What is a Teaching Certificate?

A teaching certificate is synonymous with a teaching license. The document acts as the credential that permits educators to instruct students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Each state dictates its requirements for prospective teachers. Some of these include at least a bachelor’s degree, pass exams, such as Praxis, pass a criminal background check, and take state-specific preparation programs. Your degree should be from a school accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.

Types of Certification

Certifications differ according to the age and grade levels of the students you teach. Early childhood education (ECE) requires a certification for this age group, and there is a separate one for preschool teachers. Again, each state has its own requirements for public school early education. In preparation for teaching at this level, you may want to earn a bachelor’s degree in ECE. This degree will provide theories of early childhood growth and learning, organized play, assessment techniques, and teaching methodologies.

To teach at the elementary school level may involve different qualifications than ECE. In Florida, for example, elementary teachers need a bachelor’s degree in elementary education or related major with at least 30 hours in elementary education. Additionally, there is a list of specified areas that require completed coursework. Examples are methods for teaching writing, science, social science, art, health education, mathematics, and more. Once you obtain and pass all the preliminary requirements, you may apply for certification with the Florida Department of Education.

For secondary school educators, the certification typically requires knowledge in the subject a teacher will instruct students. Math teachers will need to show problem-solving techniques, an understanding of algebra, trigonometry, calculus, geometry, statistics, and others.


Each state sets renewal regulations. In Mississippi, the teaching license is valid for five years – after which it must be renewed to continue work in the profession. There are criteria to meet between renewals. To restore a standard Class A teaching license, you must:

  • Complete 10 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in your content area, OR
  • 3 semester hours of college courses in the same area plus 5 CEUs, OR
  • 6 semester hours of coursework in your content area, OR
  • Become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Delaware has two certification levels. Following your Initial License to teach, you receive a Standard Certificate after passing the appropriate Praxis II tests and completing fifteen credit hours of professional development in each area of certification. The standard certification lasts three years, during which you take a mentoring program. After completing this program and three years of teaching, you apply for a Continuing License. This license is valid for five years.

The timeframe of five years applies to most states. Vermont has a License Level 1 and II; the former has a three-year limit before renewal. The Level II expires in seven years. Educators must meet the requirements of their respective licenses. For a Level I license, you must complete three credits of professional development. At least one credit (15 hours) must apply to the area of your teaching subject.

Level II requires nine credits of 135 hours of professional development. Educators need a minimum of three credits or 45 hours in the subject(s) and grade level in which you have the authorization to teach.

Temporary License or Certification

A temporary license is a separate category with a different set of rules governed by each state. Massachusetts, for example, offers a Temporary License valid for one year. Candidates require at least three years of teaching experience under a valid license or certificate in another state. They must also have at least a Bachelor’s degree. It is non-renewal or extendable.

The same state has a Provisional License that is valid for five years. It, too, is non-renewal. There is also a third license, known as an Initial License, which is valid for five years. Certain General Requirements apply, and you may renew it. The fourth license for educators in Massachusetts is the Professional License, renewal after the standard five years.

Some states, such as North Carolina, have an online source to apply and renew educator licensure. First-time applicants or teachers re-entering the profession can find the appropriate forms online at the Department of Instruction website.

Additional Resources:

If I want to become a superintendent, is a Master’s Degree enough, or do I need a Ph.D.? 

Does becoming a Middle School principal have different requirements from a High School principal? 

Do Charter schools have different requirements for their teachers? 

What is usually done for a background check of teachers? 

What are the Praxis II tests?

What is the Praxis I/PPST exam? 

What is the difference between Praxis I and Praxis II?

Are there any preparation courses for the Praxis tests?