Certification and Requirements by State
To be a public-school teacher, you need to satisfy certain requirements before your local and state school administrators can certify you for work. You must be able to prove yourself worthy of a teaching license, just as you might for any other state licensure. Each state has its own specific requirements for its teachers, but the process is similar from state to state. Every teacher must have at least a bachelor’s degree from a teacher preparation program, pass a standardized test (or two), and prove themselves to be of strong moral character.
What is Certification for Teachers?
Certification for teachers entails a long process through which you learn and refine your teaching skills, culminating in a state certification, also known as a teaching license or credentials. The process begins in college when you enter a teaching preparation program. These programs will educate you on the best practices for in-class pedagogy, classroom management, ethics, and how your state regulates and works with teachers.
Toward the end of your education, you will enter an experiential learning program, the student teaching experience, that will allow you to apply everything you've learned. Student teaching allows you to create a teaching portfolio and even make a contact or two in the local school district.
Your education should also include a double major or at least a minor in the content area that you intend to teach. This is all the more important if you wish to teach secondary students – high school. In fact, some teacher preparation programs require a double major for all prospective high school teachers. This added content knowledge will help you pass your PRAXIS-II examination, which is often the final step along your path to certification.
Requirements Vary by State
Every state has its own licensure requirements for its teachers. Generally speaking, you need to have a bachelor’s degree from a state-supported teacher preparation program. This is a fair guarantee that you are on the path to a full certificate. However, you’ll need to check with your state’s education board to be certain you’re meeting every requirement.
For instance, some states require that all secondary teachers complete a double major for their undergraduate degree, one in your teacher preparation program and the other in your chosen content area. Some states also have tough requirements for your GPA. You may have to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0.
While there might not be a strict requirement that you complete either a major or minor in your chosen content area, please keep in mind that you will still need to pass a PRAXIS-II content area examination to qualify for licensure. Naturally, the more you know about your chosen subject area the better prepared you will be as a teacher. For instance, if you decide to teach a laboratory science, your college days are sure to offer you loads of ideas and insights for future fun and inspiring activities. Literature majors will know what books to offer as class material and to recommend when it comes time to do book reports.
On the other hand, you might decide to complete an associate degree. Your state might require a two-year degree to certify Paraprofessionals (also known as teacher aides). An associate degree might also be a minimum requirement for substitute teachers and an associate degree in early childhood education might qualify you to teach in preschool classrooms.
Teacher Preparation Program (In-state/Out-of-state)
Teacher preparation programs confer state-supported college degrees that are designed to satisfy their specific state's Board of Education. The curriculum has been approved by state education administrators and legislators, and both the institutions and the government agree on all other requirements and general guidelines for student behavior. Thus, if your state requires a 3.0 GPA to become a teacher, your program may enforce that by insisting you maintain a running 3.0 in order to remain in the teacher preparation program. If your state requires an ethics exam as part of licensure, then your program might offer that on campus.
Since teacher licensure is governed by individual state entities that receive their mandates from their legislative bodies or elsewhere in government, their rules are often hard and fast with little room for compromise or exceptions. They may not even recognize teaching credentials from another state. Even states that will recognize an out-of-state license only do so for certain states with which they enjoy reciprocity.
This can play out in a variety of ways. Often you will need to satisfy additional requirements from the new state. This can mean submitting a new background check, passing that state's specific PRAXIS content examination, or taking more courses. For instance, some states require that all teachers take courses that cover the state's indigenous cultures. This sort of coursework is unlikely to be found elsewhere, so educators who arrive from out-of-state may need to pass those courses prior to receiving a full teaching license. At the least, you will need to land a job in one of that state's public schools before you become fully credentialed.
When you seek out a teacher preparation program, it is vital to check the program's accreditation. You will first want to affirm that the program is approved by your state, or the state in which you intend to teach. However, it is to your benefit to seek a program that has regional or programmatic accreditation so that you can more easily move to another state or enroll in a graduate program in another part of the country.
Where there were once multiple accrediting agencies, they have merged to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP.) They set high standards for content and pedagogical knowledge, candidate quality, program impact, and provider quality, among other items. Further, if your preparation program has CAEP accreditation, you might find yourself better prepared to work towards NBPTS certification.
During the course of your teacher preparation program you will likely role-play scenarios in which you teach lessons to your fellow students. You might also prepare lessons that your professor grades, though they may never be presented to a classroom. Even classroom management is covered as an academic exercise free from a classroom of students overexcited by springtime weather.
However, towards the end of your preparation your program will likely require that you embark on an experiential learning course. This is your student teaching, and most teachers consider this to be a rite of passage, if not a trial by fire. During this experience you will effectively take over a classroom full of real, live students of an age on par with those you intend to teach for the duration of your career.
