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California Teacher Certification and Career Guide

Requirements for teachers in the state of California are set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC or Commission). California offers numerous traditional and alternative paths to becoming a certified teacher in the state. The main steps for the traditional path to teacher certification in California are:

  1. Complete a state-approved bachelor’s degree with a teacher preparation component.
  2. Complete a student teaching placement.
  3. Meet the Basic Skills Requirement.
  4. Apply for a teaching certificate or license.
  5. Upgrade your license.

Continue reading to learn more about the traditional certification pathway in California.

Table of Contents

Steps to Become a Teacher in California
Teacher Certification Renewal
Adding Subjects or Grades to a Certificate
Teaching License Reciprocity
Related Licenses
Teacher Outlook, Salary, and Jobs
California School District Requirements
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions


How to Become a Teacher in California

California has three main teaching credentials, also called documents, each with its own requirements:

The CTC uses a two-level tiered process for obtaining each teaching credential. No matter which credential (Single Subject, Multiple Subject, etc.) the teacher seeks, they will start with a Preliminary Credential and move to a Clear Credential once all requirements have been met:

  • Preliminary Credential (5-year): For new teachers. Requires a bachelor’s degree, completing a Commission-approved Single Subject, Multiple Subject, or Education Specialist Teaching Credential preparation program, satisfying the Basic Skills Requirement (BSR), and passing the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA) (for Multiple Subject and Education Specialist Teaching Credentials only).
  • Clear Credential (5-year): Before the Preliminary Credential expires, candidates must either complete a Commission-approved teacher induction program and apply for the credential through the induction program sponsor (public or private colleges/universities or school districts) or obtain National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification.

The steps outlined below are for the traditional pathway to teacher certification. If you are a bachelor’s degree holder who has yet to complete a teacher preparation program, check out our guide to alternative teacher certification in California.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree that includes an approved teacher preparation program.

The first step to becoming a certified teacher in California is to complete an accredited bachelor’s degree. The bachelor’s degree major you pursue will depend on the grade level and subject you wish to teach. Prospective teachers will also need to complete a teacher preparation program from a Commission-approved institution, usually as part of their bachelor’s degree.

You can compare key metrics for state-approved teacher preparation programs on our California schools page. You can also read about two important accreditations to consider, institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation, on our teaching schools guide.

2. Complete a student teaching placement.

All CTC-approved teacher preparation programs include 600 hours of clinical preparation, also known as clinical practice, field experience, or student teaching, to help candidates practice teaching alongside an experienced mentor teacher as they complete credentialing coursework. The field experience should be at the grade level and subject you wish to teach.

3. Meet the Basic Skills Requirement.

California State SealAll applicants for a preliminary California teaching credential must meet the BSR, showing proficiency in basic skills including reading, writing, and math. This may be satisfied through:

  • Qualifying coursework in reading, writing, and mathematics supported by official transcripts
  • A combination of qualifying coursework and a qualifying exam (more information about mixing BSR options can be found on the CTC website)
  • Qualifying score on the SAT or ACT
  • Passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST)
  • Passing the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET): Multiple Subjects and CSET: Writing Skills examinations
  • Passing scores on the California State University (CSU) Early Assessment Program (EAP): English and Mathematics sections or the CSU Placement Examinations (English Placement Test (EPT) and Entry Level Mathematics (ELM))
  • An active score of “3” or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement (AP) English exam and AP Calculus or AP Statistics exam
  • Passing a basic skills examination from another state

4. Apply for the California Preliminary Credential.

Candidates must choose the application related to the grade level they would like to teach and whether they want to work in general or special education. The first step is to register to use the CTC Online system. Educators will use the CTC Online system to apply for fingerprint clearance (including the Certificate of Clearance (COC) and the Activity Supervisor Clearance Certificate (ASCC)). They must use a paper application to submit:

  • Official transcripts
  • Professional Fitness Questions (PFQ)
  • Program recommendation for credential
  • Oath and affidavit
  • Proof of meeting the BSR
  • Application fees

5. Upgrade to a Clear Credential.

Preliminary Credentials are good for five years and cannot be renewed or extended. Within those five years, teachers must have completed all requirements to upgrade their Preliminary Credential to a Clear Credential. The upgrading requirements are determined based on the type of credential (Multiple Subject, Single Subject, etc.). You can read more about clearing your credential on the CTC Clear Your Credential page.

