How to Earn Teacher Certification in North Carolina

Interested in learning how to become a teacher in North Carolina? Knowing the requirements to become a teacher, and earning your North Carolina teacher certification 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 a teaching degree or endorsement program, you’re a teacher moving to North Carolina, or you’re looking for alternative routes to gain teacher certification.

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


The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) monitors and regulates the licensing process for teachers throughout the state. The NCDPI offers two levels of professional licensure for educators:

Initial License: First-time teaching candidates should work towards earning this license. They are valid for three years and are nonrenewable. Although the NCDPI does not require candidates to complete a background check, the school district you seek employment with will. You can find specific education and testing requirements below.

Continuing License: This license is available for teachers with three or more years of experience. It is valid for five years and can be renewed.

Meet the Minimum Education Requirements for North Carolina

To earn your teacher certification in North Carolina, you should start by earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. The bachelor’s degree should be in the field of education that you are interested in teaching. The school you earn your degree through should also offer a state-approved teacher education program that you will complete in addition to your degree. Both a bachelor’s degree and completion of a teacher education program are required to earn your teacher license in North Carolina. Make sure that your education aligns with the grade level and subject matter that you intend to teach.

Student Teaching

Completing a student teaching experience will be required by your teacher education program. This experience is vital for becoming a certified teacher. While many jobs provide on the job training or training before you start, teaching typically does not. Once you start teaching, you are in charge of your own classroom and having previous experience is vital. That’s why gaining teaching experience as a student is necessary to earn your teacher certification.

Pass the North Carolina Certification Exams

Prior to applying for your North Carolina teaching license, you should pass the appropriate certification exam. There are two primary exam options:

Praxis I:- A Praxis II exam should be taken for middle grades 6-9, secondary 9-12, and K-12 including Exceptional Children: General Curriculum certification candidates. The exact Praxis II exam you should take will vary depending on the subject and grade level you seek to teach. You can find more information on specific exams in the Specialty Certification section later in the article.

Foundations of Reading and General Curriculum: These exams are offered by Pearson testing services for NCDPI. You should take both exams if you intend to earn your certification in Elementary Education K-6 or in Exceptional Children: General Curriculum K-12.

Foundations of Reading General Curriculum
Format 100 multiple-choice questions, two open-response questions. Multi-Subject sub-test: 55 multiple-choice questions, one open-response. Mathematics subtest: 45 multiple-choice questions, one open-response.
Time Four hours Multi-Subject sub-test: 2 hours. Mathematics subtest: 2 and a half hours. Both sub-tests in a single session: 4 hours.
Fee $139 $94 per sub-test; $139 for both subtest taken in a single sitting.
Passing Score 229 227 per sub-test
Framework Multiple-choice section covers: Foundations of Reading Development, Development of Reading Comprehension, and Reading Assessment and Instruction. Open-response section covers: Integration of Knowledge and Understanding. Multi-subject sub-test: Language Arts, History and Social Science, Science and Technology/Engineering, Integration of Knowledge and Understanding. Mathematics sub-test: Numbers and Operations, Functions and Algebra, Geometry and Measurement, Statistics and Probability, Integration of Knowledge and Understanding.


You can apply for licensure in North Carolina by creating a NCDPI Online Licensure System account. Not only can you start and submit your certification application through this account, but it will also be where you renew your license or update your contact information.

Along with your application, you will also need to submit your official college transcripts, verify that you have completed an approved teacher education program, have your test scores sent to NCDPI by the testing administrator, such as Pearson or Praxis, and pay all required processing fees.

How Much Do Teachers in North Carolina Make?

When it comes to salaries, remember that teachers with a higher level of education, such as a master’s degree, typically make more than their fellow teachers. Also, certain school districts and even certain schools may pay their teachers more.

salary outlook
Position Median Annual Salary
Early Childhood Educator $28,350
Elementary School Teacher $48,130
High School Teacher $49,080
Special Education Teacher $48,350
School Administrator $76,690


Job Growth for High School Teachers through 2031

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

Specialty Certifications

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the testing requirements you must meet as a North Carolina educator will vary depending on the certification you seek to earn. Below you can find detailed information about what tests you must take and pass to gain your initial license. Remember, for each of the following certification areas, you must also meet all of the NCDPI licensure requirements unless otherwise stated.

Early Childhood Education


Aside from the general education and testing requirements for student teachers set forth by the North Carolina State Department of Education, those who wish to teach students in Early Childhood Education, specifically from birth to Kindergarten, are not required to take any additional certification exams.

