Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Preparation Pathways for English/ Language Arts

It seems we're always hearing about teacher shortages in STEM fields, but these days a number of places are also seeing them in English and language arts!

A secondary English endorsement can qualify a person to teach a variety of courses. Language arts teachers can of course teach composition and literature courses; they can often teach journalism and even speech and drama as well.

A bachelor’s degree is the entry level, but there are plenty of options at the master’s level, too. There are multiple pathways, at least for those who already hold degrees. The safest bet, from the standpoint of portability, is completion of a state-approved educator preparation program in the language arts discipline -- even better if the program is CAEP-accredited.

The National Council of Teachers of English is a member organization of CAEP. The organization sets standards for English language arts educator preparation programs. Programs prepare teacher candidates to plan instruction and assessment while taking into account research and theory, educational standards, student diversity, and the need to prepare students to use language to tackle complex societal issues. Among the other professional expectations for NCTE-recognized programs are the following: Graduates will have the ability to interact professionally with students and parents. They will participate in the greater professional community.

The NCTE maintains a list of schools with nationally recognized English language arts programs (

English Language Arts Teacher Preparation

There are two components to a secondary teacher’s preparation: subject matter knowledge and pedagogical know-how. Individual states set preparation standards in slightly different ways. A common requirement is a major in the subject area or an equivalent course of study. In New Jersey, for example, graduates receive their CEAS (signifying they have met academic standards) after completing ‘coherent sequences of study’ in both English and professional studies. In New Jersey, a coherent sequence in English includes at least 30 credit hours of English with at least 12 at the advanced level. The University of Iowa, meanwhile, notes that Iowa does not have a secondary education major per se but that prospective teachers major in the content area and also complete teacher education programs.

The following are typical courses for English major: English literature, American literature, non-Western literature, creative writing, media, composition theory, oral interpretation, and rhetoric. In cases where students are meeting their requirements by credit (as opposed to program completion), there may be particular coursework requirements or exclusions.

Some, but not all, pedagogy courses are focused on methods for teaching composition and language arts. Education students typically take some courses that are part of a general secondary core. Again states set different requirements for educator preparation programs operating within their borders. Common requirements include learning theory or educational psychology, special education and education of diverse learners.

Teacher candidates are typically required to complete at least 12 semester hours of student teaching; this experience builds on earlier classroom experience or observation. Candidates who are seeking initial certification at the post-baccalaureate or graduate level sometimes have the opportunity to complete a paid internship. Standards can be rigorous. Post-graduate alternative programs often require candidates to have the equivalent of an undergraduate major in the subject area, though this is not universal. Professional experience may or may not be required. Candidates are typically asked to take their subject assessments at an earlier stage.

Professionals who are already licensed as teachers but whose preparation was in a different subject area often have different standards. In many cases, they can add the language arts endorsement by subject area examination alone. However, not all states recognize endorsements earned in this manner.

Program Eligibility

College students typically go through a formal process of declaring interest in an educator preparation program and submitting application materials. The College of Education will attempt to determine whether the career is a good fit and the individual is ready. Submissions may include letters of recommendation, essays about career goals, and information about experience or observational hours with youth. The program may require a writing sample.

The Assessment Process

Prospective English language arts teachers must generally pass several assessments along the way. States typically require a test of academic skills but may waive the educator-specific academic assessment on the basis of high scores on college admission tests. The general academic test will include math as well as reading and writing.

In many cases, there will be a Praxis subject area assessment. ETS makes more than one assessment for English/ language arts. Prospective teachers may take the content knowledge assessment or content and analysis assessment. Some states use subject tests by Pearson Education.

Many teacher candidates complete portfolio-based assessments in conjunction with their student teaching or internship experience. Often the edTPA is the instrument used. A secondary English-language arts candidate’s portfolio will include artifacts which show the ability to plan, instruct/ engage, and assess. Lesson plans, assessments, video clips, student work samples, and evidence of feedback are among the artifacts that will be included.

In some states, the program manages most aspects of the pre-licensure process, including assessment, and issues an institutional recommendation at the point where there isn't much left to do but pay the processing fees!

Elementary and Middle Grades Language Arts and Literacy Endorsements

Some states have a separate endorsement for ‘middle grades’ English language arts. Middle grade teachers are often endorsed in two teaching areas. This can mean having significantly fewer units in each. It is common to pursue English and social studies together, but there may be multiple options.

There are also specialists at the elementary level. Some teachers make a career out of literacy for struggling learners. This is a different career trajectory. These positions are typically master's level. However, some states have both a bachelor's level and master's level endorsement.