and each child/classroom is different, so you can never be bored! It's a lot of interacting with colleagues, children, and parents, and by keeping in mind that your students will remember you long after they leave your classroom, you know you are making a difference in their lives!
Giving young children a good foundation will help them be successful for the rest of their lives, so being an early childhood educator gives you the chance to make a huge impact on children and families!
Career Outlook for Teachers with an Associate Degree
The career paths that exist for individuals with an associate degree in education are nearly all projected to experience steady employment gains nationally between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Preschool Teacher: 7%
- Teacher Assistant: 6%
- Childcare Worker: 5%
- Library Technician: 5%
For prospective students ready to learn more about potential academic programs at the associate level, review the list of schools below to get started.
- Interview with Dr. Teresa Bridger, 6/28/2015
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Preschool Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Teacher Assistant, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/teacher-assistants.htm#tab-4
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Library Technician, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/library-technicians-and-assistants.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational and Employment Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Childcare Workers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/childcare-workers.htm