How to become a teacher in the USA.

The Beginner’s Guide on How to Become a Teacher

Teacher Certification by State

Alternative Certification Guide

Teacher Career Center

Learn About Teaching Degrees

Teacher Career Interviews

If you are interested in getting started in a teaching career, this guide will help you learn the steps and key information you should know about how to become a teacher. Understanding the process of becoming a teacher can help you gain the knowledge you need to develop a plan for fulfilling all the requirements for earning teacher certification in your state and getting hired.


Deciding if Teaching Is Right for You
Choosing a School with a Teaching Preparation Program
Testing Requirements for Teachers
Scholarships and Financial Aid
Curriculum for a Teaching Degree Program
Student Teaching
Fulfilling Requirements for Teacher Certification in Your State
Adding Endorsements
Alternative Teacher Certification
Getting Hired as a Teacher
Continuing your Education with Graduate School

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Deciding if Teaching Is Right for You

teacher with studentTeaching as a career can be tremendously rewarding and meaningful. Good teachers make positive impacts on young people on a daily basis. They teach youngsters academic skills, but also how to behave appropriately, how to socialize with others, and how to work hard. If you are hoping for a career in which you can contribute to society and make a difference in the world, then you may consider teaching.

Many of those who choose to become an educator have long, satisfying, and rewarding careers, but others exit the field early in search of other work. Before you pursue the certification and degrees required to find a teaching position, it is very important to be certain that you are right for the job and that the job is right for you.

Assess Your Interests and Talents

To know if education is really the right career path for you, make sure you have an understanding of what makes a good teacher and what skills and characteristics you have that make you compatible with teaching. To be a teacher, you must enjoy being around other people and interacting with them, especially young people. Teaching is a very social job and involves constant interaction with others.

Teachers are also patient. You need not have the patience of a saint, but if you lose your temper easily, a school may not be the right place for you. Teachers are flexible and good at quick decision making. Teachers must be strict to an extent and able to enforce rules, but they also need to pick their battles. To be an educator you must be prepared to be flexible, to make changes when things don’t go the way you expect, and to take it all in stride.

Most importantly of all, teachers care. They care about their students and student success. Without this characteristic, being a teacher will become a chore after a while. If you feel passionate about learning and you truly care about others, you have the potential to become a great teacher.

Volunteer in a School or Shadow a Teacher

To really understand the job and to decide if it is right for you, find a way to get into the classroom.Experienced teachers can tell you what their career is like and that is an excellent place to start. If you are still interested, contact local schools to find out if you can volunteer or spend a day or more shadowing a teacher. As a volunteer, you may be able to help out in a classroom as an assistant. While shadowing, you may be able to visit different classrooms and grade levels to get an idea of what different teachers do.

Make Practical Considerations

Making sure you have the interest and the characteristics of a teacher and finding out what teachers do every day are very important, but do not neglect the practical considerations. Think about salary, the amount of education you will need, certifications you will have to get, and the availability of jobs in the area in which you hope to live before making a final decision about a teaching career. For expert advice from current teachers about what is is like to be a teacher and more, read our teacher career interviews.

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Choosing a School with a Teaching Preparation Program

Once you are certain that teaching is the right career for your future, the next step is to select acertification program. In each state in the US, you must be certified in order to work as a teacher in a public school. It is important that you think carefully about the state in which you hope to live and work so that you can get the correct certification. It is possible to transfer certification to another state in the event you want to move, but it is not always easy.

Understand your Choices

Before you select a school and a certification program, make sure you understand what your options are. You can find a comprehensive list of teaching preparation programs by state at the National Council on Teacher Quality. Depending on your state, you may have many options, or just a handful, but either way, this will give you a starting point to make your choice.

It is also important to know what types of preparation programs are available and which one will meet your needs. If you do not yet have a bachelor’s degree, you may want to get into a program that will allow you to work towards both that degree and your teacher certification. If you already have that degree, be sure that you choose a school that offers a post-baccalaureate program for certification only.

Look for Accreditation

Not all teacher preparation programs are created equal. Some are of a higher quality than others and an important indicator of a good program is accreditation. Be sure that you select a university whose teacher certification program is accredited by a national or regional accrediting agency, such as theTeacher Education Accreditation Council or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. To get accreditation, a school must prove that it meets high standards and turns out teachers of excellent quality.

Consider Practical Factors

To narrow your choice down further, consider logistical concerns such as cost and location. Calculate your total cost after you find out the tuition and any other associated expenses, like room and board. If you can choose a school that is close to home, you may be able to save money by living there instead of on campus. Consider whether or not you will be looking for scholarships, financial aid, or loans, and find out what each school has to offer you.

