Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Certification and Endorsement

From kindergarten teaching to high school mathematics, from vocal music to teaching students who are blind: K-12 education is a broad field. Not only must teachers be authorized to teach in public school settings; they must also be authorized to teach in particular fields (e.g. grade bands or subjects). A large portion of teachers are generalists. They may be designated as elementary, early childhood, or special education generalists. Another large segment is authorized to teach particular subjects.

Individual states use different terms to refer to these two types of authorization. Some refer to teacher licensure, others to teacher certification. Licensure or certification is extended to individuals who have earned qualifying degrees, gone through a background check, and met specific requirements for at least one teaching area. In most cases, an educator will only hold one license in a given state at a given time, though the license may authorize the person to teach in multiple areas. However, there are instances where an educator may hold more than one license.

In most states, teachers progress to a higher level of licensing after they accrue successful experience. There may be a state-mandated mentorship and evaluation program. There is a good deal of state-to-state variation in mandates. Often, the highest license tier is reserved for teachers who have completed advanced degrees or gone through a rigorous portfolio-based national certification process.

Some states use the word endorsement to refer to particular teaching areas (e.g. elementary education or secondary mathematics). In these states, all teachers have at least one endorsement. Other states reserve the word endorsement for an add-on credential, one that doesn't stand alone. Add-on credentials are usually voluntary, though a state can mandate that all teachers in particular core areas earn a particular endorsement, such as an endorsement in teaching English language learners. In this case, endorsement would signify that the teacher had fully met requirements and didn’t have deficiencies.

The terminology can get a little tricky. Ohio, for example, refers to TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) licensing and TESOL endorsement as two separate things. In Ohio, they are. TESOL license programs are full educator preparation programs that lead to initial licensure. TESOL endorsement programs are ones that allow a licensed teacher to receive an add-on credential.

It’s generally not important that states use the same terminology. What is important is that they have similar categories and reasonably similar standards.

Adding Teaching Areas

It is typically easier to add endorsements or teaching areas than it is to earn an initial license, though this depends on one's initial credential, as well as on the state of licensure.

In some states, one takes a pedagogical assessment designed to capture real-life teaching and decision-making. Licensing units often explicitly state that this is a one-time licensing requirement.

Subject area assessments, on the other hand, may be required for each teaching area. Some states have liberal policies that allow teachers to add teaching areas by testing alone (without enrolling in an additional program), though they will likely have some restrictions on what can be added in this manner. Other states mandate that the teacher complete an actual program. The length or type of program will vary. Teaching a different grade band/age group can mean additional requirements.

It is not an absolute rule that a teacher be endorsed in a particular area to teach it. States have varying provisions for teaching out of area: for example, limits on the number of classes taught out of area or the length of time a teacher can teach out of area before completing his or her endorsement. It is very common for successful teachers to be placed in positions that are outside their area before completing their endorsement; they may begin teaching in the area and pursuing qualifying coursework at around the same time. There may be an alternative pathway that requires less coursework.

New endorsements require less administrative work. Fingerprinting is a typical requirement at the licensing level, but not at the endorsement level.

Transferring Licenses and Endorsements

In most cases, once teachers are experienced, it becomes less important how they earned their credentials. Some states will not recognize all their teaching areas or endorsements. However, a state that doesn’t recognize an endorsement earned through testing may grant the endorsement on the basis of having a few years of experience actually teaching in that field. A state that doesn’t offer a closely matching endorsement may still have some type of credential that can be issued to allow the teacher to begin employment.

There are widespread teacher shortages. Some states have changed code in recent years to be accommodating of teachers who earned credentials in different places under different standards. In most cases, a teacher who has demonstrated success can go to a new jurisdiction and be hired by a district that needs his or her services. However, there may be quite a few additional requirements before the person receives a standard license.

First Steps to a Teaching Credential

If one is seeking an initial teaching credential and wants to enhance mobility, some other words comes into play: accreditation and approval. Nationally accredited programs have met a relative standard set of expectations. Just completing a traditional academic program (as opposed to a nontraditional post-baccalaureate program) can go a long way in enhancing mobility options during the early career years.