In your student teaching, you will be paired with a working teacher who will mentor you. They will invite you into their classroom where they know both the students and the curriculum. Thus, they can advise you on how to read your students, provide information on their backgrounds if available, and monitor your lessons to ensure that they’re tracking with the state curriculum requirements.
You will also have a mentor on your college campus to whom you will report. You may need to submit periodic journal entries on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. At the end of the experience, you will need to have a portfolio of lesson plans, examples of student work, and a written report that demonstrates how you met expected outcomes for your student teaching experience.
Testing for Licensure
Much like contemporary students, teachers must pass standardized examinations before they receive their credentials. As with many other parts of the teacher licensure process, each state is able to make its own rules and guidelines for which tests are required. There are currently three options for this examination portion: the PRAXIS series; NES tests; and individual, state-specific exams.
The PRAXIS series is perhaps the most commonly used of the three. There are usually two PRAXIS exams: I and II. The PRAXIS I is a general-skills test that resembles the SAT. In fact, if you have recently taken the SAT and received a suitable score you might not have to take this. However, you must take the PRAXIS II, which tests you on your chosen subject area.
The NES operates in a very similar fashion. You must provide suitable scores on their test of Essential Academic Skills and then pass an exam that covers your area of specialty. As with the PRAXIS series, you can take your NES exams at a Prometric testing center at one of their many nationwide testing centers.
The third option is probably the least implemented but is utilized in some states. In fact, some states create a blend of testing that mixes unique, state-specific exams with NES or PRAXIS series examinations. Functionally, you might not notice the difference from state to state, as each utilizes Prometric computerized testing centers.
Finally, you should note that, even if two states use the same testing system, the individual tests might be different. That is, states might have custom versions of PRAXIS, for instance, to measure your suitability in specific endorsement or content areas. The states might also request specific scoring or have their own requirements for passing grades. Ultimately, however, the important thing for you is to be as prepared as possible for these all-important tests. While you will likely have multiple chances to pass, you should try to clear this hurdle in a single bound.
- Preschool Education
- Early Childhood Education
- Reading Specialist
- Speech Language Pathologist
- Middle School Education
- Secondary Education
- Science Education (Biology, Chemistry, etc.)
- Foreign Language (Spanish, French, Chinese, German, etc.)
- Special Education
- Gifted and Talented Education
- Math Education
- English Education
- Sight-Impaired Education
- Hearing-Impaired Education
- Administrator Certification
- Library Certification
Every teacher has a specialty area. Even preschool teachers are specialists in the area of preschool or early childhood education. To have a full teaching credential, you will need to have a specialty. This area is often called an endorsement, and you might have several. For instance, some teachers enter the field with a passion for mathematics but then discover that they wish to specialize in gifted/talented education. They’ll need to complete the required coursework and pass the content test for that special endorsement. Thus, you not only need to be trained in the general area of teaching and education, but you should be able to pass an examination that covers your particular content area.
For many endorsement areas, you can receive state-approved training through your state-approved, undergraduate teacher preparation program. However, you may find that your school doesn't offer the coursework necessary to teach your desired specialty.
Special education, for example, is a broad field that has many subsets such as hearing impaired, visually impaired, learning disabilities, profound cognitive delay, and more. You must then check with your state Board of Education to see what their requirements are for your chosen specialty area. For example, the special education endorsement in Oregon is covered by only three tests: hearing impaired, preschool/early childhood, and teaching visually impaired students. Kentucky only has one PRAXIS examination for special education.
Keep in mind that states with minimal testing requirements might require that you take a battery of courses at the graduate level, if not achieve a master's degree in your chosen endorsement area. These endorsement requirements can also include a student teaching/mentorship portion or even a protracted period of time working under a provisional endorsement certificate. Since the rules and guidelines governing these endorsements can be quite complicated and confusing at times, you should find a seasoned professional to help if you have questions about your specific state. Then, you can make a checklist for yourself so that you can pass through the requirements with clarity and ease.
Accelerated Certification Programs
If you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-teaching field but want to devote your career to helping form future generations, you will need to find a way to achieve your certificate quickly and with ease. Luckily, many states and local boards of education provide incentives for people just like you. The process is not exactly easy, but you won't have to complete another entire undergraduate degree in order to teach.
These alternative teaching certificate programs all differ, so contact your local board of education to see what they offer. A typical method schools use is to find teachers who can teach the areas in highest demand. Usually these are math and science areas, but you might find a need in special education or even the humanities. Thus, if you have a degree and/or experience in a specific subject and can pass the content-specific test for your endorsement area, you could land a job with a provisional certificate. Your school will then pair you with a mentor who will monitor your progress. You may also need to take your state's required education courses. Sometimes your Board of Education will provide these courses for free or at a reduced cost.
