How to Become a Teacher in Canada: 11 Steps to a Fulfilling Career in the Classroom
Do you want to help the next generation of students prepare for their place in the world? This step-by-step guide explains how to become a teacher so that you can get on the path to this meaningful and enriching career. After all, you probably have good reasons for wanting to enter this field. For instance, maybe you've had a teacher who inspired you to do your best and now you want to inspire others. Or maybe you love to learn and wish to share your enthusiasm with young people.
One thing is clear: Teachers have the ability to shape the future. That's a big reason why the diverse field of education has been called both a calling and a gift.
The information below outlines what's required to work as an educator, no matter which grades or subjects interest you. But here's one key fact: Understanding how to become a teacher in Canada requires knowing that the process varies a little from one province or territory to another. Teachers are certified provincially or territorially, so the steps will be slightly different depending on where you live or intend to work. You can only teach in a province or territory that you are certified in.
In general, however, the requirements to become a teacher in the Canadian public school system are:
As you'll soon discover, you may have of variety of different options. But typically, becoming a teacher takes about four to six years. Or if you already have a degree, you could be teaching after just one or two years of study. Less commonly, you can become a teacher without a teaching degree by helping to fill a teaching shortage or, in some areas, by teaching in private schools. But this guide begins with the process for becoming a certified teacher. That's the most secure route to career opportunities. Check out these 11 steps:
1. Determine if teaching is a good fit for you.
There's no doubt that teaching can be a satisfying career, but not everyone has the personality to be a teacher. So start with a bit of soul-searching. Ask yourself questions like:
- Can I keep my sense of humour when things don't go as planned?
- Can I be patient when other people don't "get" certain concepts right away?
- Do I enjoy listening to stories from younger people?
- Do I like to learn new things?
- Do I have the potential to be a good role model?
Also, try some activities that will give you a sense of what it's like to teach:
In addition, consider the lifestyle of a teacher. Some people are attracted to teaching because they think teachers work fewer hours than other professionals. After all, school days are often shorter than the typical eight-hour workday, and teachers usually have a summer vacation. But remember that, in addition to hours in the classroom, teachers often spend time out of class preparing lessons or marking assignments. And many teachers help supervise after-school activities.
Of course, there are many rewards to becoming a teacher. Salary is just one of them. For example, an elementary teacher just starting out can make an average annual salary of $52,064, while a teacher with 15 years of experience can earn an average annual salary of $87,202.1
But many teachers say they're not in this profession for the money. Teachers know they are making an important contribution to our collective future. And on a more personal level, they get to spend their days with students who are always filled with potential. Helping those students achieve their goals and reach that potential is an extraordinary reward for a great teacher to experience. So if you're wondering whether teaching is right for you, be sure to ask current or retired teachers about their views of the profession.
2. Decide where you want to teach.
Teacher certification is a provincial and territorial responsibility. That means the requirements vary by province or territory. However, the amount of effort that an aspiring teacher invests into his or her education is pretty consistent across Canada. No region provides a "short cut" to becoming a teacher. So think about where you want to live and work.
For example, if you live in Ontario and want to teach in British Columbia after graduation, it's best to complete your education in BC. That's because education programs at British Columbia universities are designed to meet the requirements for how to become a teacher in BC.
Once you are certified in one province, you can teach in that province. But if you move to another province or territory, you will have to become certified there. An agreement does exist that allows teachers trained in one region of Canada to forego additional training in other parts of Canada. But you may need to provide documents like reference letters as proof of your good character. The process can take some time, so if you do move, be sure to start applying for certification well in advance of when you plan to teach.
You can access more information about the specific requirements for becoming a teacher in each province or territory—including how to transfer between regions—by checking out the list of certifying agencies at the end of this article.
3. Consider which grades you want to teach.
Before you research teacher education programs, it's smart to decide which grades you want to teach. After all, the process for becoming a teacher is different for different grade levels. Consider the following options:
Elementary school teachers, also called primary school teachers, are often generalists. They typically teach kindergarten through grades five or six, depending on the school district. Elementary school teachers are with their students throughout most of each school day and generally teach multiple subjects. So, to become an elementary school teacher, you must study a diverse range of subjects, such as art, reading, math, and science. Elementary education programs also cover topics like child psychology and child development.
