How to Get a Teaching Credential

Learn the steps you need to take to earn a teaching credential today. We outline everything you need to know.

April 19, 2022 • 4 Min Read

edited by Lequita Westbrooks

Teachers educate and inspire the future workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the need for teachers and other education professionals to grow 10% from 2020-2030.

Aside from a positive job outlook, many teachers receive summers off and a retirement match. Public school systems may allow teachers to join unions. Educators who meet specific credentials may qualify for federal student loan forgiveness.

This guide explains how to get a teaching credential. Read on to learn about types of teaching credential programs and requirements for teachers.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Your Teaching Credential

Students take varying paths to become educators depending on their life stage and state's requirements. The section below explains the process. However, learners should consult with their state's teacher licensing board to learn specifics.

Public school educators need a bachelor's degree. Aspiring teachers often choose an education major with an emphasis in 1-2 subjects. Degree-holders with an unrelated bachelor's can pursue alternative certification.

Some concentrations take longer to complete. For example, music education or art education majors may spend longer on their degrees. Full-time enrollees can usually earn a bachelor's in four years.

Prospective teachers should complete a teacher-preparation program. These programs align with state teaching license guidelines. Most bachelor's degrees in education prepare learners for certification in a specific state.

Coursework covers topics like issues in education and education psychology. A teacher-preparation program also requires classroom experience. Learners gain experience through practicums and student teaching.

Student teaching lets enrollees practice teaching methods and theories. Most states require one semester of full-time student teaching.

Licensed educators supervise student-teaching experiences. Learners becoming certified in elementary and high school split time between two classrooms. Unlike internships, students do not receive payment.

Learners in most states take the Praxis® exams before beginning student teaching.

Teaching certification requires background checks. One background check examines criminal history. Applicants submit their fingerprints. Non-violent offenses, like traffic tickets, rarely impact a background check.

Another background check verifies professional license and degree validity. To avoid failing this check, learners should ensure they complete an accredited teaching program. Background checks cost about $20 each.

Most school districts also require drug tests. Some schools regularly drug test their current employees.

State agencies oversee teaching credentials. These credentials vary by state. However, students who complete steps 1-4 usually qualify for a teaching credential.

Most states rely on a certification exam to test an aspiring educator's credentials. Currently, 40 states use the Praxis exams. Some states participate in reciprocity agreements. This means teachers can transfer their teaching license to a new state. The new state needs similar credential requirements.

Most teaching positions do not require national certification. However, certification can give job candidates a competitive edge. National certification may also position educators as leaders in their field. Aspiring school administrators often pursue board certification.

The American Board and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offer national certification options. Both of these organizations charge fees for the certification exams. For example, NBPTS charges $1,900.

Many states require aspiring educators to pursue continuing education (CE) to maintain certification. Professional organizations offer CE opportunities. Some school districts host in-house CE seminars.

Some companies, like Learners Edge, offer online CE opportunities. This company offers classes covering topics like teaching neurodivergent students or calming strategies.

Many schools offer raises to teachers who pursue graduate-level work. Some districts pay for a portion of the tuition.

States require teachers to renew their license every 4-5 years. Most states require teachers to obtain about 150 CE hours for renewal. Teach.org provides information on renewal requirements for teachers.

Educators with provisional certification can work full time. However, they must make progress on their teacher certification programs each year.

Teachers who want to switch states may need to reapply for a teaching license. The new state's licensing board evaluates credentials. The board determines whether candidates must meet additional requirements.

How to Ace the Praxis Exams

Most U.S. states and territories use the Praxis exams to grant teaching licenses. Each state sets its own requirements for passing scores. Aspiring educators take multiple Praxis exams depending on their state's requirements and intended teaching subject. Exams cost $90-$209.

Learners can prepare by taking interactive practice tests. The Educational Testing Service, the organization that offers the exam, also publishes study plans. Students can take the tests as many times as they want. However, they must wait 21 days between attempts.

Types of Teaching Credentials

Most states use a standardized, traditional credentialing system. However, some states require specialized credentialing for certain subjects. Specialized categories vary by state. Most colleges help learners determine the credentialing to earn depending on their state's qualifications.

Traditional Credentialing

Aspiring elementary teachers pursue this subject. Elementary educators teach multiple topics, so this credential covers more than one subject. Aspiring music and art teachers may also need to earn a single-subject credential.

Prospective middle school and high school teachers must earn a single-subject credential. Many teachers earn multiple single-subject credentials. For example, some teachers earn both a credential for physical education and health instruction. Choosing two single subjects may lead to more options for teachers.

Special education teachers instruct students with unique needs. They need a special education credential. This credential shows that instructors know how to oversee individualized lesson plans. The credential also demonstrates a teacher's ability to use assistive technology in a classroom setting.

Specialized Credentialing

This credential qualifies teachers to instruct physical education classes. Educators with this credential know how to oversee exercises and stretches for students. They can work with students of varying ages and physical capabilities. Aspiring sports coaches often benefit from earning this credential.

Professionals with this credential work as adult literacy coaches or English as a Second Language instructors. Others work as instructors for community colleges. They may specialize in a trade, such as welding. This credential shows that future educators know best practices for working with adults outside of a university setting.

Aspiring school administrators may pursue an administrative license. This accolade may require earning a master's degree. Types of school administrators include principals, assistant principals, and superintendents. School administrators may work for one school or a school district.

Private vs. Public School Teaching Requirements

Teaching certificate requirements also vary depending on employer type. Not every private school makes teachers hold certification from the state's board of education.

Religious schools, Montessori schools, and Waldorf schools usually only require teachers to hold a bachelor's degree. These institutions often follow their own certification process. For example, Montessori-certified teachers must complete a short teacher training.

Some private schools prefer to hire teachers with graduate degrees and certifications. Teachers should weigh the pros and cons of working at private, charter, and public schools.

Advice From a Teacher: The Road to Certification


Q. What Was Your Licensure and Certification Process Like?

The process was pretty straightforward once I enrolled in an education program. Eastern Oregon University (EOU) helped greatly. The college informed me of the certification tests needed and helped with the paperwork process. EOU's undergraduate program offered additional endorsements. These helped me qualify for more teaching positions.

The renewal process is not as simple. It requires diligence and good record-keeping. It also requires submitting paperwork early. If you don't complete your renewal in time, you cannot teach, even if you are contracted. I submit my paperwork over two months in advance.

Q. Why Did You Decide to Continue Your Education?

I want to continue to explore new areas and fields. I am currently exploring family marital therapy counseling and school psychology. This deviates from teaching. However, a master's degree allows me to continue teaching with a renewed license.

These programs also 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. To accomplish this, I need to continue being a student myself.

Additional Resources

This non-union organization advocates for teachers. Members benefit from liability insurance and legal coverage. They also receive informative newsletters. This accrediting agency reviews educator preparation programs. The third-party organization conducts quality assessments for teaching degrees. Aspiring students can verify whether their school earns accreditation through the agency's website. This organization provides resources for special education teachers. Educators can explore nationwide job openings in a career center. This union advocates for teachers' rights. The group advocates for higher pay and better benefits. Educators may consult NEA if they believe their employer has infringed their rights. Teachers who want to learn from their peers can join this online community of teachers. Members can use free lesson-planning resources and contribute their own. The website also facilitates niche group forums divided by instruction topics.

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