teacher with a group of students looking in a microscope

King warrior Written by special contributor

A caring and passionate teacher can change students’ lives. Teaching is deeply rewarding work that will transform your life, too.

Teachers help to create the next generation of empowered, motivated, capable young adults, ready to explore their strengths and improve the world.

And with teachers in high demand across the province, it’s a great time to start a career in education.

Steps on how to become a teacher in Ontario, Canada

  1. Start building your experience working with kids through volunteer or employment opportunities.
  2. Complete a bachelor's degree in education or another subject.
  3. Complete a teacher education program (four semesters).
  4. Apply to and be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers.

If you’re wondering how to become a teacher, this article is for you. We’ll map out the route to a career in teaching. And along the way, we have expert advice for you from two Waterloo alumni who teach in the Ontario system, and from Libby Burkett (she/her), a further education career leader from Waterloo’s Centre for Career Development (CCD).

Meet our alumni

Katherine Brown (she/her) is a Waterloo grad with a degree in Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies. “I didn’t have an “a-ha” moment, but I knew I was good at working with kids,” says Katherine. “I didn’t know it was going to be my calling until I got into teaching and realized that I was actually good at teaching — then I was hooked!” Katherine’s been teaching for eight years and is currently teaching Grade 6 with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB). “It’s my favourite grade to teach!”

Mike Miniou (he/him) graduated from Waterloo with a degree in Mathematics. He realized he wanted to be a teacher in high school after he spent a semester tutoring a friend who was struggling in Grade 12 Biology: “I looked forward to helping my friends more than doing anything else at school.” Mike currently teaches secondary school math and computer science with the WRDSB.

 A teacher holding up a book with numbers on it. A young student to the left of her counting with her fingers.

How to get experience working with kids

Experience working or volunteering with children is a key part of your application to a teacher education program. There are lots of ways to gain experience working with children and youth — and that experience will also help you decide whether teaching is really for you.

I was always working with kids. I had worked in a YMCA, at a daycare, and I'd coached figure skating. They all added up for me.

Katherine (she/her)

As a high school or university student, you can become a homework tutor at your local public library; work at a summer camp or your local YMCA; volunteer with groups like Girl Guides or Scouts; or coach a sports team, to give just a few examples. Consider your strengths as well as the age group you think you’d like to teach. Your high school guidance counsellor should have some ideas, too.

But don’t worry if you’ve been flipping burgers instead of teaching swimming through high school. “Teaching programs tend to give more weight to your most recent two years of experience,” says Libby. And most programs really value experience in the classroom. “Right now, emergency supply is in demand, and you don’t need a teaching degree,” Libby points out. If you’re over 18 and have your high school diploma, some boards will hire you as an emergency classroom monitor. Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, you even can work as an emergency substitute teacher in some regions. And you can always volunteer in schools.

Get in a school and volunteer so you really know what it's like. Try to gain experience in a range of situations and expose yourself to different students before you start teacher's college. It's also a good way to make contacts.

Mike (he/him)

 A teacher standing at the front of a classroom giving a lecture.

How to choose a university program to become a teacher

"The path to teaching isn't super linear. You can come from any background," says Libby. Almost any degree can lead to a career in teaching.

I was able to uncover interests during university by taking a variety of courses. I wish someone had said to me, 'you don't have to have it perfectly mapped out.' It can be messy, and you can stumble your way through and still find yourself!

Katherine (she/her)

Elementary vs secondary school teaching requirements

Teachers must be qualified to teach in two of the four grade divisions: primary (grades K-4), junior (4-8), intermediate (7-10), and senior (10-12).

If you’re already sure you want to become an elementary school teacher (primary/junior), you won’t need to specialize in a particular subject, although most teacher education programs prefer you to have a certain number of credits in core elementary school subjects such as English, French, math, and science.

If you’re aiming to teach junior/intermediate grades or intermediate/senior grades, you’ll want to think about developing teaching subjects during your undergraduate degree. Junior, intermediate, and senior level teachers need a certain number of undergraduate course credits to qualify to teach a subject. Junior/intermediate teachers need one specialization; intermediate/secondary teachers need two. Choosing a major and minor or double major to match your desired teaching subjects is one way to cover your bases.

If you need to adjust your specializations — or even the grade level you teach — there are courses you can take in teacher's college and throughout your career.

Mike (he/him)

 A teacher crouched down beside a students desk talking to them as they do their work.

The fast track to teaching

Some undergraduate programs at Waterloo will give you a head start on a career in education.

Follow your bliss

Really, though, the best degree to take is the one you’re most passionate about. Waterloo offers over a hundred different programs in science, arts and humanities, fine and performing arts, math, music, environment, and more that can set you on the path to a teaching career. Choose an undergraduate program that excites you — it will make you a stronger candidate, and a better teacher, too.

You're just as likely to teach your second teachable as your first. Choose two subjects you really love and are very comfortable with.

Mike (he/him)

As much as university is about teaching theories and information, learning to learn and loving to learn are the best things to take away.

Katherine (she/her)
 A teacher sitting at their desk on a video call. Their expression is excited and their hands are up.

How to apply to teacher's college

In Ontario’s two-year teacher education program, you learn not just what to teach, but how to teach, and you’ll also get hands-on experience in the classroom. Apply to teacher education programs at Ontario universities through the Teacher Education Application Service (TEAS).

Not all schools offer all teaching subjects. Requirements for teaching subjects will be different from school to school — and sometimes change from year to year at the same school. Teachers’ colleges often have relationships with specific school boards for student teacher placement. It’s a good idea to spend some time looking through different programs so you can start to plan ahead.

Seniority is a big part of your teaching career. Think about where you want to live.

Mike (he/him)

Be prepared — whether it's for a test or an interview. You can't fake preparedness. Put your all into it.

Katherine (she/her)
The CCD can help with that. Waterloo students and alumni can book unlimited hour-long appointments or just drop in. “I’ve had some students who I’ve met with weekly, or monthly, for a while,” says Libby. And support goes beyond just sorting through information: “We can help with wording email inquiries; we can help with practice phone calls,” says Libby. “And at the applying stage, we can help with that as well. It can be useful to have an experienced set of eyes on your documents. We can even sit with you while you’re physically applying to ensure everything goes smoothly.” CCD advisors can also help if you’re interested in teaching in other jurisdictions in Canada, or even internationally.

If you're doing your job right, you make yourself obsolete. You want students to get to the point where you've given them all the tools they need to handle a problem they've never seen before, and they get it. That's the best part for me.

Mike (he/him)

As much as I'm teaching [students] curriculum, I'm also teaching them how to be global citizens and nice people. And it's the best job in the world.

Katherine (she/her)


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