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Teaching Certification and Education Online Guide

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

Teacher Certification Degrees is a comprehensive guide for individuals who want to learn how to become a teacher or further 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 teacher certification programs by former students by clicking on your state in the list 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 on our teaching jobs board that is updated daily.

Teaching Certification Requirement Information by State

Because education in the US is typically viewed as a state and local issue rather than a federal one, each state can set its own requirements for prospective teachers. As a result, the requirements for earning a teaching certificate vary by state. The process typically requires passing knowledge and skills tests such as the Praxis series of exams, completing an approved teacher education program, earning at least a bachelor’s degree, and passing a background check. Click on your state below to find out more about its specific requirements.

The Student Guide to Certification

Before you can land a job as a teacher in a public school you must first earn certification in your state, which is known as a teaching certificate, a teaching license, or a teaching credential. The following guide provides the essential information you should know before you start your journey to pursue certification.

How Certification Works

As mentioned above, the specific requirements for teaching certification or licensure vary in each individual state in the US. Each state’s Board of Education sets the requirements for achieving teacher certification within that state so that all educators are adequately prepared. Teaching certification programs are typically run by colleges and universities, although alternative certification programs for those who already have a bachelor’s degree are commonly run by school districts and nonprofit organizations. All certification programs are designed to give future teachers 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, the first step towards earning teaching certification is pursuing a bachelor’s degree that includes a teacher preparation program at a college or university that has been regionally accredited and approved by that state’s Board of Education. There are also alternative pathways that will be discussed in further detail later on this page. Regardless of the path taken, once all criteria set by the state are met, each candidate must apply to the state for a certificate. Teaching certificates in most states must be renewed every few years. Renewal is contingent on continuing education, and in some states that is further defined as completing graduate level coursework.

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

Traditional Path to Teaching Certification

While each state sets its own teaching certificate requirements, there are some key commonalities, which are discussed in the steps below.

1. Choose a bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program.

The traditional route to certification in any state begins with earning an undergraduate degree.The major a teaching candidate should pursue is selected based on the grade level and subject(s) that the candidate wishes to teach. For example, a major in Elementary Education would be appropriate for those seeking to teach kindergarten through fifth grade, while an individual who is seeking certification in the secondary grades will typically major in the subject area he or she wishes to teach, such as History or Math. Another component of traditional licensure is the completion of a teacher preparation program that is sequenced to complement the prospective teacher’s major. A teaching candidate may complete this program while simultaneously earning an undergraduate degree in education, or after earning a degree in a teachable subject area.

2. Complete a student teaching experience.

All certification programs include practical teaching experience as a final component. The required duration of the student teaching experience varies by state as well as by the type of teaching license the candidate wishes to pursue. However, nearly all programs will require at least one semester (15 weeks) of student teaching. Once the student teaching and degree requirements have been completed, educator testing is the next step.

3. Take your state’s required exam(s) for educators.

Most states require that prospective teachers pass three Praxis tests, the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators (Core), the Praxis Subject Assessments, and the Praxis Content Knowledge for Teaching Assessments, to become teachers. In addition to these exams, there is also the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT), which is required in some states and usually taken before the junior/senior student teaching experience. Only four states do not use the Praxis series. These states either require their own tests or use a mix of their own content assessments and the Praxis Core or PLT. As you plan for the total cost of certification, you should expect to pay between $150 and $300 for testing requirements, dependent on your state.

4. Apply for teacher certification.

With all requirements complete and a degree in hand, the final step in becoming a teacher is to apply to your state’s Department of Education for a teaching certificate. The cost of teacher certification varies state to state but typically costs between $40 and $200. In addition to receiving a passing score on the required assessments for your state, you will also need to pass a fingerprint and background check proving that you have no criminal history. The first certificate earned is usually valid between one and five years and will need to be renewed every several years. Renewal usually requires continuing education coursework and/or the completion of graduate-level courses. Some states require specific courses to be taken for renewal, while others require general education or subject area coursework.

Alternative Paths to Teaching Certification

The traditional path to a teaching credential described above 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, school districts, and individual schools accept teachers who achieve certification through an alternate route as a way to get more qualified, talented educators into the classroom. Some alternative programs allow you to begin teaching before your formal training is complete, but check with your state to see if this option is available. The following steps describe the process of becoming certified as a teacher through an alternative route.

1. Choose an alternative route teacher preparation program.

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 making a difference in the lives of children. Another national program is American Board, or the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence, which is a nonprofit organization that places qualified teachers in the classroom through alternative means.

