How To Get a Teacher Certification or Degree

Congratulations on your decision to become a teacher. It's a very rewarding profession that needs dedicated and passionate individuals like you. Now that you have decided to become a teacher, you need to get a certification or degree.

Check with your state board of education. Every state has different rules on how to become a teacher. Some require an education degree, while others will accept people who have taken some education classes or have a degree in other fields. Every state's board of education has a website that lists the requirements required for a degree or certification. Most states have a minimum requirement of a  degree plus the necessary credentials. Basically, you will be taking several steps toward your degree and the start of your career:

  • Teacher Education Program – This is a college or university degree program that takes four years to complete. Once finished you will have a bachelor’s degree in education.
  • Teacher Credential – Having completed an education degree program, there may be subsequent testing or steps to acquire your teaching credentials. These are the credentials (a license, effectively) granted to you by the state in which you wish to teach, once you have met their requirements.
  • National Teacher Certification – Additionally, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a certification to those who will be teaching kindergarten through 12th grade. This is not required, but most schools will offer higher pay or other incentives to those who earn this certificate.

Teacher with studentsTeachers from another country need to complete an education program in the United States. Teaching licenses that are issued by another country are typically not accepted in U.S. school districts. However, your state may allow for a temporary certificate while you complete your courses. Check with your state board of education for the rules in your area.

To find the path to a degree that is best suited for your current needs and situation, you will want to consider a few options, then pursue the appropriate program:

  • Look for an alternative licensing option. Many states offer alternative licensing options to help you switch from your current career into education. The alternative licensing route may not require you to have a degree in education, but instead help you make the transition from a four-year degree in a subject area that is short on teachers. Check with your state board of education to see if such programs exist in your area.
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  • Enroll in a degree program for teachers. Accredited colleges of education know the requirements for certification in every state. When you find the right degree program at the college of your choice, spend time going over those requirements with your faculty adviser to make sure you are on the right track.
  • Take classes to fulfill the requirements. While taking education courses will be on the top of your list, be sure to take the other classes that might be needed in becoming a teacher. With the No Child Left Behind Act in place, many states now require secondary level educators to take classes in the subjects they wish to teach at a junior high or high school level. While taking the education classes will get you a degree, it may not be enough to get you a position.
  • Student teaching. Student teaching is necessary to fulfill the requirements needed for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This is a period when the student teaches a class of pupils under the supervision of a certified teacher as well as under the watch of the university. This intern experience will take approximately the same amount of time as a semester of school. This cannot be completed until you are near the end of your program.

After getting your degree, you will want to make sure you have met all of the requirements to teach in the school and instructional area of your choice:

  • Find out if a basic skills test is required. Some states require students to take a Praxis test or a different basic skills test in order to become fully certified. If your state does require this test you can take prep classes or get workbooks and guides at your local bookstore to help you study. There are also online resources for those tests, including online classes, and practice tests to prepare you for the real thing.
  • Endorsements. An endorsement indicates the grade level or teaching area in which the teacher is able to work, having completed the necessary coursework. An endorsement can also be added to a teacher’s certificate by the state or school district if a school has a certain need and the candidate is deemed suitable. Teachers that choose to educate children in ESOL (English as a Second Language) or other special education programs will also need endorsements. Classes are offered both through traditional colleges and online universities.
  • Check requirements in other states, too. If you are thinking about moving after graduation to find the perfect position, you may want to consider checking out the other states' board of education websites for their requirements. Otherwise, you may have problems switching your certification to a different state if you have not met all of its requirements.


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