Elementary – Middle School Teacher


Elementary education in North Carolina covers Kindergarten through sixth grade. There are two tests you must take and pass if you intend on earning your certification as an elementary school teacher, the Pearson “Foundations of Reading” and “General Curriculum.” You can find a chart detailing the exact testing information in the ‘Pass the North Carolina Certification Exams’ section at the beginning of this article.

Middle school teachers must take the Praxis II Middle Grades exam that corresponds to their subject area of expertise. There are four subject areas available for certification at this grade level:

Language Arts: The Praxis II test for language arts is broken up into four content categories. You must be proficient in each category to pass the exam: Reading; Language Use and Vocabulary; Writing, Speaking, and Listening; and English Arts Instruction.

Mathematics: The Mathematics Praxis II exam is broken up into only two categories: Arithmetic and Algebra; and Geometry and Data.

Science: Six distinct content categories make up the science Praxis II exam: Science Inquiry, Methodology, Techniques, and History; Basic Principles of Matter and Energy; Physical Sciences; Life Sciences; Earth and Space Sciences; Science, Technology, and Society.

Social Studies: This Praxis II exam will test you on the following content areas: United States History, World History, Government/Civics, Geography, and Economics. There will also be a section of three short response essays. They will test your knowledge of: United States History, related to Government/Civics; World History, related to Geography; and U.S. History, related to Economics or Geography or World History, related to Economics or Government/Civics.

Secondary School Teacher


The grade level range that offers teachers the most options in terms of subject areas for certification is secondary education. These teachers can earn certification in subjects such as biology, English, geography, and even sociology. To earn a specific secondary certification, you will need to pass the Praxis II test that corresponds to the subject you seek to teach.

All secondary teachers will also need to pass the Praxis “Principles of Learning and Teaching: Grades 7-12” exam. This exam is meant to test your knowledge of the teaching process. It will cover topics such as: Students as Learners; Instructional Process; Assessment; and Professional, Development, Leadership and Community.

Substitute Teacher Certification


The NCDPI does not offer substitute teacher certifications. If you are interested in becoming a substitute teacher you should contact your local school district. Each school district will have its own rules and regulations for substitute teacher candidates, such as having a bachelor’s degree. Many even promote substitute teachers having a teacher certification by paying them more per assignment.

Physical Education (PE) Certification


There are two Praxis II testing options for a teacher seeking to become certified in PE; both allow you to work within grades K-12:

Health and Physical Education: The health section of this exam covers: Health Education as a Discipline/Health instruction and Health Education Content. The PE section of the exam will cover: Content Knowledge and Student Growth and Development; Management, Motivation, and Communication/Collaboration, Reflection, and Technology; and Planning, Instruction, and Student Assessment.

Physical Education: If you are interested in teaching the health aspects of PE you must take the exam above. If you are only interested in teaching PE, this exam will meet the testing requirement. It covers: Content Knowledge and Student Growth and Development; Management, Motivation, and Communication; Planning, Instruction, and Student Assessment; and Collaboration, Reflection, and Technology.

Special Education Certification


Earning your special education certification in North Carolina requires extensive testing. First, all Exceptional Children: General Curriculum (K-12) certification candidates must pass the Pearson Foundations of Reading and General Curriculum exams detailed at the beginning of this article.

From there, each candidate must pass the Praxis Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge exam. This exam covers English, math, citizenship and social science, and science. In addition, you will need to take and pass the Praxis II exam that corresponds to the particular population you seek to work with. These can include: Adapted Curriculum; Behaviorally/emotionally Disabled; Cross Categorical; General Curriculum; Learning Disabled; Mentally Disabled; Severely Profoundly Mentally Disabled; or Visually Impaired.

English as a Second Language Certification


In North Carolina, teachers for ESL are certified to teach K-12. To gain this certification, they must pass the Praxis II English to Speakers of Other Languages exam. Before taking the exam, you should be proficient in these six content categories: Foundations of Linguistics; Foundations of Language Learning; Planning and Implementing Instruction; Assessment and Evaluation; Culture; and Professionalism and Advocacy.

Certifications for School Administrators


Before you can even begin the process for becoming a school administrator, you must hold a North Carolina professional educator’s continuing license. From there, the requirements will vary depending on the administrative position you seek.

