How to Earn Your Teaching Credential in California

Interested in learning how to become a teacher in California? Earning your California teacher certification is a major step to beginning a teaching career in public schools.

There are several different pathways available to fit a variety of situations—whether you’re just applying to college, you’re a teacher moving to California, or you’re looking for alternative routes to gain teacher certification.

Read on to learn about the different ways to get teacher certification in California.

Teaching in California: Fast Facts

California is second in the nation by number of teachers, with 269,850 working K-12 teachers as of 2021 data from the NEA. Despite the large numbers of active teachers in the state, job opportunities for teachers are still projected to rise.

Each year, thousands of new jobs are expected to open up for teachers at all levels. Not only that, many California teachers could be reaching retirement age. As these teachers exit the workforce, new teachers will be needed to fill the gap.

To meet the needs of its students, California needs more teachers—both now and in the future. If you’re considering a teaching career in California, here are a few more facts to keep in mind:

  • Median elementary teacher salary: $85,856, compared to the national average of $61,400
  • Level of education: Roughly 43% hold a bachelor’s degree, while 39% have a master’s degree
  • Average students per teacher: 22.2 versus the national average of 15.96
  • Expenditure per student: $15,397, compared to the national average of $11,642

California Teacher Certification Requirements

Whether you’d like to teach elementary, middle school, high school, or special education, a number of requirements must be met in order to earn a teaching credential. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) sets the standards for teacher licensing and credentialing and offers several pathways to becoming a certified teacher.

How to earn California teacher certification

Earning a California teacher certification involves a number of specific steps and requirements.

step 1

Meet minimum education requirements

In California, the minimum education requirement for teacher certification is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. You must also complete a teacher preparation program approved by the CTC.

An approved program provides both educational curriculum and fieldwork. It can be a blended with an undergraduate teacher preparation program or a postbaccalaureate program.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you can find an approved teacher prep program to begin your transition into teaching. There are also a variety of other options for earning your teaching certification such as Teach for America, California Teacher Corps, Troops to Teachers, and intern programs that can help you start working in a classroom while you complete your teacher prep course. More information on these programs is included below.

step 2

Complete student teaching requirement

Student teaching is a required component of CTC-approved teacher education programs. These are obligated to provide a minimum of 600 hours of field experience within the duration of the program.

However, the types of experiences offered and the length of time you spend in each classroom vary by program. You may participate in traditional student teaching, co-teaching, a teacher residency, or intern teaching to accrue hands-on classroom experience.

step 3

Pass California teacher certification tests

California requires specific certification exams for a Preliminary Credential. Skills in reading, writing, and math are assessed through the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST).

Another option is passing all 3 sub-tests of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET): Multiple Subjects test, along with the CSET: Writing Skills test.

Other options include passing both the English and Mathematics sections of the California State University (CSU) Early Assessment Program (EAP) or both the English Placement Test (EPT) and the Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) CSU Early Placement examinations. SAT or ACT scores also might fulfill this requirement.

Depending on the type of certification you’re pursuing, you’ll have to pass the corresponding subject matter assessments. Candidates for the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential must take the CSET Multiple Subjects Exam. Candidates applying for a Single Subject Teaching Credential must pass the specific CSET exam for the subject in which they’re seeking certification.

Candidates for some certifications must pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). In addition, candidates must complete a class on the U.S. Constitution or pass a Constitution test given by a regionally accredited college or university.

step 4

Apply for certification

After completing an approved program, the fastest and easiest way to apply for a California teaching credential is online. The program sponsor must formally recommend you for the appropriate certification via the CTC’s online system.

After the recommendation is submitted, you have 90 days to complete the recommendation document. You must answer Professional Fitness Questions regarding your criminal and professional history that determine your competence for the requested credential.

Fingerprint clearance from the California Department of Justice and the FBI must accompany your application. If you’re applying online, you can submit your proof via email and your results will be forwarded electronically to the CTC. Your submission of an online payment completes your application.

