How to Get a Teaching Credential

Discover pathways to becoming a teacher in your state

Teachers are essential in educating students of all ages helping them development personal and learning skills they’ll use for years to come. To enter the role, teachers need proper training and, in most cases, state licenses. Teaching credential requirements vary by state, and prospective teachers can take many different training paths to get there. This guide highlights the important steps future teachers must take in order to earn their teaching credential.

Roadmap to Becoming a Teacher

Students who want to become teachers and maintain licensure have a number of learning options from which to choose, though they vary by state. The following roadmap shows some of the key steps in the process to becoming a teacher.

  1. Earn bachelor’s degree
    Apply to a regionally accredited institution and study education or major in the subject you hope to teach.
  2. Get teaching experience
    Supervised teaching experience can be completed as part of a major or as an internship outside of college.
  3. Gain state teaching credential
    Visit your state’s credentialing body’s website, make sure you meet the teacher licensure requirements and submit an application.
  4. Earn additional certifications(optional)
    Earn endorsements and specialization credentials through state or national certifications from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and similar organizations.
  5. Continue education
    Many states require teachers to take professional development courses to keep their licenses current.
  6. Renew or upgrade license
    Keeping your state license up-to-date and current is a necessary step in most states.

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Earning Your Teaching Credential: Step by Step

A lot goes into becoming a teacher: planning ahead and knowing what steps to take can make the process much easier. The following timeline provides detailed information for each step.

  1. Bachelor’s Degree
    All states require elementary and secondary teachers to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Depending on what type of teaching they want to do, undergraduate students can either earn their degrees in education or in the subjects they want to teach. Someone interested in becoming an elementary school teacher who teaches multiple subjects might be a better candidate for an education degree than someone who wants to teach secondary-level science specifically. Either way, students should make sure they earn their undergraduate degrees from accredited institutions.
  2. Teacher Preparation Program
    Most states require public educators to complete teacher preparation programs: private schools may have their own teacher preparation programs that align with their specific goals and beliefs. Teacher preparation programs give both single- and multiple-subject teachers the skills deemed necessary by the state to be successful educators. Some education degree programs have teacher preparation courses built into their curricula.
  3. Supervised Teaching Experience
    Most states require that licensing applicants accrue supervised student teaching hours. Students typically start out with small responsibilities, but eventually assume the roles and responsibilities of the supervising teacher. Supervised teaching is a common requirement of education degree programs, but students can also find internships elsewhere.
  4. Background Checks
    All states conduct background checks on teacher licensing applicants, though the bodies in charge of the process vary by state. Background checks can be conducted by the school district or the state and may include a review of both state and national criminal and work histories.
  5. State Teaching Credential
    All public school educators must earn a state teaching credentials. Requirements vary by state, so it is important to research and complete all the necessary steps. This usually means a bachelor’s degree and passing an exam that validates teaching competency and subject-specific knowledge. Some states have their own exams, but many use a national teaching exam called Praxis®. Prospector teachers who complete all requirements must still submit applications and pay associated fees, which usually range from $75 to $200.
  6. Optional National Certification
    National teaching certifications signify that educators are highly qualified and dedicated to the profession. Though typically optional, national certifications can improve one’s salary, make it easier to earn additional teaching credentials or gain licensure in multiple states. Two main organizations provide national certification for teachers.
    1. NBPTS – National Board Certification
      National Board Certification showcases teachers’ advanced knowledge and skills in one of 25 different concentration areas. Applicants must complete a rigorous evaluation and show how their work advances education. Those interested in National Board Certification can look to the NBPTS website for details.
    2. ABCTE – American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence
      The ABCTE was established by the U.S. Department of Education with the goal of helping teachers feel prepared before going into the classroom. ABCTE certification can be highly specialized and earned online. Learn more about online certification at the American Board website.
  7. Continuing Education
    Continuing education or professional development courses fulfill non-provisional teacher license renewal requirements and help educators update and advance important skills. One may also be required to complete continuing education to earn additional endorsements or specialized credentials. States often establish professional development programs, but teachers can also complete courses through colleges and professional organizations or other field-related activities. The number of hours needed varies by state and endorsement.
  8. License Renewals or Upgrades
    Some states let qualified students still completing official licensing requirements begin their careers with temporary, or provisional, licenses. These licenses cannot be renewed and must be upgraded. Depending on the state, teachers may upgrade to a higher level, non-renewable license or a renewable one. Non-renewables must be upgraded, with additional requirements needed for each upgrade. Upgrading is optional for renewable licenses, but they need to be renewed every few years whether or not they are upgraded. Upgrades show higher qualifications and sometimes extend the time needed between renewals.

