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How to Get a Teaching License in California

On this page, you’ll find everything you need to know about becoming a teacher in California. But first, here’s a quick video overview of how much teachers make, where the teacher shortages are, and more!

California Department of Education Teaching Requirements

California has a dire need for qualified teachers. The current teacher supply isn’t adequate to meet the demands of educating the state’s six million students. From small towns in the north to highly populated cities in the south and all types of beach communities in between, school districts have a wide range of positions in all levels and specialties for certified teachers.

According to the California Department of Education, the minimum requirements for teacher certification in California are a bachelor’s degree and a state-approved teacher education program appropriate for the type of credential you desire. In addition, you must satisfy a basic skills requirement by passing one of several accepted assessments and demonstrate subject matter competence by examination or completion of a subject matter program.

Candidates for California teacher certification also must meet the educational requirements for developing English language skills as well as complete coursework or assessments on both the U.S. Constitution and foundational computer technology. Additional testing on reading instruction competence also is required for some certifications.

This traditional route to California teacher certification leads to a five-year Preliminary credential. You will have to obtain a five-year Clear credential before your Preliminary credential expires. You can do this by completing a Clear credential program at your employing school district or a state-approved program at a college or university. Earning National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification also can fulfill the Clear credential program requirement.

Education Requirements

The minimum education requirement for teacher certification in California is a bachelor’s degree, with a major in any subject except professional education, from a regionally accredited college or university. You also must complete a teacher preparation program approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). An approved program provides both educational curriculum and fieldwork. It can be a blended undergraduate teacher preparation program, post-baccalaureate program or intern program.

Additional education requirements include coursework on three specific subject areas that can be studied as part of your teacher education program or as individual courses. These areas include a comprehensive reading instruction course on topics such as phonics and early intervention, a course on the provisions and principles of the U.S. Constitution and a foundational technology course that includes the use of computers in educational settings.

Complete a Student Teaching Experience

Student teaching is a required component of CTC-approved teacher education programs. CTC-approved teacher education programs are obligated to provide a minimum of 600 hours of clinical practice experience within the duration of the program. However, the length of time you spend in each classroom and the types of experiences offered vary by program. You may participate in traditional student teaching, co-teaching, a teacher residency or intern teaching to accrue hands-on classroom experience.

Pass California Certification Exams

California requires specific certification exams for a Preliminary credential. The basic skills requirement confirms basic reading, mathematics and writing skills via the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST). An alternative is passing all three sub-tests of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET): Multiple Subjects plus the 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 may fulfill this requirement.

Depending on the type of certification you are pursuing, you will have to pass the corresponding subject matter assessments administered by Pearson. 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 will request certification.

Candidates for some certifications must pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). However, a valid California teaching credential that required a bachelor’s degree and professional preparation program with student teaching, exempts you from the RICA requirement. Corresponding assessments also can be used to satisfy the educational requirements for study of the U.S. Constitution and the foundational level of computer technology course.


The fastest and easiest way to apply for California teacher certification is online after attending an approved certification program. 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 “fitness” for the requested credential.

Fingerprint clearance from the California Department of Justice and the FBI must accompany your application. If you are 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 out-of-state credentials or the request is for the addition of authorizations to existing certificates or permits. Original transcripts and documentation must accompany a paper application.

How Much Do Teachers in California Make?

Salaries for certified teachers in California depend on factors including education, teaching experience, the demand for a specific type of certification and the budget of the employing school district. Examples of teaching salaries in California are outlined below.


Job Growth for Teachers through 2026

Position Average Salary
Early Childhood Educator $35,740
Elementary School Teacher $74,270
Secondary School Teacher $74,940
Special Education Teacher $72,270
School Administrator $114,270
School Principal $92,510
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics; *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook

Specialty and Subject Matter Certifications

California offers two types of specialty education certifications. The Single Subject Teaching Credential permits you to teach the subject named on the certification in departmentalized classes, such as those in most middle schools and high schools. The Multiple Subject Teaching Credential allows you to teach every subject in a self-contained classroom in elementary schools. Both types of certification authorize you to teach in grades K-12.

Early Childhood Education

type-preschoolYou can choose between two options for early childhood education certification in California. The first option is to obtain a five-year Child Development Permit. It is offered at six 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 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 also are required to pass the general skills and multiple subject assessments required for Multiple Subject certification. Fulfilling the requirements related to developing English language skills and knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and foundational technology also is necessary.

Elementary School Teacher

type-elementaryTo become a certified elementary school teacher in California, you must earn the Multiple Subject teaching credential. This will qualify you to teach in preschool, kindergarten, grades 1-12 and adult classes, as well as in a core or team setting. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree and a Preliminary Multiple Subject teacher preparation program, in which you also will learn how to provide instruction for English language development.

Requirements necessary to earn Multiple Subject certification for elementary school in California include passing the basic skills requirement and verifying subject matter competence either by passing all sub-tests of the CSET or providing proof of completion of a CTC-approved elementary subject matter program. You also must satisfy the requirement for the RICA exam as well as assessments or coursework in developing English language skills, the provisions and principles of the U.S. Constitution and foundational computer technology.