Some elementary education programs are first-degree programs. In other words, you won't need to have another degree before you enrol. These BEd programs last four or five years and include a student-teaching experience or practicum in the final year.
You can also enter a post-baccalaureate program in elementary education if you already have a degree in another subject. Such programs are usually one or two years of further study after your first degree.
Middle school teachers teach the grades between elementary and high school (often six through eight, but it varies by school district). In many districts, a middle school teacher can specialize in teaching a certain subject. To specialize, you typically need to earn a bachelor's degree in that subject, then complete a post-degree education program. However, a growing number of universities offer BEd programs specifically geared toward learning how to teach middle school students.
High school teachers usually specialize in one or two subjects. For example, a teacher could teach both English and history. To become a high school teacher, you usually need a bachelor's degree related to the subjects you want to teach. But you can major or minor in those subjects. For example, if you want to teach math and biology, you could complete a major in math and a minor in biology as part of your first degree. Then you could enrol in a one- or two-year BEd teaching program that includes a practicum.
So, which grade level is best? It really depends on you. Some teachers enjoy the energy and diversity of teaching elementary school students. A typical day can include helping with art projects, supervising basic science projects, and reading aloud. For teachers in the younger grades, duties can also include basic caretaking tasks like tying students' shoes or helping them organize their desks.
In contrast, high school teachers can really delve into their favourite subjects. They can help students discover how their classes fit into their future plans. And you probably know from your own experiences that high school students are more independent.
Ultimately, your decision might come down to which age group you enjoy the most. If you're not sure, try doing volunteer or paid work with youth of different ages. Or set up some informational interviews with experienced teachers to get their input.
Also, keep in mind that learning how to become a professor is a different process than becoming a teacher in the K-12 school system. A professor teaches at a college or university. Professors don't need to complete teaching education programs. Instead, they earn master's degrees or PhDs in the subjects they wish to teach.
4. Think about which subjects you want to teach.
As mentioned above, most high school teachers (and some middle school teachers) focus on one or two subjects. Some school districts employ subject specialists at the elementary level as well. For example, an elementary school might have a teacher who instructs the music classes for every grade. Other elementary-school specializations include physical education and First Nations languages.
If you want to teach a trade, the process is a bit different. Qualified and experienced tradespeople can often teach in public high schools after completing a teaching program. In fact, more and more programs are becoming available that focus on teacher education for the trades. Although you don't usually need to have a degree before starting such programs, you do usually need a certain amount of work experience in your trade.
5. Research the requirements for the teaching areas that interest you.
After narrowing down your career goals a bit, start making an education plan for yourself. Check out the guidelines you need to follow from the certifying agency in your chosen province or territory. Consider:
- What kind of degree you will need in order to teach the subjects and grade levels that interest you
- Whether you need a first degree before enrolling in a post-degree teacher preparation program or can pursue an education degree without obtaining a first degree
- How many hours of student teaching are required for your chosen grade level
- Which university programs are recognized by the certifying agency
6. Apply to university.
Here's where you start putting your plan into action. When you apply to universities, make sure the programs they offer will enable you to obtain certification in the province or territory you want to teach in.
Also, keep this in mind: If your chosen path requires a post-degree teaching program, you don't have to complete it at the same school as your first degree. For example, if you want to be a math teacher, you can earn a bachelor's degree in math at one university, then complete your post-degree education program at a different school.
And, of course, when applying to university, it's wise to start creating a financial plan. Post-secondary education is an investment in your future—but it can also be a big financial commitment. Consider these numbers:
- Average one-year tuition costs for an education program: $6,5712
- Average one-year tuition costs for a humanities program: $5,5952
- Average one-year tuition costs for a science program: $6,1912
- Average book costs for one year of study: $7733
Fortunately, you may qualify for a number of financial aid options, such as grants, low-interest student loans, and work-study programs. So if cost seems like a barrier to becoming a teacher, be sure to talk to the financial aid offices at the universities you apply to.
