How to Earn a Teaching License in New Mexico

If you want to teach in New Mexico, you’ll first need to meet the state’s criteria to earn certification. While there are several pathways to doing this, your options depend on your current level of education and experience.

This guide can help you determine the pathway that’s right for you at any point in your career. Perhaps you’re beginning your journey and need to know about New Mexico’s certification process. Or maybe you want to learn how to progress to advanced certification, or you’re a teacher looking to move from out of state and want to understand the reciprocity process.

You’ll find all that information and more right here. The short video below gives an overview of what to expect as a certified teacher in New Mexico state.

Requirements for Teachers

Requirements for the traditional licensure program in New Mexico include a bachelor’s degree or higher and completion of an approved teacher preparation program. Passing a basic skills assessment and knowledge exams that align with your area of certification also are required. Some certifications also require the completion of coursework in the teaching of reading.

After fulfilling the requirements for a traditional teacher preparation program, you qualify for a Level I Provisional Teacher License. This license is valid for five years and is not renewable. While teaching as a Level 1 educator, you will receive mentorship support to help you succeed. You also must develop a Professional Development Plan (PDP) annually with your school principal.

If you have a bachelor’s degree, you can apply to a post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program and earn a certificate or master’s degree. Once accepted into a post-baccalaureate program, you are eligible to apply for an Internship License. This nonrenewable certification is considered Pre-Level I and is valid for three years. It allows you to work as the teacher of record in your area of expertise while you fulfill the requirements for earning a Level I teaching license. Participants in alternative licensure programs also may be eligible for an Internship License.

After teaching a minimum of three years under a Level I license, you are eligible to apply for a nine-year Level II license. This step must be completed before the end of your fifth year of Level I experience. To progress to Level II, you must complete an approved mentoring program and submit a PDD to the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) that demonstrates your accomplishment of key indicators. You can remain at Level II for your entire teaching career.

Level III-A is the highest level of teaching licensure in New Mexico. You can pursue this level if you want to work as an instructional teaching leader or progress to higher levels of responsibilities in curriculum development, mentoring and peer intervention. A master’s degree or advanced certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), additional experience and proof of advanced competencies also is required.

Minimum Education Requirements for New Mexico Teachers

The minimum education requirement for New Mexico teachers is a bachelor’s degree. Candidates for Level I licensure also must complete a state-approved teacher preparation program. If you desire Elementary or Special Education certification, you must complete six semester hours in the teaching of reading. Candidates for secondary or K-12 certification are required to take three semester hours in the teaching of reading.

Coursework to meet reading requirements can be completed as part of your teacher preparation program. Candidates seeking certification in Vocational Technical Education may be able to substitute appropriate work experience for the standard education requirements.

Student Teaching

Student teaching is required as a component of all approved teacher preparation programs in New Mexico. While enrolled in baccalaureate teacher preparation program, you must complete a 14-week student teaching experience. This experience must include direct student teaching or a field-based component. During your student teaching experience, a Master Teacher will evaluate your performance in handling the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. Prior to beginning your student teaching assignment, you must complete a background check by fingerprinting.

Pass New Mexico Certification Exams

You must pass New Mexico certification exams to obtain a Level 1 teaching license. New Mexico Teacher Assessments (NMTA) are provided by Pearson VUE. Before you enter a state-approved teacher preparation program, you must take the Essential Academic Skills Subtests in Reading, Mathematics and Writing. You also must achieve minimum scores in professional knowledge and content area assessments specific to the certification you are pursuing


After completing the education, experience and assessments required for your certification, you are ready to apply for a New Mexico Level I teaching license. You can apply for New Mexico teacher certification by completing a paper application form that includes questions regarding your character and fitness for teaching. In addition to an application form, you also must provide official sealed transcripts from all colleges and universities you attended.

Your earned degrees must be posted on official transcripts. Any relevant teaching experience applicable to your certification must be indicated on an official form or a letter from the employing school district. You also must complete an FBI background check through 3M Cogent Information, the approved fingerprinting service. A non-refundable application fee also must be included with your application packet.

How Much Do Teachers in New Mexico Make?

Salaries for teachers in New Mexico are based on factors including individual education and years of experience. Considerations such as your type of certification and the budget of your employing school district also can affect the specific amount you earn. Some median annual teacher salaries in New Mexico are listed here.

salary outlook
Position Median Salary
Early Childhood Educator $28,550
Elementary School Teacher $60,180
Secondary School Teacher $60,150
Special Education Teacher $56,880
Education Administrator $79,550


Job Growth for High School Teachers through 2031

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

Specialty Certifications

You can earn specialty certifications in New Mexico that authorize you to teach specific grade levels and content areas. Most specialty certifications can be earned at Level I licensure. You can add endorsement(s) to a valid New Mexico teaching license by completing an endorsement application and providing proof of coursework, experience and content knowledge exams that align with the endorsement you are requesting. If you already have passed a content knowledge assessment for your first endorsement on your license, you can add some endorsements by either taking 24 semester hours in the appropriate content area or passing the appropriate content knowledge assessment, whichever you prefer.

