The California Teaching and Certification Resource

For anyone interested in learning how to become a teacher in California, there are several requirements that must be met for each different pathway to certification. Requirements for teachers in the state are set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), which provides both traditional and alternative paths to becoming a certified teacher in the state. Below we outline the traditional pathway to teaching in California. To learn more about the alternative pathways, visit our guide to alternative teacher certification in California.

How to Become a Teacher in California

There are several ways to become a teacher in California, but all public school teachers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree. Those who do not already hold a bachelor’s degree may complete a “blended” program that permits applicants to pursue an undergraduate degree and teaching credential simultaneously. There are also several alternative routes to teacher certification in California for those who do have a bachelor’s degree but did not complete a formal teacher preparation program.

Finding Approved Teacher Education Programs in California

Projected Job Growth


Growth in Teaching Jobs in CA through 20262

Perhaps the most important step towards obtaining California teacher certification is completing a teacher preparation program on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s approved programs list. You can compare key metrics for these state-approved teacher preparation programs in California by using the sortable table on our California schools page.

Bachelor’s degree programs at institutions that have been accredited by one of the regional accreditation agencies are generally acceptable as a starting point for earning teacher certification in California. Accreditation is overseen by the US Department of Education but works on a regional scale. California colleges and universities are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). The WASC is composed of three accreditation commissions that evaluate senior colleges and universities, community and junior colleges, and various interdisciplinary schools systems within the state. However, even if the institution a certification candidate attended holds regional accreditation, the teacher certification program completed must be on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s approved programs list to be eligible for certification.

California teacher certification requires that individuals complete a program approved by the Commission and accredited by the WASC, but there is another organization that denotes a highly distinguished standard in the field of teacher preparedness, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation or CAEP. Although accreditation by CAEP is not required for a teacher preparation program in California, most quality schools apply for this accreditation as it is a marker of the program’s ability to meet CAEP’s rigorous standards.

Quick Guide

California Teacher Education Requirements

In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree, applicants hoping to become certified teachers in California must decide which grade level they would like to teach and whether they want to work in general or special education. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing has different pathways and guidelines for elementary, secondary, and special education:

Elementary Teachers

Applicants who want to teach in elementary school must apply for a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. This includes earning a bachelor’s degree as well as completing a teacher certification program in multiple subjects.

Secondary Teachers

Applicants who want to teach in middle school or high school must apply for a Single Subject Teaching Credential. Secondary teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, and prove competency in at least one teachable subject area.

Special Education Teachers

Applicants who want to teach special education students must apply for a Education Specialist Instruction Credential. In addition to a bachelor’s degree special education teachers must complete a teacher preparation program that focuses on special education.

The traditional route to receiving teaching certification in California is to complete a state-approved teacher education program from a regionally accredited university and follow through on these specific credentials. Prospective educators must also complete a two-semester hour course in the US Constitution as part of their teacher education program.

California Teacher Testing Requirements

California uses its own system of examinations for certifying teachers in the state. All applicants for a preliminary California teaching certification must meet basic skills testing requirements. This may be done through completion of the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) including the basic writing test.

All of these exams test basic skills in reading, math, and writing. Specific subject matter competence is tested through the content tests of the CSET. California previously used the Praxis series of exams, but will no longer accept Praxis II scores as a basis for initial educator credentialing. For more information on testing, see the CTC’s page on testing requirements and options.

Additional California Teacher Certification Requirements

California State SealCalifornia law states that every teacher in the public school system must complete a 41-LS (Live Scan) fingerprinting application. The 41-LS form can be downloaded and printed from the CTC’s website. Applicants must also use the Live Scan to apply for and obtain a certificate of clearance, which shows potential employers that the applicant does not have a criminal background. For more information on the process, see the CTC’s page on fingerprinting.

California Teachers Licensing Application Process

Once all the requirements have been met, applicants for teacher certification must send all appropriate documents to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The required documents include:

  • Transcripts from all schools attended
  • Verified completion of an approved teacher preparation program
  • Passing scores on all required examinations
  • Live Scan fingerprints and certificate of clearance
  • A completed application for teacher credentialing

The required documents must be sent to:

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
1900 Capitol Ave
Sacramento, CA 95811-4213

Visit the California State Department of Education for more details on earning California teacher certification.

California Teacher Outlook, Salary, and Jobs

As of the 2016-2017 school year, there were just over 6.3 million students enrolled in California’s 10,291 K-12 public schools.3 With an estimated 271,287 public school teachers, this gives California a student-teacher ratio of 23:1.3

Estimates project 12,130 average annual job openings for elementary school teachers, 3,850 average annual job openings for middle school teachers, and 8,260 average annual job openings for secondary school teachers through 2026.2 Elementary school teachers in the state earn an average annual salary of $80,100, while middle school teachers average $75,660 per year and secondary school teachers average $80,510 per year.4 For more information visit the California Teachers Association, which publishes relevant news and resources for education professionals in California.