7. Complete the first degree in your education plan.
This may also be your final degree if you've chosen to earn a Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree first instead of majoring in a different subject and then completing a post-degree education program that awards a BEd.
No matter which route you take, here are a few things you can do to make this step a little easier:
8. Get into a post-degree BEd program, if necessary.
Follow this step if your first bachelor's degree isn't already a BEd. Apply to a teacher preparation program that is approved by your region's certifying body. And make sure the number of supervised teaching hours in the program's practicum will meet the requirements for certification. For example, to be a certified teacher in Alberta, you will need to complete 10 weeks of teaching in a supervised practicum. In Ontario, you will need 80 days (or 400 hours).
As part of your application, you may need to provide other evidence that you will make a good teacher. For instance, that might mean providing a history of your work with children or teens, including your volunteer work. You may also be invited to participate in an interview, or you may need to write an essay explaining why you want to be a teacher. You may also be asked to provide letters of reference.
9. Complete your BEd program, including a practicum.
During a BEd program, you'll learn the concepts and best practices involved in managing a class of students. You'll also have the opportunity to teach. This step requires completing a student-teaching practicum. In other words, you will be responsible for every aspect of teaching, from creating lesson plans to marking papers. But don't panic: Your training up to this point will have prepared you to lead a class. And you'll be supervised by an experienced teacher.
For a successful practicum, it's wise to maintain a professional image. After all, you want to set a good example. Keep these tips in mind:
10. Get certified.
Apply for certification through the governing agency for teachers in your province or territory. The exact requirements vary by region, but you generally need to provide proof of the following:
- Your education, including the teaching programs you've completed
- Your teaching experience, including your student-teaching practicum
- Your suitability for the job, which may require you to provide letters of reference and undergo a criminal record check
You will also have to pay a certification fee. And you may be required to provide proof of your language proficiency in English or French. In Quebec, you will have to write a language exam in English or French, and you may be asked to take an oral exam.
If you are missing some of the required components, you may receive an interim certificate. This enables you to teach for a certain period of time while completing the remaining requirements.
In some provinces, all teachers have an interim certification period. For example, if you apply in Alberta, you will receive an Interim Professional Certificate, which is good for three years. After three years, your school will recommend you for a Permanent Professional Certificate (which doesn't expire).
You may also have to join a professional association for teachers. These associations can provide networking opportunities, job information, and continuing education to help you with the ongoing process of learning how to become a teacher. In Ontario, for example, the Ontario College of Teachers offers the New Teacher Induction Program to support new teachers.
As you continue in your teaching career, you'll need to maintain your certification and any professional memberships you have. That might mean paying fees every year to keep your teaching license and/or memberships active.
11. Find your first teaching job.
This step also varies a bit from one province or territory to another. In some regions (for example, British Columbia), you can access a central registry that includes job openings and teachers looking for work. In other regions, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, you can find job postings through individual school districts.
In regions with tight job markets, you may have to register as a substitute teacher before eventually being hired for a full-time position. Substitute teaching can be a great way to make connections with potential coworkers and get your foot in the door.
How to Become a Teacher Without a Teaching Degree
Earning a degree in education is the best route to the classroom since the majority of teaching jobs require a BEd. Even without a formal education degree, you will probably need to be certified in your province or territory in order to teach. And in most cases, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in another subject or some job-specific training in order to become certified.
However, if a teaching degree is not an option for you, here are some other possible paths:
Within the private school system, you can teach without an education degree in some provinces or territories. However, you must still apply for certification. For example, in British Columbia, you can apply for an Independent Teaching Certificate, which usually limits a teacher to certain subjects or certain types of schools.
It's Time to Create Your Future
Now that you know how become a teacher, start exploring some of the training possibilities. Did you know that streamlined programs are even available for early childhood education and special education? Just enter your postal code into the search tool below to see program options near you!
Information about teacher certification for each province or territory can be found at these websites: