The Tennessee Teaching and Certification Resource

The teacher certification process in Tennessee is overseen by the Office of Educator Licensing within the state’s Department of Education. The traditional pathway to licensure is outlined in detail below to help you learn how to become a teacher in Tennessee. If you already have a bachelor’s degree but did not complete a teacher preparation program, you may be interested in Tennessee alternative teacher certification.

How to Become a Teacher in Tennessee

Tennessee uses a tiered licensure system for educators. To be eligible for an initial Practitioner license, the entry-level certificate in the tiered system, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree and complete an approved Tennessee teacher preparation program. Those who have not yet completed a teacher preparation program but who do hold a bachelor’s degree may find Tennessee’s alternative teacher certification pathways a good fit.

Once a candidate has completed a bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program, which must include clinical (in-classroom) experience, the candidate must take the state assessments for educators.

The initial Practitioner license is valid for three years and may be renewed once. While teaching with a Practitioner License, candidates must attend continuing education to earn Professional Development Points (PDPs). 30 PDPs and three years of teaching experience are required to advance to the next tier of licensure, the Professional license. Recommendation from a school director may waive the initial PDP requirement. You can read more about this structure and how points are calculated through the Tennessee Department of Education.

Quick Guide

Finding Approved Teacher Education Programs in Tennessee

Projected Job Growth


Growth in Teaching Jobs in TN through 20262

Candidates for teaching certificates in Tennessee should confirm that their chosen teacher preparation program is provided by an approved school. The Tennessee Department of Education provides a list of approved educator preparation programs based on school and program type. It is also important to note that those attending school out-of-state or online who complete clinical practice or internships in a Tennessee K-12 school district must ensure that their program completes a Partnership Agreement with the district. If this is not done, the experience may not qualify the candidate for licensure. You can compare key metrics for state-approved teacher preparation programs in Tennessee, you can use the sortable table on our Tennessee schools page.

Tennessee will not issue teaching certificates to out-of-state or online school graduates unless applicants can prove that they have completed a program at an accredited institution. There are six regional accreditation agencies, which are overseen by the US Department of Education, that accredit schools in the US. Therefore, applicants should first confirm this regional accreditation before committing to a program. Any school that offers online teaching certification programs should also be certified by its corresponding regional accreditation agency.

Additionally, there is a national accreditation organization that most states look to as a marker of high quality in the teacher education sector. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the result of the merger of two former accreditation agencies, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). CAEP accreditation is held out as an indication of rigorous standards in the teacher education field.

Tennessee Teacher Education Requirements

In order to earn Tennessee teaching certification, a prospective teacher must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher learning and complete a teacher preparation program approved by the Tennessee Department of Education. Note that if you began a teacher preparation program prior to September 1, 2015, you should check with your program coordinator to see how changes to Tennessee’s certification rules may impact your licensure plan. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree who have not participated in a Tennessee teacher certification program may qualify for an alternative pathway to licensure. To read more about alternative pathways, see our guide to alternative teacher certification in Tennessee.

Tennessee Teacher Testing Requirements

Tennessee State SealThe state of Tennessee requires that all applicants for initial instructional certification achieve passing scores on the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT) exam that correlates to the grade level(s) to be taught, as well as the Praxis content-area exams appropriate to the subject(s) and grade level(s) to be taught. Note that teacher preparation programs will not recommend a candidate for a license to the Board of Education before these exams are successfully passed. You can determine which tests are applicable to your endorsement area(s) through the Praxis website.

Additional Tennessee Teacher Certification Requirements

All applicants applying for a Tennessee educator certificate must submit fingerprints and undergo a state and federal criminal background check before they can be issued a teaching license. Applicants must complete the process through the state’s background check vendor, IdentoGO. Instructions for completing the background check are available through the Tennessee Department of Health.

Tennessee Teachers Licensing Application Process

Once all the steps towards teaching certification in Tennessee are completed, the candidate is eligible for a license. Different from most other states, in Tennessee the teacher preparation program that a candidate attends applies for the appropriate teaching license on behalf of the candidate. Candidates should not submit their own applications unless specifically instructed. Visit the state’s Department of Education for further details on Tennessee teacher licensing.

Tennessee Teacher Outlook, Salary, and Jobs

During the 2016-2017 school year, there were just over 1 million students enrolled in Tennessee’s 1,774 K-12 public schools.3 With 64,270 teachers, this gave Tennessee a student-to-teacher ratio of about 16:1.3

According to estimates, Tennessee will have 2,420 average annual job openings for elementary school teachers, 820 average annual job openings for middle school teachers, and 1,500 average annual job openings for secondary school teachers through 2026.2 These openings include new positions as well as replacements. Within the state, elementary school teachers earn an average annual salary of $52,610, middle school teachers earn an average annual salary of $52,260, and secondary school teachers earn an average annual salary of $53,620.4 For updates on policy changes and local employment opportunities, visit the Tennessee Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Preschool Teachers6,160$32,630
Preschool Teachers, Special Education260$48,000
Kindergarten Teachers3,460$50,160
Elementary School Teachers28,880$52,610
Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School4,180$52,350
Middle School Teachers12,140$52,260
Middle School Teachers, Special Education1,080$52,410
Secondary School Teachers20,190$53,620
Secondary School Teachers, Special Education3,360$54,010
Secondary School Teachers, Career/Technical Education2,540$54,140

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2018.4

Teacher Shortages in Tennessee

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

  • Art and Music Education (Visual and Performing Arts), K-12
  • Early Childhood (Early Childhood and Elementary Education), Pre-K-12
  • English as a Second Language (English as a Second Language), Pre-K-12
  • Health and Physical Fitness (Physical Education), K-12
  • Language Arts (English), 6-12
  • Mathematics (General), 6-12
  • Science (General), 6-12
  • Social Studies (General), 6-12
  • Special Education (General), Pre-K-12
  • Support Staff (Library/Media Specialist), Pre-K-12
  • World Languages (Any World Languages), Pre-K-12

Tennessee Teacher Interviews

Teacher Quote: “I love the enthusiasm and curiosity of second and third graders. Most of my students still believe they can do anything they want to do, so all I have to do is build on their certainty!” -Mary Pitner, Tennessee Second and Third Grade Teacher

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What are the requirements to obtain a transitional license for teaching in Memphis city schools?

Answer: As of September 1, 2015, the transitional license is no longer issued in the state of Tennessee. Candidates interested in transitioning to teaching should review available teacher preparation programs.

Question: How can I become a substitute teacher in Tennessee?

Answer: To become a substitute teacher in Tennessee, you must apply with individual districts. Each district sets its own requirements for substitutes. Generally, candidates must have professional references and at least 60 credit hours of education from an accredited college or university. Other school districts may require a bachelor’s degree and/or teacher licensure.

Question: How much do Tennessee teachers make?

Answer: On average, Tennessee teachers from the elementary to high school level (excluding special and career/technical education teachers) earn $52,830 per year.4 Factors that may affect teacher salary include school location and teacher qualifications.

1. Tennessee Department of Education: https://www.tn.gov/education
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, Tennessee: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_tn.htm
5. US Department of Education, Teacher Shortage Areas: https://tsa.ed.gov/#/reports