Another important practical consideration is timing. Some schools offer accelerated programs to get you certified and into the workplace quickly. If you need to work at another job while pursuing your certification, look for a program that offers coursework in the evenings and on weekends, or at other convenient times.

Speak with Graduates of the Program

Finally, if you have narrowed your choice down to one or two schools, it is a good idea to speak with individuals who graduated from the program. They can give you valuable insights into the positives and negatives of the institution and the certification program. Each school you are considering should be able to get you in touch with graduates. Be sure to ask about the instructors, the ability to get a position after graduating, and anything else that you may have concerns about.

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Testing Requirements for Teachers

teacher testing requirementsTo enter a teaching program at a university or college, you must meet certain requirements. Those requirements depend upon the state in which you are seeking certification. The best way to fully understand what you must accomplish in order to become a teacher is to visit your state’s education department website. There, you should be able to find all the information necessary, including what tests you must pass in order to gain entry to a teaching certification program.

Praxis I and Other Entry Exams

Many states require a test for entry into a teaching program. Praxis I, or Pre-Professional Skills Test, is used by many states and is the first set of tests which assess your basic skills in math, reading, and writing. Each state has a minimum required score on each of the sections that you must meet in order to gain admission to a teaching preparation program at a state university. If you are earning abachelor’s degree at the same time as your certification, you will take this test early on in your college career. If you already have a degree and are seeking admission to a post-baccalaureate program, you will need to take the Praxis I before you are accepted into a program.

Praxis I is administered by ETS and can be taken year-round on a computer or in a traditional paper format. For computer-based tests, you must make an appointment, but these are available throughout the year. The paper tests are given at pre-set dates during the school year. You must register in advance to take this test. States that do not use Praxis, still require an entry exam, but they are created and administered by the individual state. To find out what test you need to take in your state, visit the department of education website.

Praxis II and Tests for Certification

Once you have gained entry to a teacher preparation program and completed the requirements, such as coursework and student teaching, you will be ready to apply for your state’s certification. This means you must take another exam. Many states that use the Praxis system from ETS will require that you take the Praxis II. This test is actually several exams by subject. You will take the subject tests for your particular area of certification. For instance, if you are applying for certification as a secondary social studies teacher, you will take the social studies Praxis II. You may take more than one subject area test if you are applying for more than one type of certification. As with Praxis I, the subject area tests may be given by computer or on paper.

There are 13 states that do not require the Praxis system at all for teachers, but may require it for other types of school positions such as administrators, speech pathologists, or school psychologists. In some cases, the Praxis system may be acceptable, but not the only option for assessment, while in others the state’s tests must be taken and passed. These states are Arizona, California, Colorado,Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Virginia, andWashington.

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Scholarships and Financial Aid

Once you have decided to become a teacher and have begun to select a program for certification that best suits your needs, it is time to think about tuition. No college program is cheap these days, but there are ways to ensure that you can afford your education. Begin by choosing a college or university that has reasonable rates, but then think about looking for scholarships and financial aid opportunities. With a little help, you can afford to earn your degree and certification.


If you can qualify, scholarships are a great way to pay for your education. Unlike loans, they need not be paid back. As such they tend to be very competitive, so be prepared to really sell yourself to get one. Check with your particular state for scholarships that may be available as well as those offered at the national level.

The US Department of Education offers TEACH Grants to help students become teachers. These grants have a service obligation attached to them, so make sure you will meet those conditions. Otherwise, your grant will turn into a loan. The requirements include teaching for at least four years in a high-need field. If you already know what subject you want to teach, turn to a national organization for scholarships. For instance, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics gives out one $10,000 scholarship each year.

Financial Aid and Loans

When you have exhausted your scholarship opportunities, consider financial aid options. Every college and university has a financial aid department. Make an appointment with an advisor at your school’s department. The advisor can guide you through the process of finding, applying for, getting, and paying back loans and aid. You can always go for a private loan, but government-backed student aid is usually a better choice. Your advisor can help you make this decision.

To begin the process of financial aid, you will fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will help you determine what type of aid you qualify for and what types of loans you may be able to get. These include Pell Grants, which are given to undergraduate students, Perkins loans, which are low-interest federal loans, or PLUS loans, which you can use for graduate school.

There are teacher loan forgiveness and cancellation programs in place which may assist you with paying off your tuition loans. These are intended to encourage young people to get into teaching, so take advantage of them if you can. There are certain eligibility requirements based on the type of aid you receive and how long you teach, so read up on the Department of Education website to be sure you qualify.

