A teaching certificate signifies you are on the path to becoming an elementary teacher, and that you can teach elementary students any subject, often from kindergarten through 8th grade. Obtaining – and maintaining – it is a critical task.
A few teacher certificate facts:
- Teacher certificates are issued by the state in which you have earned your teaching degree.
- Your college or university will usually facilitate the initial issuance of the certificate by advising you how to comply, or actually handling the paperwork for you.
- Some states have reciprocal agreements with other states, allowing you to transfer your credentials. This eases the transition to becoming an elementary teacher if you move.
In many states, certification is “graduated.” This means that after becoming an elementary teacher, your initial (or “residency”) certificate must be validated by earning extra credits or fulfilling other requirements, often within five years of obtaining full-time employment. Your state department of education website will provide details (see below).
No matter how you achieve your professional certification, you may have to re-certify at some point in the future.
One more teacher certification thing to consider: If you focus on certain classes during college, usually taking extra credits, you may be qualified for an endorsement to your teaching certificate. Reading and math endorsements are two of the most common.
Never forget what you are being certified to teach
A common certification will enable you to teach kindergarten through 8th grade. That means that your state has qualified you to teach counting to 100 to kindergartners this year and pre-algebra to 8th graders next year. Sounds a little scary, right?
Honestly, that kind of movement between grades is not common, but here's the main point: Many teachers quickly lose their comfort level and willingness to teach very far outside their current grade. Don't be one of those teachers!
Be willing to stretch yourself to remain flexible; you never know when you may be called upon to put that flexible attitude to the test!
Teaching certificate requirements in your state
Regardless of the teaching or classroom role that you decide to pursue, your process should begin with a review of state requirements for teaching, available on this handy certification map or on each state's Department of Education website. Compare the requirements of the different states where you are considering becoming a teacher.
Now narrow it down further if you know in which city or town you hope to teach. Like any profession, supply and demand dictate the availability of teaching jobs and if the jobs are scarce, sometimes the barriers to entry are higher.
For example, in some districts with a lot of competition, nearly all applicants may need a Masters of Education to even be considered for an elementary teaching position. These are good questions to ask a local teacher (hint: use any contact you can to find one you can talk to!).
What if you already have a professional degree besides a teaching degree? You may be able to just obtain a certification and be ready to become a teacher. Your state guidelines will explain if this is possible.
Video: Teaching jobs as second careers
Now that you are well-armed with background information on teacher requirements for your chosen states and districts where you may potentially work, it is time to look into teaching colleges. Fortunately, you have a wide variety of choices.
Aside from the fact that a majority of colleges offer education degrees, you also have online sources for accredited teaching degrees.
Ask those tough questions:
- How do they handle student teaching practicums (a very critical developmental step)?
- Do they provide any post-graduation teacher placement programs?
- Can they outline the percentage of graduates who go on to become full-time teachers?
- Can they provide references (recent graduates) who you can question?
College degrees are a big investment and it pays to fully understand the value that you will earn from that investment.
Speaking of money, don't overlook opportunities to pay off student loans by working in remote or challenging teaching jobs for a few years. Some states offer this opportunity, as well as the Federal Government for certain types of education loans. Check out a state's Department of Education website for local or regional opportunities.