If you are looking for an in-demand career field where you can learn every day and make a lasting difference in people’s lives, education may be a great fit for you.
You can prepare for this career online or in a classroom, but it will take some time before you are able to stand in front of a classroom of students and teach.
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You will need to become an expert in your field and demonstrate skills in crisis management, leadership, teamwork, mentoring, adaptability, and more. All of this is necessary to earn your teaching certificate and begin teaching.
What Is a Teaching Certificate?
A teaching certificate – sometimes called a teaching license or teaching credential – is the certification required to teach in a public school.
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The requirements for earning a teaching certificate vary from state to state, but there are some commonalities. Typically, the process requires individuals to:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Complete an approved teacher preparation program
- Pass knowledge and skills tests (Praxis series)
- Pass a standard background check
Once these steps have been taken, you can apply for your teaching certificate.
How Do I Get a Teaching Certificate?
The most common way to get a teaching certificate is to earn a bachelor’s degree that includes a teacher preparation program, and then apply to your state for a teaching certificate.
Here are the typical steps involved:
Step 1: Determine the What and Where
First, it’s important to determine what you want to teach. Will you teach in an elementary school or in a secondary school, such as junior or high school?
If you plan to teach at the secondary level, what subject area will you focus on? You should determine if you are interested in specialty areas, such as special education or English as a second language (ESL)? It’s also important to determine which state you plan to teach in because the licensure requirements vary from state to state.
Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Most educators are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree. You can earn this degree online, on a college campus, or a combination of both.
Online Bachelor’s in Education & Teaching
The college major you choose will depend on what grade level you plan to teach.
If you plan to teach children in kindergarten through 5th grade, you can major in elementary education. If you plan to teach at the secondary level (6th through 12th grade), you should choose a major related to the subject you plan to teach, such as English or history.
If you are interested in teaching at the college level, you will need a more advanced degree. A master’s degree is often required to teach in a community college, while a 4-year college will often require its professors to hold a Ph.D. You may also need to have been employed in your field of expertise.
Step 3: Complete a Teacher Preparation Program
Either during your undergraduate study or once you have graduated, it’s important to complete a teacher preparation program. A teacher preparation program is designed to prepare you to teach the grade level or subject area of your choosing.
A teacher preparation program explores things like issues in the education system, child or adolescent development, student assessment, language and literacy, education psychology, and other topics relevant to the field.
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Toward the end of the teacher preparation program, you will have the opportunity to complete a hands-on teaching experience, which typically involves at least one semester of student teaching.
Step 4: Pass the Tests
Of course, before you can be certified you must prove that you have gained the knowledge and mastered the skills necessary to become a successful educator. This is done through a series of standardized exams.
Most states use the Praxis tests. These tests are administered by a computer at testing sites, which are often on college campuses. The testing fees range from $150-300.
There are three main Praxis exams:
- Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators (Core): This exam tests your skills in reading, writing, and math. This exam is usually taken as an entrance exam before starting the education program.
- Praxis Subject Assessments: This exam tests your knowledge of subject-specific content along with general and subject-specific teaching skills. There are 90 different tests depending on the area you plan to teach. This exam is usually taken toward the end of the program.
- Praxis Content Knowledge for Teaching Assessments (CKT): This exam tests your knowledge of subject-specific content with a focus on specialized content for elementary school teaching. It is usually taken toward the end of the program.
Each state has its own requirements regarding which tests you take and when, as well as what constitutes a passing score. There are 4 U.S. states – Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Michigan– that do not use the Praxis exam series. These states have developed their own assessments.
Finally, a standard fingerprint and/or background check is required to teach. In some states, this is a part of the teacher preparation program, and in others, it happens when you apply for your certificate. Either way, it’s a test you will need to pass in order to become an educator.
Step 5: Apply for the Teaching Certificate
Once you have earned your degree and met the requirements set by your state, you can apply to your state’s Department of Education for your teaching certificate.
If you have questions about this, an educator from your teacher preparation program should be able to help guide you through this process. The cost to submit your application varies from state to state, but you should plan to pay anywhere from $40 to $200.
How Do I Get a Teaching Certificate If I Already Have a Bachelor’s Degree?
If you already hold a bachelor’s degree, you are one step ahead. You will simply need to complete a teacher preparation program and pass the exams required by your state.
