What is the Best Degree for Becoming a High School Computer Teacher?

high school computer teacher

Both personal computers and high school computer science courses have been around for the better part of three decades. But requirements for new high school teachers in this field are hardly uniform across the country. There are some general guidelines, of course. However, students would do themselves a favor to research state requirements individually before they pursue degree programs and certifications in this field.

Earn a Degree in Computer Science Education

This is the most straightforward path to becoming a high school computer science teacher. A degree in computer science education will familiarize you with the skills and subjects of the field, including:

  • programming
  • software development
  • data analytics

It will also provide coursework in everything from classroom management to curriculum development. The degree program might also require supervised classroom hours or other practical, real-world teaching experiences.

Computer science education programs might also have differing credit requirements, based on the licensure rules of their state. Since every state has different criteria for obtaining a teacher’s license, their undergraduate education programs are going to be geared to those unique criteria.

One thing to note about degree programs for computer science education is that they’re still relatively rare. Since computer science education is an emerging field, its degree options are limited. As such, you might need to take a different path to earning the right credentials for a high school computer science teaching job.

Look for a Computer Science Undergraduate Degree

If your state doesn’t have a computer science education degree, you’ll need to pursue an undergraduate major in something like:

  • computer science
  • information technology
  • programming
  • data processing
  • computer information systems

You might also consider exploring a technology or engineering field that makes extensive use of personal computers and emerging technologies.

The most common undergraduate degree for computer science is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Science. Another option is a specialized Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS).

If you’re willing go outside of the “computer science” label, there are numerous degrees for tech-related fields that include a computer science component, including:

  • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSIT)
  • Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science (​AMCS)
  • Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering (B.Tech)
  • Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Computer Science (BSE or BEng with CS).

All of these degrees can prepare you for a career dedicated to computer science, including a career as a teacher. They can also serve as foundational blocks for further study. They can strengthen the power of your resumé if you want to hit the job market immediately after graduation.

Major in an Education Field

Students looking to teach after graduating from an undergraduate degree program can choose a major or minor in education.

For secondary education teachers, it’s often recommended that you major in the subject that you want to teach. However, this isn’t an ironclad rule as much as a general piece of advice. It stems from the fact that some states require subject-specific exams for teaching licensure. As long as you make sure to supplement it with computer science coursework, however, there’s nothing wrong with earning a Bachelor of Arts in Education (BAEd). It will prepare you for a career in front of the classroom and serve as an important pre-qualification for things like the Praxis teacher certification exam.

An education minor will allow you to pursue a major in computer science without sacrificing the need for building your skills as an educator. Additionally, since an education minor is often pursued by those looking to teach, the curriculum is usually shaped around relevant subjects and skills for K-12 education. Courses might focus on things like:

  • managing classrooms
  • dealing with learning disabilities
  • creating effective lesson plans for students at all levels

An education minor will prepare you to better meet a classroom’s needs immediately after graduation.

Another option is a dual degree. This will allow you to study education and computer science at the same time, without prioritizing one over another. It’s a common enough track for future teachers who want to balance learning about their future discipline with learning how to pass that discipline on to younger generations.

It is also possible to earn certificates in education. They are less intensive than a degree program. They also have some limitations in regards to how they will count towards teacher licensure, but they’re worth considering. They are usually offered on the master’s level rather than the bachelor’s, but it’s never too early to start inquiring about possibilities and making preparations in advance.

Certification in Computer Science Education

As many as 20 states currently do not grant degrees or teaching licenses specifically in computer science, computer programming, or other high-tech fields.

Aspiring teachers living in these states will need to earn their credentials another way. One way to do this is by earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and then supplementing it with a certification in computer science education.

Usually offered as a Certificate in Computer Science Education, this qualification will prepare college students, school educators, and other industry professionals for the specialized task of teaching computer science to grades 8-12. It can be taken as either a college course or a post-graduation continuing education course. Subjects include areas like

  • computational thinking and standards
  • computer science principles
  • programming and teaching Java

Another path to certification is earning a Teaching Endorsement in Computer Science. This is usually offered to undergraduate students, but it can also be found in continuing education and even alternative teaching education programs. It takes the form of a 15- to 25-credit course dedicated to computing skills and childhood education and development topics. It can be used by teachers  to familiarize themselves with the unique standards, practices and challenges of computer science learning. Teaching endorsements are often available online or as streamlined eight- or 10-week courses outside of traditional semester structures.

After Undergrad: Consider a Master’s in a Relevant Field

computer teacher

A master’s degree can be beneficial for students who had limited opportunities in computer science education as an undergrad.

If you majored in computer science, for example, without a lot of focus on education, you can round out your skill set with a Master of Education (MEd). This highly flexible degree program is usually aimed at working professionals who are seeking more qualifications for career advancement. It can cover topics such as:

  • educational leadership
  • curriculum and instruction
  • behavioral and cognitive development in children

There are even MEd specializations for things like media and technology in the classroom if you want to continue learning with a computer science slant.

