How to Earn Teacher Certification in Illinois

Interested in learning how to become a teacher in Illinois? Earning your Illinois teaching credential is a critical 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 the state of Illinois, or you’re looking for alternative routes to gain teacher certification.

Read on to learn about the different ways to get teacher certification in Illinois, and check out the video below for key facts about teaching in the state.

Teacher certification in Illinois is overseen by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). They award one full certification called a Professional Educator License (PEL). The PEL is valid for five years and can be renewed by completing professional development credits and paying the $10 registration fee. To earn a PEL Illinois teaching candidates must complete the following steps.

Meet the Minimum Education Requirements

The ISBE requires that those applying for a PEL must have a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, you must complete an approved Illinois educator preparation program.

Complete a Student Teaching Prep Program

The student teacher requirement will be met when you complete your ISBE approved educator preparation program. You will be paired with an experienced teacher within the grade range that you seek to teach. The teacher will mentor and assess you on your overall performance. To fulfill this requirement you must complete a set amount of hours, as dictated by the program you are a part of.

Pass Illinois Certification Exams

There are three certification exams monitored by the Illinois Licensure Testing System (ILTS) that you must pass to earn your PEL:

Test of Basic Skills: ISBE gives PEL candidates three options for meeting this requirement. 1) Pass the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP), which addresses reading comprehension, language arts, mathematics and writing. 2) Pass the ACT with a minimum composite score of 22 and a writing score of six. OR 3) Pass the SAT with a composite score of at least 1110, and 26 for writing and language for tests.

Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA): The edTPA is often taken and passed as part of your educator preparation program. If you complete the edTPA this way, you will complete and submit a verification form as proof. If you complete the edTPA apart from an educator preparation program, you must have your official scores sent from Pearson, the testing agency.

Teaching Endorsement Test: This test should correspond directly with the grade range you focused on in your educator preparation program. It gives you the ability to teach a specific group of students. Scores often take up to four weeks to be received and entered by ISBE.


To apply for your PEL you must create an Educator Licensure Information System (ELIS) account. Once you have completed you ISBE educator preparation program a badge will appear on the home screen of your ELIS account. You will click the badge to complete and submit your application. All other ISBE requirements listed above must be met before being granted a PEL. After earning your PEL you must register your license to begin teaching. To register your PEL, you will logon to ELIS, pay a fee and select the county or region in which you teach.

How Much Do Teachers in Illinois Make?

Teachers in Illinois can make a comfortable salary. The chart below shows the median salary for some of the teaching positions in Illinois. Keep in mind that your salary will vary, depending on the district you seek to teach in.

salary outlook
Position Median Salary
Early Childhood Educator $29,830
Elementary School Teacher $61,680
Secondary School Teacher $71,690
Special Education Teacher $59,770
Education Administrator $98,600


Job Growth for High School Teachers through 2031

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, 2021

Specialty Certifications

In the state of Illinois, the grade range and/or subject area that you specialize in is known as an endorsement. Teachers must earn a teaching endorsement, in addition to all other ISBE requirements, in order to earn their PEL. Requirements for earning ISBE teaching endorsements include earning a bachelor’s degree or higher. You must also complete 32 semester hours, or earn a major, in the content area you seek to be endorsed in. You coursework should also address: methods of teaching exceptional children; reading methods; content area reading; and methods of teaching English language learners. After completing these requirements, you will take the required endorsement test that corresponds to your area of study.

Early Childhood Education


These are self-contained classrooms that cover general education. The ages can range from birth to grade three. The ILTS/Pearson exam taken to earn this endorsement is Early Childhood Education and includes three subareas: language and literacy development; learning across the curriculum; and diversity, collaboration, and professionalism in the early childhood program.

Elementary – Middle School Teacher


Elementary education refers to kindergarten through ninth grade and functions as a self-contained general education. The ILTS requires PEL candidates in this field to pass the Pearson “Elementary Middle Grades” endorsement exam. This exam covers five subject areas: language arts and literacy; mathematics; science; social studies; and the arts, health, and physical education.

Middle Grades Teacher: The middle grades are classified as fifth through eighth and are taught as subject specific courses. Because they are subject specific, a PEL candidate for this age range must take a specific content area test. There are four subject area tests for middle grades.