Guide to Other Teaching Pathways

California Teacher Certification Renewal

Preliminary credentials cannot be renewed, only upgraded. Clear Credentials are good for five years and can be renewed. Renewal requirements vary and will be communicated through your CTC Online Educator Account. The CTC will send an email reminder 90 days before the expiration date, but it is the educator’s responsibility to ensure their email address on file is correct. To renew a Clear Credential, educators must use the CTC Online system. You can read more about the credential renewal process on the CTC’s website.

Adding Subjects or Grades to a Certificate

California teachers can only work in the subject and grade level they are certified in, although occasional, temporary exceptions are made. Teachers can add a teaching area or authorization without completing another full professional preparation program. Any credentials added have the same expiration date as the original credential. Requirements vary based on the credentials held and the content area sought, but may include:

  • Demonstration of subject matter competence (including exam scores)
  • Three-semester unit course in methodology directly related to teaching in the specific content area sought
  • Coursework in developing English language skills, if required
  • Possession of an English learner authorization issued by the CTC authorizing service in English Language Development (ELD) and Specially Designed Academic Instruction delivered in English (SDAIE), if required
  • Passage of the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA), if required
  • Completed application
  • Application fees

For more information on requirements, see the CTC’s Adding Authorizations or Teaching Areas Requirements page.

California Teaching License Reciprocity

Out-of-state applicants who hold a professional-level credential from another state or US territory can qualify for a California teaching credential based on an out-of-state license. Elementary teachers will apply for the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, high school teachers will apply for the Single Subject Teaching Credential, and middle school teachers will choose between the two. They must submit:

  • Official transcripts verifying a bachelor’s degree
  • Copy of professional level out-of-state teaching license
  • Evidence of fingerprint processing
  • Processing fee
  • Copy of out-of-state examination that meets the California BSR (suggested)
  • Verification of two or more years of successful full-time out-of-state teaching experience, if applicable

You can read more about out-of-state credentialing for teachers on the CTC’s Out-of-State Applicants page. You can learn more about transferring a teaching certificate or license between states on our guide to certification reciprocity.

California also offers credentials for administrators, specialists, and other support professionals.

  • Administrative Services Credential: For principals, vice principals, superintendents, etc., of K-12 schools. To qualify, candidates need to possess a valid prerequisite credential, such as a Clear Teaching Credential, complete a Commission-approved program of specialized and professional preparation in administrative services or the equivalent, satisfy the BSR, complete five years of full-time experience, and verify employment in an administrative position.
  • Reading and Literacy Leadership Specialist (RLLS) Credential: For pre-K to adult education teachers who support the literacy development of their students. To qualify, teachers must hold a valid California teaching credential, possess an English Learner Authorization, have at least three years of full-time teaching experience, and have completed a Commission-approved RLLS program with a formal recommendation for the credential.
  • Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential: For school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and others. Requires a graduate degree of at least 60 credits in a Commission-approved professional preparation program with institutional recommendation, meeting the BSR, and fingerprinting.

You can read more about these credentials and others on the CTC Services Credential Requirements page.

California Teacher Outlook, Salary, and Jobs

Projected Job Growth

8.2%

Growth in Teaching Jobs in CA through 20302*

California had an estimated 10,323 K-12 public schools operating during the 2017-2018 school year.3 With 6,304,266 students and 271,523 teachers, the student-to-teacher ratio was about 23:1.3

Job growth for teachers in California is expected to be lower overall than national predictions. Growth for preschool teachers in California is expected to be at 22.1% compared to 18.4% nationally; for kindergarten teachers, 8.4% compared to 13.9% nationally; for middle school teachers, 7.7% compared to 13.1% nationally; and for high school teachers, 8.1% compared to 13.7% nationally.2

The table below provides a detailed comparison of job growth prospects and salary levels for California teachers.

TypeNumber Employed in CA4Average Annual Openings in CA2CA Proj. Job Growth 2020-20302Average Annual Salary in CA425th Percentile Wages in CA575th Percentile Wages in CA5
Preschool Teachers53,4307,54022.1%$48,410$36,370$48,300
Preschool Teachers, Special Education1,610$75,610$52,000$93,220
Kindergarten Teachers7,4701,1908.4%$94,310$71,180$108,820
Elementary School Teachers157,95012,7207.8%$90,470$64,840$103,350
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, Special Education17,7101,4808.5%$86,440$63,610$101,630
Middle School Teachers39,0003,2807.7%$93,000$76,480$103,130
Middle School Teachers, Special Education4,6904108%$90,380$71,400$104,100
Middle School Teachers, Career/Technical Education70$89,350$72,910$103,610
Secondary School Teachers94,5507,6008.1%$92,960$74,390$103,880
Secondary School Teachers, Special Education11,9307808.5%$97,690$74,900$118,160
Secondary School Teachers, Career/Technical Education2,9303406.8%$94,780$77,790$102,870

*The estimated job growth average is based on projections for mainstream kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school teachers. Projections for other categories, such as special education and career and technical education, may be higher or lower than the average.

Teacher Shortages in California

According to the US Department of Education Teacher Shortage Area report for 2023-2024, California has designated the following deficits:

California had over 550 teacher vacancies during the 2022-2023 school year.7 A further 27,475 teachers were considered underqualified for their positions, which includes teachers assigned to classrooms outside their certification field on a temporary or emergency basis.7

California School District Requirements

If you would like to learn more about the specific requirements for becoming a teacher in the following California cities, check out our city pages below. On these pages, you will find a step-by-step description of how to become a teacher in the city’s public school district as well as information on how to become a substitute teacher, school contact information, and private and charter school information.

Additional Resources

California Teacher Interviews

Related Articles

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How do I become a substitute teacher in California?

Answer: Each district has its own requirements for hiring substitute teachers, so contact the human resources department of the districts to which you want to apply. The CTC offers an Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit allowing substitute teachers to teach grades pre-K-12 for no more than 30 days for one teacher during the school year except in a special education classroom, where they can serve for no more than 20 days for one teacher during the school year. The permit is valid for one year and is renewable. To qualify, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree and satisfy the BSR. The CTC also offers an Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers, which authorizes holders to be day-to-day substitutes in any classroom from pre-K-12 or for adults. They can serve as a sub for no more than 30 days for any one teacher and a maximum of 90 days during the school year. To qualify, they must have at least 90 semester units of coursework from an accredited four-year college or university, show verification of current enrollment in an accredited four-year California college or university, and satisfy the BSR. This permit can be renewed one time.

Question: What are the California preschool teacher requirements?

Answer: To work as a preschool teacher in California, you must hold a child development teacher permit. To be qualified for the permit, you must complete a minimum of an associate’s degree in early childhood education or in child development or 24 credit hours of related coursework as well as 16 general education credit hours. In addition to coursework, you must also complete field experience to be eligible for the permit.

Question: How do I become a high school teacher in California?

Answer: To become a high school teacher in California, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a teacher preparation program. After completing your education, you must pass a subject area test to show competency in the subject you hope to teach. You must also complete courses in reading, technology, and the US Constitution. When these requirements are met, you can apply to the state for certification and then interview for jobs.

Question: How many private schools and private school teachers are in California?

Answer: According to data from the 2019-2020 school year, there were 3,222 private schools in California with a total of 541,646 students and 51,344 full-time teachers.8 Private schools are completely independent of the California Department of Education (CDE) and they set their own teacher requirements. Applicants should always check with individual schools to find out specific teacher requirements. For more information on California’s private schools, see the CDE website.

References:
1. California Commission on Teacher Credentialing: https://www.ctc.ca.gov/
2. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
3. National Center for Education Statistics, State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey Data, 2017-2018: https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/stnfis.asp
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, California: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
6. US Department of Education, Teacher Shortage Areas: https://tsa.ed.gov/#/reports
7. Teacher Shortages in the United States, Tuan D. Nguyen et al.: https://teachershortages.com/
8. National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey, 2019-20: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pss/tables/TABLE15fl1920.asp