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Curriculum for a Teaching Degree Program

teacher program curriculumThe curriculum that you can expect for a teaching certification program will vary depending on the university or college that you attend. However, there are similarities between most education programs. If you do not already have a bachelor’s degree you will need to select a major and possibly a minor area of study. You will take coursework related to those subjects as well as courses that are specific to education. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject, you may only take the education courses. Most teaching programs will also require that you get some practical experience in a classroom. This may be volunteer work or observation of a teacher at work.

Choosing a Major and Minor

When selecting a major and minor area of study, you should have in mind the subjects that you hope to teach. Most education programs will limit the availability of major and minor choices to those that are teachable. For instance, a major in chemistry is a teachable major because you can teach science classes. A major in fashion design, on the other hand, may not be acceptable as that is not a teachable subject in most public schools. You may also be asked to choose a minor, depending on your school, which should also be in a teachable subject.

Much of your coursework will count towards your major and minor. If you are majoring in Spanish, for example, you will take plenty of Spanish language and culture classes. You may also need to take certain electives required by your university. This could include a variety of courses to complete a liberal arts education such as humanities, social sciences, English, and science.

Education Coursework

In addition to courses that relate to your major and minor, you will take education classes to earn your teacher certification. The specific classes you need to take will depend on whether you are getting certified in elementary, secondary, or special education. Whichever type of certification you are pursuing there are certain types of education classes you can expect to take:

  • Child development or psychology: These courses will help you better understand the minds of children and teens and how they develop.
  • Curriculum: These courses will teach you how to develop and write curricula and lesson plans for your classes.
  • Methods: Teaching methods courses focus on the practice of teaching, including how to explain and demonstrate concepts, how to lecture, and how to hold an effective discussion.
  • Assessment: In this type of course you will learn how to assess student learning by creating tests, using oral exams, designing projects, and other techniques.
  • Special Education: Whether or not you are receiving special education certification, you will likely be required to take some coursework in this area. Even general education teachers must understand special education to some extent.

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Classroom Experience

Many teacher certification programs require students to get classroom experience as they work towards their degree. Student teaching is often completed during the final year of study. You may first need to have a certain number of hours of this classroom experience, which could include volunteering in schools or tutoring programs, observing classroom teachers, or actively participating in classrooms. Most likely your education program will help you set up these experiences, but you may be allowed to find them on your own as well.

Student Teaching

Becoming a teacher involves several steps. The education and certification process culminates in a real-world teaching experience. Most universities and colleges call this step student teaching. This means that you work side-by-side with a classroom teacher to hone your skills, learn from a mentor, and practice being a real teacher before you get your own position at a school.


The specific requirements for your student teaching experience will depend on your university or college certification program. This may be just one semester at one school, or it could be a full year at one school or split between two different classrooms. In most cases, your program will have an office just for placement in student teaching positions. Your college does this because it is important that you have a mentor who is experienced and who teaches a subject that matches with your certification.

Be sure that you understand the requirements ahead of time so that you do not miss an entire semester and delay graduation. There will be certain requirements that you must meet in advance, such as completing certain courses before you can start a student teaching position. Also be sure that you return all of your required forms and paperwork in time. Missing out on your student teaching can mean that you fall a semester or a year behind your planned schedule.

Making the Most of the Experience

Student teaching is the best way for you to learn how to be a teacher. Coursework can only teach you so much. The practical experience in the classroom will really help you develop your skills. Work with your mentor teacher and allow him or her to guide you. Accept advice and constructive criticism and use it. Another great way to take advantage of this experience is to record yourself teaching. When you can see and hear what you are doing, you can really begin to understand the areas in which you need improvement.


Your certification program may accept alternative experiences in the place of student teaching. Contact someone in the department to find out what other experiences count towards it. For instance, if you previously worked as an instructor in a charter or private school that did not require you to be certified, that may count towards your student teaching credits. Another possibility may be a teaching position you held with a volunteer organization such as the Peace Corps.

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Fulfilling Requirements for Teacher Certification in Your State

Getting admission to a university or college with a teacher preparation program, completing the coursework, and earning your degree are just part of becoming a certified teacher. Once you have completed your education, you need to make sure that you meet the requirements specific to your state. Certification for teachers is left up to individual states and varies from one to the next. Make sure you find out exactly what you need to do for your state or anywhere else you are considering finding a teaching position.

Common Requirements

All states have certification requirements in common, which generally include earning a bachelor’s degree and the completion of either a teaching preparation program or some type of acceptable alternative. You will also need to pass some kind of test. Which test that is will depend on your state, but typically will include both a general test and a section on the particular subject area for which you are seeking certification.

