Certification is an important part of the path to becoming qualified to pursue a career in teaching. In the United States all teachers are required to meet certification standards set forth by the state in which they wish to practice. Teacher certification is required of individuals interested in working with students at every level of development; kindergarten, elementary students[i], middle school[ii], and high school[iii].
Specific certification requirements vary by state, but each state is likely to require applicants to be able to demonstrate a state defined minimum level of education, acceptable passage of a background check, and passing a certification examination[iii].
Aspiring teachers can choose to earn a bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree in teaching. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum educational requirement to attain teacher certification is a bachelor’s degree, but some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree following initial certification[iii].
The number of training hours required to obtain licensure varies by state. However; every state has some sort of supervised training requirement that must be fulfilled before applicants are qualified to obtain teacher certification[iii].
First, aspiring teachers might decide to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, either in the subject(s) they would like to teach or education[iii]. Those who did not complete an education program as an undergraduate might then seek alternate route teacher certification from an accredited teacher preparation program, or earn a master’s degree in education. Teacher preparation programs and masters of education programs may involve coursework and supervised student-teaching. Finally, they earn a teaching license or teaching certificate in the state where they would like to teach[iii]. Once an aspiring teacher has completed the necessary educational, training, and licensure requirements they might be called credentialed teachers.
While education and firsthand training in the classroom are critical to becoming a credentialed teacher, this article focuses specifically on teaching certification and licensure and how to earn it. Without a certificate or license, most teachers are not eligible for K-12 teaching jobs in any state’s public school system[iii]. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll mostly refer to teaching certification and licensure as certification in this article.
Let’s begin by looking at the different types of certification for K-12 educators.
There are three primary levels of certification in K-12 education:
K-12 teachers-in-training typically determine at which level they would like to teach while they are enrolled in school. Then, as they complete their teacher preparation programs, they apply and test for an appropriate teaching certificate.
Second, teachers who want to work with English Language Learners, in special education, or in another specialization may be required to pursue additional certification or licensure[iv]. Each state’s Department of Education makes the determination.
The certificate—whether general or specialized—demonstrates that the teacher has completed an appropriate level of education and training, knows their subject matter well enough to teach it, and understands the demands and regulations of the school system in which they want to teach.[v]
The specific rules and requirements for earning and renewing a teaching certificate or teaching license vary by state. As a teacher in training, you should conduct research through your state’s Department of Education to determine how to pursue a credential. If you’re still in your undergraduate or teacher preparation program, you can also work closely with your department to ensure you take the right steps toward earning a certificate and pursuing a career as a teacher. Most teacher education programs have the teaching certification process built into their curriculum or teacher preparation program.
Throughout their careers, teachers maintain their teaching certificates by earning professional development credits and reapplying for certification as often as the state in which they teach requires them to do so.
Alternative teacher certification programs enable aspiring teachers to earn their teaching certificate through alternative routes. These may be great options for people who:
Some examples of alternative routes include:
Teacher certification programs like the ones mentioned above help school districts attract and train quality people who would love to teach but cannot follow a traditional path to pursuing a career as a teacher. [vi]
[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-4 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm#tab-4 | [iii].bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm#tab-4 | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-4 | [v] teach.org/certification | [vi] ed.gov/admins/tchrqual/recruit/altroutes/report.pdf