Teacher certification is the process by which prospective teachers are licensed to teach in a given area after completing required coursework, degrees, student teaching, and tests in a particular subject area.
To teach in a public school at the pre-kindergarten through 12th grade level, you need state certification. That can mean completing a bachelor’s degree from an approved education program, as well as a certain number of hours of undergraduate credit.
Preparation for an education career in teaching involves the completion of an accredited teacher education program that combines curricula and fieldwork. Curricula often include instruction on knowledge and skills, pedagogy and observations, student teaching, and an internship.
In California, for instance, the Department of Education and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing co-sponsor the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program, designed to help newly-credentialed teachers develop and fulfill the requirements for California Clear Multiple and Single Subjects Credentials.
Most teachers are required to complete continuing education to remain certified. The No Child Left Behind Act has increased the continuing education requirements. Most local schools offer professional development programs ranging from summer courses and after-school classes to day programs.
School systems can offer assistance and support, including financial aid, for teachers who desire to go beyond what is offered locally.
National Board Certification, the highest credential in teaching, is becoming more popular and is recognized throughout the country. Although state certification is the entry-level standard for new teachers, National Board Certification establishes advanced standards for experienced teachers.
National teacher certification is offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an independent nonprofit governed by classroom teachers. National Board Certification is voluntary and does not replace state certification. You can read more about that at this link
Requirements for national certification include a bachelor’s degree, a valid state teaching license, and three years of successful teaching. Financial aid is available through the National Board Scholarship program with loans offered by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
What is Education Career Certification?
State certification is required for an education career to teach in a public school from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade level. A teaching credential is the state license that says an individual has completed the state-mandated requirements for teacher certification, including coursework and exams.
Credentials allow people to teach particular age groups (e.g., early childhood, nursery school through grade three), certain grades (e.g., elementary, grades one through six or eight), or a special subject, such as reading or music (usually kindergarten through 12th grade).
Each state has its own requirements for certification, but most require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college and passing a state licensing exam.
Praxis is the most commonly-used licensing exam. State departments of education may set limits on the number of times an individual may attempt to pass the same test. Check out your state’s department of education website for details. Links to the websites of all 50 states are available on the National EducationAssociation (NEA) State Licensure and Certification website.
National Teacher Certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards issues voluntary national certifications for teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade. All states recognize national certification, and many states and school districts pay a higher salary to teachers who have received it than to those who have not. Also, many states allow nationally certified teachers to carry a license from one state to another.
To acquire a national certificate, teachers must compile a portfolio of classroom work and pass a written evaluation of their teaching knowledge. Teachers can become certified in one of seven areas, based on the age of the students or on subject areas.
A teaching certificate, like any other license, expires after a certain amount of time and must be renewed. Pay attention to the expiration date of your teacher certificate to ensure that it doesn’t expire while you’re teaching.
Certification offices exist to certify qualified people as education professionals who provide high-quality education and to protect the safety and welfare of students.
In an effort to facilitate movement from one state to another, universities collect teacher certification requirements for all 50 states. For example, see the University of Kentucky website. Such lists should be used for planning only, as requirements change from time to time.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) requires that all K-12 public school teachers of core subjects meet the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) requirements. Core subjects include English language arts, ESL, math, science, social studies (history, economics, geography, civics, and government), reading, foreign languages, art, music, and the general endorsement areas of elementary education and early childhood education (grades K-3).
There are specific licensure and content knowledge requirements for determining HQT that you can secure from your state department of education.
Areas of Certification
Most schools of education offer curriculum sequences leading to an education degree and teacher certification for education professionals who teach. The requirements include the knowledge base, current research, effective practice, and school effectiveness.
Early Childhood Certification. Early childhood certification covers kindergarten through third grade. It may be an “add on” certification, meaning that one first majors in elementary education, then adds early education classes, social and cultural studies, and early childhood literature.
The teacher certification and endorsement required in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs should be specific to early childhood education. Teachers should study the developmental and learning characteristics of children of ages 3-8, use this knowledge to inform teaching techniques and assessments, and be qualified to meet the developmental and educational needs of such children.
Programs include a general education strand, a professional education strand, methods courses in science and social studies, mathematics, early literacy, fine arts, physical education, and literature.
Elementary Certification. Elementary school teaching credentials are general, meaning the teacher is qualified to teach a variety of subjects to students from 2nd through 6th grades. Teachers should know the developmental and learning characteristics of children ages 5-11, be able to use this knowledge to develop techniques and assessments for them, and be qualified to meet their developmental and educational needs.
Programs consist of a general education strand, a professional education strand, and methods courses in science and social studies, mathematics, language arts and reading, fine arts, physical education, and literature.
Secondary Teacher Certification. Secondary teaching credentials are specialized, meaning the teacher is qualified to teach a specific subject, such as English, Spanish, mathematics, history, or biology to children grades 5-12.
- Candidates for secondary certificates may major in their subject area while taking education classes or major in education and take subject classes in these areas:
Biology Education. A degree program for candidates seeking to teach biology in secondary schools is designed to be completed in four years, including a semester of clinical experience. The curriculum includes introductory and advanced biology, environment, genetics, cell function, physiology, bioethics, and related studies in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
English Education. Candidates for this degree program wish to teach middle school or high school. The two main emphases are English and education. Mathematics Education. Mathematics certification is a program for those who desire to teach mathematics at the middle school or high school level. Two components include mathematics and computer science.
