The license or certification to teach is granted on a state by state basis. Each state has the authority to set its own unique expectations for attaining a teaching certificate. However, the requirements in most states fit into the same general categories, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): education, student-teaching experience, a background check and a certification exam. Although some states are somewhat easier to get certified in than others, the most lenient requirements – usually affecting alternative route certification – are found in individual schools and districts struggling with a teacher shortage.
Educators need at least some level of higher education. To teach in a public school, you usually need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS. The direct route to a teaching career is a bachelor’s degree in education, which includes coursework in the foundations of teaching and learning, skills for organizing lesson plans and managing classrooms and methods of assessing students’ learning progress. Bachelor’s degree programs in education usually focus on a grade level group, such as early childhood, elementary school, middle school or high school. Aspiring teachers usually pursue studies in a content area, like science, math, English or social studies, as well.
Different states may have different curriculum requirements for education programs. When an established teacher moves from a state that regulates education curricula less heavily to one with more requirements, he or she may need to take additional courses to meet that state’s requirements.
Most states require only a bachelor’s degree for initial teaching licensure. However, some states – like New York and Connecticut – require new teachers to obtain a master’s degree within a set timeframe in order to renew their license or transition to a full professional license. When transitioning to a state that has this requirement, you should plan on pursuing a master’s degree – if not right away, then within the timeframe allowed by the state.
If your state specifies a required number of credits in a content area, you may have to go back to school. A concentration within your education program requires less extensive coursework than a full second major, and it may not meet your new state’s expectations.
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Experience and Other Certification Requirements
For teachers who follow the direct route of majoring in education, fieldwork experience comes primarily in the form of a student-teaching experience. Most states require that students have completed student-teaching work in the classroom under the supervision of a licensed educator. Certain states have more specific requirements for student-teachers.
Although education degree programs usually have student-teaching experiences last for a full semester, not all states require this, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. Similarly, not all states specify that student-teaching must be full-time work, and some states that do have this requirement use the term to express different meanings.
Beyond the degree and student-teaching work, the most common teaching certification requirements are a background check and a certification exam. In theory, background checks should be equally effective across state lines, particularly because the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)’s Educator Identification Clearinghouse database collects data from every state. However, some states are far more rigorous in the background checks than others, according to USA TODAY.
Certification tests are among the teaching certification requirements most likely to change between states. Usually, teachers must pass both a general teaching certification exam and a subject area-specific exam, the BLS reported. However, there are many different certification exams out there.
The Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators Tests are probably the best known and most widely used certification exams. State-specific exams have historically been used in several states, including California, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, and New York.
Alternative Route and Interstate Certification
If you’re looking for the easiest areas to get certified, then you need to look at alternative route programs meant for aspiring teachers who haven’t taken the traditional academic path of a bachelor’s degree in education. Alternative route programs allow new teachers with a bachelor’s degree in another subject to take teaching coursework outside of an undergraduate program. These programs may award a master’s degree or strictly prepare graduates for certification. In school districts where teacher shortages are disrupting and undermining a school’s ability to educate students, you may be able to get a provisional or emergency certification and start working in the classroom while taking teaching coursework.
Wondering about the logistics of transferring your teaching license to another state? Your existing credentials should satisfy many of your new state’s requirements. You may need to take some supplemental courses as well as the exam used for certification in your new state.