If you majored in education, on the other hand, the counterbalance would be a Master of Computer Science (MCS). It offers extensive training in things like:

  • programming
  • computing
  • mathematics
  • algorithms
  • networks
  • software development
  • database management

Some MCS programs have specializations in teaching. These specializations tend to be divided between K-12 teaching and teaching for adults as part of workplace training.

Last but not least, you can also find programs for a Master of Science (MS) in Computer Education. These are very similar to computer science education programs on the undergraduate level, but they assume you’re familiar with both education and computer science topics. They also dive deeper into relevant theories, practices, and skills.

A master’s degree of any type will usually have prerequisites for relevant coursework. For example, a master’s degree program in computer science will want applicants to have completed computer science courses as an undergrad. Even if you don’t meet these requirements, however, you can often enroll in a master’s program on a contingency basis. Other universities might offer a “post-baccalaureate program.” These will let you zip through the basics of your program in one to two years before officially pursuing your master’s-level degree.

The advantages of a master’s degree are numerous, especially in today’s highly competitive job market, where it helps to have an edge. Being able to put an MEd or MCS on your resumé can make all of the difference in achieving your dreams of standing in front of a classroom.

Research Teacher Certification Possibilities

high school teacher

After earning either an undergraduate degree in the field or finishing a graduate-level program, you need to become certified in your state of residence. Since every state has different requirements for their teachers, you’ll need to do your homework about what’s expected of you.

In the 20 states where teachers can not be currently certified in computer science, a general Praxis examination will likely do the trick. This is the official, industry-recognized teacher certification exam that’s required for licensure in the United States. It has several different tests, including the comprehensive “Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators” exam and the more specialized “Praxis Subject Assessments” that covers specific subjects such as:

  • math
  • English
  • technology education

Different states will require different Praxis tests for licensure.

In the 30 states that do offer computer science certificates or endorsements in computer science, teachers will generally need to schedule both a Praxis examination and the examination for their particular program. Both sets of exams are designed to test your knowledge of things like:

  • personal computers
  • programming languages
  • infrastructure of the Internet

You will also have to show your familiarity with childhood development and best practices for teaching.

With these tests completed, teachers will simply need to await a final score from the organization administering the exam. Every state requires a different score to obtain official teacher certification. Be sure to research requirements prior to sitting for these relatively expensive exam sessions.

Alternative Teaching Certification for Computer Science Teachers

While standards are high for teacher education, some states make it possible to become a high school computer science teacher without years of schooling or training. This option is generally offered to people making career changes or those who have relevant work experience without the official qualifications to back it up.

To follow this path, look for alternative teaching certifications. These certifications will allow you to transition into a teaching career without having to spend four to six years in an associated bachelor’s or master’s program. A few alternative teaching programs are even centered around computer science specifically.

Most alternative teaching programs do require a bachelor’s degree of some kind, but any discipline will do. You’ll have to take teaching courses and pass either the Praxis or another teaching exam administered by the state.

Some states experiencing teacher shortages are even offering stipends and other incentives to professionals who are willing to become teachers through the alternative track.

Continuing Education For Computer Science Education

computer teacher in high school

Most states have continuing education (CE) requirements for teaching professionals. Rather than getting their license and being done with it, teachers must demonstrate an ongoing competence in their content areas, as well as a general knowledge of:

  • industry developments
  • standards
  • practices
  • breakthroughs

These things can be especially relevant for computer science education since technology is always evolving.

Continuing education can take many forms. From traditional classroom practicums to online, self-paced courses, there are many possibilities to explore. Some courses might focus on reviewing or refreshing what you’ve already learned. Others are dedicated to teaching you new concepts or addressing educational issues of modern society and culture.

Continuing education isn’t the same everywhere. Type, length, and frequency can vary among states and even among districts within states. Speaking very generally, however, teachers should expect to spend around 100 hours in continuing education every five years or so. The Praxis exam expires after 10 years.

Regardless of your state and its continuing education requirements, plenty of programs exist that can help prospective teachers:

  • earn their credentials
  • further their understanding of the classroom
  • retain their competitive edge when applying for new jobs

A Growing Field, But a Tough One to Nail Down

Computer science is one of the most important subjects in today’s schools, and the number of job opportunities for teachers in this area is only increasing. Despite this growth, however, requirements remain disparate and even radically different from state to state.

You need  a solid undergraduate major in one of these areas:

  • computer science
  • computer programming
  • web development
  • engineering

With one of these degrees, you should be ready for the benchmarks, test scores, and educational credentials you need to land a position in computer science education.

Related Resources:

BDP Staff
July 2021

This concludes our article on the best degree for becoming a high school computer teacher.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris