How to Earn Teacher Certification in Colorado

If you’ve thought about becoming a teacher in Colorado, you’ll need to understand the steps you need to take to get there. Your first step is to earn your teaching degree and certification. While there are several pathways to doing this, your options depend on your level of education and experience.

This guide can help you determine the pathway that’s right for you at any point in your career. If you’re just beginning your journey and need to know about the Colorado state certification process, we can help. Or maybe you want to learn how to progress to advanced certification and endorsements, or you’re a teacher looking to move to Colorado from a different state and need to learn about reciprocity. You’ll find all that information and more right here.

Requirements for Teachers

There are three main levels of licensure available from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE):

Initial Teacher License: All first time teacher certification applicants should apply for this level of licensure. An initial license is valid for three years and can be renewed. You must be able to clear a background check to earn your license. You can find a detailed list of the education standards and testing assessments you must meet below. It you complete an in-state teacher preparation program, the license will cost $90. Those who complete an out-of-state program will pay $110 for the license.

Professional Teacher License: Your school district will offer an induction program for all teachers holding an initial certification. You must complete this program in order to advance your initial certification into a professional one. The program will include supervision by mentor teachers, ongoing professional development, ethics training, and performance evaluations to ensure that you are a high quality educator. After completing the program you will need to apply for the professional license and pay the $90 fee. The license is valid for five years and can be renewed.

Master Teacher Certificate: This level of licensure is only available to experienced teachers holding a professional teacher license. You can become eligible for this level of advanced licensure by earning a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification.

Minimum Education Requirements for Colorado Teachers

To earn your initial teacher license in Colorado you must hold a bachelor’s degree from an approved, regionally accredited institute of higher education. You can find Colorado’s accepted list of regional accrediting agencies here. Additionally, all candidates must complete an approved teacher preparation program at an accepted institute of higher education. Both your degree and teacher preparation program should correspond with the subject matter and grade level you seek to earn certification in.

Student Teaching

Student teaching gives you a chance to apply your learned teaching skills in a hands-on environment. This requirement will be a part of your teacher preparation program. As a student teacher you will be paired with an experienced teacher. You will work in their classroom and start as a classroom helper and observer. As you progress through the student teaching experience you will work towards creating your own lesson plan and delivering it to the class. You should make sure that your student teaching experience is completed in a classroom that corresponds to the subject matter and grade level you are seeking certification in.

Pass Colorado Certification Exams

While many states have very specific testing requirements, Colorado is unique in that it allows candidates to complete one of two options for meeting the exam, or competency, requirement. A candidate can either demonstrate professional competencies by completing 24 semester hours of course credit specific to the endorsement they are seeking certification for or by passing the relevant content exam offered by Praxis.

You can find more information on the Praxis exams by reading through the Certification Endorsement Areas below. The only exception is that all elementary education teachers and special education generalists must pass the Colorado State Board of Education elementary education content exam offered by Praxis.


When you are ready to apply for your initial Colorado teacher certification you will want to make sure that you have all of your required information and documentation ready. This will include your cleared Colorado Bureau of Investigation background check, a valid government-issued ID, your official college transcripts, an approved teacher preparation program verification form, the results of any Praxis exams passed, and finally, a list of your employment history for the past five years. Once all of that information is gathered, you will be ready to apply for you license in the eLicensing system. After submitting your application you can expect to receive your credential notification by email within four to eight weeks.

How Much Do Teachers in Colorado Make?

Your salary as a Colorado teacher will vary depending on the level of education you have, what level of license and experience you have, and even what school district or school you teach in. On average, high school teachers can expect to make he following listed salary.

salary outlook
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education
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Median Hourly WageN/A

Job growth1%

Total Employment17,480

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Boulder, CO $79,750 $49,800 $102,250
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO $62,740 $47,890 $94,370
Fort Collins, CO $59,940 $40,140 $81,390
Grand Junction, CO $51,630 $39,910 $82,710
Greeley, CO $50,080 $41,000 $78,560
Colorado Springs, CO $49,880 $39,850 $77,800

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 Employment Statistics, 2022

Specialty Certifications

As we discussed in the Pass the Colorado Certification Exams section above, you can choose to take the Praxis exam that corresponds to the certification endorsement you seek to earn in order to meet the competency requirement. If you are interested in learning more about these exams, you can find detailed descriptions of what to expect below.

