Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Preparation Standards: Becoming a Teacher

Public school teaching is a licensed profession in every state. The process is not identical everywhere, but there are many commonalities. Typically, your requirements will include earning a bachelor’s degree, completing pedagogy and content courses appropriate to your teaching area, clearing a background check, and passing a series of assessments. You can expect significant fieldwork. There may be specific state-mandated trainings.

If you’re earning a teaching license in conjunction with a bachelor’s degree, expect to go through the steps outlined below. The process may be very similar even if you already have a degree; the difference is that you will be further along and will complete the program in a much shorter timeframe. Your program will likely be somewhat accelerated. In some cases, a post-baccalaureate program will be highly accelerated and will be structured in a fundamentally different manner. (Some nontraditional students take on classroom teaching duties while meeting program requirements.)

Step 1

Make yourself competitive for an approved or accredited teacher preparation program. The application timeline will vary. Some programs allow students to take education courses as freshmen. Many undergraduate programs, though, don’t officially admit students to the College of Education until they are approaching their junior year. If this is your first degree, expect to complete significant prerequisite coursework. Your requirements will vary depending on your intended age group and subject matter. If you will be a generalist at the lower grade levels, you may spend a couple years pursuing primarily liberal arts coursework. If you will be teaching a secondary subject, you may eventually need a major, or the equivalent, in your subject area. It won’t necessarily all be finished at the time of program admission.

A strong GPA can make you more competitive. Programs are regulated at the state level. The state may set a minimum admission GPA. It may set a minimum “cohort” or average GPA for admitted students, even though some students may be significantly lower.

It also helps to have some experience working with school-aged students. Some schools set a minimum number of pre-admission hours. Even if there is no formal requirement, the experience tends to crystalize career goals. It may help in the application process.

Step 2: Educator Programs

Apply to an educator preparation program in your intended teaching area. This may be an early childhood or elementary generalist program, a middle/ secondary grades program in a particular subject area, or even a K-12 special subjects program (e.g. art). You may have the option of pursuing dual endorsements (for example, a subject area endorsement and an endorsement to teach students with mild disabilities). Recognize that there is a state-specific element. States don’t all have the same endorsements available. The program will need, at minimum, to be license-qualifying in the state where it is located. Some states tie the approval process to national programmatic accreditation. If you are considering a program in a state other than the one you intend to teach, you will want to take into consideration the other state’s standards. Schools are a resource; some admit many out-of-state students.

Step 3

Allow plenty of time for the program-level application process. You may need to take a general academic assessment designed for educators, though students who score well above average on general assessments like the SAT are often exempted. There may be an essay and interview. Educator programs look for students with the right kind of disposition. Often this involves having compassion, valuing fairness, and believing that students can learn, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or specific challenges.

Step 4

Continue to put in a strong performance after admission. Some states set GPA minimums. Prepare for practicum experiences. A background check is among the typical requirements. You will generally have a succession of practical classroom experiences, culminating in student teaching. Some states mandate a full semester of student teaching. Graduate students sometimes have the option of completing an internship instead.

You will have additional assessments along the way. A content assessment is generally required. A pedagogical or professional skills assessment is often mandated as well. In some cases, this will be a real-world assessment, completed as part of your student teaching experience. You may be required to collect artifacts to show that you can go through the teaching process and are effective in the classroom. If you need to videotape your teaching, there will be preliminary steps, such as securing family permission. Educator preparation programs are heavily invested in the success of their students and will offer lots of guidance.

Step 5

Apply for state certification or licensure. The majority of states now have an online process. In some states, the educator preparation program is responsible for ensuring that the full array of state standards has been met: background check, successful performance on all required tests, acceptable GPA, completion of state-mandated trainings, and demonstration of teaching dispositions. The school may initiate the licensing process by submitting a recommendation for licensure. There will be a few steps left for you to take; these typically include confirming that you want the license, answering a few fitness questions, and, in most cases, paying a small fee. Teacher application and licensing fees are typically lower than fees for some other licensed professions.

In some states, the school handles less of the licensing process and you have more steps to complete before licensure. If your program was out-of-state, you will likely need to provide more documentation of having met requirements.

Step 6

Meet additional requirements for achieving higher licensing (as set by your state). The process often entails successful teaching experience. There may be an induction program to helpi you continue to hone your skills during your early years in the classroom. Some states have a time limit for moving up to a higher licensing level. In some instances, you don’t receive an actual license until you’re offered a position. (Prior to this time, you have eligibility status.)

You typically have some professional development requirements in order to maintain your license. You may have the opportunity to expand your grade levels, subject areas, and competencies.