A paper application is necessary when the teacher certification is based on alternate preparation such as an out-of-state credential, or the request is for the addition of authorizations to existing certificates. Original transcripts and documentation must accompany a paper application.

Renewing California teacher certification

After you’ve obtained a Preliminary Teacher Certification, you must complete requirements for a Clear Credential within 5 years. You can do this by completing an approved teacher induction program and submitting your application through the program sponsor.

Another option is to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and submitting your application, photocopy of certification, and processing fee to the CTC.

Types of California Teaching Credentials

California has 3 different types of teaching credentials that authorize you to teach single subjects, multiple subjects, or special education students. Each of these credentials has slightly different requirements, although there are many similarities between them.

Multiple subject teaching credential

If you’re looking to teach elementary school, you must first earn a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. This credential helps qualify you to teach all subjects in a self-contained classroom.

To fulfill the requirements for a 5-year Preliminary Teaching Credential, you must:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university
  • Meet the basic skills requirements by passing 1 of the tests designated by the CTC, such as the CBEST or CSET
  • Certify your subject-matter competence by passing an appropriate examination or completing an approved subject-matter program
  • Pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA)
  • Complete a class or pass a test on the U.S. Constitution
  • Complete an approved Multiple Subject teacher preparation program
  • Receive a formal recommendation from the program sponsor

Within 5 years, you must complete requirements for a Clear Credential in order to continue teaching in California public schools. The CTC provides 2 options:

  • Option 1: Complete an approved teacher induction program and submit your application through the induction program sponsor
  • Option 2: Become certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards as a generalist in in early or middle childhood, and submit your application, a photocopy of your certification, and a processing fee to the CTC

Single subject teaching credential

Those interested in teaching high school will need a Single Subject Teaching Credential, which authorizes individuals to teach specific subjects within a department. Note that a teaching position in a middle school may require either a Single Subject Teaching Credential or a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential.

Subjects include:

Agriculture Mathematics
Art Music
Biological Sciences (Specialized) Physical Education
Business Physics (Specialized)
Chemistry (Specialized) Science: Biological Sciences
English Science: Chemistry
Foundational-Level General Science Science: Geosciences
Foundational-Level Mathematics Science: Physics
Geosciences (Specialized) Social Science
Health Science World Language: English Language Development
Home Economics World Languages-Languages other than English
Industrial and Technology Education

The requirements for the Single Subject Teaching Credential are similar to the Multiple Subject.

Education specialist instruction credential (special education)

The Education Specialist Instruction Credential is designed for individuals who want to teach special education in a variety of settings and specialty areas.

To fulfill the requirements for a 5-year Preliminary Teaching Credential, you must:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited college of university
  • Meet the basic skills requirement by passing 1 of the tests designated by the CTC
  • Pass an appropriate examination or complete an approved subject-matter program
  • Pass the RICA exam
  • Complete a class or pass a test on the U.S. Constitution
  • Complete an approved Education Specialist Credential program in a specialty area and receive a formal recommendation from an approved program sponsor

To earn a Clear Credential, you must do 1 of the following:

  • Complete a Clear Credential program that’s specifically approved for special education.
  • Earn a certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the areas of exceptional needs or early childhood through young adulthood, and submit your application, processing fee, and photocopy of the certification.

Out-of-state applicants

The CTC also outlines specific requirements for obtaining certification if you’re a teacher applying from out of state. Submit the following materials to qualify for a credential:

  • A completed application form and processing fee
  • Official transcripts for a bachelor’s degree or any additional degrees
  • A copy of your teaching license
  • Evidence of fingerprint processing

Alternative Teacher Certification in California

If you’re interested in alternative teacher certification programs, there are a variety of options available, even if you haven’t followed a traditional path to becoming a teacher.

To qualify for these programs, you must have a bachelor’s degree, meet the basic skills requirements, demonstrate subject matter competence, and take a class or pass on the U.S. Constitution. In addition, you must obtain background clearances and complete an application for a teaching credential.

