Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Certification in California

There are many pathways to becoming a California teacher. This is true at the elementary or secondary level. It is important to recognize, though, that California has many state-specific requirements. The quickest path is generally completion of an approved California program.

Teaching certification in California may be pursued at the same time as the bachelor's degree or later. Prospective educators may enroll in university programs that award both degrees and certification.

Some California pathways are designed for individuals who already have considerable teaching experience. Some allow candidates to complete requirements in an abbreviated fashion.

There are two levels of certification. Experience is one of the defining factors.

Teaching Certifications and Endorsements

California issues single subject and multi-subject teaching certificates. Multi-subject are generally designed for elementary classrooms but can authorize teaching in a self-contained classroom above or below this level. Single subject teaching certificates authorize teaching at the secondary level but can also authorize teaching of the subject in a departmentalized setting above or below this level.

The Commission currently lists subjects for which single subject credentials are issued. The following are among them:

  • General foundational mathematics
  • General foundational science
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Music
  • Art

World languages is, in a sense, many subjects; the particular language will be specified.

Special education is treated as a separate certification category. A number of specializations are possible.

Achieving Preliminary Certification Based on California Preparation

Individuals new to teaching may meet certification requirements by completing a Commission-approved educator preparation program designed for multi-subject or single subject teaching.

Programs include concepts such as curricular organization and effective school practice. Even single subject teachers have some preparation outside their ‘single subject’. They will have some preparation in health education, computer technology, and teaching English language learners, though these topics will not necessarily be represented by discrete courses.

The Commission on Teacher Preparation has provided a directory of approved programs (

Examination Requirements

The prospective teacher will take a basic skills test at some point before student teaching. Students may qualify based on the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) or another qualifying tests such as SAT, ACT, or AP.

Elementary-multiple subject candidates are required to pass content examinations ( Secondary single subject candidates are required to pass them in some instances. They are required when the individual has not completed a Commission-approved subject matter preparation program.

Internship Options

California has internship programs which provide an alternate path to certification. In times of need, interns begin paid teaching employment while completing certification coursework. They are hired as teachers only when a local education authority cannot fill positions with fully qualified professionals.

Certification Levels

The first level of certification is the preliminary certificate. The second is a clear certificate. Clearing one's credential requires completion of an induction program. A teacher who is employed but does not have the opportunity to complete an induction program may complete a clear credential program. Certificate holders can generally expect to have some additional requirements to hold the clear credential if they earned their credential though something other than a California-approved teaching program.

Achieving Certification Based on Private School or Peace Corps Certification

Teachers with three to five years of private school experience may be exempted from student teaching; those with a full six years of private school experience may achieve certification without completing a teacher preparation program. There are, however, a number of additional requirements that must be met. The teacher will, for example, need to meet a subject area competency requirement and a U.S. Constitution requirement; he or she will need a course in teaching English language learners.

Teacher certification may be achieved with as little as 18 months of Peace Corps experience, provided that the Peace Corps volunteer spent at least half his or her time teaching children in a classroom setting. Again, a person will need to meet some additional requirements.

California Teacher Certification Reciprocity

Out-of-state teachers often begin at the preliminary level. California has provisions in place for teachers whose preparation didn't completely conform to what is expected in California, including those who hold middle school-only credentials. Ultimately, though, standards for the clear credential are rigorous.

California elementary and secondary teachers have training in providing education to second language learners. The requirement for an English Learners Authorization or Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development Certificate must be met before the higher certificate is issued. The Commission has provided a brochure outlining methods. It can be accessed from pages about clearing credentials ( Out-of-state teachers who hold ELL certification will likely meet this requirement.

An out-of-state teacher who has at least two years of satisfactory experience, meets the English language learner requirement, and meets a higher set of education/ professional development standards may be issued a clear credential at the onset.

National Board certification is recognized as a pathway to the clear credential.

The Application Process

California requires background checks at the certification level; teachers are not exempted on the basis of employment-level backgrounds. In-state applicants use Live Scan; necessary paperwork is available online. Out-of-state use standard FD-258 fingerprint cards; they must follow a specific set of instructions.

Supplemental materials will vary, depending on certification circumstances. Forms are found on the website of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (

When an individual completes a Commission-approved program, the institution issues a recommendation. This initiates the process. The applicant will need to carry out some steps himself or herself (

Some application pathways require submission of a paper application (

Adding Teaching Areas

Teachers with general education (single subject or multi-subject) can add teaching areas without completing additional educator preparation program. Teachers with multi-subject credentials will take a class in teaching in departmentalized settings. Teachers with single subject credentials who opt for multi-subject credentialing will need coursework in developing beginning readers' English language proficiency as well as preparation for teaching in a self-contained setting.

The Commission has prepared an informational brochure ‘Added Authorizations in Special Education (AASE)’ outlining which special education authorizations can be added to particular base special education credentials (

Additional Information

Information is available from the State of California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The Commission has prepared many informational brochures, applicable to teachers with different backgrounds and career goals ( Information may change. Certification questions can be addressed to ‘credentials at’.