Early Childhood Education


Early childhood educators in Colorado are certified to work with children age birth to eight. To earn this endorsement you should take and pass the Education of Young Children Praxis exam with a score of 160. The exam will test you on the following content areas: Childhood Development and Learning; Observation, Documentation, and Assessment; Developmentally Appropriate Practices; Professionalism, Family, and Community; Content Pedagogy and Knowledge; and Knowledge of Teaching.

Elementary School Teacher


To earn an elementary school teacher endorsement in Colorado you must pass the Praxis Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects exam. This exam is composed of four distinct sub-tests: Reading and Language Arts, Mathematics; Social Studies; and Science. You must pass each sub-test to earn your certification.

Secondary School Teacher


There are a variety of endorsements offered at the secondary school teaching level. These endorsements can either be granted for K-12 or 7-12. At the secondary level you can gain an endorsement by passing the Praxis exam that lines up with the subject you plan on teach. For example, grades 7-12 English teachers would take the English Language Arts: Content Knowledge exam. Alternatively, you can verify that you have completed 24 semester hours specific to the endorsement area you are applying for, rather than taking the Praxis exam.

Substitute Teacher Certification


Substitute teachers in Colorado are able to receive authorization to substitute teach for one, three or five years. You can renew either the three-year or five-year level authorization.

To apply for the one-year authorization you should already have employment as a substitute with a school district. From there you will need to pass a background check, submit your employment history for the past five years, and have your employing school district sign a verification form, indicating that you are currently employed pending authorization.

To obtain three-year authorization you must complete a background check, submit your work history for the past five years, have a bachelor’s degree and submit your official college transcripts.

Five-year authorization requires candidates to have a valid or expired Colorado teaching license. Out-of-state applicants must hold a valid, un-expired teaching license. In addition you will need to complete a background check and submit your work history for the past five years.

Physical Education (PE) Certification


Physical education teacher endorsements are covered under the K-12 grade range, which means that you can either complete 24 semester hours of PE related course work, or you can pass the Physical Education: Content Knowledge Praxis exam to gain certification.

If you choose to take the exam, you will need to earn a passing score of 148. The exam will cover material relating to: Content Knowledge and Student Growth and Development; Management, Motivation, and Communication; Planning, Instruction, and Student Assessment; and Collaboration, Reflection, and Technology.

Special Education Certification


Candidates for a special education endorsement must pass the appropriate Praxis exam, there is no coursework alternative. As a special education teacher you will need to become certified to work with a specific population. These endorsements range from general to specific and include:

Early Childhood Special Education (Birth-8)
Special Education Generalist (Ages 5-21)
Special Education Specialist (Ages 5-21)
Deaf/Hard of Hearing (Ages 5-21)
Visually Impaired (Ages5-21)

Each endorsement area for special education corresponds to a Praxis exam. The exam will cover content related to teaching and assessing the population you work with, and will include questions based on instruction, assessment, and development of learners.

English as a Second Language Certification


Teachers interested in working with the ESL population must already hold an endorsed teacher certification. Once you obtain an endorsed teacher certification you are then eligible to add a second endorsement in ESL.

For ESL there are two endorsement options available: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education Grades and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Bilingual Education Specialist. Both are applicable for grade K-12. There are no content exams available for either endorsement. You can earn the endorsement by completing a preparation program focused on ESL, or by completing specific coursework requirements and provide documentation for meeting the following three competencies: Bilingualism and Biliteracy; Bilingual Methods for Teaching and Learning; and Ability to Teach in Additional Language.

Certifications for School Administrators


The type of administrator license you should earn in Colorado will depend on what administrative position you intend to work in. Applicants for building-level leadership positions, such as principals or assistant principals, should apply for the Principal License. Applicants for district-level leadership positions, such as Superintendents, should apply for the Administrator License.

For the principal license, you must have at least three years of licensed teaching experience. You will also need to take and pass the Praxis Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision exam with a score of 145. When you apply for the license you will need to submit a background check, official transcripts from your college that verify you hold a bachelor’s degree, a verification form documenting you completed a teacher preparation program, and documentation of your passing score on the Praxis exam. If you are granted this license, it will be valid for three years.

