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Teacher Certification (Complete Guide)

If you want to earn a teaching certificate, you’ll need to know the requirements in your state. Our free guide will get you started. Read on, or click to download it!

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To become a teacher, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. Some states call it a teaching license or credential — but it's the same thing. We'll walk you through the basics of how to get there.

How to get your teaching certificate

Some states will have you complete additional steps (or complete steps in a different order), but in general, here's what you'll need to do.
  1. 1

    Decide what you want to teach.

    Because certification requirements vary by state, subject and grade level, the first step is to figure out where you want to teach, as well as the grade level, subjects or specialty areas (like special education or bilingual education) you’d like to teach.

  2. 2

    Earn a bachelor's degree.

    For most teaching certificates, you'll need at least a bachelor’s degree. If you don’t already have a bachelor’s, you can often earn your degree and your teaching certificate at the same time!

    Some states require a master’s degree as well, but you may be able to work toward this while you’re already teaching.

    For some skilled career and technical positions, like electrical engineering or health sciences, you may be able to substitute work experience for a degree.

  3. 3

    Choose a teaching program (and apply).

    You'll need to complete a state-approved teaching program to earn a teaching certificate. Your program will give you the tools you need to be successful in the classroom.

    In many states, you can enroll in a teaching program as an undergrad, so you'll graduate with both a degree and teaching certificate.

    Already have a bachelor's? Some teaching programs that offer a master’s degree or a certificate-only option. Many alternative certification programs are designed with working adults in mind, so you can work and get certified at the same time.

    Check out our Program Explorer to look for programs in your state.

  4. 4

    Pass any required tests.

    Depending on your state and teaching program, you’ll need to take one or more tests as part of your certification process. Here are the most common exams you might encounter:

    • A basic skills test of reading, writing, and math. Most teaching programs across the country, no matter what grade or subject you want to teach, require a basic skills test. Each state chooses the test that you need to take, but many use the Praxis I, while others accept scores from the ACT or SAT. 
    • A subject knowledge test, based on the specific subject area you want to teach. The subject test is meant to show you know your stuff well enough to teach it. Most states use the Praxis, but some states, like Texas and Missouri, have their own subject matter tests. You'll usually take this test during your teaching program, but you might take it before you begin the program. Check if your program requires this test as part of its application.
    • A teaching portfolio. Some states also require an assessment that covers teaching methods or a portfolio of teaching materials. You might submit videos of yourself in the classroom during your student teaching experience, as well as student work or lesson plans.

    If testing stresses you out, don't panic! Your teaching program can often help you prepare for any subject tests or teaching portfolios.

  5. 5

    Apply for your teaching certificate.

    Once you’ve completed your program and passed the required tests, you’re almost a certified teacher! The last step is to apply to your state education agency for your official certificate. Your teaching program may need to give approval before you can apply.

    You’ll also need to pass a background check. States might have additional requirements, depending on your grade and subject. Your teaching program should help you prepare for this final step.

  6. 6

    Get your teaching job!

    As you complete your requirements, you’ll start looking for your first teaching job. Check out district job fairs, virtual fairs and recruiting events with your teaching program. In some cases, your program may have connections with school districts in your area.

  7. 7

    After three years, consider getting your National Board Certification.

    National Board Certification is the most advanced certification that a teacher can receive. It's purely optional, but completing the rigorous and challenging certification process is a prestigious accomplishment and could lead to a higher salary, more professional opportunities and easier transfer between states.

When it comes to teacher certification, there's a lot to remember! That's why we made a free downloadable version of this guide, so you can keep the info handy.

Get the Free Guide

Teaching Certification Requirements by State

Illustration of certificates in special education and STEM.

Certification varies from state to state. To learn more about requirements where you live, click "Find Your State" and choose the state you’re interested in.

Find Your State

What's alternative certification?

An illustration of an alternative certification pathway: A graduation cap, a nametag that says "Intern" on it, and a teacher leading a classroom.

You may have heard the terms “alternative certification” or “alternative licensure.” If you already have a bachelor's degree, alternative certification can be a great option!

These are the most common types of alternative programs:

  • Residency programs prepare teachers for certification with on-the-job training, including a paid job at a school. In some residency programs, you'll lead your own classroom and earn a full teacher's salary while you finish your teaching certificate. In other programs, you'll earn a stipend and work in a classroom alongside a mentor teacher.
  • Accelerated programs are designed for mid-career professionals interested in teaching. If you’re thinking about a career switch but need to keep working while you earn your certificate, an accelerated program could work for you. They typically offer hybrid online and in-person coursework and flexible arrangements for practice teaching.
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“When we think of careers that make a lasting impact on society, few can compete with teaching.”

—Dr. Phillip Burchfield, Executive Director, Mississippi Association of School Superintendents

Frequently Asked Questions

We'll answer a few more common questions here. It's a good idea to talk with staff at teaching programs too. They're experts on teacher certification in your state!

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