How to Earn Teacher Certification in Tennessee

Becoming a teacher in Tennessee state has some basic requirements, and your first step is to earn your teacher 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. Whether you’re just beginning your journey and need to know about the Tennessee state certification process, or you’re a veteran teacher looking to specialize and earn advanced certification, you’ll find all that information and more right here.

The short video below will give you an overview of what to expect as a certified teacher in Tennessee.

Requirements for Tennessee Teachers

The Tennessee Department of Education (DOE) offers two levels of teacher certifications:

Practitioner: The practitioner license is considered the initial or entry-level license. New or out-of-state teachers are first awarded this license. It is valid for three years and can be renewed once, for a total of six years, while you work towards earning your professional license. To be considered as an applicant for the practitioner license you must be at least 18 years old and hold a bachelor’s degree. You can find detailed descriptions of additional requirements, such as education and testing assessments, below.

Professional: This is the most advanced teaching license offered in TennesseeOnce you hold a practitioner license you can advance to a professional teaching license by gaining three years of teaching experience. You must also either obtain the recommendation of the Director of Schools or earn 30 Professional Development Points (PDPs). PDPs can be gained by completing continuing education credits.

Minimum Education Requirements for Tennessee Teachers

All teacher candidates must earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Your degree major should be specific to the subject area you seek to teach or in the field of education you seek to work in. In addition, candidates are required to complete an approved educator preparation program. This program can be completed either in- or out-of-state. The program you join should also be focused on the subject and grade level you intend to work with.

Student Teaching

The educator preparation program will require that you complete a student teaching experience prior to finishing the program. This experience helps you practice your teaching skills while an experienced teacher observes you. You should make sure that the classroom you work in corresponds to the subject and grade level you plan on teaching. For example, if you plan on teaching 9th grade biology, then you should make sure that your student teaching experience takes place in a 9th grade biology classroom.

Pass Tennessee Certification Exams

There are two Praxis exams that a Tennessee educator must pass prior to earning their teacher certification: the Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT) and the Subject Area Assessment. Each exam has multiple testing options. You will need to choose the one that aligns with what you plan on teaching.

PLT: The PLT offers testing options for Early Childhood, Grades K-6, Grades 5-9, and Grades 7-12. Although each exam will vary in grade level content, they will all cover: Students as Learners, Assessment, Instructional Process, and Professional Development, Leadership, and Community. There will also be instructional scenarios that test you on these same topics.

Subject Area Assessment- While the PLT has four test options available, the subject area assessment has many, many more. The tests can range from broad categories, such as Elementary Education K-6, all the way to specific subjects, such as Economics 6-12. If you are unsure of which test best aligns with your certification area, you can check with your educator preparation program. To find out more specific testing information, check out the Certification Type’ section below.


In Tennessee, teacher candidates who complete an in-state education preparation program do not apply for licensure of their own volition. Instead, the education preparation program that you enrolled in will submit an application on your behalf through the TNCompass portal. In conjunction with this application you will need to complete a personal affirmation form. If you completed a program out-of-state, then you will complete the application on your own behalf.

All candidates, whether in-state or out-of-state, must ensure that all official transcripts and testing scores are on file with the Tennessee DOE prior to completing an application.

How Much Do Teachers in Tennessee Make?

Certain factors, such as experience, education level, and where you work, will impact the pay you make as a teacher. While you can find a general guide to the salary you can expect as a Tennessee teacher in the chart below, you should consider that you may make below or well above that number.

salary outlook
Position Median Salary
Early Childhood Educator $28,820
Elementary School Teacher $50,130
Secondary School Teacher $50,130
Special Education Teacher $48,720
Education Administrator, K-High School $77,190


Job Growth for High School Teachers through 2031

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, 2021. Based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.

Specialty Certifications

While candidates for all certification areas must meet the same basic requirements mentioned at the beginning of this article, such as holding a bachelor’s degree and being at least 18 years old, the exact testing assessments that you must complete will vary depending on the certification type you seek. Below you can find detailed testing information for a variety of certification types.

Early Childhood Education


Early childhood education (ECE) in Tennessee refers to grades Pre-K-3. To earn this certification there are four distinct tests you must take. First, you will take the PLT for Early Childhood. After that there are three subject assessments you must pass:

Education of Young Children: There are 120 multiple-choice questions within this exam and three constructed-responses. All of the constructed-response questions will be related to the knowledge of teaching. The multiple-choice questions will refer to topics such as: Childhood Development and Learning; Observation, Documentation, and Assessment; Developmentally Appropriate Practices; Professionalism, Family, and Community; and Content Pedagogy and Knowledge.

