How to Get Your Teacher Certification

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What Is Teacher Certification?

Teacher certification is the process by which prospective educators get teacher licensing to teach within a given area after completing required coursework, degrees, tests and other specified criteria. You can become certified by the state in which you wish to teach, and then earn national certification accepted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The Traditional Route to Teacher Certification

If you already know you’d like to teach in a particular state and have made the commitment to earning your degree and taking the traditional route to the classroom, here are the basic steps to get you there.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a teacher prep program

    You’ll need four years for a bachelor’s program, followed by your teacher’s preparation to make sure you’re ready for your first day in the classroom.

  2. Fulfill the student teaching requirement

    Each state has different requirements.

  3. Earn your master’s degree if your specialization requires one

    Some specialized teaching areas and educational administration paths require a master’s degree.

  4. Pass your state’s required exam for teachers

    You’ll most likely need to prepare to pass the Praxis, which is a standardized exam for those who want to become teachers.

  5. Apply for state teacher certification

    Read on to learn about the different types of teacher certification.

Find Teacher Certification and Licensing Requirements by State

All states require that people be licensed before they can teach in our public schools. The rigorous process for certification and licensing ensures that teachers meet certain standards in their subject areas, pass required background checks for the age groups they teach, and are up to speed in accepted teaching methods. Use our map or drop-down lists to find your state and begin learning about requirements.

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC

Teaching Reciprocity

Transferring Teacher Certification to Another State

If you are already a teacher but are moving to another state, you may be happy to learn that transferring teaching certificates between states is often possible. Many states have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers licensed in one state to become certified in another. Currently, more than 40 states have reciprocity agreements with at least one other state; however, many consider this transfer only provisional. In those cases, you would be required to earn the new state’s license within the first few years of teaching there.

Types of Teacher Certification

A teaching credential is a license conferred by a state agency to teachers who have completed certain state-mandated requirements, such as education courses and student teaching experience, and have passed additional state-mandated teaching examinations. Each state sets its own requirements for teacher certification, and there is no guarantee that a certification in one state will be accepted in another state. For example, a teacher who holds a Texas teacher certification won’t necessarily be qualified to teach in Georgia.

All states require certified teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree, and more and more states now require candidates to hold a master’s degree or receive one within the first five years of teaching.

Teachers may earn a credential that allows them to teach either certain subject matter or a specific grade level. The type of teaching credential you pursue will depend on your interests as well as the options and requirements set by your state Department of Education.

Elementary and Middle School Certification

Elementary school teaching credentials are for generalists, which means the teacher can teach a variety of subjects. Middle school teachers can be generalists, or they can specialize in the specific subjects they plan to teach. The following list shows typical grade levels covered by different certifications:

  • Early childhood teacher certification (usually includes kindergarten through grade 3)
  • Elementary teacher certification (usually includes kindergarten through grade 6)
  • Middle grades teacher certification (usually includes grades 5 through 9)

Visit your state page for more info ›

Teaching Certificates and Endorsements in Secondary Education

Since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted, teachers who are interested in teaching older students (typically grades 7 through 12) must prove they are “highly qualified” to teach the subjects they do. They do this by getting teacher certification for secondary school and adding one or more subject area endorsements. Endorsements qualify middle school and high school teachers to teach subjects that are not covered in their teaching credential. Generally an undergraduate major meets the requirement of a teaching endorsement. However, you can also qualify for an endorsement by taking specific courses and exams. Secondary teacher certification may look like the following:

  • Secondary teacher certification with a math endorsement
  • Secondary teacher certification with a science endorsement
  • Secondary teacher certification with a history endorsement

Visit your state page for more info ›

Teacher Certification for Specific Subject Areas

Some teaching careers are more subject-focused than age-focused. For instance, reading specialists, speech therapists and school counselors can easily work with students from kindergarten to twelfth grade in a single week, depending on the structure of the school district. To meet the needs of these teachers, certification is also often available by subject area, without a focus on a certain age group. Some of these teacher certifications are as follows:

  • Special education certification (K-12)
  • Reading specialist certification (K-12)
  • School nurse certification (K-12)

Visit your state page for more info ›

Nationally Recognized Teacher Certification/Board Certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers voluntary national certification for those who wish to teach kindergarten through grade twelve. The NBPTS currently offers 25 certificate options that cover multiple subject areas and grade levels. All states recognize national certification and many states and school districts provide special benefits to teachers holding national certification such as higher salaries.

Not everyone can apply to become nationally certified. Prior to applying, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree and a valid state teaching credential, and they must have completed three full years of teaching. To become “national board certified teachers,” you must compile a portfolio showing your work in the classroom and pass a written assessment and evaluation of your teaching knowledge.

Visit your state page for more info ›

Special Situations and Alternative Paths to Teacher Certification

There are special situations to consider as you pursue your teaching degree and research certification. Here are some common situations and alternative paths that may allow you to get your certification or licensing quickly, on a temporary basis, or teach without going through the whole certification process.

Accelerated Certification Programs

If you want to become a teacher quickly and already have your bachelor’s degree, you can consider enrolling in an accelerated teacher certification program. Accelerated teacher certification programs allow you to earn their teaching credentials while you’re actively teaching.

However, if you think that accelerated certification is a quick fix for obtaining a teaching certificate, think again. These programs tend to be very intensive and require students to be fully dedicated. It can be like having two full-time jobs, but those who are committed will be rewarded by earning a teacher’s license in less time than pursuing the traditional route.

Private and Charter Schools

Charter schools are independent public schools, each governed by a public board of trustees that has the authority to hire teachers according to their own established standards. In some states, charter schools can hire teachers regardless of state certification requirements. In other states, charter schools are like other public schools and are held to the same state requirements to hire only certified teachers. Contact your state Department of Education to find out a particular charter school’s teacher certification requirements.

On the other hand, private schools are not regulated by state government and can set their own standards. While some private schools require teachers to be certified, many do not. Contact individual schools to learn whether they require teacher certification.

Emergency Teaching Credentials

Because of critical teacher shortages, some states extend temporary and emergency teacher licensing that bypasses state licensing requirements. These are often granted to individuals to teach in high-need subject areas, such as mathematics, science, special education or bilingual education, or for high-need geographic areas such as urban schools. To discover if your state currently offers emergency teaching certificates, contact your state Department of Education.

Transferring Teaching Credentials from Another Country

Most states do not accept teacher licensing from foreign countries, but you may qualify for a provisional teaching certificate which allows you to teach while completing the education courses and examinations you lack. After you complete all regular teacher certification requirements, you’ll become fully licensed, which may take only one or two semesters of full-time study.

Are There Ways to Teach Without Certification?

Here are some common paths to get into the teaching profession without going through the rigorous exam process (at least at first). You will still need to earn your degree and may require other types of vetting in order to teach, but these options give you a way to enter the field without certification or before you’re able to get certified.

  • Get a teaching support position in a public school
  • Consider a teaching position overseas
  • Become a student teacher
  • Consider substitute teaching (though you may be required to complete competency tests)
  • Volunteer for teaching roles

Why Pursue a Teaching Career?

Teaching is one of the most noble professions and it takes a special person to be a great teacher. Getting your teacher licensure is only the beginning of the journey, and future teachers have much to look forward to.

Teaching is a great career for so many reasons:

  • You can really make a difference in kids’ lives
  • You get to smile—and laugh—every day
  • There’s a lot of variety, and no two days are the same
  • You get to share your love of learning

People teach for many different reasons. Some have always known that they wanted to become a teacher, while others enter the field because they love a certain subject and want to share it. Some were inspired by one of their teachers and want to give back by inspiring the next generation. Many teachers just love kids and enjoy helping them learn and grow in a caring environment. No matter your motivation, it’s also reassuring to know teachers are in high demand across the country.

What are your reasons for wanting to become a teacher? We’d like to help. Explore the different career opportunities, and let us help you find the teacher training you’ll need to get teacher licensing in your state.

Learn more about pursuing a teaching career ›

Read Interviews With Teachers

If you’re still undecided about which route to take, why not hear from teachers who have already made the journey? When you’re contemplating a big decision, there’s no better reassurance than to hear from someone who has already gone through it.

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