Preparation for Teaching Certification

There are various paths one can take in order to prepare for teaching certification. Now more than at any time in history, teachers come from any walk of life; if they want to teach America’s youth, there is a way for them to make it into a classroom.

These days more and more people are beginning their teaching careers in the middle of their lives, whereas previously, teaching certifications were usually given to people who were either in their early twenties or over fifty.

  • Undergraduate Degree
    Having an undergraduate degree with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 is the system standard. Other required factors will vary depending on the program. In some cases, a test such as the Praxis II must be taken before being certified; in others, interviews will take priority. Each program has its own system and set of criteria it looks for in the teachers it recruits, so it is best to research each program of interest individually.
  • Work Experience
    The other major step toward becoming a "teacher of record" (one who has sole responsibility for a classroom) is to have a number of years of professional experience in a field related to the subject one wants to teach. Work experience alone is most accepted in fields with a teaching shortage, such as mathematics. Some programs, such as the city of Milwaukee’s, recruit paraprofessionals who can adapt the skills and expertise learned in the business world to the rigors of the classroom.

There are many different theories regarding what makes an effective teacher, and the U.S. is currently using many resources on programs that attempt to answer this question. Now is a time in education when determination and desire to learn and effect change mean more in the teacher education process. States, districts, and schools are all looking for a different teacher profile.

Requirements for Teaching Certification

Undergraduate or Graduate Degree
There are different ways of preparing for teaching certification. Typically, in order to become certified to teach, regardless of state, an individual is required to have an undergraduate degree. In more traditional programs, which are sponsored by colleges and universities, the degree is a component of the training itself, and course study includes classes specifically designed to address various aspects of teaching. These programs can also incorporate a one- or two-year master’s degree into the certification process.

Though there are exceptions to this general rule, anyone who wishes to teach in the liberal arts will gain the most by entering these college- and university-led programs simply because there these fields are more saturated than are the fields of mathematics, the sciences, and special education.

Alternate-Route Programs
Teacher shortages, historically, resulted in “emergency certifications,” which were given on a temporary basis in order to bring teachers to the classroom in as short a time as possible. Teachers with emergency licenses were seen as quick fixes to the unpredictability of teacher supply and demand. The emergency programs they went through were designed with speed of certification being the main concern.

Preparation for Teaching Certification

More recently, states have begun to address teacher shortages with early-entry programs. While these still whisk prospective teachers through the certification process, they have adapted in order to provide more comprehensive, hands-on training throughout the teacher education process; in some cases, teachers in these programs outperform graduates of the traditional programs.

These alternate-route programs, which can provide the education necessary for classroom entrance over a single summer session, have sprung up in every state in the U.S. While each program is affected by state regulations for licensing, many have come from a history of being exceptions to the rule and can provide teacher certification without some of the more typical requirements. For instance, there are some programs that do not require a college degree for entry or for graduation.

Some alternate-route programs that do not require undergraduate degrees of their recruits target professionals in the workplace who do not have an undergraduate degree, but rather have some amount of experience in the business world. These programs typically look for potential teachers of mathematics, special education, and sciences, though there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. Each of these programs is different regarding the kind of education provided to teachers. They, however, typically provide an intensive, short teacher education course. They then place teachers in the classroom, either under a teacher mentor or as a teacher of record. More guidance is usually given as the individual teaches.

State Board of Education Requirements

The state board of education (or equivalent body) in a state does not have much to say in terms of hiring practices, but boards do have typical requirements for .

If you're preparing for teaching certification, you may want to check with your state for their particular requirements, but almost all states will require the following:

State ID/driver’s license. Many states require that their teachers be residents of the state. There are, however, usually ways around this rule. For instance, many states accept transfers from other states and will even accept certification credentials from a select list of other states whose teacher education regulations approximate their own.

In-state certification test(s). All states have their own test or series of tests that certify an academic understanding of teaching a particular subject, teaching to a particular age group, and teaching in general. There are exceptions to this requirement. For instance, it is possible to transfer between states passing grades on tests if the state tests are similar in the areas of knowledge and expertise.

Certification program. State boards require teachers to have completed a state-approved certification program. This requirement, too, can transfer between states.

Note: While many states will accept some of the above credentials from others, it is rare to find states that are agreeable in all of these categories. It is likely that at least some of these requirements will need to be repeated in order to transfer states.

  • Public School Requirements
    Criteria for public schools differ based on district and state, but all public schools require teacher certification. In addition, public schools will often hire from a select number of programs in the state. Therefore, if you wish to teach at a particular school, it is recommended that you research the certification programs from which the school typically hires.
  • Private School Requirements
    Each private school has its own rules and practices. Some private schools require teacher certification, but not all do. Typically, private schools are more flexible regarding certification, and they will weigh a number of other factors against the certification requirement. A work history that employs the skills a teacher uses in the classroom, for example, can go a long way toward enticing a private school, whereas the certification is a definitive bottom line for public schools.

It is still wise to obtain a teaching certification, even if you intend to teach in private school. Certifications do carry professional weight, in terms of job flexibility, chance for promotions, and peer perception.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014

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