Elementary Education Content Knowledge: This exam will cover the basics of your content knowledge: Reading and Language Arts; Mathematics; Social Studies; and Science. You will be asked questions in the form of selected-response and in numeric entry.

Teaching Reading: Elementary Education: This reading focused exam will ask you 90 selected-response questions and three constructed-response questions. All questions will relate to specific topics within these three categories: Assessment and Diagnostic Teaching of Reading; Reading Development; and Writing in Support of Reading.

Elementary School Teacher


Similarly to ECE teachers, elementary school teachers must pass four exams to earn their certification. In fact, two of the exams are the same as those required for ECE: the Elementary Education: Content Knowledge and the Teaching Reading: Elementary Education. You can find information on these exams in the section above.

The two exams that are unique to the elementary teacher certification are the PLT for Grades K-6, discussed at the beginning of this article, and the Elementary Education: Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. This exam is similar to the elementary content knowledge exam in that it covers reading and language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. The only difference is that there is an additional section that test your knowledge of art, music, and physical education.

Middle and Secondary School Teachers


When students enter middle school the classroom style changes, rather than learning all subjects from one teacher, the student rotates from classroom to classroom and learns a specific subject from a specific teacher. That’s why at the middle school level teachers have more certification options available.

Initially all middle school teacher candidates must pass the PLT for Grades 5-9 and the Teaching Reading: Elementary Education, discussed in the ECE section above. From there candidates should take the Middle School: Content Knowledge exam. This will cover literature and language studies, mathematics, history/social studies, and science.

The fourth required test is where teacher candidates will have more options. The test you take will vary depending on the subject you plan to teach as a middle school teacher:

English/Language Arts: This exam will include 110 short-response questions and two constructed-response questions. It will cover the following topics: Reading; Language Use and Vocabulary; Writing, Speaking and Listening; and English Language Arts Instruction.

Mathematics: For this exam you will answer 55 selected-response and numeric-entry questions covering two key content areas: Arithmetic and Algebra; and Geometry and Data.

Science: There are 125 selected-response questions within the science exam. Each question will relate to any of these categories: Scientific Inquiry, Methodology, Techniques, and History; Basic Principles of Matter and Energy; Physical Sciences; Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences; and Science, Technology, and Society.

Social Studies: This exam is broken up into two parts. Part A includes 90 selected-response questions covering: United States History, World History, Government/Civics, Geography, and Economics. Part B has three constructed-response questions that will ask you to write about: 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 teachers have even more certification type options than middle school teachers. Although there are more certification and testing options available, fewer tests are required for secondary school teacher in Tennessee. While most other teachers need to take four test, secondary school teacher need to take two.

The first is the PLT for Grades 7-12 that we discussed at the beginning of this article. Following that exam, you will need to take the subject area assessment that relates to the subject area you plan on teaching. Although there are a variety of testing options, you will only need to take and pass the exam that corresponds to your area of study. Teachers planning on teaching history should take the World and U.S. History: Content Knowledge exam, while teachers looking to teach Spanish should take the Spanish: World Language exam.

Substitute Teacher Certification


Many states allow individual school districts to set the rules and regulations for hiring substitute teachers, and Tennessee is no exception. If you’re interested in becoming a substitute teacher in Tennessee, contact your local school district to find out what requirements you must meet. Most, if not all districts will require that you complete a background check, and some may even require that you hold a bachelor’s degree.

Physical Education (PE) Certification


As a PE teacher in Tennessee you need to pass the PLT that corresponds to the grade level you plan on working with. All candidates must also pass the Physical Education: Content and Design exam. The exam includes two constructed-response questions that focus on instructional design, along with 90 selected-response questions on: Content Knowledge and Student Growth and Development; Management, Motivation, and Communication; Planning, instruction, and Student Assessment; and Collaboration, Reflection, and Technology.

Special Education Certification


Special education certifications have many specialty areas. Earning a certification in one of these specialty areas will require you to take a Praxis subject assessment exam that covers content relevant to teaching or working within a specific realm of special education.

These certification and testing areas include:

  • Comprehensive K-12;
  • Hearing PreK-12;
  • Interventionist K-8;
  • Modified K-12;
  • Preschool Early Childhood Education PreK-3;
  • Speech Language Pathologist PreK-12; and
  • Vision PreK-12

All special education certification specialties, aside from the Speech Language Pathologist specialty, will also require that you take the Teaching Reading: Elementary Education exam. You can find a description of this exam in the ECE section above.

