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Requirements for K-12 teachers vary by state. Here's what you need to know about the degrees, exams, and practical training required to become a licensed teacher where you live.
Across the U.S., individual states have unique requirements for how to become a certified teacher. Still, some basic qualifications exist, regardless of location. Teaching requirements by state differ depending on:
Grade level (elementary, middle, high school)
Subject matter (English, science, mathematics, social studies)
Specializations (special education)
To secure a job, teachers traditionally need to complete college coursework, take a certification exam, and provide references and comparable documentation. To locate the appropriate degree, major, and additional certifications, check out the resources on this page.
Teaching Qualifications by State
We have prepared a map to help you learn more about teaching requirements in each U.S. state. To find out more about requisite teaching qualifications by state, hover or click on each location.
This map gives you access to each state's teaching qualification requirements with guidance, resources, and direct website links to advance your career. With just a few clicks of your mouse, you can find out everything you need to know about becoming a licensed teacher in your state — whether or not you already have a degree in education.
Discover each state's qualifications and requirements for K-12 teacher certification by selecting a state above.
Overview of State Requirements for Teacher Certification or Licensure
The table below includes information about K-12 teaching requirements for first-time licensure. Many states differ in specifics, but all states require licensed teachers to earn at least a bachelor's degree.
Some states mandate the type of degree a teacher holds, specific coursework, and the amount of practical experience completed. Students may need a degree in education from a state-approved institution. Learners who do not meet these requirements may have options to complete a supplemental sanctioned teacher-preparation program.
Numerous states mandate that K-12 teachers complete basic skills exams as part of the licensure process. Basic skills exams confirm that an aspiring teacher meets a baseline level of competence in reading, writing, and mathematics. States may require would-be teachers to complete an exam developed by an internal body or by an organization like the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Check out the table below to find out more.
Subject area tests, much like basic skills exams, are designed by state regulatory bodies or by ETS. ETS alone offers more than 90 subject assessments. These exams assess teaching skills applicable to different subjects and grade levels.
Individuals who want to teach specific subjects like science, language, or physical education may need to complete subject area competence exams. Hawaii and Rhode Island, for example, require all early education teachers to complete subject area competence exams.
Because states regularly change licensure requirements with the passage of new legislation, applicants should check often to make sure they meet all of the qualifications.
As seen with the map and the table above, K-12 teacher qualification requirements vary by state. However, one consistent requirement is a bachelor's degree.
While many states mandate teachers have a degree in education or a specific subject area, individuals with a bachelor's in any subject can become a teacher by taking additional steps: completing a teacher preparation program, student teaching, and competency exams.
When applying for initial teacher certification, students submit required documentation to the appropriate state agency. Applicants should research possibilities for reciprocity and details about the length of licensure and renewal processes.
1. Earn a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited program.
Additional areas of study include curriculum and design, instructional technology, and education administration. These are commonly found at the graduate level. Even without a master's degree in one of these areas, holding a graduate degree in any area can serve as a springboard for career advancement when accompanied by teaching credentials.
Secondary education teachers should also consider earning a degree in the subject they seek to teach. Science teachers, for example, can earn a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or physics while completing requisite education coursework. Another option for secondary teachers is a master's degree in education with a specialization in a specific subject.
2. Complete student teaching requirements.
Student teaching places aspiring teachers in a classroom to apply what they have learned. Individuals immerse themselves in a school setting, working with teachers and students alike. Aspiring elementary school teachers spend their days in an elementary classroom, while future science teachers work in a science class at the secondary or high school level.
Student teachers develop lesson plans, instruct learners, and create assessments under the supervision of a K-12 teacher and program mentor. Student teaching requirements generally span one semester, with the prospective teacher working full time in their assigned classroom.
3. Pass your state's required exam for teacher certification or licensure.
If your state requires an exam for teacher certification or licensure, determine when you can take it.
The Praxis® Core Academic Skills for Educators is offered at thousands of testing centers around the U.S., with additional options to complete it at home. Similarly, students who need to take Praxis® Subject Assessments in areas such as early childhood, elementary, and secondary education can do so at approved testing centers or at home. Each exam consists of objective response questions and essay sections.
4. Apply for teacher certification or licensure in your state.
To apply for teacher certification or licensure in your state, determine the required documentation. At minimum, most states need a completed application form, college transcripts, and a copy of requisite exam scores.
Additional requirements may include evidence of first aid and CPR training, a recommendation form, fingerprint and background check waivers, and a copy of your driver's license. Applying for certification or licensure is also accompanied by a fee.
5. Apply for teaching jobs.
As you look for teaching jobs, gather letters of recommendation, references, a resume, and examples of your classroom experience. Having a portfolio to supplement teaching demonstrations at interviews provides insight into your teaching process and presentation.
Finding the right job requires networking and research. Reaching out to colleagues, getting guidance from mentors, and browsing job resources provided by professional organizations can lead you to open positions. Learning about specific school districts and schools demographics, performance, and funding also helps you understand more about what your future position could entail.
6. Earn (voluntary) National Board certification.
Earning additional certifications can advance your teaching career. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certifies teachers who have at least three years of professional experience, a valid teaching license, and a bachelor's degree.
Becoming a National Board Certified teacher requires applicants to complete a content-area assessment and submit three portfolio entries. The NBPTS awards certification in 25 content areas. Certification through the NBPTS demonstrates teaching excellence and boosts earning potential for practicing teachers.
7. Renew your teaching license and pursue continuing education.
The length of a teaching certificate varies by state, but when it comes time to renew, teachers should understand what they need to do. To reapply, teachers submit portfolios documenting their work and pay a renewal fee by the designated deadline.
In anticipation of renewal, teachers should complete continuing education and professional development hours. Many of these requirements may be met through online training and workshops, at conferences, or as part of community service and engagement.
Teacher Certification Reciprocity
Teacher certification reciprocity involves one state honoring teaching credentials issued by another state. The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education Interstate Agreement serves as a repository of information about which states honor credentials from others. However, the information provided does not indicate reciprocity.
Full reciprocity means the teacher certification transfers over with no issue or additional requirements. While individual states may honor teaching credentials issued elsewhere as a temporary placeholder, the teacher may need to reapply for certification in their new state.
Partial reciprocity comes with additional jurisdiction specific requirements. Teachers may need to complete additional coursework and assessments alongside the credentials accepted through reciprocity.
Contact the licensing agency in the state where you want to teach to find out more about interstate reciprocity.
Common Questions on How to Become a Teacher
How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher?
It generally takes 4-5 years to become a teacher.
Can I Teach Without a Certificate?
Some states allow temporary options for teaching without a teaching certificate, but becoming a teacher requires certification.
How Do I Become a Teacher if I Did Not Major in Education?
Without a degree in education, you can become a teacher by completing a teacher-preparation program and passing the required assessments for your state.
What Certifications Are Required for Teaching?
Certifications for teaching differ by state. Individuals may need to take an exam offered by a state regulatory body or an assessment such as the Praxis®.
Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.
Header Image Credit: Maskot | Getty Images
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