Most states also require a period of student teaching. This may also be called mentored teaching or classroom experience. Typically, this is completed at the end of your teacher preparation program, before you graduate. Finally, in most states you will need to pass a criminal background check at the state level and through the FBI.

Individual States

To find out what the specific requirements for certification are in your state, you can research online. This site provides information on requirements for teacher certification by state. The University of Kentucky’s College of Education hosts a useful page with quick links to requirements for each state and Puerto Rico. You can also contact your state’s Department of Education directly to find out what the requirements are and for helpful resources for meeting them.


If you become certified as a teacher in one state but want to move to another and still be able to work, you must meet the requirements for teacher certification in that new state. States that are part of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, or NASDTEC, may have interstate agreements. In these agreements, each state outlines which other states’ certificates are acceptable for transfer. For instance, if you received certification in Alabama and want to move to Georgia, according to the agreement you can begin to seek work there. You will, however, need to meet certain additional requirements within a reasonable amount of time.

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Adding Endorsements

computer teacherWhen you get your teaching certificate, you will see that it lists your endorsements. These are the subjects and grade levels you are qualified and certified to teach. For instance, a high school teacher might have a secondary language arts endorsement and a secondary biology endorsement if she majored in English and biology while earning her secondary teaching certificate. Your certification is not set in stone. You have the option to add endorsements to it if you meet the right qualifications.

Why Add More Endorsements?

You might consider adding extra endorsements to your certificate to make yourself more marketable to schools and districts. The more subjects you are qualified to teach, the more likely you are to be hired. Districts like to bring on teachers who can fill several needs. You may also think about adding an endorsement if you already have a teaching position and there is a void in the school that you hope to fill. Just be sure when you add endorsements that you are willing to teach those subjects and grade levels. You may not have a choice of which of your endorsements you use as it is at the discretion of your administrators.

How to Add an Endorsement

Adding an endorsement requires that you meet the qualifications for it, as you already did for your current endorsements. The process will vary by state, but there are some basics that should hold true in all states. The first is that you must complete the appropriate coursework or pass a competency exam. This may mean having enough credits to qualify as having a minor in a subject area. Once you have completed the credits, you will need to pass the certification test for the area of endorsement in which you are interested. Finally, you will need to apply to have the endorsement added to your certificate. Depending on your state and university, this may mean contacting the appropriate office at your college or your state’s department of education.

For example, in Florida adding an endorsement requires submission of an application, completion of the required courses, and completion of a Florida school district’s approved in-service add-on program. In Texas, teachers can add “Additional Certification by Examination” by passing a certificate area test. In Washington state, teachers must complete required coursework, complete a supervised practicum, and pass the content area test.

If you are unsure where to start, contact an advisor in the education department at your university. If you are not currently enrolled, contact the school through which you received your certification or the school at which you hope to gain admittance to complete further coursework.

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Alternative Teacher Certification

The traditional route to becoming a certified teacher outlined above is not the only route to becoming a teacher. Most states in the US offer alternative routes to earning certification. These alternatives are typically centered on real-world teaching experience for candidates who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Troops to Teachers

One important alternative route to certification is the Troops to Teachers program. This allows qualified military personnel to begin a new career in education. The program is run by the Department of Defense, but the licensing is completed by each individual state. Eligibility requirements are currently under review, but those who are interested can visit the site and register for the program for more information.

Teach for America

Teach for America is an organization that recruits people to teach in areas of the country where schools are struggling. These are often urban and poverty-stricken areas. Recruits need not have prior teaching experience and can work towards certification while teaching. In most cases, the experience gained while working for Teach for America fulfills student teaching requirements.

Other Alternative Programs

There are additional programs that recruit and train new teachers through alternative means, such as Michelle Rhee’s The New Teacher Project. It recruits new teachers and then trains them to be effective and to work in districts with high levels of poverty and minority students.

Other alternative programs are location-specific or are not accepted in all states. The Academy for Urban School Leadership trains new teachers specifically to work in underperforming schools in Chicago and helps those teachers become certified. Trainees work for a full year with a mentor teacher. The American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence is a non-profit that was created by the US Department of Education and provides an affordable alternative route to certification. Certification through this route is accepted by Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Oklahoma.

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Getting Hired as a Teacher

teacher-interviewWith certification in hand, it is now time to find a position working as a teacher. As a new teacher, you have some things working for you and against you in your job search. You lack experience in the classroom, but on the other hand districts like to hire new teachers because your position will be low on the pay scale. The key to getting hired as a new teacher is to play up the classroom experience you do have. If you can do this while giving a professional interview and providing excellent references, you can increase your chances of getting hired.