Learn more about alternative teacher certification programs below.

California Teacher Corps

If teaching is your second career, the California Teachers Corps could be a great starting point for your transition into education. This organization represents more than 100 alternative state certification programs that are intended to support career changers pursuing job opportunities in teaching.

These rigorous programs allow prospective educators to begin teaching in the classroom while simultaneously earning their credential. This pathway is intended for mature individuals who have significant expertise in the subject they’re teaching. Candidates typically have a strong desire to contribute to their communities by teaching.

Science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), and career technical education (CTE) educator credentialing program

California needs more teachers for STEM and CTE courses, and there are several alternative credential pathways available to help you pursue a career in these areas.

Options include:

  • Intern model: Participants receive instruction before managing their own classroom and continuing to take courses and receive supervision.
  • Early completion model: Candidates may skip over the program courses altogether by passing the Teaching Foundations Examination.
  • Student teaching model: Participants take courses and gain hands-on experience before student teaching under direct supervision.
  • Residency model: Candidates work part-time at a school under the direction of a supervising teacher while taking courses to prepare for a teaching career.

Peace Corps

The CTC also accepts certain Peace Corps teaching experiences as a substitute for the program requirements for Multiple or Single Subject Teaching credentials. To qualify, a director of the Peace Corps must certify that you’ve completed at least 18 months in the Peace Corps and spent 50% or more of your time teaching children in a classroom.

Private school experience

Teachers who have taught for 3–5 years in an elementary or secondary private school may be able to bypass the student teaching component of certification. Private school teachers with at least 6 years of experience may meet both the teacher preparation program and student teaching requirements.

Intern teaching credentials

You can also gain an alternative teaching certification through an intern program that allows you to work in your first year or more while you complete your teacher preparation. You can find approved programs sponsored by school districts and county offices of education as well as colleges and universities.

Before beginning the intern program, you must meet a number of requirements, such as earning a bachelor’s degree and proving subject-matter competence, and complete a minimum of 120 hours of a pre-service preparation.

Teach for America

Teach for America supports education equality in California by staffing locations in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Teach for America volunteers are recent college graduates who live and work in the communities they serve.

Members are natural leaders who receive training that qualifies them to earn California teaching certifications before they begin their teaching assignments.

California Teacher Certification Reciprocity Agreements

If you’re considering moving to California, or you’re returning to teaching with credentials earned in another state, you can save time and money by knowing how to use current out-of-state credentials to expedite new California teacher certification.

Here are key facts to know about California teacher reciprocity agreements.

NASDTEC Interstate Agreement California participates in the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement.
State Grants Full Reciprocity California does not grant full reciprocity to out-of-state certification candidates. However, your license may count toward a Preliminary or Clear credential if you have a professional-level credential from another state.
Coursework Requirements All out-of-state candidates must demonstrate subject matter knowledge for their intended certificate or complete the courses necessary to meet this requirement. They also must complete the curriculum for teaching English learners required of all teaching candidates in the state.
Test-out or Exemption California does not allow for test-out or exemption from additional coursework requirements. However, out-of-state teachers who have proof of a certificate or coursework indicating they have fulfilled the requirement necessary for teaching English learners may use those credentials in place of coursework in California.
Assessment Requirements Out-of-state candidates who passed basic skills assessments in their home states don’t have to test in California. Those who did not take prior basic skills assessments must do so within 1 year of receiving a Preliminary credential. Out-of-state candidates also must show proof of meeting subject matter requirements for the type of certificate they are requesting. If the credential does not match a California subject area, additional assessments may be required. Assessments also may be necessary to fulfill the teaching English learners knowledge requirement.
Different Requirements Based on Experience Out-of-state teachers must hold a professional-level credential in their home state to qualify for reciprocity. A Clear credential is only available to candidates who demonstrate 2 years of successful teaching experience and 150 clock hours of professional activity, have a master’s degree or higher in the field corresponding to the credential or complete the equivalent semester units from an accredited post-secondary institution. Out-of-state candidates with less than two years of experience must complete a Clear Credential induction program.
Performance Requirements Out-of-state candidates qualifying for a Clear credential must show proof of 2 years of successful teaching experience with 2 satisfactory performance evaluations from their state.
Special Reciprocity for Advanced Credentials California does not grant special reciprocity for advanced credentials. Candidates who do not qualify for a Clear credential can apply for a Preliminary credential while they fulfill the missing components.

