Navigating Teacher Certification Requirements: A Comprehensive Guide

5/17/2023 Staff
Lesson Plan Team

Navigating Teacher Certification Requirements: A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding teacher certification requirements is crucial to meeting them and getting credentialed to instruct students in a classroom. Without teacher certification, you're not legally permitted to teach students in any school, even if you have completed the required coursework, tests, degrees, or other specified criteria.

If you're an aspiring educator, you may wonder what the requirements are to become certified. This guide explains how to navigate teacher certification requirements, including the purpose of teacher certification, steps to obtain one, alternative routes to teacher certification, and how to maintain and renew your certification.

Teacher certification requirements and processes vary widely by state. This guide focuses on general teacher certification in the United States.

Overview of Teacher Certification Requirements

The main purpose of teacher certification is to gain credentials that permit you to teach students at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels in public schools. The certification or teaching license assures the public that you meet the state's teaching standards, have passed required background checks, and are up to speed with accepted teaching methods. All 50 states in the United States require educators to get certified to legally work as teachers.

Types of Certifications/Licenses

Common teaching certifications in the US include:

  • Early childhood education
  • Elementary education
  • Secondary education
  • Special education

You can pursue other specialized certifications to improve your competencies as an educator. These include:

  • Gifted and talented education
  • American Sign Language (ASL)
  • Reading Specialist

General Requirements for Certification

The general requirement for getting certified as a teacher in the US is to hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university in a field closely related to the grade level and subject you want to teach. For example, an Elementary Education degree prepares you to teach learners from kindergarten to 5th grade.

You must also complete a teacher preparation program, do some student teaching to gain hands-on experience and pass your state's required licensing exam. Once you get satisfactory grades on the test, you can apply for your certification. During the application, you must provide fingerprints and pass criminal background checks.

Steps to Obtain Teacher Certification

lady reading book sitting at desk touching glasses

Read appropriate materials to help you prepare for examinations

While every state has different specifics for obtaining teacher certification, the process remains the same from state to state. Here are the steps to take to get certified:

1. Complete A Bachelor's Degree

The first step to becoming an educator is completing a bachelor's degree in education or a related field. Ensure your degree is from a college or university that's regionally accredited and that your major correlates with the subject or grade level you wish to teach. The US Department Of Education has a list of accredited colleges and universities you can check out.

2. Participate in a Teacher Preparation Program

You must complete an approved teacher preparation program to obtain your license. Most undergraduate degree programs combine a teaching license with the degree, so you can complete the program while doing your coursework.

If you don't hold a degree, you must complete a university program to participate in a teacher preparation program. If you already hold a bachelor's degree, consider alternative programs such as:

  • Licensure-only programs
  • Residency licensure programs
  • Master's degree and licensure programs

3. Pass Required Examinations

You must take and pass the required teacher certification examinations in your state to show you're ready to instruct learners and improve student learning. Teacher licensing examinations generally cover three main areas:

Basic skills exams: These test core teaching and academic skills and your ability to instruct learners.

Content Knowledge Exams: These test your knowledge of the subject matter in the field you wish to teach, such as math, science, or languages.

Pedagogical Exams: These test your knowledge of broad principles for classroom organization and management to determine whether you can enact teaching and cultivate learning.

4. Complete Student Teaching or Supervised Teaching Experience

All 50 states require prospective educators to get hands-on experience before being certified. This is done by completing a student teaching or supervised teaching program such as an internship. In most cases, you have to complete at least a semester's worth of student teaching.

5. Apply for a Teaching License

Once you've passed your state's required examinations and completed your teaching program, you must apply for a teaching license. The teaching license application is done at your state's Department of Education, where you have to submit your fingerprints and pass a background check.

Ensure you meet all the above requirements before applying for your teaching certification. It's essential to note that your teacher certification is only credible for a set number of years, so you must renew it once the period expires.

Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification

Other alternative routes to teacher certification include:

1. Alternative Certification Programs

If you hold a bachelor's degree but did not complete the teacher preparation coursework, you can gain licensure by completing an alternative certification program, such as an online master's degree in education. This allows you to advance your teaching qualifications while meeting the general requirements for teacher certification. Most alternative certification teaching programs take 1 to 2 years to complete.

