Steps to Earn Your Certification
You must earn a professional license in order to teach, just as you would to practice law or medicine. Each state sets its own teacher training and licensure requirements, so the rules can vary depending on where you live.
Understand the rules for your region.
If you’re looking to teach in one of our partner regions, you can access comprehensive certification explainers and tools to help you compare teacher preparation programs.
We work with state and local agencies to bring you information you can trust.
Let us know if you’re interested in a different region.
Decide what and where you want to teach
Because certification requirements vary by state, subject, and grade level, the first step is to figure out what state you want to teach in, as well as the grade level, subjects, and/or specialty areas (e.g., special education, bilingual education) you’d like to teach.
Find a Teacher Preparation Program (TPP) that is a good fit for you
One of the common certification requirements across all states, subjects, and grade levels is that you will need to complete preparatory coursework at an accredited teacher preparation program. To find a TPP that meets your needs, spend some time learning about the key differences among programs and how to choose a program, and then, dive in and explore individual programs through TEACH.org’s National TPP Directory.
Check the application requirements for the Teacher Preparation Programs you’re interested in
If you’re in high school applying to college, you just need to apply for college and, then, declare an education major when you arrive. For those applying to a postgraduate program, check out these tips for applying. The most common requirements that might be part of the TPP application are:
A basic skills test of reading, writing, and math. This test is required to apply to the majority of postgraduate TPPs across the country, no matter what grade or subject you want to teach. Each state chooses the test that you need to pass, but one that many use is the Praxis I. Like any other entrance exam, you should dedicate time to prepare and study for this test so you reduce the chance you have to take it multiple times or miss your application deadline.
A subject area knowledge test, based on the specific subject area you want to teach. This is less common as a requirement to apply to a TPP, and most TPPs instead expect that you to pass this test in order to graduate from the program. Make sure to find out whether your TPP does requires this test as part of their application, because if it does, you will need to allocate significant time to study for it.
Fingerprint and/or background check. This may or may not be a requirement in your state, but when the state requires it for certification, some TPPs within that state will just make it a mandatory part of their application. Gathering the right materials and paperwork can sometimes take time, so if this is a requirement, get it done sooner, rather than later, so you don’t miss the application deadline.
As you participate in your TPP, review and tackle your remaining graduation and state certification requirements
At least a semester before you graduate, it’s important to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Schedule time to speak with an advisor at your program to make sure you’re clear on all the steps. Many preparation programs are designed so you meet all the coursework and testing requirements for your state certification, but it’s good to double-check, especially if you plan to teach in a different state. Be on the lookout for:
Unique, state-specific coursework requirements. A few states add extra requirements that many other states do not have. For example, Alaska requires teachers to take two courses on Alaska 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.
Exceptions to the rule. Some states have provided ways to meet certain requirements without taking a test. For example, sometimes earning a Bachelor’s degree in a certain subject can count as qualification for the subject-specific test requirement. Knowing these exceptions and whether they apply to you could save you time and money.
Apply to the state for your initial credential
The last step of the process is to submit documentation to the state certifying agency. Each state has its own process, and it can vary depending on the credential type you’re applying for. When you get to this stage, reach out to a staff member of your teacher preparation program to get all the details of what you need as well as how and when to apply for your credential.
Renew or get your permanent credentials
In some states, your first teaching credential is one you can use indefinitely to teach in your state, as long as you renew it before it expires. In other states, your first credential will be a preliminary or initial credential that you can hold for one to three years, but at some point you will need to meet additional requirements and apply for a permanent credential to continue teaching.
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 is purely optional, but completing the rigorous and challenging certification process is a prestigious accomplishment. Earning your National Board Certification enables you to become the most effective teacher you can be, join an accomplished network educators, and access a higher salary, more professional opportunities, and easier certification transfer between states.
Reciprocity with other states
This is the term used to describe what each state does or doesn’t require when trying to transfer your state certification from one state to another. In some cases, when there is a reciprocity agreement between states, the process is relatively easy and straightforward; in other cases, it can be more difficult. If you are planning a move from one state to another, it is important to research the specific requirements that out-of-state certified teachers need to meet to get certified in their new state.