What Is a Teaching Credential?

How to Become a Certified Teacher

There are teaching shortages all over the country, but what does it take to become a teacher? Can anyone become a teacher easily?

All teachers at public schools in the United States are required to have certain teaching credentials, known as teacher certification. The requirements for teacher certification vary from state to state but usually require at least a bachelor’s degree. Here’s a closer look at how to become a certified teacher.

Learn What the Certification Rules Are for Your State

Because of the teacher shortfall in the United States, many states have made it easier for people to become teachers. In certain states, you can have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than education and gain “emergency teacher certification.” This “emergency certification” or “provisional certification” usually lasts for only one or two years; during this time, you are expected to enroll in a state-recognized teacher certification program. Because these emergency certifications are usually offered only to people who already have a bachelor’s degree, many of these state-certified programs are master’s degree programs. However, there are also sometimes teacher certificate programs that people with bachelor’s degrees can enter that give them full certification without an additional degree; more information about this process can be found below.

The more typical process by which teachers gain certification is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in education and then pass state teacher certification exams.

Taking the Praxis Exam

Nearly all states have some sort of certification exam to demonstrate that teaching candidates possess the basic academic skills necessary to teaching others. The most common set of exams, recognized in more than 40 states, is called the Praxis Series.

The Praxis I is also known as the Pre-Professional Skills Test. This Praxis exam is typically taken before a prospective teacher enters an education degree program. The Praxis I proves that the future teacher has the skills necessary to take and pass college-level or graduate-level coursework. The exam tests teachers in basic reading, writing and math. Although most of the test is multiple choice, there is also an essay component to test the teacher’s writing skills.

The Praxis II exam is taken after the future teacher completes his or her coursework but before he or she becomes a fully certified teacher. The Praxis II is designed to test a future teacher’s knowledge of his or her specific subject area. For example, a teacher who wants to become a high school English teacher will take a Praxis exam that specifically tests his or her knowledge of English and literature.

In some states, the Praxis II is taken before a teacher candidate is allowed to train as a student teacher. In other states, the Praxis II is taken after student teaching has been completed.

The Praxis III is a unique exam that usually occurs during the first year of teaching. This “test” is not the type that is taken via computer or with paper and pencil. Instead, a trained assessor observes the new teacher as he or she gives a lesson. The assessor also interviews the teacher both before and after the observed lesson and provides the new teacher with feedback.

Not all states use the Praxis Series. Some states require teachers to pass their own, state-specific teacher certification exams. The 19 states that require state-specific exams may or may not also require teachers to pass some portion of the Praxis.

States That Require Advanced Degrees

In the majority of states, earning a bachelor’s degree in education and passing the certification exams mentioned above are sufficient to pursue a teaching career. In some states, however, teachers are required to hold a master’s degree in education in order to have a long-term career as a teacher. Teachers who enter the field without a master’s degree have five years to complete the master’s or face termination.

States that have these stringent requirements for teachers include Ohio, Massachusetts and New York. The state of Minnesota does not specifically require a master’s degree in education, but the state’s continuing education policy for teachers is so thorough that most teachers in the state end up getting their master’s degree anyway.

Alternative Routes to Becoming a Teacher

Almost all states have some sort of alternative route to certification; in fact, as of 2010, 48 states plus the District of Columbia had some sort of alternative route to certification. As previously mentioned, many states face serious shortfalls of qualified teachers. For this reason, states have devised creative ways to allow individuals with college degrees ways to enter the teaching field with greater ease. In the state of New Jersey, for example, nearly a third of new teachers are individuals who are changing careers and taking advantage of the alternative route to certification.

In many of these alternative routes to certification programs, individuals can enter a classroom immediately as a full-time teacher as long as they are going to school at night or on weekends to fulfill their education requirements. In these types of programs, individuals teach a subject in which they already have a degree. For example, someone with a degree in biology could begin teaching immediately as long as the subject was biology.

The majority of these alternative routes to certification take only one to two years to complete. Individuals who have completed these programs often report that they are very intense; after all, the certification candidate is teaching full-time despite never receiving previous training as a teacher and is expected to keep up with coursework at the same time. As such, these alternative routes to certification often have a relatively high dropout rate.

Summary: Becoming a Teacher is Within Reach

Whether you choose to pursue teaching credentials in the traditional manner or you follow one of the alternative routes to certification provided by your state, be sure that you clearly understand the requirements for teaching certification before you begin the process of becoming a teacher. Once you understand what the process is, you will realize that gaining certification is not nearly as hard as you might have previously imagined; with hard work and a willingness to learn, nearly anyone can become a qualified teacher.