What is a Teaching Credential?

Teacher certification and teaching credentials are not the same things. While you must have a current teacher certification in order to teach in a public school, certain subjects also require you to earn specific teaching credentials in addition to your certification.

A teaching credential is a type of certification; this is where the confusion originates for some. Teachers who are interested in working with specific populations, such as students requiring special education, or certain subjects, such as art or music, or at certain grade levels, such as high school, may need to earn a teaching credential either before beginning this type of teaching, or within a limited time period. Regardless of whether you took additional courses in order to specialize in a particular area or with a specific population while earning your education degree, you may still need to earn an additional credential.

Teaching credentials are issued at the state level. Like teacher certification, they may or may not be transferable through a reciprocity agreement. In addition, like teacher certification, teaching credentials from one state might be accepted by another, without the reverse holding true. Some states will accept teaching credentials from certain other states, but additionally impose other requirements. You might be allowed to begin teaching in your own classroom at your preferred grade level, with the population you are trained for, or in your area of specialized focus for a limited period of time, but required to demonstrate competency through observation, examination or by taking additional classes within a limited period of time.

National Teacher Certification

While obtaining national teacher certification is voluntary, many, if not most, teachers do so. As well, some states require national certification in order for a teacher to be considered fully qualified, and other states accept national certification instead of requiring teachers go through their specific state certification process. National teacher certification offers a number of benefits. Teachers who have been recognized as nationally certified can more easily transfer their teaching license from one state to another. Many school districts demonstrate their respect for national teacher certification through higher salaries and other exceptional benefits. Regardless of the fact that you've earned your education degree and graduated from your program, it's still a very good idea to go ahead and get national teacher certification as well. Learn more about certification here.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers national certification for public school teachers at grade levels of kindergarten through high school. There are prerequisites to obtaining a national teacher certification designation. Teachers must gather evidence of their classroom competency. Such evidence might include being observed by outside experts, successfully passing a written examination designed to assess the teacher's knowledge of content areas and range of teaching skills, and other types of evaluation.

There are seven distinct student age categories that contain 16 content areas. In all, 25 specific certificates are offered. Certificates can be content area- specific or generalist.

NBPTS organizes the seven age categories as Early Childhood; Middle Childhood; Early & Middle Childhood; Early Childhood through Young Adult; Early Adolescence; Adolescence & Young Adult; and Early Adolescence through Young Adult. Early Childhood includes ages 3-8; Middle Childhood is for teachers focusing on students ages 7-12. Early & Middle Childhood certification is for those working with students from age 3 to 12. Early Childhood through Young Adult covers the full age range, from ages 3 to 18 and older. Early Adolescence is defined as ages 11- 15. Adolescence & Young Adult refers to students from ages 14 to 18 and older. Early Adolescence through Young Adult includes students from 11 years of age to 18 and older.

The 16 subject areas are Art; Career and Technical Education; English as a New Language; English Language Arts; Exceptional Needs Specialist; Generalist; Health; Library Media; Mathematics; Music; Physical Education; School Counseling; Science; Social Studies/ History; and World Languages Other than English.

Teaching Certificate Endorsements

You may be qualified to teach one subject and decide you'd like to add another. Or perhaps you are transferring from one state to another that requires you have a separate teaching certificate endorsement for each middle or high school subject you would like to teach. Just because you've got an education degree, it doesn't necessarily mean you're qualified to teach any subject. So what is a teaching certificate endorsement and how can you get one?

A teaching certificate endorsement is a stamp of approval. With it, you are able to teach particular subjects at either a middle school or high school level. There are generally two paths that will lead to your destination. If you earned an undergraduate degree with a major in the subject you are interested in teaching, and if that degree came from an accredited college or university, there's a good chance you're already qualified for the teaching certificate endorsement you need.

Alternatively, if you don't have these classes, you may need to take one or a number of required classes and an examination to demonstrate your qualifications to teach that particular subject.

The classes you take can often be done online, in your own time, as long as the teaching certificate endorsement preparation program you have selected is accredited.

Because each state is different, you'll want to check to determine what is required in your state of residence or employment.

Alternative Route Teaching Certificate

Perhaps you are interested in a career change. You'd love to teach, but lack both a four- year education degree from an accredited college or university, and the time (and money) it would take to return to school in order to earn it. You'll want to take a look at alternative route teaching certificates—particularly if you have skills, work or life experience in areas of high educational demand.

With the exception of Oregon and Alaska, every state in the Union plus the District of Columbia has established one or more alternative route certification(s). There are currently over 135 alternative routes that are State approved or defined and just under 600 programs available to those interested in pursuing a non- traditional road to teaching. Alternative route teaching certifications have grown by leaps and bounds, from 285 certifications in 1985 to just under 60,000 new certifications in the most recently documented school year. Since its inception, alternative teaching certification has added over a half million teachers to the field; in fact, nearly a third of all new hires enter the field via this route.

As in other areas, each state controls its own standards in regard to alternate route certification. Before you pursue this path, be sure to review the Department of Education website information on alternative route teaching certification for your state.

California, Texas and New Jersey pioneered these programs in the mid 1980s; they continue to be among the most alternative route teaching certification- friendly states, with between 30 and 40 percent of their new teachers coming into teaching in this manner. Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and South Carolina are also seeing rapid growth in alternative route certifications.

Because of the wide diversity in programs and state requirements, the national Center for Alternative Certification began gathering information on requirements state- by- state in order to organize and classify it. Using this data, they have noted a number of characteristics shared by most alternative route teaching certification programs. They found that these programs, which are field- based, require candidates undergo a rigorous selection process that includes interviews, observations and testing. Most candidates already hold a bachelor's degree, but not in education. They demand evidence that candidates have reached a high level of excellence in order to receive certification.

Emergency Teaching Certificate

You may have heard the term ‘emergency teaching certificate' and wondered if you might qualify to teach if you had such a certificate, but were unsure what it is and how to get one.

An emergency teaching certificate is a type of alternative route teaching certification. Not all states offer this alternative. Emergency teaching certificates are a way for competent individuals to enter the field of teaching without an education degree or conventional teaching certificate while circumventing state licensing procedures and requirements. This type of certification is temporary, and was originally designed as an alternative way to supply classrooms with acceptable teachers in times of serious teacher shortages.

Emergency teaching certificates tend to be given in content areas of greatest need, such as special education, bilingual education, or math. Additionally, emergency teaching certificates are more likely to be granted to those who are willing to teach in what others might consider less desirable geographic areas, such as urban centers.

As with many other areas of education, each state controls its requirements for emergency teaching certification. Not all states offer this alternate route. In order to find out if the state in which you live or would like to work accepts this type of alternative certification, visit your state's Department of Education website.

Teacher Certification Authority and Procedures by States

Last Updated: 06/08/2014