Secondary School Teacher

type-highschoolTo become a certified secondary school teacher in California, you must earn the Single Subject teaching credential. Approved teacher education programs for the Single Subject certification include the completion of a bachelor’s degree and a CTC-approved Preliminary Single Subject teacher preparation program. Enrollment in a Single Subject preparation program also will equip you to provide instruction for English language development and design English academic content for secondary school students.

Requirements for Single Subject certification include passing the basic skills requirement and verifying subject matter competence either by passing all sections of the appropriate CSET subject matter examination or completing a CTC-approved single subject teacher preparation program in the subject for which you are pursuing certification. As a candidate for the Single Subject credential, you’re exempt from the RICA requirement, but still need to show proof of knowledge in developing English language skills, the U.S. Constitution and foundational computer technology.

Substitute Teacher Certification

type-substituteThere are four types of general education substitute teacher certifications in California. All categories pertain to working with classrooms between P-12 grade levels or adults. The Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit is a renewable one-year certification that allows you to work day-to-day as a substitute for no more than 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 requirement.

A one-year renewable Emergency Career Substitute permit allows you to serve as a day-to-day substitute for no more than 60 days for any one 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 requirement. You also must have verification of three consecutive years of at least 90 days per year of day-to-day substitute teaching in one 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 days. 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.

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 the county has filed a Statement of Need. This certification is for technical, trade and vocational education. It requires a high school education and three years of industry-related experience.

Physical Education (PE) Certification

type-physical-educationYou can get Physical Education (PE) certification in California by earning a Single Subject teaching credential specializing in physical education. This certification is valid at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The requirements for PE certification are the same as those for any Single Subject teaching certification in California. Completion of a bachelor’s degree, an approved teacher preparation program and the basic skills requirement are necessary. You also must prove subject matter expertise in physical education through assessment or a CTC-approved physical education subject matter program. PE certification with a Single Subject credential also requires coursework or assessment in developing English language skills, the U.S. Constitution and foundational computer technology.

Special Education Certification

type-special-educationSpecial Education certification in California is available by earning the Educational Specialist Instruction credential, which authorizes you to teach grades K-12 and adults. You can specialize in one or more of six different types of disabilities in this certification. Qualifications for the Preliminary certification are consistent with the requirements of a Single Subject teaching certificate. To earn this credential, you must have a bachelor’s degree or higher and complete a CTC-approved teacher education program.

You also must fulfill the basic skills requirement and demonstrate subject matter expertise in special education by assessment or enrollment in a CTC-approved Education Specialist credential program. In addition, you must meet the RICA requirement, unless you are pursuing early childhood special education. Coursework or proof of knowledge regarding the U.S. Constitution also is necessary.

English as a Second Language Certification

type-tesolYou can earn English as a Second Language certification in California 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 is 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

type-principalCertification for school administrators in California is offered as the Administrative Services credential after obtaining a valid Clear credential. This certification applies grades P-12 and adults. You also must satisfy a basic skills requirement, accumulate five years of full-time teaching experience and verify employment in an administrative position. The completion of a CTC-approved administrative services program, a one-year administrative services internship or a passing score on the California Preliminary Administrative Credential Examination (CPACE) also is 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.

Teaching Reciprocity Agreements in California

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

Requirement Description
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 one 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 two 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 two years of successful teaching experience with two 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.

Alternate Teaching Certification

California offers alternate teaching certification through CTC-approved intern programs. Intern programs allow you to work in your first year or two of a paid teaching position while you complete your teacher certification program. You must have a bachelor’s degree to qualify. In addition, you must meet the basic skills requirement, demonstrate subject matter competence, fulfill the standard requirement regarding the U.S. Constitution and obtain background clearances. You also must have proof that an employer is willing to provide required support and mentoring. An intern credential from the CTC and a pre-service preparation program of 120 hours must be completed before beginning a program.

Teach for America

Teach for America supports education equality in the United States by staffing four distinct California locations in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Teach for America volunteers consist of recent college graduates who live and work in the communities they serve. Members are natural leasers who receive training that qualifies them to earn California teaching certifications before they begin their teaching assignments.

Troops to Teachers

If you are an active or retired member of the U.S. military interested in pursuing a teaching career, you may benefit from Troops to Teachers. This organization is managed by DANTES for the U.S. Department of Defense. Eligible participants receive guidance and mentoring in meeting the requirements for California teacher certification. As a participant, you may be eligible for a bonus and financial assistance.

Transition into Teaching for Career Changers

The California Teacher Corps represents more than 100 alternative state certification programs that are intended to support career changers pursuing a transition into teaching. These rigorous programs allow prospective educators to begin teaching in the classroom while simultaneously earning their credential. The experience 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.

Certification Options for People with Teaching Experience

The CTC accepts proof of specific types of prior teaching experience to meet requirements for Single or Multiple Subject teacher certification. Teachers who have taught for three to five 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 six years of experience may meet both the teacher preparation program and student teaching requirements. The CTC also accepts certain Peace Corps teaching experience as a substitute for the professional teacher preparation program requirement.


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