Ashley Wilson
Posted August 15, 2021

Want to become a teacher?

Read about what teacher certification involves and how to become a certified teacher. Plus, learn where you can find open teaching positions near you.
Ashley Wilson
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Working as a teacher can be rewarding. It’s truly a meaningful career, as you’re directly involved in shaping future generations. In fact, a 2019 survey found that 90% of teachers were satisfied with their jobs.

If you have a passion for teaching and love to work with kids, you may be considering getting your teaching certificate.

Let’s take a look at how you can get a teaching certificate, how long it takes, and ways to get hired quickly.

What is teacher certification?

Before you can work as a teacher in the U.S., you must get certified in the state that you’ll be teaching in. This process is referred to as teacher certification — at the end of it, you’ll receive a certificate and become a teacher.

There are standard requirements across all states. All teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and complete a state-approved program that prepares teachers for the classroom. Meeting these requirements grants you eligibility for certification.

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Official licensure programs are provided at colleges and universities, either in a two-year post-baccalaureate program or as a four-year degree.

Depending on the state and school district, there may be additional requirements. You may need practical experience, and most states also require a background check.

If you wish to work in specialized subjects like special education or counseling, you often need a master’s degree on top of your bachelor’s.

How certification works

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can get certified and start teaching.

Traditional teaching certification

As mentioned above, each state sets its own requirements that you must meet through a teacher certification program. This ensures that all teachers are adequately prepared to teach in a classroom.

The first step to attaining a traditional teaching certification is to get a bachelor’s degree. You should choose your major based on what you want to teach.

You must also complete a teacher preparation program. This can be done while working toward a bachelor’s degree or after the fact.

Certification programs also require practical experience. The duration varies depending on your state, but it’s generally around 15 weeks.

You’ll then complete your state’s required certification exams, which include one or more Praxis tests.

Successful completion of your exams permits you to apply to your state’s department of education for your teaching certificate.

Alternative teaching certification

Most states have alternative teaching certification methods in place to get more qualified individuals in teaching roles.

There are many routes you can take depending on the state you live in. For the most part, alternative routes to licensure are university-based and are designed for prospective teachers who have a bachelor’s degree.

You can also find master’s degree programs that prepare students to become certified. While doing your coursework, you may be able to apply for a provisional teaching certificate.

This lets you teach while completing your coursework. Your state’s board of education will have more information on eligibility. Afterward, you’ll be required to complete your state’s required exams. Once completed, you can apply for certification.

National board certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification is both an alternative route to teaching certification as well as a voluntary certification for those looking for professional development.

It involves an in-depth, peer-reviewed certification process that qualifies you as a teacher.

Through the process, you must prove that you have strong knowledge in the content area, can design a teaching experience, and are able to build relationships with colleagues, students, and parents.

In some states, this continuing education experience can qualify you to earn a higher salary.

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Teaching without certification

While certification is recommended, some opportunities are available for you to teach without a certification. While they can lead to a lifelong teaching career, it’s best to consider them as stepping stones toward certification through the NBPTS or other methods listed above.

You could land a role as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide. There are some requirements (you will usually need a college degree), but certification is not required.

Another option is to apply to teach overseas. There are many opportunities for prospective teachers to teach English abroad. You’ll get a lot of experience doing this, and it can prepare you for certification.

Lastly, you could find a teaching job at a school that doesn’t receive government funding. They are not required to meet the same requirements as public schools.

How to get your teacher certification

This step-by-step guide will help you get your teacher certification.

1. Choose the subject area and grade level you want to teach

The first step is to choose a subject area and grade level that you want to teach. Elementary school teachers have different course requirements than high school teachers.

This is especially important if you know you want to teach specialty programs like special education, which have different requirements.

2. Find the best program for you

When you’ve decided what you want to teach, the next step is finding a program.

Most teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree and certification. Look into programs in your state and decide what’s best for you. Programs vary in cost, so do your due diligence and look into all of them.

3. Complete tests to get accepted

These are a variety of tests you may need to complete to get certified or earn your license.

You’ll likely have to complete a basic test of reading, writing, and math. The test will depend on your state, but many use the Praxis test, while others accept ACT or SAT scores.

You’ll also complete a subject-matter test sometime before or during your teaching program. Check your program to see if it requires the test to be done beforehand.

Lastly, all teaching positions require you to complete a background check.

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4. Ensure you’re completing the necessary coursework to get certified in your state

Certain states have unique requirements to get certified.

