One year before she was to graduate from Troy University, Adrianna Forehand changed her major to English.
“I allowed myself to really explore the courses offered and discovered a passion for literature and writing,” she explains.
When she graduated in 2022, earning an English teacher salary wasn’t on her radar. Instead, Forehand went to work as a paralegal at a firm in downtown Dothan, AL. She conducted research and drafted and edited legal documents. Nearly a year into the job, she accepted a teaching position at Bethel Christian Academy in Dothan.
Although she wasn’t planning to teach when she changed majors, Forehand says her English degree from TROY prepared her well to become an English teacher.
“The classroom dynamic that I experienced in my literature courses at TROY is what I endeavor to imitate and recreate in my own classrooms, promoting student involvement, engagement and expression,” she says.
In the past, the most common path to becoming a teacher was to complete an undergraduate education program from an accredited institution. But today, graduates with a variety of 4-year bachelor’s degrees outside of education are finding the door wide open to education careers due to the nationwide shortage of teachers.
According to an Economic Policy Institute report, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the nation’s long-standing teacher shortage. Across the U.S., many states are hiring teachers without education degrees to meet the demand. Typically, those individuals are required to earn teacher certification within a certain period of time, which varies from state to state.
In Alabama, for example, you can become a teacher with a 4-year bachelor’s degree in any major from a college or accredited university. You must then take part in a teacher certification program, like Alabama Teachers of Tomorrow.
How to Become an English Teacher
TROY’s Dr. Theresa M. Johnson, Assistant Professor of English, says she’s often asked, “Can you become a teacher with an English degree?” The answer, she says, is a resounding yes.
Students who come to TROY knowing they want to teach have traditionally chosen TROY’s bachelor’s in English/language arts (ELA) education degree. But Dr. Johnson wants prospective students to know they can become a teacher by earning a Bachelor of Arts in English at TROY.
In fact, that’s the route Dr. Johnson took — and it’s a route she believes is an ideal one, even for those who go to college knowing they want to teach.
Dr. Johnson earned a B.A. in English at TROY with minors in what she calls her “passions” — French and classical literature. TROY’s English degree then and now gives students the flexibility and time to pursue special interest classes, she says. Unlike the B.A. in English, students in the B.S. in ELA education degree program “do not have much leeway to take some of these off-the-beaten-path classes,” she says.
“The B.S. in English/language arts prepares students to teach in the high schools with certification. It’s 126 hours, and it’s quite intense. But a student who gets a B.A. in English has a great deal of freedom to choose a number of our classes as well as our required classes.”
English Degree Leads to “Dream Career” in Education
After earning her English degree with minors in French and Classical Literature at TROY and completing Alabama certification requirements, Dr. Johnson taught high school for more than 25 years. She returned to TROY to get her master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and then earned a Ph.D. in TESOL at Northcentral University.
“I’m living the dream,” says Dr. Johnson, who joined the TROY faculty in 2004. “If I had gone through with an ELA degree, I would not have had the opportunity to pursue my passions.”
Sometimes students pursuing the English degree at TROY decide they want to teach when they’re well into the program. Dr. Johnson advises them to explore their options. They can either complete their B.A. in English and pursue a master’s degree to earn their teaching certification — or enter a master’s program to teach at the college level or evaluate their transcript to enter the ELA program.
TROY offers an ELA, Alternative-A master’s degree, which is specifically designed for students who haven’t yet met Alabama certification requirements. In the program, students complete education classes that are foundational for becoming effective teachers. They then gain real-world teaching experience by completing observation requirements and a one-semester teaching internship at a junior or senior high school.
Master’s Leads to Higher English Teacher Salary
Dr. Johnson notes earning a master’s degree typically leads to a higher English teacher salary. According to a report published in April 2022 by the National Education Association, the average starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree was 8.7% higher than the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in 2020-2021.
But earning a master’s degree is just one more path to becoming a certified teacher, she explains. Students earning only a bachelor of arts in English will “absolutely” feel equipped to teach, she maintains.
Some students pursuing the English degree at TROY teach in independent or alternative schools that may not require teaching certification, she notes.
“Yes, they will feel equipped to teach, particularly in an independent school, because they have read more and studied more in depth because they have taken more English classes. So I would say they feel totally comfortable in the classroom teaching upper-level classes.”
They may, however, feel they are lacking in areas such as classroom management skills, she adds. That training is a central part of the ELA curriculum.
While students with an English degree can get certified to teach without completing a master’s degree, Dr. Johnson says most go the graduate-level route because of the higher English teacher salary.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of the English Degree Versus ELA
Another benefit to the English degree over the B.S. in ELA is that students have the opportunity to earn a minor in a foreign language or TESOL, Dr. Johnson explains. Some go on to teach English overseas in countries like China and South Korea. Others become English and writing tutors — even while still at TROY.
If you’re weighing the English degree against the ELA, Dr. Johnson offers this advice: “Pursue your passion.” If you have a passion for foreign languages or classical literature like she did, choose the B.A. in English.
When she’s asked which degree to choose, Dr. Johnson asks students, “How much time do you have?”
“If you want to graduate within four years with a teacher’s certificate, then choose the ELA. If you want a little more freedom to even skip a semester or take a gap year, do the B.A. and then enroll in the master’s program for your teaching certification,” she advises.
Earn an English Teacher Salary and Make a Difference in the World
Dr. Johnson says ELA students and those earning an English degree often have teaching jobs lined up well before they graduate from TROY.
When she looks back at her own career, she’s glad she chose the B.A. in English at TROY.
“Confucius said, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ I have ‘worked’ very few days of my life,” Dr. Johnson says. “I have been teaching for 46 years now, and I don’t ‘work.’ I don’t dread Mondays. I look forward to entering the classroom and sharing the world’s greatest literature. This is heaven on earth.”
While the English degree program attracts a broad range of students, Dr. Johnson says those who do best are passionate about reading, writing and sharing their thoughts. They also have a “strong sense of the importance of sharing the truth and what is right and what is wrong; what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.”
“These future teachers are role models, whether they want to wear that cloak or not,” she says. “They have to have a strong conviction that they can make a difference.”
TROY graduate Adrianna Forehand says mentoring students is what she enjoys most about being a teacher at Bethel Christian Academy. Preparing her students to become community leaders is something she takes seriously, she adds.
“My job allows me to be a role model and a sounding board for my students,” Forehand says. “Many of my professors at TROY became sounding boards for my dreams and career aspirations, and I hope that I am able to imitate that for my own students.”
Learn More About TROY’s Bachelor of Arts in English
Do you want to know more about how to become an English teacher? Explore TROY’s bachelor’s degree in English now to learn more about this unique path to teaching.