State Teaching Certification Requirements Across the U.S.
by Seth Sosebee
Do you want to become a teacher? The requirements to receive your teacher certification differ depending on the state where you work. There are also several different paths to becoming a teacher. No matter which you pursue, the first step is to check with your state's department of education to understand the specific requirements where you live.
1. How to get a teaching certificate
In the U.S., the only universal requirement for teaching is that applicants must obtain a certificate from the state. Teaching certificates are renewed every five years. The boards of education in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia require teachers to hold a bachelor's degree and to complete a student teaching internship.
States also require teachers to pass content-specific examinations in the subject educators will teach. The majority of teachers obtain their degree and complete their internship as part of a college or university program. Take a look at this map for details on how to get a teaching certificate in each state.
2. Teaching certificate reciprocity
Not everyone goes straight from undergraduate into a teaching program. For example, my circuitous route to the classroom included a bachelor's degree in religious studies and four years working outside of the teaching field. Then, I earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree at The Citadel Military College of South Carolina.
For prospective teachers who do not have education training, this route had a financial perk, as states typically pay teachers with graduate degrees slightly more. I intended to teach in North Carolina and was fortunate that South Carolina and North Carolina have reciprocity between their teacher certificate requirements. Otherwise, there would have been additional steps because each state has different requirements.
This chart has a helpful breakdown of which states allow reciprocity and other state teaching certification information.
Whether you're changing careers or heading straight from a teaching program into the classroom, highlight your education, certificates and credentials when writing your teacher cover letter (which you can get help with via our Cover Letter Templates). Your perspective and experience can make you an invaluable addition to a school district.
3. Alternative Teacher Certifications
Many states, like North Carolina, offer opportunities of "lateral entry" into the field. This alternative teacher certification approach gives candidates who meet certain standards an opportunity to teach for a probationary period. During that time, they complete certification requirements like continuing their education by taking college classes. Options like this may be attractive to those who do not yet hold a bachelor's degree, since they can complete their degree while earning an income.
The barrier-to-entry for becoming a teacher through alternative means is passing content area and pedagogical exams. In all but four states, teachers must pass Praxis exams that test their content proficiency before they can be employed in a classroom. For example, as a high school social studies teaching entrant, I was required by the state of South Carolina to pass the Praxis II: Social Studies Content Knowledge examination.
4. Becoming a teacher through Teach for America
Teach for America is a competitive program aimed at recent college graduates who want to work in underserved communities in need of teachers. The program's goal is to inject the idealism of graduates from the nation's top colleges into areas with low-performing schools. That said, there are no age-limits for applicants.
The Corps members, as they are called in Teach for America, receive a five-week crash-course in basic teacher training before becoming a classroom teacher on a two-year commitment. Typically, this instruction includes classes, an introduction to their region and in-classroom experience gained by teaching summer school.
Corps members serve their two-year commitment in the area where they work. Once their TFA term is over, Corps members take a number of different paths, including teaching, education and many other fields. Issues of reciprocity are still in play for those who complete the program, so TFA alums may still need to complete additional competency tests in order to be able to earn a state teaching certification somewhere else.
Your teaching application
For each path to becoming a teacher, developing a well-written cover letter and well-organized resume are vital if you want to stand out. Creating a teacher portfolio is also helpful when you're applying and interviewing for positions. Your portfolio can include copies of:
- Letters of recommendation
- Your teaching resume
- Teaching certificate (if you have one)
- Teaching philosophy
- Evidence of your student teaching
- Other related materials that might demonstrate your teaching talent