2. Teach for Your State's Programs

happy male teacher looking at his students who raised their hands to answer the question

All 50 states require prospective educators to get hands-on experience

Most states have local teaching programs that recruit, train, and support recent college graduates to prepare them for career placement in participating schools within the district. Enrolling in these programs is a great way to gain your teacher certification and hands-on experience in teaching. A good example of such a program is Teach for America (TFA).

3. Emergency Certification or Provisional Licensing

You can apply for emergency or provisional licensing if you don't meet the standard certification criteria. Emergency certification is a temporary permit that allows professionals who are not licensed educators to teach in public schools.

Provisional licensing allows you to start teaching in a classroom immediately while completing your teacher certification. For example, you can apply for a provisional teaching license while completing your preparatory teaching program or alternative certification program.

4. Transitioning From Other Careers

If you're thinking of a career transition to education, you must enroll in a teaching program for one to two years to get the certification. Once you complete the program, you can apply for your certification.

Maintaining and Renewing Teacher Certification

Teacher certifications in the United States are only credible for a set number of years. In most states, this is five years, meaning educators must renew their certification every five years. You must take continuing education classes or pursue an advanced degree to renew your license.

Continuing Education Requirements

Continuing education is specialized training and post-secondary coursework that improves your skills, knowledge, and competencies. US states require teaching professionals to do the following during each renewal period:

  • Complete a set number of clock hours of continuing professional education (CPE)
  • Earn a minimum number of continuing education units (CEUs)
  • And earn a certain number of continuing education credits (CECs)

Professional Development Opportunities

If you want to ensure your teacher certification remains valid, you must maintain the professional development standards of your state's Department of Education. Professional development opportunities and programs keep you up to speed with modern teaching methods while increasing the potential for a promotion or a bigger salary.

Professional development courses shouldn't be confused with continuing education courses. The former offers career growth and advancement opportunities, while the latter is essential in teacher certification renewal and furthering your professional knowledge.

Renewal Process and Deadlines

Six months before the expiration date of your certificate, you may receive an email reminder to renew your license. However, even if you don't receive the reminder, it's your duty to complete the renewal process, which entails the following:

  • Complete a continuing education program
  • Log onto your state's educator website and sign into your account
  • Navigate to the teacher certification renewal section
  • Follow the prompts to submit your online renewal application form
  • Pay associated fees

You're required to renew your certification during the last year of the certificate's validity period.

Upgrading To Advanced Certifications/Licenses

If you want to boost your hiring capabilities and increase your potential for a bigger salary, consider getting advanced teacher certifications and licenses. These equip you with specialized skills and knowledge that set you apart from other professionals. For example, an Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate or Visually Impaired Licensing.

Tips for Navigating the Certification Process

Here are some tips to help you navigate the teacher certification process:

  • Stay organized and track deadlines: Ensure you know and meet all the requirements for certification in your state and track deadlines to avoid missing necessary steps.
  • Prepare for required examinations: Read and revise appropriate material to ensure you get satisfactory grades on your exams. You can get books such as the Praxis Core 2023-2024 For Dummies to help you prepare for examinations.
  • Seek support from peers and mentors: Consult with other teachers or mentors in your profession and ask them for guidance and advice on navigating teacher certification.
  • Utilize available resources: This includes online forums and state education department websites to gain information about certification and the process.

Take that Next Step -- Become the Teacher You Aspire to Be!

excited young man raises fists in joy

Get teacher certification to boost your hiring capabilities and increase your salary potential

Understanding teacher certification requirements is crucial to meeting them and obtaining legal authorization to work as a teacher. If you are a prospective educator, this guide will help you understand teacher certification requirements and processes. Use it as a roadmap to obtain your teacher certification and start teaching in public classrooms.

You may already be on your journey to becoming a certified teacher. Or, perhaps you're in the early exploratory stages of becoming a teacher. provides you with the tools and resources to help you research various degree options and specific requirements and careers in education.

Go ahead and take that next step -- become the teacher you aspire to be!