For example, Alaska requires all teachers to complete coursework in Alaskan history and multicultural studies, while California requires teachers to pass a test on the U.S. constitution.

5. Apply for a license

At this point, you can send documentation to your state’s department of education to get your license.

6. Get your National Board Certification after teaching for three years

Once you have some experience under your belt, you can consider getting your National Board Certification. It’s an optional but advanced certification that could lead to more opportunities and a higher salary.

How long does it take to become a teacher in the U.S.?

The length it takes to become a certified teacher depends on the route you take.

If you go straight into a bachelor’s of education program after high school, you can usually start teaching in four to five years. This is assuming the program you take is a certified teaching program.

There are accelerated programs offered at certain schools, but this is situational and varies across schools.

If you’re looking into teaching after earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be looking at around two years of school and training before becoming a teacher. You must complete a teacher’s education program plus get student teaching experience.

What are the easiest states to become a teacher?

We’ve spoken a lot about different state requirements. Many states have reduced requirements to become a certified teacher due to a decrease in enrollment in teacher preparation programs.

Arizona allows people with any higher-education degree, experience in the subject matter, and teaching experience to become certified. There is no mandatory teacher preparation program.

Prospective teachers in Kansas only need a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience. If you’ve worked as a teacher’s aide or have any other experience teaching, you could land a job quite easily.

In Utah, if you’ve done at least one year of college classes and have any experience teaching, you can get certified.

Teaching jobs hiring right now

There are thousands of teaching jobs hiring in the U.S. Let’s take a look at some open positions to help you begin your job search.

Teacher

There are many general teaching positions available across the country. If you’re certified in one state, it’s often easy to acquire certification in other states.

Teachers willing to work in different states have more opportunities available to them.

Find general teaching jobs on Jobcase.

Teacher’s aide

If you aren’t certified but want to get your foot in the door, look for a teacher’s aide position.

These jobs don’t require certification and can be a great way to get practical experience before applying for certifications. It also helps you network — when the time comes to find a job, the schools you’ve worked at could have an open position for you.

Find teacher’s aide jobs on Jobcase.

Substitute teacher

Many states hire substitute teachers year-round, and you often don’t need to be certified.

Substitute teaching can be a good way to determine whether you want to teach full-time. It’s also an opportunity to get experience in the field. In fact, many programs allow you to teach as a substitute while you’re in school.

Find substitute teacher jobs on Jobcase.

Preschool teacher

Preschool teachers tend to make less money than other teachers, and the growth rate is a bit slower. However, if you enjoy teaching younger children, it may be the perfect choice for you.

Find preschool teacher jobs on Jobcase.

Kindergarten teacher

Teaching kindergarten-aged children gives educators a chance to shape the future generation.

Find kindergarten teacher jobs on Jobcase.

Elementary school teacher

Elementary school teachers get a chance to teach all subjects, as they don’t specialize in one area.

Find elementary school teacher jobs on Jobcase.

Middle school teacher

Middle school teachers will teach more complex concepts than elementary school teachers. They can teach a variety of subjects, such as science or art.

You will also have a lot of opportunities for growth in this position.

Find middle school teacher jobs on Jobcase.

High school teacher

High school teachers are more specialized than elementary and middle school teachers. They tend to teach only one or two subjects each, such as English, math, or history.

Find high school teacher jobs on Jobcase.

Head Start teacher

Head Start teachers work with pre-K students from low-income families. It’s a fulfilling experience that allows you to work with young children and make a difference in your community.

Find Head Start teacher jobs on Jobcase.

Find your dream teaching job

If you’re looking to get a job as an educator, you should plan on getting a teaching certificate.

The path to becoming a teacher looks different for everyone. Depending on your educational background, the state you live in, and what you want to teach, you’ll be able to get certified in two to five years.

Teaching is a rewarding career with excellent growth opportunities. There are plenty of positions available as well as opportunities for advancement.

You can find more tips for job seekers looking to get hired by visiting our Getting Hired Resource Center.

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Ashley Wilson
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Jose Pena

This is really good advice. All I can say is that you need to try and get whatever experience you can get, whether it is substitute teaching or working as a teacher aide.

If you want to become a teacher, try to get certified right away. The longer it takes for you to get certified you will lose opportunities to teach. But be careful with the schools you choose to work at.

Keep in mind that you may have to work at a school that needs teachers just to gain experience.

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