K-12 Religion Education Teacher

Assisting today’s youth in building a solid foundation rooted in their faith, teachers specializing in religion are hired at the elementary, middle and high school levels to help develop a student’s education based upon the values and beliefs of a church or school. Theology graduates may concentrate on a specific denomination or cover a variety of religious teachings within their classrooms. The greatest number of opportunities for educators to teach religion to the younger generation is generally found at private schools, such as Catholic academies. In order to qualify for a position as a K-12 religion teacher, applicants must demonstrate knowledge of their faith, as well as fulfill the appropriate educational requirements.

Job Activities & Responsibilities

Religion teachers are employed in public and private school environments to teach religious history, concepts, and scripture to students at the kindergarten to high school grade levels. When hired at a private, religious school institution, teachers are expected to follow a curriculum that stays in line with the religious principles of that particular school’s mission. While serving as a role model and guide for today’s younger generation, religion teachers generally engage in the following day-to-day activities:

• equip students with cultural, social, moral and spiritual knowledge according to their faith
• develop and apply specific lesson plans that fit a school’s mission
• counsel and guide students with academic difficulties or behavioral issues
• participate in faculty meetings, professional workshops, and training seminars
• attend church regularly and pray with children


The education requirements for K-12 religion teachers vary according to the type of job they seek, with stark differences seen between employment opportunities available at public and private school systems.

Public schools require job candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree (minoring or majoring in theology or religion studies), as well as complete a teacher preparation program. Prospective educators must also pass state exams and gain licensure to qualify for a position at a public school.

Private schools and houses of worship that hire teachers are not expected to abide by the same employment requirements as the public school system. Although those with at least a bachelor’s degree increase their employment options, job applicants can be hired at a private school without having to hold a college degree. Some religious institutions have certification requirements specific to their own values that a candidate are expected to fulfill. For example, applicants may take classes centered on Catholic education philosophy, sacraments and creed in order to become certified as a Catholic school teacher for a specific school.

A master’s degree opens more doors to employment opportunities in the education field. For instance, some private learning institutions only hire applicants that hold a graduate degree with a theology specialization to teach students on the high school level.

Step by Step: How to Become a K-12 Religion Teacher

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a teaching prep program. Prospective K-12 religion teachers typically earn a bachelor’s degree in theology. Students take courses to build their knowledge of church history, scriptures, and the differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. College graduates, who majored in theology and are seeking employment outside of the private school system, are also expected to complete a teaching preparation program.

2. Gain experience in the field. Prospective religion teachers are often expected to exhibit an active membership with an associated church, parochial school or religious organization. As part of a teaching preparation program, students participate in internships to gain experience within a classroom setting. Other ways to gain relevant experience include attending internal training; serving as teacher assistant at a private parochial school; volunteering to teach youths at a church; and/or leading youth activities at religious organizations.

3. Satisfy state and school requirements, when applicable. Job requirements for K-12 teachers vary by state and type of school, and are especially different for those teaching religion. Public schools and other agencies require at least a bachelor’s degree, teaching certificate, and passing of subject-area tests. Public school educators are also required to become licensed to teach in their state. However, the majority of theology-based teaching positions found at private schools do not require their educators to possess advanced college degrees, teaching certifications, and/or state licenses. Some Catholic schools have their own religious-based training and certification programs for applicants to complete, while others prefer applicants with a Basic or Advanced Catechist Certificate (granted after completing required courses and seminars).

4. Pursue an advanced degree, training and/or credentials. In some cases, a Master’s of Education in combination with a theology background is a requirement for teaching at a secondary school. Some programs offer dual degrees in religion studies and education, such as a Master of Arts in Theology and Master of Education in Secondary School Teaching. Religion teachers in a graduate program complete intensive studies in major subject areas related to contemporary theology, such as Christian Life Studies and Historical Studies, and then qualify for higher-paying job openings, promotion, and pay increases.

Career Salary & Employment Outlook

Teachers with a theology degree (who are trained to teach students at the elementary, middle and high school levels) often find employment within a Catholic private school system. The number of job opportunities available at this type of private school is dependent on enrollment figures at individual institutions. Religion teachers are also hired at public schools, secular private schools, day academies, and agencies that offer tutoring services.

Although religion teachers at Catholic schools generally enjoy greater teaching freedoms and smaller, more-intimate class sizes, one primary tradeoff is often being paid a lower salary (when compared to being employed at a public school). According to the National Association of Catholic School Teachers (ACST)’s 2016-2017 Lay Teachers’ Salaries report, theology teaching graduates can expect to start out making between $17,001 and $41,350 per year with a BA/BS degree, as opposed to the reported median salary of $59,860 for elementary and secondary teachers at a public school.

Possessing an advanced degree has an impact on the salary paid to K-12 religion teachers. The ACST shows the maximum yearly pay for an educator with a master’s degree reaches up to $78,665, while teachers with a doctorate degree qualify for top salaries (up to $80,575).

Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the employment of primary and secondary school teachers in the United States is projected to grow 8 percent, from 2016 to 2026, with an added 76,800 openings becoming available during this time period. Educators who can teach religion to K-12 students are also in high demand abroad. There are many opportunities for graduates with a theology degree to fill open positions for non-core subjects generating low recruitment numbers, such as religious education, in places like the United Kingdom.