What You Need to Know About Teacher Certification

Teacher PrepWithout certification, you cannot teach in public schools: it is your license to teach! Before you enroll in an accredited degree program, you will want to make sure the program prepares you for teacher certification. Explore further with the links below:

The most important thing you should know about getting a teacher’s certification is that different rules apply to every state in the U.S. Therefore, you must perform your own research into the state you are located in or the state in which you would like to teach, in order to know the exact requirements for a teacher’s certificate. Read on to see the how’s and why’s of acquiring a teaching certification, with some helpful links along the way.

Steps Prior to Receiving Teacher Certification

The first thing you must do to become a teacher is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. If you have yet to receive your degree, you should begin by researching your options. There are many online schools that provide you with convenient access to an education degree. In addition, there are many colleges and universities that now offer distance learning programs to allow students to schedule their courses around other commitments, such as work and family. Other schools offer hybrid programs which combine both online and traditional face-to-face courses.

Be sure to keep in mind that even if your BA is in education, some states may require you to have another major as well. Essentially, you need to double major during your undergraduate studies, or complete an MA in education.

It is still possible to become a teacher without a bachelor’s degree in education by going through an accredited teacher certification program. Through the certification process, you will take classes that will provide you with an appropriate segue into a teaching job. This is the primary objective of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

Many states, certifications, and degree programs do require that you complete a certain amount of credit hours as a student-teacher (also known as a teaching assistant or teaching intern). While the nitty-gritty of what is accomplished while you are a student-teacher may vary depending on your teaching site, most of these internship programs do follow a similar structure. An internship can last anywhere from one to two semesters.

The first half of this process is typically where you would observe a teacher in another class, and with the mentor’s help, teach a couple of the lessons in their class. The latter portion of your time as a teaching assistant, you will develop and implement your own curriculum in an actual classroom with supervision from a currently licensed teaching professional.

Teaching internships allow you to network with other professionals, as well as receive feedback from your mentor that will help you to improve your overall teaching technique. If you do well in your academic studies and your internship, it would be wise for you to seek out letters of recommendation. Having those references can help you land your first real teaching job, or with your admittance into a master’s program.

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Why Teacher Certification is Important

Teacher certification ensures that an individual is competent in both the subject matter and the general practice of teaching a certain audience. That is why it is crucial for students to enroll in an accredited degree program. Accreditation is your guarantee that a school meets specific, nationally recognized standards. If you attend a school that is not accredited, you will likely be unable to sit for a certification exam. If you are not sure if the school of your choice is accredited, check the accreditation database provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Every state administers and offers teacher certifications. If you are looking for information about a specific state’s education offerings, you can look into the Council of Chief State School Officers for information on educational policy and legislation.

While each state may have their own requirements, it is possible to transfer certification between states. This is known as reciprocity, however not every state has the same guidelines. Check out the National Association of State Directors Teacher Education and Certification for more information on reciprocity.

How to Earn Certification

Each state is different and has their own testing requirements. You can find out more about the individual teaching standards by contacting that state’s respective Board of Education.

To teach at the elementary level, you will likely be tested on a variety of subject matter, including:

  • Math
  • English
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • History

Each education level has its own requirements for certification. Secondary educators, special education teachers, and administrators each take a different exam, or series of exams, in order to work at an educational institution.

Other Options

Occasionally, states will hire teachers on an emergency basis, due to teacher shortages. The state will grant a temporary license to the teacher, and generally is involved in high-need subject matters such as special education, bilingual education, and even math and science. This could also apply to schools in the inner-city as well. These teachers are, in most cases, already on their way already to acquiring the proper certification. Teach for America is a great example of this and might be a valuable short-term option before you decide on a full-time career. As always, contact your state Department of Education to see what your emergency certification options are.

If you are interested in getting your teacher certification, but feel as though it may not be economically feasible, the U.S. government provides financial support to individuals enrolled in alternative routes to teacher certification.


It is imperative that you research certification requirements before applying to a degree program. Remember that each state is different, with some that are more stringent than others. This means that prospective educators may need to take many exams before being allowed to enter a classroom as an instructor. Just make sure you do your research and learn as much as possible about what is expected of you. Our site provides a wealth of information for future teachers to help make the process a little less intimidating!