Begin the Search

Your search should start with looking for districts that are hiring. If you are open to any location, your search can reach far and wide. For guidance, review our Best States to Be a Teacher Index, where you can search states by teacher salary, job openings, and more. If you are restricted to one area, you may need to target districts that have not advertised an open position. Contact the districts you are interested in directly, either through email or by phone, and find out if they are hiring. Even if they are not hiring at the moment, you may be able to send in a resume to keep on file. For the latest teacher job openings in a targeted area and across the country, check out our jobs board.

Join a Professional Organization and Network

Networking is important for finding a job in any field and that includes teaching. You can network through social media and through friends and family, but do not ignore the power of professional organizations. As a student or recent graduate you can join the student or associate programs of the large teacher unions like the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Joining as a student will get you access to job search resources and other benefits. There are also non-union groups that you can join for the networking opportunities like the Association of American Educators and Pi Lambda Theta.

Be Prepared

Networking, searching, and contacting districts are just the preliminary steps towards getting a teaching position. Once you have found the open positions and scheduled an interview, the real work begins. Be ready for your interview by preparing ahead of time. Practice interviewing with a friend and fellow job seeker. You can interview each other and ask the questions you think you might be expected to answer.

Also be ready to share all the experiences you have in the classroom. This could include student teaching, volunteer work, or working as a substitute teacher. Have your materials ready to go in a professional portfolio. Include lesson plans that you have created, letters of recommendation from your mentor teacher and university instructors, and, if possible, video of you teaching a lesson. Many districts are now asking prospective teachers to teach a lesson for real students while administrators observe. Be prepared for this by readying a lesson that you are comfortable doing.

Finally, be prepared to be patient. This is a tough job market for everyone, including teachers. If you do not find a position for your first year after graduation, use that time wisely. Work as a substitute teacher in one or two districts so that the teachers and administrators can get to know you. When a position opens up, you may be first in line for it.

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Continuing Your Education with Graduate School

Once you become certified as a teacher and find a position in a school, you may think your work is done, but it is not. As a teacher, you must continue to improve your skills and expand your knowledge. This can be accomplished through professional development opportunities, usually provided by your district, and by taking graduate-level courses. Each state sets different requirements for how much education you must complete after certification and how often. Consult your state’s department of education or your university for information.

Graduate Courses

If your state requires that you earn a certain number of graduate credit hours after being certified, you have many options. You can continue taking courses at the university where you earned your certification. Most teacher education programs offer graduate level courses. Another increasingly popular choice is to take online courses. More and more schools are offering graduate education classes online to help teachers meet their requirements. Examples include Central Michigan University, Eastern Kentucky University, and the University of Phoenix.

Earning a Master’s Degree

Some states require that you earn a master’s degree to keep your certification or to be fully and professionally certified, while others encourage you to earn a degree by offering extra compensation. States that require you to complete a master’s degree are New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Oregon,Michigan, Maryland, Mississippi, and Montana. These states increase pay for earning the graduate degree. States that do not require a master’s degree, but do compensate for it include Washington,Ohio, Delaware, Georgia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Hawaii,Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

If you choose to earn a master’s degree, you have several options. Many teachers earn a degree in education and teaching, which can include specializations such as instruction, curriculum, or special education. You can also earn a master’s degree in counseling or administration if you hope to move into an administrative position. Less common, but still a possibility, is to earn a doctoral degree in education or administration. If you choose to take this route, you open the door to other opportunities, such as becoming a superintendent of a district or a professor at a university.

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The Glossary of Education Reform for Journalists, Parents, and Community Members

Created by the Great Schools Partnership, the GLOSSARY OF EDUCATION REFORM is a comprehensive online resource that describes widely used school-improvement terms, concepts, and strategies for journalists, parents, and community members. | Learn more »



Brain-based learning refers to teaching methods, lesson designs, and school programs that are based on the latest scientific research about how the brain learns, including such factors as cognitive development—how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature socially, emotionally, and cognitively.

Brain-based learning is motivated by the general belief that learning can be accelerated and improved if educators base how and what they teach on the science of learning, rather than on past educational practices, established conventions, or assumptions about the learning process. For example, it was commonly believed that intelligence is a fixed characteristic that remains largely unchanged throughout a person’s life. However, recent discoveries in cognitive science have revealed that the human brain physically changes when it learns, and that after practicing certain skills it becomes increasingly easier to continue learning and improving those skills. This finding—that learning effectively improves brain functioning, resiliency, and working intelligence—has potentially far-reaching implications for how schools can design their academic programs and how teachers could structure educational experiences in the classroom.