How to Ace the Praxis® Exams: Developing a Study Plan

The Praxis® exams are national standardized tests often used for teacher licensing and certification. They are designed to test pedagogical knowledge as well as subject-specific content. Most teachers seeking licensure take the Praxis® Core Exam, which tests a person’s knowledge in reading, writing and math. Each section can be taken separately for $90 each, or together as one test for $150. Those who want to teach a specific subject may take Praxis® Subject Assessments in more than 90 subjects. Test fees usually range from $50-$170.

All Praxis® exams use a combination of multiple choice and essay questions and, with few exceptions, are administered via computer.

Sample Study Plan

Making a study plan is a good way for prospective teachers to prepare for the Praxis® exam. Praxis® study guides can help applicants identify knowledge strengths and weaknesses so they can study more efficiently. Doing this early in the studying process improves retention and prevents burnout. Below is an example of a Praxis® study plan students can use to make sure they go into the exam prepared.

  • Praxis® Test Name:Middle School Mathematics
  • Praxis® Test Code:5169
  • I am taking the test on:6/23
Content CoveredDescription of ContentHow well do I know the content? (Scale of 1-5)What resources do I have/need for this content?Where can I find the resources I need?Dates I will study this contentDate completed
ARITHMETIC & ALGEBRA (62% OF TEST)
Numbers & OperationsUnderstand operations of the number system and solve problems using number theory concepts, proportional relationships, decimals and percents.4Graphing calculatorCourse notesMiddle school math textbookCollege libraryMiddle school teachers6/96/166/16
AlgebraEvaluate and manipulate algebraic expressions, equations and formulas, and recognize and solve linear equations and inequalities.3Graphing calculatorOld school notesMiddle school math textbookHigh school math textbookCollege libraryMiddle school teachersHigh school teachers5/125/196/26/166/16
Functions & Their GraphsIdentify, evaluate and graph functions and their properties, including range, domain, slope and intercepts.3Graphing calculatorOld school notesHigh school math textbookCollege libraryHigh school teachers5/195/266/26/166/16
GEOMETRY & DATA (38% OF TEST)
Geometry & MeasurementUnderstand properties of geometric shapes, lines and units of measurement, and how to calculate area, perimeter and volume.4Graphing calculatorOld school notesHigh school math textbookCollege libraryHigh school teachers6/96/166/16
Probability, Statistics, & Discrete MathematicsAnalyze, interpret and represent data in different forms; understand and use probability models; and solve problems using algorithms, flowcharts and other diagrams.2Graphing calculatorOld school notesHigh school math textbookCollege libraryHigh school teachers4/285/55/125/266/166/16
Source: ETS Praxis

Types of Teaching Credentials

Teachers can pursue credentials that acknowledge specialized expertise. Single and multi-subject credentials are fairly traditional and common in most states. Specialized teaching credentials vary from state to state, so it’s a good idea to check out the state’s credentialing body to see which credentials are available and how to earn them. Below are some general categories in which teachers can earn special credentials.

ELEMENTARY (MULTIPLE SUBJECT)

The elementary, or multiple subject, teaching credential is ideal for those interested in becoming elementary school teachers. However, since elementary teaching credentials validate educators’ ability to teach multiple subjects in a single classroom, some states automatically authorize them to teach in any multi-subject classroom. Other states limit this teaching credential to specific grades, like K-8. Candidates must typically earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a multi-subject teacher preparation program.