In addition, the Hearing PreK-12, Vision PreK-12 and Preschool Early Childhood Education PreK-3 certifications all require you to take a third exam titled Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications. This exam will ask 120 selected-response questions on: Development and Characteristics of Learners; Planning and the Learning Environment; Instruction; Assessment; and Foundations and Professional Responsibilities.

English as a Second Language Certification


To earn an ESL certification in Tennessee, you will need to take and pass the English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam. Before taking this exam, you should be prepared to answer 120 selected-response questions covering the following topics: Foundations of Linguistics; Foundations of Language Learning; Planning and Implementing Instruction; Assessment and Evaluations; Culture; and Professionalism and Advocacy. You must also pass the PLT for the grade range that you want to work with, whether it’s K-6 or 7-12. You can find information on the PLT at the beginning of this article.

Certifications for School Administrators


The Tennessee Department of Education offers administrators two types of administrative certification, one for entry-level candidates and one for advanced candidates:

Instructional Leadership License Aspiring (ILL-A): This license is valid for five years and cannot be renewed. To gain this certification you must be 18 years or older, hold at least a bachelor’s degree, be enrolled in an approved instructional leadership preparation program, and make sure that all of your official transcripts are on file. If you meet all of these requirements and are attending an in-state program, the program will apply for you on your behalf. If you meet all of these requirements and are attending an out-of-state program, you can complete the application through your TNCompass account.

Instructional Leadership License Beginning (ILL-B): This license is also valid for five years and it can be renewed. You can advance your ILL-A to an ILL-B after you have completed your instructional leadership preparation program and completed the Praxis School Leaders Licensure Assessment. Just like the application process for the ILL-A, you will either apply for the license on your own or your in-state program will apply for it on your behalf.

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 Tennessee

When a teacher moves to Tennessee and wants to continue teaching, they must transfer their out-of-state license into a Tennessee teaching license through reciprocity. Reciprocity is facilitated by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Interstate Agreement. This agreement was designed so that all participating states must formulate a guideline that allows out-of-state teachers to earn reciprocity.

NASDTEC Interstate Agreement Yes. Tennessee is a participating state.
State Grants Full Reciprocity No, additional requirements must be met to gain reciprocity.
Coursework Requirements There are no coursework requirements.
Test-out or Exemption No.
Assessment Requirements Out-of-state applicants should submit their passing scores on all content assessments.
Different Requirements Based on Experience Requirements are the same for inexperienced and experienced out-of-state teachers.
Performance Requirements No verification of your performance as a teacher is required.
Special Reciprocity for Advanced Credentials Tennessee offers two main licensure levels Practitioner and Professional. All out-of-state candidates, that meet the reciprocity requirements, are issued an Initial License. Candidates with at least three years of teaching experience may then be eligible to earn a Professional License after teaching for at least one school year in a Tennessee school.

Information reported by the Education Commission of the States.

Alternate Teaching Certification

If you’re interested in earning a teacher certification but have already earned a degree outside of the field of education, alternative pathways to certification might be a good route for you explore. These programs can be beneficial to recent college graduates, military personnel and even long time career professionals.

Teach for America

Teach for America (TFA) works within the two most well-known metropolitan areas of Tennessee: Memphis and Nashville. They strive to place college educated individuals into teaching positions throughout these Tennessee areas.

As a member of TFA you do not need to have a teaching certification, you don’t even need to have a degree in education. Rather, as a teacher with TFA you will be placed in a high-needs school where you will work for two years. During that time you will work to meet all Tennessee requirements for earning your teaching certification. Once you have met those requirements and completed your two-year commitment, you will earn you teaching license and be a certified Tennessee teacher.

Transition into Teaching for Career Changers

Unfortunately for the majority of subject areas, there are no state-approved alternative routes to teacher certification offered by the Tennessee DOE. This means that you will need to complete all of the education and testing requirements prior to having the opportunity to teach in the classroom.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree outside of the field of education and are set on becoming a teacher, earning a master’s degree in education and completing an educator preparation program might be the best route for you. While this may sound daunting, consider that teachers who hold a master’s degree often earn higher salaries than teachers with only a bachelor’s degree.

Alternatively, if you are interested in teaching a career and technical subject area and have industry experience, you may be able to earn a Practitioner Occupational Education License. To earn this certification you must complete an educator preparation program, hold a high school diploma or higher, have industry certification in your field, and have five years or more of industry experience. While this route does not require that you hold a college degree, you can submit your college transcripts to fulfill some, or all, of the experience requirement.