Related terms such as brain-based education or brain-based teaching, like brain-based learning, refer to instructional techniques that are grounded in the neuroscience of learning—i.e., scientific findings are used to inform educational strategies and programs. Other related terms, such as educational neuroscience or mind, brain, and education sciencerefer to the general field of academic and scientific study, not to the brain-based practices employed in schools.


A great deal of the scientific research and academic dialogue related to brain-based learning has been focused on neuroplasticity—the concept that neural connections in the brain change, remap, and reorganize themselves when people learn new concepts, have new experiences, or practice certain skills over time. Scientists have also determined, for example, that the brain can perform several activities at once; that the same information can be stored in multiple areas of the brain; that learning functions can be affected by diet, exercise, stress, and other conditions; that meaning is more important than information when the brain is learning something new; and that certain emotional states can facilitate or impede learning—among many other findings.

Given the breadth and diversity of related scientific findings, brain-based learning may take a wide variety of forms from school to school or teacher to teacher. For example, teachers may design lessons or classroom environments to reflect conditions that facilitate learning—e.g., they may play calming music to decrease stress, reduce the amount of time they spend lecturing, engage students in regular physical activity, or create comfortable reading and study areas, with couches and beanbag chairs, as an alternative to traditional desks and chairs. They may also encourage students to eat more healthy foods or exercise more—two physical factors that have been shown to affect brain health.

The principles of brain-based learning are also being introduced into teacher-preparation programs, and an increasing number of colleges and universities are offering courses and degrees in the field. For example, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education now offers a Mind, Brain, and Education master’s-degree program.


Because educational neuroscience is still a relatively young field, the methods and technologies of cognitive science are still being developed and tested. That said, people are often predisposed to view scientific findings as incontrovertible “facts” rather than complex and evolving theories, so it’s possible that some educators may view scientific findings as being more “solid” than they actually are, or they may misinterpret scientific evidence and act upon findings in ways that would not be recommended by the research. In addition, “neuroscientific myths”—widespread misinterpretations of scientific evidence—can potentially give rise to educational practices of dubious value.

Another point of potential debate is how educators should balance the findings of neuroscience with the practicalities of teaching. For example, some neuroscientists might argue that teachers shouldn’t lecture for longer than ten minutes, but it is probably more practical to interpret that recommendation as a guideline, not a strict instructional prescription. Other findings might support the use of treadmills in classrooms—because the brain is more stimulated during physical activity—but such options may be impractical, unworkable, inadvisable, or financially infeasible in many school settings.
The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Your Teenager’s Development Brain

Pre-teen boy reading

did you knowQuestion mark symbol

Scientists once thought that brain development stopped after the first few years of life. Now we know that it keeps going well into adulthood.

As children become teenagers, their brains grow and change. These changes affect their thinking and behaviour. When you understand how, you can better help your child build a healthy teenage brain.

Teenage brain development: the basics

Children’s brains have a massive growth spurt when they’re very young. By the time they’re six, their brains are already about 90-95% of adult size. But the brain still needs a lot of remodelling before it can function as an adult brain.

This brain remodelling happens intensively during adolescence, continuing into your child’s mid-20s.

Some brain changes happen before puberty, and some continue long after. Brain change depends on age, experience and hormonal changes in puberty.

So even though all teenagers’ brains develop in roughly the same way at the same time, there are differences among individual teenagers. For example, if your child started puberty early, this might mean that some of your child’s brain changes started early too.

Inside the teenage brain

Adolescence is a time of significant growth and development inside the teenage brain.

The main change is that unused connections in the thinking and processing part of your child’s brain (called the grey matter) are ‘pruned’ away. At the same time, other connections are strengthened. This is the brain’s way of becoming more efficient, based on the ‘use it or lose it’ principle.

This pruning process begins in the back of the brain. The front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is remodelled last. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain, responsible for your child’s ability to plan and think about the consequences of actions, solve problems and control impulses. Changes in this part continue into early adulthood.

Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour.

The back-to-front development of the brain explains why your child’s thinking and behaviour sometimes seem quite mature, and illogical, impulsive or emotional at other times. Teenagers are working with brains that are still under construction.

Building a healthy teenage brain

The combination of your child’s unique brain and environment influences the way your child acts, thinks and feels. For example, your child’s preferred activities and skills might become ‘hard-wired’ in the brain.

How teenagers spend their time is crucial to brain development. So it’s worth thinking about the range of activities and experiences your child is into – music, sports, study, languages, video games. How are these shaping the sort of brain your child takes into adulthood?

You are an important part of your child’s environment. You mean a lot to your child. How you guide and influence him will be important in helping your child to build a healthy brain.