SECONDARY (SINGLE SUBJECT)

Secondary teaching credentials are geared toward middle and high school teachers specializing in a single subject. Some states even require them. Applicants must usually complete a teacher preparation program, have a certain number of college credits in their subject of expertise and take a Praxis® subject assessment.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Special education teaching credentials are ideal for educators who want to teach students with learning or other disabilities. This credential sometimes authorizes teachers to teach students with a range of disabilities, from mild to severe cognitive and physical impairments; other times they must earn individual licenses for specific types of disabilities.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION

Physical education credentials vary widely across states: some authorize any licensed teacher, single or multiple subject, to teach physical education while others limit the field to only those with targeted credentials. Some credentials have specific Praxis® subject assessment score requirements.

ADULT & VOCATIONAL EDUCATION

Adult and vocational education credentials are for individuals who want to teach career-specific classes and workplace skills. A bachelor’s degree is not necessarily required: in many states, a high school diploma and relevant work experience is sufficient. Teachers who have a National Board Certification in career and technical education may also qualify for this credential.

ADMINISTRATIVE LICENSE

Teachers who want to assume leadership position often need administrator licenses, which typically require specialized education and in-class teaching experience. Education administration degree programs are available only at the post-baccalaureate level, so prospective administrators must already have a bachelor’s degree. Prospective administrators may apply for licensure once their studies are complete.

Alternative Certification Routes for Aspiring Teachers

Alternative licensure programs are a convenient option for prospective teachers with bachelor’s degrees in areas outside of education, including career-changers and those interested in vocational teaching. People just beginning their professional careers may also be attracted to alternate teaching credential options, like Teach for America and Peace Corps. Alternative teaching programs tend to be very hands-on, allowing students to gain practical experience while they pursue certification.

The following people may be good candidates for alternative certifications:

  • Peace Corps volunteers
  • Teach for America volunteers
  • Career-changers
  • Professionals with vocational skills
  • Individuals with strong higher education backgrounds

Private vs. Public School Teaching Requirements

Since private schools are not publicly funded or supported by local governments, they are not held to the same rules and requirements as public schools. This means that private school teachers do not necessarily need to be licensed to teach, though some school systems require private schools to provide evidence to staff qualifications to the local superintendent of education. Private schools often encourage teachers to have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they teach and may give preference to applicants licensed by the state. Earning a formal teaching credential also provides career and geographic mobility.

The following private schools are among those that often hire teachers without licenses:

  • Montessori Schools
  • Waldorf Schools
  • Religious Schools
  • Boarding Schools
  • Country Day Schools

Advice from a Teacher: The Road to Certification


  • What was your licensure and certification process like?

    The process of obtaining my teaching license was pretty straightforward once I was enrolled in an education program. Eastern Oregon University helped greatly. The college informed me of the certification tests needed and assisted in the paperwork process for the license. It was smart to choose the EOU undergraduate program because it offered additional endorsements, which qualify you for more teaching positions.

    The renewal process is not as simple. It requires diligence, good record keeping and submitting paperwork early. If you don’t get the renewal completed in time, you are not allowed to teach, even if you are contracted! I submit my paperwork over two months in advance.


  • Why did you decide to continue your education?

    I want to continue to explore new areas and fields. I am currently looking at Family Marital Therapy Counseling and School Psychology. This is a deviation from teaching, but earning a master’s degree will allow me to continue teaching with a renewed license, and these programs will help me assist struggling students. The more I study, tailor my instruction to the research and innovate in my classroom, the better the outcome for my students. I want all of my students to succeed, and in order to accomplish this, I need to continue being a student myself.


Additional Resources

  • Association of American Educators
    The Association of American Educators (AAE), the largest non-union professional organization in the U.S., offers professional development tools, informational publications, a variety of member benefits.
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation
    As the nation’s primary accrediting body, The CAEP offers information on accredited degree programs.
  • Education Week
    An education-focused publication that features timely news and updates from the field of education.
  • Library of Congress
    The Library of Congress provides teacher development tools and classroom materials.
  • National Education Association
    The largest unionize teacher organization offers lesson plans, classroom management tips and other resources.
  • TeachAde
    A free social media platform designed just for teachers. Users can make connections, ask questions and learn more about the field.
  • View other online certificate programs

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