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Welcome to Teacher Certification Degrees: Your Comprehensive Guide to Teacher Education

Teacher Certification Degrees is a comprehensive guide for individuals who want to learn how to become a teacher or advance their teaching career by earning an advanced degree. We feature expert written content to help you learn the essential information for teaching certification in your state. If you are researching school options in your state, you will find profiles of popular schools and reviews of teaching programs by former students by clicking on your state on the map below. Learn what it takes to be successful in the classroom by visiting our career interview section which shares insights and advice from our interviews with over 50 current teachers from across the country. You can also find the latest job openings for teachers in your state at our jobs board that is updated daily.

Steps to Becoming A Teacher

There are multiple paths that you can follow to reach the goal of starting a career in teaching in the public school system. If you do not have a degree yet, the common path is to complete an approved teacher education program, pass all required knowledge and background tests, and fulfill other requirements to earn a state teaching certificate or license to become eligible to be hired by a school district. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, there are several alternative paths available depending on which state you plan to teach at. These alternatives typically involve enrolling in a master’s level teacher education program and fulfilling other state requirements. If your goal is to teach at a private school, you may not need a teaching license to get hired. Visit our Beginner’s Guide on to How to Become a Teacher to learn about the details of the process.

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Teaching Requirement Information by State

Requirements for a teaching certificate vary by state and typically require passing a knowledge and skills tests such as the PRAXIS, completing a approved teacher education program, passing background tests, and earning at least a bachelor’s degree.

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The Student Guide to Certification

Before you can land a job as a teacher in public schools you must first acquire a certification in your state (the term teacher certification is used interchangeably with teaching license or credential). The following guide provides the essential information you should know before you start your journey to pursue certification.

How Certification Works

The specific requirements for teaching certification or licensure vary with each individual state in the US. Each state’s Board of Education sets the requirements for achieving certification so that all educators are adequately prepared. Certification programs, for the most part run by universities, are designed to give each individual the skills needed to write and implement effective lesson plans that deliver the content of the required curricula, manage classroom behavior, assess student progress, and work within a professional framework.

Traditionally, getting certified as a teacher means attending an accredited university to earn an undergraduate degree in education, but there are also alternative pathways. Regardless of the path taken, once all criteria set by a state are met, each candidate must apply to the state for a certificate. Most states award these certificates on a provisional basis. This means that they are valid for a certain period of time, and must be renewed every few years. Renewal is often contingent upon completing graduate level coursework.

In addition to the traditional route to licensure, alternative pathways have arisen over the years to help people, who did not start out on that path, become teachers. This includes volunteers working with groups like Teach for America, retired military personnel, as well as location-specific programs such as The Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago.

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Traditional Path to Certification

While each state sets the requirements for earning a teacher certificate, there are some key commonalities. The traditional route to certification in any state begins with earning an undergraduate degree. For many teaching candidates this degree includes a major in education, but that is not necessary. Another component of traditional licensure is the completion of a teacher preparation program at an accredited university. A teaching candidate may go through this program while earning an undergraduate degree in education, or after earning a degree in a teachable subject area.

Most programs also include practical teaching experience as a final component. The duration of the student teaching experience varies by state, and even by universities within the state. Once the program has been completed, as well as the practical experience, testing is the next step. Most states require that students pass the Praxis II test. Only 13 states do not use the Praxis system, but use their own tests instead.

With all requirements complete, and a degree in hand, the final step in becoming a teacher is to apply to the state Department of Education for a certificate. The first certificate earned is usually provisional, and is valid for between one and five years. Those holding this certificate can get a job as a teacher in any state public school, but will need to renew the provisional certificate or upgrade to a professional certificate before the first one expires. To renew usually requires the completion of graduate-level courses. Some states list specific courses that must be taken, while others only require that they be education courses or courses in the subject area taught.

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Alternative Paths to Certification

The traditional path to a teaching credential, involving a college degree, a teacher preparation program, testing, and licensure through the state, is the route that most professional educators follow. However, this path is not the only way to become a teacher in the United States. Many states, districts, and individual schools accept teachers who achieved certification through an alternate route.

The need for alternative paths to certification arose mainly to get more talented educators into classrooms. Some alternative programs allow you to begin teaching before your formal training is complete, while others allow you to use real world experience to count towards college credits or student teaching requirements. Organizations such as the National Association for Alternative Certification support programs that provide such alternate pathways to becoming a teacher.

