Although there are some ways to teach without a certificate (such as an emergency teaching license or unlicensed overseas teaching), getting certified is the only sure way to get a good teaching job within the US and enjoy a long teaching career. If you’re serious about K-12 teaching and actually want to teach in your home country, home state, or hometown, a license is pretty much a necessity. Here is what you need to know about this important first step to becoming a teacher.
Teaching certificates are granted only by state governments
Many teacher training programs offer certifications in certain educational fields, such as a certification in online education or a TESOL certification. These certifications are not the same as teaching certificates unless the coursework makes you eligible to apply for a teaching certificate through a state government’s department of education. If you’re not sure whether a training program actually facilitates state licensure, contact the school that hosts the program or the state licensing board where you plan to teach.
You can get a teaching certificate in a variety of ways
Teaching certificates can be obtained through traditional university courses, online study, or alternative certification programs where teachers earn their certification as they teach. In rare instances, it may also be possible to get certified for a teaching license based on equivalency. Equivalency-based licensure is granted in some states if the applicant can prove that they have experience and knowledge equivalent to completion of a standard teacher-training program. (For examples of these kinds of programs, see Wisconsin’s Licensure Based on Equivalency Handbook or the first page from the state of Connecticut’s Obtaining Connecticut Educator Certification booklet.)
Any path to a teaching certificate will require full-time classroom experience
No matter what path you take to certification, you’ll need at least some full-time teaching experience. Most university-based teacher certification programs require at least four months of full-time student teaching, unpaid work that is similar to that of a full-time salaried teacher. Alternative certification programs usually require 1-3 years of full-time teaching along with supplemental training before a state teaching certificate is granted. And certifications based on equivalency are awarded only to individuals who can demonstrate substantial prior experience teaching children full-time—generally two years’ worth of this experience.
A teaching certificate from one state does not necessarily transfer to another
If you get your teaching certificate in one state and then want to move to another state for a new teaching job, your license may or may not easily transfer to the next state. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states and teachers can move freely between states that have these kinds of pacts. Other states may conditionally accept a certified teacher form out-of-state, but ask that teacher to take an extra certification exam or additional classes in their first year or two of teaching in their new state. In extreme cases, a state may not accept a certification from another state until after the out-of-state teacher has completed additional training and/or taken state-specific teacher certification exams.
State regulations for hiring certified teachers form other states can be complicated, can vary depending on the subject, and often undergo policy changes. For accurate, up-to-date regulations about relocating with a teaching certificate, always directly contact the department of education in the state you hope to relocate to.
Not all teaching certificates are created equal
Some teaching certifications are more widely accepted by employers and more transferable to new states than others. University-based degrees and post baccalaureate certifications are the most universally accepted ways of getting a certificate. Alternative certification and equivalency-based licensure open fewer doors; such credentials may not be accepted by more prestigious schools or school districts, and it’s near-impossible to transfer such a license from one state to another.
Getting a teaching certificate through a traditional university program is the most popular way to go, and it will open up the most doors for a teacher in the long run. However online university certifications are almost as widely accepted as traditional ones. And alternative certification and equivalency—based licensure can work quite well for teachers who have their heart set on teaching only in the specific state or school system that accepts their certificate. And of course, it’s always possible to go back for additional schooling after getting an alternative or equivalent certificate.
The best way to choose your path to licensure is to find the way that works best for you. Regardless of your choice, be prepared for some time consuming full-time fieldwork, unless you’ve already completed two years of full-time teaching prior to certification.