Substitute Teacher Certification

California substitute teacher requirements consist of 4 types of general education certifications. All categories pertain to working with adults or classrooms between preschool and grade 12, and require varying levels of education and experience.

  • The Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit is a renewable 1-year certification that allows you to work day-to-day as a substitute for up to 30 days for the same teacher, and no more than 20 days in special education classrooms. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree and meeting the basic skills requirements.
  • A 1-year renewable Emergency Career Substitute Permit allows you to serve as a day-to-day substitute for up to 60 days for a single teacher during the school year, except in a special education classroom, where the time limit is 20 days. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree or higher and passing the basic skills requirements. You must also have verification of 3 consecutive years of at least 90 days of substitute teaching in 1 or more of the school districts requesting the permit.
  • The Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers limits classroom replacement to no more than 30 days with a total annual limit of 90. Candidates must show completion of at least 90 semester credits and current enrollment in a regionally approved college or university. Passing the basic skills test also is required. This option is ideal for individuals who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • The Emergency Designated Subjects Career Technical Education Permit for 30-Day Substitute Teaching Service allows you to work in counties where the permit is registered if that county has filed a Statement of Need. This certification is for technical, trade, and vocational education. It requires a high school education and 3 years of industry-related experience.

Note that some individuals choose to substitute teach while they earn their preliminary certification in order to gain classroom experience at the same time.

Teacher Salaries in California

Salaries for certified teachers in California depend on multiple factors including education, teaching experience, the demand for a specific type of teacher, and the budget of the employing school district. Here are median salaries for California high school and early childhood education teachers, with data provided the 2022 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

salary outlook
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education
hero-widget-desktop-graph hero-widget-desktop-graph






Median Hourly WageN/A

Job growth1%

Total Employment94,550

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA $105,390 $74,050 $138,530
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA $97,830 $60,350 $164,540
Hanford-Corcoran, CA $96,520 $59,860 $124,130
Fresno, CA $96,470 $59,420 $135,010
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $95,860 $60,990 $126,010
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $95,740 $62,390 $127,650
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA $95,270 $59,570 $121,940
Napa, CA $95,180 $63,010 $123,500
El Centro, CA $85,170 $58,920 $119,930
Bakersfield, CA $84,130 $52,050 $130,840

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education
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Median Hourly Wage$19

Job growth3.4%

Total Employment53,430

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $47,040 $37,500 $64,160
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $45,050 $36,960 $63,880
Madera, CA $44,630 $33,870 $165,290
Merced, CA $42,750 $32,090 $64,310
Salinas, CA $41,320 $32,920 $67,000
Stockton-Lodi, CA $40,080 $34,570 $62,020
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA $39,830 $34,960 $55,340
Modesto, CA $39,530 $30,600 $74,600
Napa, CA $38,670 $36,400 $64,470
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $38,380 $36,020 $60,390

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.


Job Growth for High School Teachers through 2032

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2022.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median high school teacher salary in California is $96,390.

What’s more, the average teacher compensation in California has been rising since 2000. Compensation packages depend on the specific school district, but many include health, dental, and vision coverage, plus a pension plan.

How advanced degrees impact salary

One way to increase your salary potential is through your education. Teachers with higher levels of education tend to receive higher average salaries, according to the 2021 National Center for Education Statistics.