Other alternative certification programs are regional. The New York City Teaching Fellows helps to recruit individuals to work in urban school districts while becoming certified. The University of Mississippi runs a program called the Mississippi Teacher Corps that provides the training and licensure needed to help graduates teach in poverty-stricken school districts in the state. Whether regionally, locally, or nationally-based, alternative programs are dedicated to getting motivated and talented people into classrooms to become professional educators. Organizations such as the National Association for Alternative Certification support programs that provide such alternate pathways for becoming a teacher.

In addition, nearly every state Board of Education has established acceptable routes to alternative certification. These alternative routes to teacher licensure are designed for those who already have a bachelor’s degree and can frequently be completed in an accelerated format. You can find out more about the pathways available in your state through our guide to alternative teacher certification.

Many states also recognize master’s-level alternative preparation programs that are designed for bachelor’s degree holders who did not previously complete a teaching program. Master’s degree teaching programs are offered in traditional, on-campus formats as well as in hybrid online formats. You can learn more about hybrid and online graduate degrees for teachers through our Top-Ranked Online Master’s in Education Programs resource.

2. Apply for a provisional teaching certificate.

Many states allow you to apply for a provisional teaching certificate while you are pursuing the necessary education to become a teacher. Check with your state’s Board of Education to see if you are eligible for a provisional certificate.

3. Take your state’s required exams for educators.

Once you have successfully completed your teacher preparation program, you will be eligible to take the state exams for prospective educators. If your state allows provisional licenses during preparation, some of these required exams, such as the Praxis Subject Assessments, can be completed before Step 2. For information on your state’s required exams, check the Praxis website or your state’s Department of Education website. You should plan on paying a fee between $100 and $300 per exam.

4. Apply for teacher certification.

The final step towards becoming a teacher following an alternative route is to formally apply for your initial teaching certificate with your state’s Department of Education, for which you should expect to pay between $40 and $200. As part of your application, you will need to pass a fingerprint and background check and show passing scores on the Praxis series of exams or on your state’s required exams. With state certification, you can apply to be a teacher at any state public school. You will also need to renew your certificate every few years by completing continuing education courses and paying a renewal fee. Check with your state to verify specific requirements for certification renewal.

National Board Certification

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

To become a nationally-certified educator, candidates must have gained substantial teaching experience before passing a tough, peer-reviewed 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, candidates must demonstrate their qualifications for National Board Certification. The submissions need to prove that the candidate has strong content knowledge, can design learning experiences that are effective, is proficient in creating assessments that help inform instruction, and is successful in forming helpful working partnerships with colleagues, parents, and community members.

The certification program led by the NBPTS promotes excellence in teaching. By working towards this certification, educators are not only improving their teaching skills but they are going the extra mile for their students. Additionally, in some states teachers are eligible for higher salary tiers based on achieving National Board Certification.

Teaching without Certification

For a future career in the teaching profession, getting certified either through the traditional route or through an alternative program is the best bet. However, it is also possible to get teaching jobs without being certified. These teaching jobs can be a good way to “get your feet wet” by gaining experience in the classroom before taking on the commitment of becoming certified. Some of these jobs can even become lifelong careers. Following are some ideas about how to teach without a teaching certificate.

Get a teaching support position in a public school.

Many states hire substitute teachers without certification. There are typically some requirements for substitute teachers, such as a college degree or a certain number of college credits, but certification is typically not required. Teacher’s aides, who are also known as teacher’s assistants and educational aides, may 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. In most states, teacher’s aides are only required to have a high school diploma or an associate’s degree and are licensed as paraprofessionals. The majority of states have adopted the ParaPro Assessment as the licensing exam for prospective teacher’s aides.

Consider a teaching position overseas.

Another option to teach without certification is to work overseas. Schools around the world recruit well-educated English speakers to teach the English language and other subjects. Most of these jobs do not require you to be certified. Working abroad for a year or two can be a great life experience and a good way to get practice teaching.

Apply to teach at a private or charter school.

Private and independent schools offer another option for those without certification to find teaching jobs. Schools that do not receive government funding do not have to meet the same requirements as public schools and therefore do not need to hire only certified teachers. Many of these schools do prefer certification, though, so it is important to find out a particular school’s policy before applying.

Consider volunteering for teaching jobs or going an alternative route.

Finally, as discussed above, consider alternative certification and volunteer programs for teaching jobs. Volunteer-based organizations like Teach for America are dedicated to getting talented but uncredentialed educators into classrooms with the highest need, mostly in urban or low-income areas. Other regional alternative programs allow people to lead classrooms before being certified for the same reason. Working towards certification is often part of the agreement, but these programs allow time for becoming certified while working full time in a classroom setting. Many alternative programs, like NC Teach in North Carolina, are run by university education departments. Others, such as the New York City Teaching Fellows, use intensive, real-world classroom training to prepare professional educators for successful careers.

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