Some alternative programs for licensure are nationwide, while others are regional. Teach for America, for instance, is a program that recruits motivated people to work in underserved schools. These volunteers then have the chance to work towards a teaching credential while gaining real experience in the classroom and while making a difference in the lives of children. Another national program is Troops to Teachers, which helps men and women become certified teachers after a career in the military.

Other alternative certification programs are regional. The New York City Teaching Fellows helps to recruit individuals to work in urban school districts and to become certified. The University of Mississippi runs a program called the Mississippi Teacher Corps that provides the training and licensure to help graduates teach in high-poverty school districts in the state. Whether regional, local, or national, alternative programs are dedicated to getting motivated and talented people into classrooms to become professional educators.

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National Board Certification

For individuals who want to go beyond the basic requirements of state licensure there is the option of achieving National Board Certification. Candidates undergo a rigorous certification process that is peer-reviewed to demonstrate the skills needed to be a teacher of excellence. According to the institution that oversees the certification, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), over 100,000 teachers in the US have successfully completed the process. Nearly half of those educators work in schools with the greatest need for quality educators.

To become a nationally-certified educator, candidates must pass a tough, peer review process, as well as extensive self-analysis. In submitting lessons, student work, video of interactions with students, documentation of achievements outside the classroom, and more, they must demonstrate their qualifications for board certification. The submissions need to prove that the candidate has strong content knowledge, can design learning experiences that are effective, can create assessments that help inform instruction, and can form helpful working partnerships with colleagues, parents, and community members.

The certification program led by the NBPTS promotes excellence in teaching. By working towards certification, educators take an extra step for their students and continue to improve upon their teaching skills.

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Teaching Careers Not Requiring a Teaching Certificate

For a future career of many years in the teaching profession, getting certified either through the traditional route or through an alternative program is the best bet. However, you can get jobs in education without being certified. Many of these positions are great ways to get your feet wet and to get some experience in the classroom. Some can even become lifelong careers.

One possibility is to get a non-teaching position in a public school. Most schools hire substitute teachers who are not certified. There are typically some requirements, such as a college degree or a certain number of college credits. Aides also work directly with students and under the supervision of teachers, without a teaching license. Some assist in full classrooms, while others are assigned to work with individuals or small groups with special needs.

Another option is to work overseas. There are plenty of schools around the world that recruit well-educated English speakers to teach the English language and other subjects. Most of these positions do not require that you are certified. Working abroad for a year or two can be a great life experience and a good way to get practice teaching.

Private or independent schools are another area in which you may be able to find a position without being certified. Schools that do not receive government funding are not held to the same requirements as public schools, and therefore, do not need to hire only certified teachers. Many do prefer certification, though, so it is important to find out a school’s policy for applying.

Finally, consider alternative certification and volunteer programs for teaching jobs. Volunteer-based organizations, like Teach for America get talented, but uncredentialed people into classrooms that most need dedicated teachers. These are largely in urban schools. Other, regional alternative programs allow people to lead classrooms before being certified for the same reason. Achieving certification is often part of the agreement, but the programs allow time for becoming certified while working full time. Many alternative programs, like NC Teach in North Carolina and NU-Teach in Chicago, are run by university education departments.

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Featured Expert Interviews

“Collaborate with other, veteran teachers and modify or borrow lessons you find to fit your classes and share your own successful lessons if you have the chance to share them. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or insist upon using your own wheel, so to speak. There are a vast number of great math teachers out there who are sharing and working with one another already.” -Scott Keltner, Kansas Teacher of the Year Nominee

“I wish I had known that it was okay to not know some things. I worried and stressed myself out thinking everything had to be perfect and run like clockwork. I didn’t know that it takes years to learn how to run a smooth classroom. I wish I had known to reach out to others and ask for advice and suggestions, instead of thinking I had to figure it out on my own.” -Dana Lester, Tennessee First Grade Teacher

michelle griffo interview“Spend some time observing in a kindergarten classroom. Try to get exposure to what a classroom environment is like and see what age of students would be best suited for your personality type. If you feel overwhelmed, know that that is perfectly natural. While in college, it seems as though it will take forever to get your credential and your own classroom, but once you do, it will be worth all of your hard work!” -Michelle Griffo, California Kindergarten Teacher

“Making math engaging is all a matter of bringing as much clarity to the concepts and procedures as possible. Lots of that has to do with understanding what will bring students to the idea that, yes, they can get it wrong, but if they persist and keep trying, we can arrive at the correct solutions, no matter how many solutions there are.” -Jose Vilson, New York Math Teacher and TED Speaker

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Page edited by Charles Sipe.

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