The following list highlights starting median U.S. public school teaching salaries according to the highest degree earned:

  • Bachelor’s degree: $54,500
  • Master’s degree: $68,690
  • Doctoral degree: $78,730

In California, it’s not uncommon for teachers to earn a degree that’s higher than a bachelor’s. While just over 43% earned a bachelor’s degree, 39% earned a master’s, and nearly 13% earned a doctorate or education specialist degree.

Teacher Shortage Areas & Job Outlook

The U.S. Department of Education released a report that lists the areas that experiencing a shortage of teachers. In California, teachers are particularly needed in the following subjects:

  • English/Drama/Humanities
  • History/Social Sciences
  • Mathematics/Computer Education
  • Physical Education/Health/Dance
  • Science
  • Self-Contained Class
  • Special Education

Additional Teaching Endorsements & Specialty Certifications

In addition to the teaching credentials covered above, there are a few other specialty certifications for educators in California that you may be interested in.

Early childhood education

type-preschoolYou can choose between 2 options for early childhood education certification in California. The first option is to obtain a 5-year Child Development Permit. This is offered at 6 different levels that require increasing education and experience that correlate with increasing levels of job responsibility.

The requirements for each level of permit can be fulfilled with individual college-level courses and work experience. A completed bachelor’s degree is not a necessary, though it can be used to fulfill the education requirements.

You also can earn early childhood certification in California by obtaining a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree and an early childhood teacher preparation program. To specialize in preschool education, you must have twelve semester units in early childhood education and development as part of your teacher preparation.

You’re also required to pass the general skills and Multiple Subject exams that are required for Multiple Subject Certification. Fulfilling the requirements related to your knowledge of the English language, the U.S. Constitution, and foundational technology also is necessary.

English as a second language


In California, you can earn English as a Second Language certification by obtaining the English Learner (EL) Authorization and Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) certificate.

All teachers earning either a Single or Multiple Subject Teacher Credential complete English learner coursework that’s embedded in CTC-approved teacher education programs. However, teachers assigned to provide instruction to English learners need the EL authorization in the content area of instruction.

The EL authorization and CLAD certificate allow you to teach English language development (ELD), specially designed academic instruction delivered in English (SDAIE), content delivered in a student’s primary language, and instruction for Primary Language Development.

This authorization is a supplement to a Single or Multiple Subject Teaching Certification, which can be earned concurrently or added through the completion of assessments or CTC-approved programs.

Certifications for school administrators


Certification for school administrators in California is offered as the Administrative Services Credential after obtaining a valid Clear Credential. This certification applies to both adults and preschool through grade 12.

You must also satisfy a basic skills requirement, accumulate 5 years of full-time teaching experience, and verify employment in an administrative position. The completion of a CTC-approved administrative services program, a 1-year administrative services internship, or a passing score on the California Preliminary Administrative Credential Exam (CPACE) is also required.

To earn a Clear Credential, you’ll need a minimum of two years of successful full-time experience in a California school and a recommendation for certification from a CTC-approved Administrative Services induction program.

Certificate vs Certification


A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.


A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.

In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.

Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.

Financial Aid & Loan Forgiveness for California Teachers

Teachers may be eligible for loan forgiveness programs, depending on their specific role. These programs can help you offset some of your student loan debt, but it’s important that you do your research ahead of time. Many loan forgiveness programs require you to make a specified number of on-time payments while you’re employed in an approved setting.

Loan forgiveness programs include:

  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
  • Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

You may also want to consider applying for teaching scholarships or a TEACH Grant. The latter encourages individuals to become teachers in low-income areas in high-need subjects such as bilingual education, mathematics, science, or special education.

Finding California Teaching Jobs

These two resources are available to help you find teaching jobs in California:

  • TEACH California is administered by the California Department of Education and helps visitors create a career plan and find a teaching job.
  • EdJoin is an online teaching job site sponsored by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.

You might also want to explore the California Teacher Recruitment Program and the California School Directory to learn about additional teaching opportunities around the state.

Ready to Get Started?

Now that you know how to get teacher certification in California, take the next step for your career. Use the Find Schools button to explore degree programs offered in your area or online.