Superintendent: There are two routes to gain eligibility as a superintendent. You can have at least one year of experience as a principal and have an advanced graduate level degree in school administration or you can have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education and five years of relevant experience in leadership or management.
Before you can serve as a superintendent, the State Board of Education must verify that you are an eligible candidate. If you are approved, the local board of education will then have the opportunity to elect you to the position.

Principal: There is only one route to becoming a principal in North Carolina; you must complete an approved program in school administration at the master’s level or higher. No provisional licenses are offered.

Assistant Principal: You must complete an approved program in school administration at the master’s level or higher. Alternatively, provisional principal licenses are issued if the local board of education determines there is a shortage of qualified assistant principal candidates. If you earn a provisional license, you must start and complete a master’s level school administrator program within three school 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 North Carolina

When teachers move to a new state, they cannot immediately start looking for a teaching position; first they must seek reciprocity to gain an in-state license. The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) works with states across the country to facilitate teacher movement through reciprocity. They do this through their Interstate Agreement. States that participate in this agreement write a statement documenting the reciprocity guidelines for their state.

NASDTEC Interstate Agreement Yes, North Carolina does participate.
State Grants Full Reciprocity No, additional requirements must be met.
Coursework Requirements Out-of-state licensed candidates with three or more years of experience applying for the Elementary Education or Exceptional Children License are eligible to receive an Initial License. To convert to a Continuing License, the individual can submit evidence of passing the North Carolina Department of Instruction’s Reading and Mathematics Foundations courses
Test-out or Exemption The Pearson “Foundations of Reading” and “General Curriculum” assessment can be submitted in place of coursework requirements.
Assessment Requirements All out-of-state candidates must pass the Praxis II subject test that relates to the certification they seek. Candidates applying for Elementary Education or Exceptional Children General Curriculum Licenses must also pass the Pearson “Foundations of Reading” and “General Curriculum” test.
Different Requirements Based on Experience Out-of-state teachers with three or more years of teaching experience and who meet the assessment requirements or have national board certification may be able to apply for a Continuing License rather than an Initial License.
Performance Requirements Out-of-state candidates must submit evidence of their teacher effectiveness, based off the evaluations they received while teaching. Reciprocity applications that include evidence of the teacher’s effectiveness are prioritized for review. An individual who does not include evidence of their effectiveness with their application is only eligible for an Initial License.
Special Reciprocity for Advanced Credentials Although teachers who are fully licensed in another state with three or more years of teaching experience are eligible to receive a Continuing License, they must meet state testing requirements or have national board certification to gain the Continuing License.

Information reported by the Education Commission of the States.

Alternate Teaching Certification

With teacher shortages across the country needing to be filled, alternative routes to teacher certification exist to help create new teachers without requiring teacher candidates to go back to school. This can be largely beneficial for recent college graduates or long-time professionals who earned their degree outside of the field of education.

Teach for America

In North Carolina, Teach for America (TFA) works within three key areas: Charlotte, Piedmont Triad and Eastern North Carolina. In these areas, TFA seeks to find employment for diverse individuals anxious to begin a teaching career. When you work with TFA, you will work for two years in a high-needs school prior to earning your teaching certification. During this two-year commitment, you will work towards earning a North Carolina teacher certification by meeting all of the licensure requirements set forth by the NCDPI. Once you have earned your certification and completed your two-year commitment, you will be a certified teacher, independent from TFA, and able to find employment with a new school, if you choose.

Transition into Teaching for Career Changers

The NCDPI offers Lateral Entry as an alternative route for career changers seeking a teaching certification. This path allows qualified individuals to begin teaching right away and is initiated on your behalf by the school district that seeks to employ you. If you are approved, the NCDPI will authorize a three-year lateral entry professional educator’s license on a provisional basis. The license must correspond to your documented area of academic study. While you hold this license, you must work towards earning a North Carolina professional educator license.

Lateral entry can be broken down into five basic steps. First, you must qualify by passing the appropriate exam, which will either be a Praxis II exam that corresponds to your academic background or the Pearson Foundations of Reading and General Curriculum exams. Next, you will need to find employment. If a school hires you, they will request a lateral entry license for you from the NCDPI. From there, you must enroll in an approved teacher education program that corresponds to the grade and subject level you are licensed to teach. The program will formulate a plan of study in which you will have three years to complete any and all coursework requirements.

Finally, once all coursework and testing requirements are completed, the institution that you have completed the program with will send a recommendation for licensure to the NCDPI. Once they review the recommendation and ensure that you have met all the requirements, you may be awarded your professional educator’s continuing license.