To earn an administrator license as a superintendent candidate, you will need to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. You will also need to complete an approved graduate program focused on the preparation of district-level administrators. To verify your competency level you will either need to pass the Praxis Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision with a score of 145 or provide evidence of three years of continuous professional administrative experience. This certification is valid for three years.

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.

Teaching Reciprocity Agreements in Colorado

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education Certification (NASDTEC) created the Interstate Agreement as a way to encourage and facilitate teacher license reciprocity between the states. The agreement allows participating states to determine regulations and standards for out-of-state teachers seeking licensure in their state.

NASDTEC Interstate Agreement Yes, Colorado does participate.
State Grants Full Reciprocity No, additional requirements must be met before gaining full reciprocity.
Coursework Requirements No, additional coursework is not required.
Test-out or Exemption No.
Assessment Requirements Applicants with less than three years of experience may need to take the Colorado content knowledge and skill exams. If required, you may be eligible to receive an Interim Authorization that allows you to teach for one year while you meet the testing requirement. Applicants with at least three years of “continuous, successful, evaluated experience” teaching in an elementary or secondary school do not have to meet state licensing exam requirements. Their endorsement must correlate with one offered by Colorado.
Different Requirements Based on Experience Candidates with at least three years of experience are eligible to receive a Professional License without having to take additional assessments or complete an induction program. Candidates who meet the requirements for a license, but who have less than three years of experience can receive an Initial License and must complete an approved induction program. A first-time applicant who holds a license issued by another state but who does not have three years of experience, and/or who has not passed the approved content exam for the endorsement area they seek certification in, may be eligible to receive an Interim Authorization. An interim authorization is valid for one year and may be renewed only once. Upon successful completion of the required content exams, an applicant may then apply for an Initial License.
Performance Requirements If an applicant is able to verify three years of “continuous, successful, evaluated experience as a licensed teacher in an elementary or secondary school” they are eligible to receive the Professional License.
Special Reciprocity for Advanced Credentials Colorado offers either an Initial or Professional license level. Candidates who meet the experience requirement and who meet all additional Colorado licensing requirements are eligible to earn the more advanced Professional license.

Information reported by the Education Commission of the States.

Alternate Teaching Certification

For those interested in earning a teacher certification, but already hold a bachelor’s degree outside of the field of education, an alternative pathway to teacher certification might be a good substitute to the traditional path.

Teach for America

Working in schools in and around the Denver Metro, Colorado Springs and Pueblo areas in Colorado, Teach for America (TFA) is dedicated to creating new teachers and helping students succeed. While you do not need to have a teaching degree to join this program, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree. As a TFA member you will serve a two-year commitment with the program by working in a high-needs school as a teacher. When you begin your two-year commitment you will also begin working towards meeting the CDE requirements for teacher certification. Ideally, by the end of your commitment you will hold your Colorado initial teacher certification and be able to teach anywhere within Colorado.

Transition into Teaching for Career Changers

School districts in Colorado have the option to hire alternative teacher candidates who have specific content knowledge and hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in order to fill teacher shortages. While these candidates may be eligible for employment, they will still need to complete a teacher preparation program to earn their teaching certification. These alternative teacher preparation programs can take anywhere from one to three years to complete.

Before you can gain employment or even start the alternative program, you must submit your official transcripts, complete a background check and be able to demonstrate competency in the endorsement area you choose to be certified in. You can demonstrate competency by either passing the appropriate Praxis exam, or by completing 24 semester hours of coursework in the area of certification you seek.

Once those three steps are completed, you will need to find employment in a teaching position related to the certification you hope to gain, start an approved teacher preparation program, and complete a statement of assurance (SOA) that is signed by you, your district/employer and your preparation program. You can then apply for an alternative teacher certification.

Alternatively, after completing the first three steps, but prior to gaining employment and starting a program, you can apply for an alternative teacher certification and earn “alternative license pending employment/program” status. From there you will have one year to earn your alternative teaching license by finding employment and starting an alternative preparation program.