Early Childhood Education


For certification in early childhood education in New Mexico, you can earn licensure in Early Childhood Education (Birth to age 3) or (Age 3–Age 8). Requirements include a bachelor’s degree and 36 to 42 hours of professional education in an approved early childhood teacher preparation program. You can earn your bachelor’s degree with your teacher preparation program if you are a first-time student. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue this certification via a post-baccalaureate certificate or master’s degree program. You also must complete a student teaching component in early childhood education that lasts between 168 and 180 hours.

Qualifications for a Level I teaching license include the basic skills assessment of the NMTA. Passing scores on the NES Early Childhood Education (Birth–Prekindergarten) or NES Early Childhood Education (Ages 3–Age 8), depending on the certification desired, also are necessary.

Elementary School Teacher


Certification as an elementary school teacher in New Mexico can be awarded as licensure in Elementary Education (K–8). This authorizes you to teach in a self-contained elementary school classroom or in a core area of mathematics, language arts, science or social studies up to grade 8 in a departmentalized setting.

Requirements include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with a major in elementary education or 30 semester hours of professional coursework that includes student teaching in an elementary education teacher preparation program. You also must complete 24 semester hours in one specific teaching field. Your curriculum must include at least six hours of coursework in the teaching of reading. Some programs allow you to complete your bachelor’s degree as part of an elementary education teacher preparation program. Programs that offer post-baccalaureate certificates or master’s degrees also are available.

Required assessments for the Elementary Education Level I certification include the NMTA basic skills assessment and the Assessment of Professional Knowledge: Elementary. You must prove content knowledge with acceptable scores in the Elementary Education (Subsets I and II) and Essential Components of Elementary Reading Instruction assessments.

Secondary School Teacher


secondary school teacher in New Mexico can be certified with a Secondary Education (7–12) license that allows you to teach in a departmentalized setting. For a Level I teaching license, you must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, with 24 semester hours in a teaching field, of which 12 semester hours must be earned at the upper division level. You also must complete a secondary education teacher preparation program in conjunction with your bachelor’s degree or as a post-baccalaureate degree or master’s degree program. As part of your coursework, you must complete three semester hours in the teaching of reading.

For Level I Secondary Education certification, you must take the NMTA basic skills assessment and the Assessment of Professional Knowledge (Secondary). Additional required assessments include Essential Components of Elementary Reading Instruction and the appropriate content area assessment that aligns with your certification.

Substitute Teacher Certification


The requirement for substitute teacher certification in New Mexico for grades K–8 are 18 years of age and a high school diploma or GED. To work as a substitute teacher in grades 9–12, you must be at least 21 years old with a high school diploma or GED. In addition, you must have verification that you completed an approved teacher education program from a regionally accredited college or university. A current out-of-state substitute or standard license also meets this requirement.

If you have neither credential, you must prove your qualification for substitute teaching by meeting at least two qualifying criteria. These options include the completion of three hours of substitute training in three days within 12 months of your first day as a substitute teacher, observation of at least three hours of teaching in the grade level and school in which you will be working, completion of an approved substitute workshop, completion of at least three hours of substitute teaching in the past three years at any accredited New Mexico school or proof of paid employment in the three years prior to your application for substitute teacher. Educational experience that includes completion of 60 hours of college credit or completion or enrollment in a primary or secondary school teacher preparation program also are eligible as qualifying criteria.

Physical Education (PE) Certification


You can earn Physical Education (PE) certification for grades K–12 in New Mexico if you have a bachelor’s degree with a major in physical education or a related degree with at least 24 semester hours in physical education courses. You also must complete an approved physical education teacher preparation program. In addition, you are required to take three semester hours in the teaching of reading, which can be accomplished as part of your teacher preparation curriculum.

You can qualify for a Level I Physical Education license after completion of your educational requirements and the NMTA basic skills assessment. You also must pass either the Elementary or Secondary version of the Assessment of Professional Knowledge and the Physical Education content area assessment.

Special Education Certification


You can earn Special Education (Pre-K–12) certification in New Mexico that authorizes you to teach students in a wide range of age levels and disabilities. This certification requires a bachelor’s degree in special education or a bachelor’s degree and 30 semester hours in special education coursework that includes student teaching and 24 semester hours in a teaching field. You also must complete a special education teacher preparation program in conjunction with your degree or as a post-baccalaureate master’s degree or certificate program. Coursework including six hours in the teaching of reading also is required.