You can do this by:

  • encouraging positive behaviour
  • promoting good thinking skills
  • helping your child get lots of sleep.

Encouraging positive behaviour
While your child’s brain is developing, your child might:

  • take more risks or choose high-risk activities
  • express more and stronger emotions
  • make impulsive decisions.

Here are some tips for encouraging good behaviour and strengthening positive brain connections:

  • Let your child take some healthy risks. New and different experiences help your child develop an independent identity, explore grown-up behaviours, and move towards independence.
  • Help your child find new creative and expressive outlets for her feelings. She might be expressing and trying to control new emotions. Many teenagers find that sport or music, writing and other artforms – either as a participant or a spectator – are good outlets.
  • Talk through decisions step by step with your child. Ask about possible courses of action your child might choose, and talk through potential consequences. Encourage your child to weigh up the positive consequences or rewards against the negative ones.
  • Use family routines to give your child’s life some structure. These might be based around school and family timetables.
  • Provide boundaries, and opportunities for negotiating those boundaries. Young people need guidance and limit-setting from their parents and other adults.
  • Offer frequent praise and positive rewards for desired behaviours. This reinforces pathways in your child’s brain.
  • Be a positive role model. Your behaviour will show your child the behaviour you expect.
  • Stay connected with your child. You’ll probably want to keep an eye on your child’s activities and friends. Being open and approachable can help you with this.
  • Talk to your child about his developing brain. Understanding this important period of growth might help teenagers process their feelings. It might also make taking care of their brains more interesting.
Teenagers are often passionate about their interests, especially ones that give them opportunities to socialise. You can help your child develop skills and confidence by supporting her interests, activities and hobbies.

Promoting thinking skills
Brain growth and development during these years mean that your child will start to:

  • think more logically
  • think about things more abstractly – things are no longer so black or white
  • pick up more on other people’s emotional cues
  • solve more complex problems in a logical way, and see problems from different perspectives
  • get a better perspective on the future.

You can support the development of your child’s thinking with the following strategies:

  • Encourage empathy. Talk about feelings – yours, your child’s and other people’s. Highlight the fact that other people have different perspectives and circumstances. Reinforce that many people can be affected by one action.
  • Emphasise the immediate and long-term consequences of actions. The part of the brain responsible for future thinking (the prefrontal cortex) is still developing. If you talk about how your child’s actions influence both the present and the future, you can help the healthy development of your child’s prefrontal cortex.
  • Try to match your language level to the level of your child’s understanding. For important information, you can check understanding by asking children to tell you in their own words what they’ve just heard.
  • Prompt your child to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. Try role-modelling and suggesting a process that involves defining the problem, listing the options, and considering the outcome that leads to the best solution for all involved.

Getting lots of sleep
During the teenage years, your child’s sleep patterns will change. This is because the brain produces melatonin at a different time of the day. This makes your child feel tired and ready for bed later in the evening. It can keep your child awake into the night and make it difficult to get up the next morning.

Sleep is essential to healthy brain development. Try the following tips:

  • Ensure your child has a comfortable, quiet sleep environment.
  • Encourage ‘winding down’ before bed – away from TVs, mobiles and computers.
  • Reinforce a regular sleeping routine. Your child should aim to go to bed and wake up at regular times each day.
  • Encourage your child to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. While the ideal amount of sleep varies from person to person, the average amount of sleep that teenagers need is around nine hours.

Risk-taking behaviour

The teenage brain is built to seek out new experiences, risks and sensations – it’s all part of refining those brain connections.

Also, teenagers don’t always have a lot of self-control or good judgment and are more prone to risk-taking behaviour. This is because the self-monitoring, problem-solving and decision-making part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – develops last. Hormones are also thought to contribute to impulsive and risky behaviour in teens.

Teenagers need to take risks to grow and develop. You can support your child in choosing healthy risks – such as sports and travel – instead of negative ones like smoking and stealing. All risk-taking involves the possibility of failure. Your child will need your support to get over any setbacks.

Stress and the teenage brain

With so many changes happening to your child’s brain, it’s especially important that your child is protected and nurtured.

The incidence of poor mental health increases during the teenage years. It’s thought this could be related to the fact that the developing brain is more vulnerable to stress factors than the adult brain.

Teenage stresses can include drugs, alcohol and high-risk behaviour, as well as things like starting a new school, peer pressure, or major life events like moving house or the death of a loved one.

But don’t wrap your child in cotton wool! Too much parental attention might alienate your child.

Staying connected and involved in your child’s life can help you to learn more about how your child is coping with stress. It can also help you keep an open relationship with your child and ensure that your child sees you as someone to talk to – even about embarrassing or uncomfortable topics.