Language Arts: You should be proficient in these four subject areas prior to taking the exam: foundations of language and literacy development; reading literacy and informational texts; writing and research; and speaking, listening, and viewing.

Mathematics: This exam covers six subareas: core content; fractions, ratios, and the number system; relations, functions, and algebra; measurement and geometry; probability and statistics; disciplinary literacy in mathematics.

Science: Five distinct subareas makeup this exam: scientific and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts; physical science; life science; earth and space science; and disciplinary literacy in science.

Social Studies: Six categories can be found within this exam: social science foundations; disciplinary literacy in social science; history; geography; political science and economics; and psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Secondary School Teacher


Secondary grade levels include 6-12 and are taught as subject-specific courses. Those seeking an endorsement must pass a specific content-area test. There are many endorsement options for those seeking to teach in this age range. Make sure you choose the endorsement that matches your completed course work and experience. You can also earn subsequent teaching endorsements in the “Senior High” category that are valid for 9th-12th grade. You can find more information in the “Subsequent Teaching Endorsements” section below.

Substitute Teacher Certification


The ISBE requires all substitute teacher candidates to have a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited institution. To apply, simply submit an application via ELIS along with a $100 application fee. You will then send in your official college transcripts. Once your transcripts have been received and approved, the ISBE will award you a substitute teacher certification. You can renew your certification by passing an ISBE approved basic skills test.

Physical Education (PE) Certification


PE teachers in Illinois must have a teaching endorsed PEL. After earning your PEL, you can apply for a subsequent endorsement in physical education. You can become PE endorsed at the middle school or senior high level. For the middle school level, you must complete six semester hours of middle school professional education coursework along with 18 semester hours of PE-related course work. To be PE endorsed at the senior high level you must complete 24 semester hours, 12 at the upper division, of PE-related course work and you must pass the ILTS/Pearson Physical Education exam.

Special Education Certification


Special K-12: This endorsement refers to an area of specialization in K-grade 12. The ILTS/Pearson test is a specific content area test. Be sure to verify with ISBE which test meets the requirements for your specialization prior to taking the test. If the test does not meet your endorsement requirements, you will need to take an additional Pearson test that does meet the requirements.

Special Pre-K-Age 21 Special Education: Within Illinois, there are four specific areas of endorsement for special education.
Areas of Learning Behavior Specialist I (LBS I): This specialization corresponds to the “LBS I” exam. The exam covers the following subject areas: foundations and characteristics; assessing students and developing individualized programs; planning and delivering instruction; managing the learning environment and promoting students’ social interaction and communication skills; working in a collaborative learning community; and professional conduct, leadership, and growth.

Blind or Visually Impaired: The corresponding exam is “Teacher of Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired”. It covers: foundations and characteristics; assessing students and developing individualized education programs (IEPs); planning and delivering instructional content; managing the learning environment and promoting students’ communication and social interaction skills; and maintaining effective communication, collaboration, and professionalism. All are focused on blind and visually impaired teaching.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The exam you must take for this endorsement is the “Teacher of Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.” It covers the same topics mentioned in the previous test but with a deaf and hard of hearing focus.

Speech-Language Pathologist (Teaching): You must take the “Speech-Language Pathologist: Teaching” exam for this endorsement. This exam covers the same subareas as the previous two tests but with a speech-language pathologist focus.

Early Childhood Special Education: This endorsement is valid for those seeking to teach special education for the range of birth to grade 3. You must take and pass the ILTS/Pearson Early Childhood Special Education exam to earn this endorsement. It will test you on five subareas: foundations and characteristics; assessing students and developing individualized programs; planning and developing instructional content; managing the learning environment and promoting students’ social interaction skills; and maintaining effective communication, collaboration, and professionalism.

English as a Second Language Certification


To teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in the state of Illinois, you must first earn your PEL with a teaching endorsement. From there you will be able to earn a subsequent teaching endorsement, described in the “Subsequent Teaching Endorsements” section below. The ESL endorsement is categorized under “Endorsements with Specific Distributions.”

It requires 18 semester hours of credit with coursework in specific areas related to ESL. You must also complete either 100 hours of ESL clinical experience or three months of ESL teaching experience.

Certifications for School Administrators


To become a certified school administrator in Illinois you must earn a PEL with an administrative endorsement. There are five administrative endorsements available: Chief School Business Official, Director of Special Education, Principal, Superintendent, and Teacher Leader.