Music Education. This degree program is designed to prepare competent, professional music teachers for the elementary or junior high or junior/senior high band, chorus, and orchestra. Tracks include choral or instrumental.
Physical Education. The physical education program prepares candidates to teach physical education K-12. It includes organization and administration of programs, scientific understanding of the human body, and methods of instruction at elementary and secondary levels. Other subjects include techniques for performance, development, and evaluation of skills, and classes in swimming, gymnastics, rhythmic activities, and lifetime fitness.
Special Education. Special Education certification prepares undergraduates for K-12 multi-categorical certification in emotional, learning, and mental disabilities. Candidates participate in inclusion, resource, and self-contained elementary, middle, and high school programs.
Teaching Certificate Endorsements. Endorsements qualify secondary school teachers to teach subjects not covered by their credential. An undergraduate major or some required courses can qualify for endorsement.
Since No Child Left Behind, secondary teachers must be “highly qualified” to teach their subject by being certified to teach secondary school plus one or more subject area endorsements. Thus a secondary teacher certification could have a math, science, or history endorsement.
Reading specialists, speech therapists, and school counselors may work with students K-12 using special education, reading specialist, or school nurse certifications.
How to Prepare for Certification Tests
To prepare for certification tests for educational careers in teaching, a candidate should complete the following steps:
- Start by visiting the webpage that lists the requirements for certification in your state or for the agency from which you plan to seek certification.
- Schedule your certification exam. Once you know (exactly or roughly) when you plan to take the exam, you can determine how much time you have to devote to study. For example, if you want to take the exam in six months, you can divide the contents of the test into six equal parts and schedule one a month. (You might want to allow an extra month to review those parts you’re weakest on.)
- Purchase a new or used study guide to determine the topics and sample test questions.
- Establish a study schedule. For example, the Praxis exam has a My Praxis Study Plan worksheet on which you define the content area, determine your own strengths and weaknesses in that area, identify the resources you plan to use to study for that area, and create and commit to a schedule.
- Select a good place and time for study. Set aside time when you have optimum energy and focus. Early in the day is better for most people. Don’t try to study when you’re tired or sleepy, as you aren’t likely to retain what you’ve studied. You can move from easiest to hardest or vice versa, but press on until you’ve covered all the material more than once.
- Study one module at a time. Read through the material and do the practice exams for each. Take notes on key points. Spend additional time on areas that give you trouble.
- Then, register for and take the exam, confident that you’re well prepared.
Certification is the process of granting recognition by an independent third party to an individual who has met certain established standards and criteria. It guarantees that a person is qualified to perform a certain job or process. Teaching certification is awarded by each individual state’s board of education. It ensures that the holder has completed the required educational and training requirements and is authorized to teach children of a certain grade range in certain subjects.
All fifty states and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be certified. As each state’s specific requirements can vary, finding out exactly what they are is one of the first things you should do when you decide to become a teacher. You can find this information on the websites of each state’s board of education. There are also websites that list certification prerequisites in all fifty states in case you are later interested in teaching elsewhere. Most states also have reciprocal agreements with certain other states, allowing you to teach in those states as long as you meet their certification requirements within your first few years of teaching.
Although each state’s exact certification requirements can be different, most of them require the following:
- A Bachelor’s Degree. This degree is usually in elementary education for elementary teachers, while secondary teachers typically major in the subjects they plan to teach. Some states also require a certain amount of undergraduate credits in fundamental subjects.
- Teacher Education Program. This important element of teaching certification usually includes a certain number of hours of supervised student teaching.
- Exam. This is to demonstrate proficiency in your chosen area. Some states have devised their own exams, while some use the PRAXIS tests administered by the Educational Testing Service.
More states also require that all teachers have master’s degrees. Most states that want this level of education usually allow you to begin teaching with a bachelor’s degree as long as you earn your master’s within a certain period of time.
Teaching certificates can be earned in these categories:
- By Grade Level. Each individual state sets the grade levels that teachers are certified for, such as kindergarten through Grade 3 for early childhood educators; Grades 1 to 6 for elementary teachers; Grades 5 to 9 for middle school teachers; or Grades 7 to 12 for secondary teachers. These certificates can be generalist, which means the teacher is trained to teach a wide variety of subjects, or they can be subject specific.
- By Subject Areas. These certificates cover teachers who specialize in certain subjects or services that include all students regardless of grade level. These can include special education teachers, reading specialists, speech therapists, school counselors, and school nurses.
- Emergency Teaching Certification. Some states grant emergency or temporary teaching certificates to relieve teacher shortages in high-demand subjects such as math, science, special education, and bilingual education or, in extreme need, geographical areas such as rural or inner-city schools. These programs usually allow those who have already earned bachelor’s degrees to take only the courses they need for certification or grant exemption from certification requirements entirely.
- Teacher Certification with Endorsements. To comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, secondary teachers (usually Grades 7 to 12) can now earn endorsements, which qualify them to teach subjects not covered by their certificates.