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Preschool Teachers52,950$37,850
Preschool Teachers, Special Education1,470$47,870
Kindergarten Teachers11,580$69,690
Elementary School Teachers162,440$80,100
Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School15,230$80,370
Middle School Teachers46,500$75,660
Middle School Teachers, Special Education4,710$76,860
Secondary School Teachers112,960$80,510
Secondary School Teachers, Special Education10,520$82,380
Secondary School Teachers, Career/Technical Education4,620$77,580

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2018.4

Teacher Shortages in California

According to the US Department of Education Teacher Shortage Area report for 2021-2022, California broadly has the following shortages5:

  • Special Education, Pre-K-12
  • Language Arts, Pre-K-12
  • Mathematics, Pre-K-12
  • Science, Pre-K-12
  • Core Subjects (Elementary Education), Pre-K-6

Teacher retirements have had a significant impact in California due to the pandemic. During the 2020-21 school year, 13,558 of California’s teachers retired, which is about 1,000 more teachers than retired during the previous year, according to data from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.6 This nearly 8% increase in retirements was unexpected and, as a result, most of the open positions were not filled by new teachers.6

According to Mary Sandy at the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), in order to keep up with the staffing needs of all districts in the state, the agency needs to credential around 20,000 new teachers each year.6 In 2020, the CTC only credentialed around 14,000 new teachers, which is a shortage of 6,000 teachers.6

What about substitute teachers? California has a shortage here too. The opposing forces at work during the pandemic–more teachers leaving and fewer new teachers being hired–have stressed the substitute teaching pool, so more subs are needed to fill these gaps. However, the number of subs in the state has trended down. The state only issued 47,000 substitute teaching permits in 2020-21, compared to 64,000 permits issued in the 2018-19 school year.7 The substitute teaching pool usually includes a large number of retired teachers, but with the pandemic, older people have likely shied away from in-person teaching. As a result, school districts are getting creative in order to attract more substitute teachers by lowering their minimum requirements (e.g., no bachelor’s degree required, increased pay, etc.).

Somewhat offsetting the teacher shortage, student enrollment in California has been dropping due to declining birth rates; in the 2020-2021 year, 6,004,000 students are projected to be enrolled, down from 6,163,000 the prior year.8 This is a deficit of 155,000 students, or a 2.5% drop, a record one-year employment drop.8 The main drop was from pre-K and kindergarten.8

According to the BLS, the number of Californians employed in the fields of elementary and secondary education at the start of the pandemic (January 2020) was around 100,000.9 As of September 2021, the number of people employed in education had partially rebounded from pandemic lows but was still only reported at 93,900, a 7% decrease.10

California Teacher Interviews

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How much do teachers make in California?

Answer: Average California teaching salaries vary by grade level and other factors, but excluding special education and career/technical education, at the elementary level, the average annual teacher salary is $80,100; at the middle school level it is $75,660; and at the high school level it is $80,510.4

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. California offers an emergency substitute teaching permit through the state. To get this permit you must have at least 90 college credits from an accredited university, be enrolled in college, and have met the basic skills requirements for teaching in California.

Question: Is there a teacher shortage in California?

Answer: According to the US Department of Education, California reports teacher shortages for the 2021-22 school year in the following areas: language arts, special education, mathematics, science, and elementary education.5

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 and how much do California high school teachers make?

Answer: To become a high school teacher in California, you need to earn a college 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. High school teachers in California earn an average annual salary of $80,510.4

1. California Commission on Teacher Credentialing: https://www.ctc.ca.gov/commission/default
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, 2016-2017: https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/stnfis.asp
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, California: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
5. US Department of Education, Teacher Shortage Areas: https://tsa.ed.gov/#/reports
6. CalMatters, K-12 Education, “Can California withstand a teacher retirement boom?”: https://calmatters.org/education/k-12-education/2021/06/california-teacher-retirement/
7. CalMatters, K-12 Education, “Not enough subs: California schools face severe teacher shortage”: https://calmatters.org/education/k-12-education/2021/09/california-teacher-schools/
8. CalMatters, K-12 Education, “California public schools suffer record enrollment drop”: https://calmatters.org/education/2021/01/california-schools-record-enrollment-drop/
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Data Tools, State and Metro Area Employment, Hours, & Earnings: https://www.bls.gov/sae/data/
10. Data Quest, California Department of Education, 2020-21 Enrollment Multi-Year Summary for Charter and Non-Charter Schools: https://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/dqcensus/EnrCharterYears.aspx?cds=00&agglevel=state&year=2020-21&ro=y&ro=y&ro=y&ro=y