You must meet the following requirements to be a valid candidate for an administrative endorsement:

  • Master’s degree or higher
  • Completion of a preparation program in the field of specialization
  • Internship or equivalent
  • Completion of coursework that addresses: methods of teaching exception children, reading methods, content area reading, and methods of teaching English language learners
  • Passing score on licensure test that applies to area of certification
  • Additional requirements vary depending on endorsement

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 Illinois

In an effort to fill teacher shortages and aid the movement of teachers between states, the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) created the Interstate Agreement. This agreement allows participating states to create a statement that outlines their requirements for teacher certification reciprocity. Details of Illinois’ outline can be found below, as reported by the Education Commission of States.

NASDTEC Interstate Agreement Illinois does participate in the NASDTEC interstate agreement.
State Grants Full Reciprocity No. There are a variety of additional requirements that must be met to earn state reciprocity.
Coursework Requirements Candidates for reciprocity must complete or show proof of, or prior completion of, coursework for standards concerning methods of instruction of the exceptional child, methods of reading, reading in the content area of your certification, instructional strategies for English learners, and student teaching or equivalent experience.
Test-out or Exemption Those who have completed coursework in any of the above mentioned areas can have the requirements for additional coursework waived by submitting proof of course completion to the Board of Education. You can find a list of pre-approved out-of-state courses through the Illinois Board of Education.
Assessment Requirements There are two assessment options for those seeking reciprocity in Illinois. The first is to show proof of completing an out-of-state basic skills test, content area test, and edTPA that results in teacher certification for your state, or you can Earn passing scores on all required Illinois assessments.
Different Requirements Based on Experience The edTPA requirement, mentioned above, is waived for teachers who have at least one year of experience that is rated ‘proficient.’ Your experience will be proven by your most recent teaching evaluation.
Performance Requirements No.
Special Reciprocity for Advanced Credentials There is only one full teaching license awarded by Illinois, the PEL. You are awarded this license once you meet the requirements, no matter what advanced credentials you may have. Initially you will be considered a provisional teacher and granted an Educator License with Stipulations (ELS)* until you meet all requirements.

*To be awarded an ELS, you must have a valid, comparable out-of-state license and present transcripts from the regionally accredited institute that awarded your degree. An ELS is nonrenewable, but can be extended for an additional year if you show progress towards earning a PEL. Progress is defined by the ISBE as a passing score on a basic skills test and a content area test that is related to your intended certification. Additionally, an ELS can be extended to a total of four years by completing an ISBE request form that verifies you have not been teaching full time while holding an ELS.

Alternate Teaching Certification

For those who discovered their desire to teach after earning a degree outside of the field of education, alternative pathways to teaching certification are there to help.

Teach for America

Teach for America (TFA) is an organization that works to put dedicated professionals into high-needs schools for a two-year commitment. Within Illinois, TFA targets the Chicago metropolitan area. You do not need to live in Illinois to work with TFA in this area.

To become a member of TFA, you will need to apply, go through a series of interviews, complete a month long training, and, if necessary, relocate to Chicago. Throughout your two-year commitment, you will gain the necessary skills and complete all ISBE requirements to earn your PEL.

Transition into Teaching for Career Changers

The ISBE also offers an alternative pathway for licensure through alternative educator preparation. This pathway requires candidates to complete a two-year alternative licensure program. Within this program, you will complete an intensive course of study and two years of residency. For the first year, you will be assigned a mentor. For the second year, you will be assigned a co-teacher who will provide feedback and support. At the end of the two years, you will complete a comprehensive assessment to determine if you are ready for licensure. If you are deemed ready, you will then be awarded a PEL.

To enroll in a program you must have a bachelor’s degree, pass an ISBE approved basic skills test and pass the content test that relates to your degree.

Subsequent Teaching Endorsements

Teachers holding an endorsed PEL can earn additional content area endorsements. These subsequent teaching endorsements can only be used for the grade range that you are currently endorsed to teach. There are four main categories of subsequent endorsements: Pre-K-Grade 12/K-Grade 12; Middle School; Senior High; and Endorsements with Specific Distributions.

If you are interested in earning a subsequent endorsement you must complete the expected requirements. Although these requirements will vary depending on the endorsement, most will require 18-24 semester hours in courses that apply to the endorsement.