There are teacher preparation programs available on many college campuses, or you can complete the program online while still maintaining your career and other commitments.
How Long Will It Take to Get a Teaching Certificate?
It depends on where you’re starting from. If you have already earned your bachelor’s degree, the process to become a certified teacher may take as little as one year.
If you are just graduating high school and/or have no college degree, it will likely take around 4 years.
Will I Be Able to Find a Job Once I Have a Teaching Certificate?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is expected to increase by 10% over the next 10 years.
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As student enrollment increases, the demand for postsecondary teachers and preschool, elementary, and secondary school teachers.
How Much Money Will I Make Once I Have a Teaching Certificate?
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the following medium incomes:
|Careers||Annual Median Salary|
|High School Teachers||$61,820|
|Special Education Teachers||$61,820|
|Kindergarten and Elementary Teachers||$61,350|
|Middle School Teachers||$61,320|
Will I Have To Renew My Teaching Certificate?
Yes. Your teaching certificate will be valid for one to five years, depending on your state. After that, the certification will expire.
You will need to check the requirements in your state to determine when and how you should renew your license. It is likely that you will need to show continued professional development, through training workshops or additional college courses. Some states are very specific about the courses and number of hours necessary for renewal, while others are more general in their requirements.
Can I Teach Without a Teaching Certificate?
Sort of. While a traditional teaching position in a public school will require you to have a teaching certificate, there are other ways to teach.
The following options will allow you to try out the profession before you fully commit to the education, training, and testing necessary for licensure:
- Substitute Teacher – The requirements for substitute teachers vary by state, school, and position. You may need a bachelor’s degree or some college credit, but that’s not always the case. Substitute teacher positions vary greatly and could range from a last-minute phone call to fill in for a sick teacher to a long-term position while someone is on leave. Long-term positions may require more qualifications. For example, a school may hire someone who is working toward his or her certification for a long-term assignment.
- Teacher’s Aide or Assistant – Aides or assistants are often only required to have a high school diploma or associate’s degree, but some states will require you to pass a general aptitude test.
- Teacher at a Private School – Private and independent schools can set their own requirements, rather than adhering to those set by the state. Some do not require that teachers be certified.
- Teach Overseas / Online – Schools around the world hire educated adults to teach a variety of subjects, especially English. Schools may even provide housing and other assistance in addition to a salary. Alternatively, you may be able to teach students on the other side of the globe without leaving home, through an online program like VIPKID.
Keep in mind that positions working within a school system more times than not will require you to pass a standard background check.
Will My Teaching Certificate Be Valid If I Move to Another State?
When you receive a teaching certificate, it is a license to teach in that state only. If you move to another state, you will need to be licensed in that state in order to teach there.
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Some states offer teaching certification reciprocity, but that does not mean your certification will be fully recognized as-is in your new state of residence. You may need to complete additional coursework, assessments, or classroom experience. Oftentimes you can teach on a temporary license while you complete those requirements.
Can I Get a Teaching Certificate Online?
Absolutely. More and more U.S. colleges and universities are offering online degree programs because many students already have to careers and families competing for their time.
Currently, more than 500 accredited institutions in the U.S. offer education degree programs that can be completed online. There is one caveat, though. While the coursework can be completed online, student teaching must take place in a brick-and-mortar school setting.
Here are 20 schools that offer multiple bachelor’s degree programs in education that can be completed online:
- Appalachian State University
- Baker College
- Ball State University
- Calvary University
- Central Methodist University
- Chaminade University of Honolulu
- Colorado Christian University
- Eastern Oregon University
- Fort Hays State University
- Grand Canyon University
- Liberty University
- Northern Arizona University
- Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
- Southwestern Assemblies of God University
- University of Arkansas, Little Rock
- University of Missouri
- Valdosta State University
- Valley City State University
- Walden University
- Winston-Salem State University
This list is just a sampling, of course, as there are many schools that offer online undergraduate degrees in education. Some also have teacher preparation programs that complement the other subject areas they offer.
Just as doctors and lawyers need licenses in order to do their very important work, so do educators. If you have the qualities and drive necessary to become a teacher, it’s important to research the requirements in your state, pursue the appropriate education and training and apply for your teaching certificate.
Indeed, it will be a journey, and the job itself will be demanding. But it will also be extremely rewarding as you make a difference in the lives of your students year after year.