There is also a program called Troops to Teachers that offers degreed veterans a pathway to the classroom. The process is similar to that for civilian career-changers, but there is a nationwide infrastructure in place that will facilitate your transition.
Emergency Teaching Credentials
When school systems find themselves unable to fill teaching positions, they resort to issuing emergency teaching credentials. Though requirements will vary depending on the jurisdiction and the level of need, you should expect to need a bachelor’s degree, to present a resume that reflects competency in your chosen field, and have a genuine passion for education. When a principal cannot fill the position(s) with fully certified educators, you might be hired to complete a school year in the classroom. If you are interested in continuing teaching as a career choice, you can take care of the testing requirement. Anyone can register to take the PRAXIS I and II, for instance.
Often, prospective teachers find opportunities such as these when full-time teachers need to take an extended medical or maternity leave. If you are an existing substitute teacher or sign on as a substitute, you might be privy to these opportunities. Frequently, substitute teachers are considered to have the ability to take on a classroom for an extended period.
Once the emergency has passed, you might wish to continue in the profession. You can then discuss this with your principal, who can help you find any available alternate routes to certification. They may also be able to steer you to opportunities elsewhere in the school system in case they are already fully staffed for the next school year.
Alternative Paths & Provisional Teaching Certificates
To meet an increasing demand for teachers, many school districts have devised alternate routes to a teaching certificate. Schools have seen that there are many mid-career professionals who would love to teach, but don't wish to drop everything to do another undergraduate degree, including a time-intensive unpaid student teaching experience.
Rather, there are alternative routes whereby you can achieve a provisional certificate and enter the classroom without a full credential. To qualify, you may need to show that you have a bachelor’s degree in a field currently needed by school systems, such as math or science. Then you need to interview for an open teaching position. If your principal wishes to hire you, they will need to prove that there is no highly qualified educator available for the position. From there, you will likely need to pass the required tests and enter the school system's alternative teaching program. You will be mentored in your classroom work and, in approximately two years, you can achieve a full teaching credential.
To facilitate the process, you might want to take education courses at night or online. Many alternative teaching programs offer free or low-cost instruction in this way, but extra input on your part might speed your progress. As with any state licensure process, make sure to consult your state and local Board of Education to ensure that you are taking the most appropriate courses and are otherwise on track for certification.
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Certification
While every teacher achieves certification from their state of residence, few manage to attain credentials from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This is a level of certification that goes above and beyond standard state-level credentials. In fact, NBPTS-certified teachers have been shown to be far more effective in the classroom than state certified educators.
To qualify, you must have at least three years of full-time classroom experience. You should also be dedicated to your career and students because the NBPTS certification process is quite rigorous. During the process, the following five core propositions are elaborated and reinforced, instilling a deep sense of commitment and professionalism that will result in outstanding student outcomes for the rest of your career:
- Teachers are committed to students and their learning
- Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students
- Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning
- Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience
- Teachers are members of learning communities.
Check with your local and state boards of education to see what incentives they offer for NBPTS-certified teachers. Many Boards offer pay increases for nationally certified teachers.
Transferring Credentials Between States or from Another Country
These days, people are far more prone to move than in years past. If you need to move to another state and wish to continue your teaching career there, it's vital to check with your new state's Board of Education to see how they treat out-of-state educators. Some may offer reciprocity with your current home state, so that you need to do little more than transfer some paperwork. Others might require that you take additional courses so that you are up to speed with the local requirements. It is likely that you will need to submit a new set of fingerprints and a background check to assure your new Board that you are still an upstanding citizen.
Your new state might also have different standards for your endorsement area and require that you re-take your PRAXIS examination and pass the new state's requirements. You might even need to take a more specialized exam to continue teaching your specific content area. Ultimately, if you are certified, with numerous years of experience, you can probably start teaching with a provisional certificate until you fulfill the requirements of your new state.
NASDTEC Interstate Agreement
The NASDTEC Interstate Agreement comprises over 50 agreements concerning reciprocity regarding teacher certificates. Each agreement details the terms under which a state will recognize specific credentials from other states. These agreements do not necessarily entail two-way reciprocity. Thus, your credentials might be valid in another state, but their teachers may have to provide more qualifications before they can teach in your state.
If you intend to move to a new state, it's vital that you check with the new state to see whether they will accept your specific credentials. That is, they might accept your credentials as a secondary mathematics teacher but require that your partner take a new PRAXIS exam to continue as a SPED teacher. Essentially, the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement outlines the terms of reciprocity, if any, between each participating entity and every other state.
States which have reciprocity agreements include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia