Ways to Earn Alternative Teacher Certification

teaching student taking alternative certification path and praxis exam

There are many jobs that are difficult to transition into when you have an unrelated bachelor’s degree, or even after working as a professional in an unrelated field. Luckily, teaching isn’t one of those.

Within the past few decades, states and organizations have been working towards creating alternative programs for teacher certification. These programs are designed to help those who discovered their interest in teaching after beginning a different professional journey earlier on.

Throughout this article you will learn the ins and outs of alternative teacher certification, and find out which program may be the most advantageous for you.

How to Become a Teacher Without a Teaching Degree

Very few people know exactly what career path they want to follow. Of course from kids you hear all sorts of great answers: doctor, gymnast, astronaut, pirate, ninja, etc. But what happens when you’ve already earned your degree and as a grownup you realize the career path you thought you wanted isn’t for you at all?

That can be a pretty overwhelming question. Luckily, there are pathways available for those who know they want to transition into teaching early childhood or secondary education without needing to start at square one. These pathways all lead to an alternative teacher certification, which can guide you towards becoming a teacher without needing a teaching degree. Mind you, you will need a degree—just not in teaching.

Do I Need to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree to Become a Teacher?

Whether following the traditional or alternative path to earning a teacher certification, you will need a bachelor’s degree.

Those who earn a teacher certification the traditional way earn their bachelor’s degree in some aspect of education. While they earn their degree, they are concurrently completing a teacher preparation program. Completion of a teacher preparation program is often required by the state to earn a teacher certification.

For those who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a discipline that is not teaching-based, the alternative pathway to teacher certification provides them with the opportunity to complete a teacher preparation program. After completing the program, you will be one step closer to earning your teacher certification. Make sure you check with your state’s department of education to ensure that you are following the established guidelines for an alternative teacher certification.

What’s the Purpose of Alternative Teaching Programs?

There is not one stand-alone purpose for alternative teaching programs. While it can be argued that alternative teaching programs initially began to supply teacher shortages, these programs have grown to serve many purposes.

Let’s delve into the problem of teacher shortages. We hear this phrase discussed a lot nowadays, but teacher shortages have been a problem for a long time. In fact, alternative teaching programs were being created as early as the 1980s as a way to cope with teacher shortages. By providing an alternative path to a teaching career, these programs hoped to encourage an increase in the overall teacher population. The programs target areas with the highest demand, such as:

These alternative pathways also help to serve a more singular purpose: helping an individual start a new career. There can be a variety of reasons why someone might want to transition into the field of education after pursuing a different path. Maybe they put off starting their career to start a family, and are now ready to take the plunge. Maybe they graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a field they are no longer interested in. Maybe they’ve even been working in the same field for years and have realized that they need a change. Whatever the reason, a variety of people are interested in alternative teacher certification. These programs can help these people achieve their goals and become working certified teachers without having to backtrack.

States with Alternative Teacher Certification

Alternative teacher certification has become extremely popular since its induction, and has encouraged state creation/approval of alternative certification programs.

Currently all states have alternative teacher certification, though Rhode Island only offers one accepted program through Teach for America.

Each state has complete control over what guidelines they establish for alternative teacher certification. Because of this, most states have established unique programs for alternative teaching certification. In fact, many states have even established more than one program.

Before pursuing an alternative teacher certification, make sure you check with your state’s department of education for information on each program that your state has to offer. One program may be a better fit for your specific needs and enable you to complete the program more quickly. It’s important to make sure you are making an informed decision.

Alternative Certification for Technical Education

Decades ago, classes such as architecture, construction, automotive, etc. were found in every school and were often a required course. Nowadays, these classes are rarely required and many schools don’t even have access to this type of class.

One link to the decrease in career and technical education courses, commonly referred to as CTE, is, you guessed it, teacher shortages. With industry jobs often paying much more than teaching positions, CTE programs are unable to find enough qualified staff members to keep the programs going.

In an effort to encourage the transition of qualified professionals into the education field, states are creating alternative certification pathways for those interested in teaching CTE.


Legislation approved the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Career Technical Education Educator Credentialing Program in 2010. It created educator preparation programs for any of the above disciplines.


Waves the need to complete a teacher preparation program prior to certification if the applicant has:

  • An industry recognized certificate
  • 5 years of technical work experience
  • Secured a commitment from the board of education to teach a related CTE course


Full-time Teacher

Individuals who have or are working toward an industry recognized certificate, and who have at least 4,000 hours of work experience, may be qualified to teach CTE. If they seek to be hired and are approved by the local board, any division superintendent may apply to the department of education for an annual waiver of the teacher certification requirements.


Part-time Teacher

A three-year certification may be issued to an individual who teaches CTE no more than 50 percent of the instructional day or year if they:

  • Submit an application with a recommendation from the local school board
  • Have a bachelor’s degree with related CTE coursework, hold a relatable industry license, or hold an industry certification credential
  • Have at least four years of work experience
  • Have earned qualifying scores on the communication and literacy professional teacher’s assessment

These programs vary from state to state. Check with your state’s department of education guidelines to see if you qualify to earn an alternative teacher certification for CTE courses.

Popular Alternative Teacher Programs

As we’ve mentioned, there are many alternative programs that states accept as a way to earn a teacher certification. While many states have created their own state program, there is also wide acceptance of programs that are not state-based.

Navigating through all these programs can be challenging, so we’ve taken the liberty of researching some of the most popular alternative teaching programs for you. Remember, if you’re interested in a particular program, check with your state’s education department prior to starting the process to make sure the program is a state-accepted way of earning a teacher certification.

Teach for America

Teach for America is a nationwide program that serves 53 regions and aims to supply high-needs areas with qualified teaching candidates. Notice that we refer to these individuals as ‘qualified teaching candidates’ rather than ‘qualified teachers.’ It’s important to note that distinction, because to become a member of Teach for America, you do not need to be a teacher or have any teaching experience.

The following is a general guideline for what the Teach for America process will look like. Requirements may vary depending on the region. For a more detailed account please contact a Teach for America recruiter:

  • Complete the application on their website
  • You must have a bachelor’s degree, minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5, and proof of US citizenship, national/permanent resident status, or deferred action for childhood arrivals
  • Complete a series of phone and in-person interviews.
  • If you are offered a position, you will make two important decisions:
    • Rank 10 regions that you would want to teach out of, ranging from your first to last choice
    • Rank subject matters that you would want to teach/feel qualified to teach
  • You will then be assigned one of those regions and subject matters
  • You must then complete a state-approved educator assessment to be qualified to teach that subject
  • The final step before you move to your new region will be completing a month-long intensive orientation called ‘Institute’
  • Before, during and even after Institute, you will be taking phone interviews with schools in your region to find a position. These interviews are set up by Teach for America staff members.
  • Once you have completed Institute, found a teaching position, and have moved to your new region, you will begin teaching
  • During your two-year teaching commitment you will also be taking classes that work towards earning a teaching certification
    • The form these classes take may vary depending on the region you are located in:
      • Local college or university
      • Local school district
      • Option of completing a Master’s in Education at a predetermined institute at a discounted rate

After completing your two-year commitment, and all state requirements, you will be a certified teacher.

American Board

Rather than requiring you to go back to school, the American Board boasts of its ability to guide you towards earning a teaching certification through an online self-paced program. This program can be especially helpful for working professionals, those with families, or a combination of the two, who cannot afford to take the time to commit to other alternative programs, such as Teach for America.

Once you enroll in an American Board program, you will have a year to prepare for, take and pass the certification exams. There are two exams that you must pass:

  • Subject Area Exam
  • Professional Teacher Knowledge Exam (PTKE)

After passing these exams you will be awarded your American Board Teacher Certification. Earning this certification allows you to go to your state’s department of education or local school district to get a state issued temporary permit. With this permit you will be able to begin teaching. You will also begin working towards completing your state’s specific requirements for earning a permanent teaching certification. Your state’s requirements may vary, and can range from completing a mentorship program to taking summer courses. Always check with your state’s department of education to make sure you are taking the necessary steps.

TNTP Teaching Fellows

The TNTP was created in 1997 and stands for The New Teacher Project. While they have grown into an organization that works with schools for large-scale data collection and goal creation, they still stay true to their roots. Teaching Fellows is designed to be a rigorous alternative certification program that creates new teachers for high-needs schools.

They create these teachers by recruiting and training recent college graduates, along with professionals who are transitioning into the world of teaching. You can expect the program to follow this basic structure:

You choose where you want to work:

  • Baltimore
  • Indianapolis
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • New Orleans

Once accepted, you will complete the summer training. After successfully completing the training and finding a placement, you will begin teaching full-time. You will further your knowledge through enrollment with the TNTP Academy or a partnering university. You will be recommended for certification after completing the program and proving that you have the drive and commitment to be a great teacher.

Residency Programs

Residency Programs for prospective teachers exist in a similar way that residency programs for prospective doctors do. You observe a trained professional and slowly gain the knowledge, experience and confidence that will lead you to working independently. Thankfully, as a teacher, your residency won’t be quite as long as a doctor’s.

While residency programs will vary from state to state, you can expect the program to last for about a year. An average residency program will pair a non-certified teacher with a certified teacher. That non-certified teacher will complete hands-on experience within the certified teacher’s classroom to learn the skills of a teacher.

Initially, you will be a silent observer. Then, slowly, you will begin helping with classroom management, which will lead to teaching a lesson or two. About half-way through the year, depending on your progress, you will be given full control of the classroom. But don’t forget, you are still under the direction of the certified teacher. They will help guide you by pointing out things you did well and things you need a little work on.

Throughout your residency, you will also be working towards earning you teacher certification, which may require taking additional courses or earning a master’s degree, depending on the state in which you complete your residency.

Residency programs can be a much more gentle way of introducing a new, inexperienced prospective teacher into the every-day life of a teacher.

Emergency Teaching Certifications

As you can probably deduce from the title, emergency teaching certifications are limited teaching certifications that allow non-certified teachers a temporary teaching certification. These certifications are only awarded in areas where there are extreme teacher shortages, and no qualified teachers can be found.

The exact requirements and limitations of these certifications vary depending on the state that you are located in. In fact, not every state issues emergency teaching certifications.

States that do permit emergency teaching certifications include the following:

These certifications typically only last for a year, but may be renewable depending on how severe the teacher shortage is. Keep in mind that most states require candidates to have earned a bachelor’s degree prior to being awarded an emergency certification.

While these certifications are only designed for short term use, you may begin the process of earning a standard certification while teaching with an emergency certification. Some states even require you begin earning a standard teaching certification while you hold an emergency certification.

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