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2023 Teacher Certification (Complete Guide)

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

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What's on the page?

What is teacher certification?

Illustration of the requirements for a teaching certificate.

To become a teacher, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. You might hear it called certification, license, licensure, or credential—all different regional names for the same thing. To earn your license or certification, you'll complete teaching coursework and testing and then apply to the state  where you want to teach.

Each state sets its own teacher training requirements, so the rules can vary depending on where you live. We’ll walk you through the basics.

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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

Pathways to a teaching license

There are several paths to becoming a teacher. Find out which one fits you best.

There’s a lot of info here, we know. If you want to download the Guide to keep handy, you can do that!

Download the PDF

Teaching Certification Requirements by State

Illustration of certificates in special education and STEM.

Certification varies from state to state. Check out our “Where We Work” page and choose the state you’re interested in. 

In addition, The National Council on Teacher Quality ( offers a nationwide searchable database of teacher prep programs, including rankings, stats and testimonials. You can search by state, by institution or by the type of program you want to attend. You can also check out their Start Here guide for future teachers.

Find Your State

How to get your certification—step-by-step

To help you get started, here’s a crash course on the steps you’ll need to take to earn your professional credential.
  1. 1

    Decide what subject area you want to teach and where

    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

    Use our teacher certification directory to find the program that best fits you

    No matter where or what you choose to teach, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a professional license. That usually means you need to attend a teaching program. 

    To find a teaching program that meets your needs, dive in and explore individual programs through TEACH’s National Program Directory.

  3. 3

    Your certification will probably require tests and a background check

    At some point in your teacher prep, you’ll likely need to take one or more tests in order to apply to your prep program or earn your license. These are the most common:

    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 one that many use is the Praxis I, while others may accept scores on the ACT or SAT. 

    A subject knowledge test, based on the specific subject area you want to teach

    This test is usually given while you're in your teaching program, though you might also need to take it before you begin the program. Check if your program requires this test as part of its application, because if it does, you’ll need to save some time to study for it.

    Fingerprint and/or background check

    Because you’ll be working with children, your state will probably require a background check. Some teaching programs will make it a mandatory part of their application.

  4. 4

    Take the necessary coursework to get certified in your state

    Some states have specific coursework requirements and a few have unique requirements. For example, Alaska requires teachers to take two courses on Alaskan history and multicultural studies during the first two years of teaching. California requires coursework and passing a test on the U.S. Constitution. Be sure to know the requirements of your credential. Your teaching program will help you! 

  5. 5

    Apply to your state for a license

    There’s always paperwork! The last step of the process is to submit documents to the state —that’s usually the state’s department of education or instruction. When you get to this stage, reach out to a staff member of your teacher prep program to get all the details.

  6. 6

    After you’ve taught for at least three years, think about getting your National Board Certification

    The National Board Certification is considered 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.

  7. 7

    Transferring teacher certification to another state

    “Reciprocity” is the term used to describe what each state requires in order to transfer your certification from one state to another. 

    In some cases, when there is a reciprocity agreement between states, the process is relatively easy; in other cases, it can be more difficult. If you are planning a move from one state to another, research the specific requirements that out-of-state certified teachers need to meet to get certified in the new state.

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  1. National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), What makes teacher prep “traditional” or “non-traditional”?
  2. Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), Traditional vs Alternative Teacher Certification: What Policymakers Need to Know