Qualifications for a Level I Special Education licensure include taking the NMTA-required basic skills assessment and Assessment of Professional Knowledge (Elementary or Secondary). A passing score in the Special Education content area assessment also is necessary for this certification.

English as a Second Language Certification


English as a Second Language (ESL) certification in New Mexico is awarded as a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) endorsement. This can be added to an initial license by completing 24–36 semester hours of TESOL coursework. ATESOL endorsement can be added to an existing license in PreK–12, Middle Level Education (5–9) or Secondary Education (7–12) with completion of the appropriate coursework and the English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) content area assessment. If this is your second or higher endorsement, TESOL can be added by a choice of either coursework or content area assessment.

Certifications for School Administrators


School administrators in New Mexico can earn certification as an Educational Administrator (Pre-K–12). This certification requires a master’s degree in educational administration from a regionally accredited college or university. If the degree is in another major, the candidate must complete 18 graduate hours in educational leadership with an apprenticeship/internship of at least 180 clock hours, including time at the start and finish of the school year. Candidates must have teaching experience under a Level III-A teaching license for at least one year. NMTA criteria for this certification includes the Educational Administrator content knowledge assessment.

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 New Mexico

Teaching reciprocity agreements in New Mexico can help you obtain a teaching license faster by recognizing out-of-state education and experience as qualifying credentials. If you have a valid out-of-state teaching license, learning about reciprocity in New Mexico can save you time and educational expenses in the licensing process.

NASDTEC Interstate Agreement New Mexico does not participate in the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement.
State Grants Full Reciprocity New Mexico does not grant full reciprocity.
Coursework Requirements Out-of-state teachers do not have additional coursework requirements.
Test-out or Exemption There are no exemptions because there are no coursework requirements.
Assessment Requirements Out-of-state elementary teachers without proof of experience may be eligible for a one-year license but must take the NMTA Reading assessment. Those applying for Level I can provide proof of coursework or successful teaching experience in place of content knowledge assessments. Those applying for Level II or Level III Licenses can provide proof of meeting required credit hours in place of assessments.
Different Requirements Based on Experience Out-of-state candidates who have less than three years of experience may qualify for a Level I License, those with between three and five years may qualify for a Level II License, and those with at lease six years of experience may qualify for a Level III-A License. Out-of-state candidates with no experience qualify for a one-year license must receive a recommendation from an in-state school district and must meet competency requirements within 160 days.
Performance Requirements Out-of-state teachers need proof that they “satisfactorily taught” in their home state for the period of time they are applying toward New Mexico licensure.
Special Reciprocity for Advanced Credentials Out-of-state teachers with national board certification or able to meet longer experience requirements may qualify for a higher level of licensure.

Information reported by the Education Commission of the States.

Alternate Teaching Certification

New Mexico offers alternate two-year teaching certification options for non-traditional students who have bachelor’s degrees. For many worthy teacher candidates, returning to school to pursue a four-year full-time degree is not an option. Post-baccalaureate alternative licensure programs accommodate individuals who are sustaining full-time careers while they pursue teacher certification. Courses often are provided in the evenings, on weekends and/or online.

Teach for America

Teach for America recruits, trains and assigns certified teachers to help needy districts in New Mexico achieve education equality. The organization places members in the Four Corners region in New Mexico, near the borders of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, where they support struggling schools in rural Navajo and Pueblo communities. Teach for America participants are high-achieving college graduates who make two-year commitments to live and work in school districts where they can make a difference. The organization provides training so participants can obtain teacher certification to fulfill classroom teaching assignments.

Transition into Teaching for Career Changers

New Mexico welcomes career changers interested in pursuing a transition into teaching. Alternate certification programs require a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with at least 30 semester credit hours in a specific content area. If you have a master’s degree, you’ll need to prove 12 hours in a specific endorsement area.

Some alternate programs provide accelerated programs that streamline the certification process so that you can qualify for a Level I license as early as possible. You also may be able to qualify for an Internship, or Pre-Level I License, which allows you to work as a teacher of record in your area of expertise while you complete the requirements for a Level I license in your specialty area.

Online Portfolio for Alternative Licensure (OPAL)

The Online Portfolio for Alternative Licensure (OPAL) is a nonrenewable, two-year license that allows you to teach while you complete the reading coursework, NMTA and an online portfolio for Level I licensure. The program is intended for teachers who earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-traditional education program. The online portfolio is a comprehensive, focused collection of data with explanations that the candidate compiles to define their qualifications for a Level I license through this alternate route. After a candidate is OPAL licensed, they teach for the first year, and then register for the portfolio during the second year. The portfolio must be presented before the end of the second year.