It’s thought that children are more likely to be open to parental guidance and monitoring during their teenage years if they’ve grown up in a supportive and nurturing home environment.

Every teenage child is unique, and teenagers respond to stress in different and unique ways. You know your child best, so it’s OK to trust your instinct on how to support your child if he’s going through a stressful time. It’s also OK to ask for help from friends, family members or professionals such as your GP.

Getting help

Every child experiences changes at a different rate. If you’re concerned about your child’s rate of development or you have concerns about your child’s changing body, thinking or behaviour, you could start by talking to a school counsellor or your GP. If you’re really worried, you could look for a counsellor or psychologist. You don’t need a referral, but you might prefer to have your GP recommend someone.

STLMOMS share great apps!

STL Moms- Educational apps and websites for children

ST. LOUIS, MO (STLMoms)- There’s an app for everything these days, including apps to teach our children.

Pediatrician Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital shared with us her top children’s educational apps for 2016:
1. Khan Academy: Khan Academy now collaborates with the U.S. Department of Education and myriad public and private educational institutions to provide ‘a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere’. Cost: Free; Ads: None

2. Awarded Google`S ‘Best of the best’ in 2013, Your progress is displayed in a graph form after every lesson. Cost: Free; Ads: None

3.EdX: EdX provides college and high school courses from leading universities online for free.Cost: Free, extra fees apply for official transcripts and college credit; Ads: None

4.IXL (website and app): IXL has been massively updated in the past year to incorporate more subjects and allow kids to skip through content if they get enough questions right. Your child can do a few sets of problems per day for free, or you can subscribe for $9.99 per month or $79 per year for a family membership. Cost: Free limited use or $9.99/month; Ads: None offers a comprehensive keyboarding/touch typing course that is appropriate for children from Kindergarten through college. . Cost: Free; Ads: May be removed for $15

6.Scratch and Scratch Jr.: Scratch is a free online tool and app designed by MIT to help kids learn programming. Cost: Free; Ads: None

7.BiblioNasium: Now used in many schools, this website will convince even the most reluctant reader to love reading. Cost: Free; Ads: Digital books are recommended and sold on site

8.Dragon Box: Better than anyone else, Dragon Box has succeeded in making math into a very fun game. Cost: $4.99-$7.99 in the App Store

9.Hooda Math: is a free online game site with more than 700 math and logic games. Cost: Free; Ads: Present throughout site but not offensive

10.Quizlet AND Brainscape: These two separate companies provide a similar free service: create-your-own flashcards and quizzes and then practice your content online.

11.PBSKids: Every young child I know plays PBSKids; it’s loaded with characters they know and it`s free with no ads.

12.ABCMouse: is a preschool and Kindergarten online educational website that offers a more comprehensive curriculum

13.Bitsboard: Alligator Apps is a company that has created an entire line of early childhood learning apps,

14.Stack the States and Stack the Countries: Voted best kids app for iPad,

15.Classic games with two or more players: Chess, Checkers, Connect 4, Othello, Battleship, and all those classic logic games you played as a child are available on tablets.

16.Time to get off the computer and do some chores!

Google for teaching math workshop- Fresno, CA

Alice Keeler and Diana Herrington are offering a workshop at Fresno State in the Kremen Education Building on Thursday, February 11 (8 a.m.-1 p.m.) that covers techniques for using Google Apps, Google Classroom, and Google Docs for teaching math. This workshop focuses on techniques that can be applied in grades 4-12.

Participants will practice using Google Apps to support Common Core math instruction. Participants should have a Google Apps account and are expected to have at least a basic understanding of Google Apps. The instructors will not cover basics such as creating a Google Doc, but rather how to apply this knowledge to teaching math.

 100% of the proceeds from this workshop will go to the Lowell Scholarship fund.

 To register, visit  For more information, email Alice at 



The Mathematics and Science Teacher Initiative (MSTI) at Fresno State is launching a series of free online workshops that review the content on the CSET: Mathematics Subtests I and II. These workshops will be offered on Saturdays (Feb. 20, 27; March 5, 12, 19; April 2, 9, 16) by Dr. Stefaan Delcroix, a talented Fresno State mathematics professor with experience teaching these workshops. CSET reimbursement is also available for eligible teachers.

These new online workshops join MSTI’s free online CSET science workshops, which were launched last year and have received very positive reviews by participants from around the state. The online FLGS (CSET: Science Subtests I and II) workshops will be held on February 20 and on April 9. A review of all areas of science for CSET Subtest III will be held on February 27.

 A recording of the workshop will be made available to participants soon after the workshop for personal review.

Please visit for workshop registration information.