Teacher Certification Comprehensive Guide

Teacher licenses, exams, and everything you need to know to become a teacher

How to Become a Teacher

There is no profession quite like teaching. From inspiring students to managing the classroom, professional educators must learn how to wear different hats to ensure their students are receiving a quality education.

While the role of a teacher varies greatly by grade-level and subject, all teachers share a common goal: prepare students for success at the next level. Teachers do this by fostering critical thinking, motivating students and empowering them to take ownership of the learning process.

As you start your path to becoming a teacher, here are a few steps to consider:



After earning a high school diploma, you will need to enroll in a college or university, since all states require teachers to hold at least a bachelor's degree. While researching programs, think about what subjects and grade levels you would like to teach. If you are thinking of becoming an elementary educator, you will likely need to earn a bachelor's degree in education. On the other hand, if you would like to teach middle or high school, you may need to major in the specialized subject you would like to teach.


Teacher Certification

To become a teacher, you will most likely need to obtain a teaching license or certification by earning a degree and passing one or more exams. Since you may be required to take both knowledge and program entrance exams, it's important to start researching your state's requirements for teacher licensure early. The degree you must earn and exams you must pass depend on the state and your teaching area. You may be required to pass both a pedagogy and subject knowledge exam, and earn experience through student teaching. Learning about these requirements for your specific state is essential in your path to becoming a teacher.


Professional Development

Once you have earned your respective teaching certification, the journey doesn't end there! Teachers rely heavily on professional development to further their careers in education. Teachers can purpose professional development in a variety of ways, like continued higher education, such as pursuing a master or doctoral degree, or through additional teacher certifications to boost their teaching credentials.

Types of Teacher Certification

Teacher certification is a state licensing process that typically includes at least college-level course work in education, student teaching experience, and certification exams. Each state has different requirements, including the types of degrees and certifications exams required, but all states require a bachelor's degree for certification. No two states are the same, so it's important to research what you state requires.

The teacher certification path you choose depends on your skills and interest. Teacher certification pathways are often divided by both the grade level and subject, and each type of certification may have different requirements. Here are a few areas of specialization and their unique requirements.

Early Childhood Education, or ECE, teachers typically work with children during their preschool years but may work with students up to age eight. They instruct young learners in the development of language, literacy, motor skills and more. ECE teachers typically complete an entrance exam for a state-approved teacher preparation program, pass a pedagogical exam, and earn a bachelor's in education or early childhood education.

Elementary educators usually teach students in kindergarten through grade six. Building on the work of early childhood educators, elementary educators teach a variety of physical development and subject-specific skills. All states require elementary educators to earn a bachelor's degree, and many elementary teachers major in elementary education. Additionally, elementary educators will need to pass a program entrance exam and an elementary education knowledge exam. While elementary educators teach a variety of subjects, they are typically not required to pass certification exams for each subject they teach.

Secondary Education typically refers to middle and high school grades seven through twelve. Secondary educators usually specialize in a specific content area, such as biology or history. All states require secondary-level educators to earn a bachelor's degree with a combination of course work in education and the subject area they will teach, though the number of education and subject-specific courses varies. Additionally, secondary educators will need to pass an education program entrance exam, a pedagogy knowledge exam, and one or more subject-specific exams to be considered for licensure.

Teacher Certification Sample Exam Questions

Wondering how you'll perform on your Certification exams and tests? Get a sense of the testing question sets and formats with our practice tests and exams. Your results will allow you to view which areas your strengths lie in, and areas of improvement to get that test score you're after.

PRACTICE QUESTION FOR: Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators (5752) Study Guide & Practice Test
Use this material to answer question #1

"I wonder when Maida's coming back?" said Rosie Brine as she approached the trio of children who sat on the Lathrop lawn.

The three were Laura Lathrop; her brother, Harold Lathrop; their friend, Arthur Duncan. Rosie did not join them on the grass. She seated herself in the hammock behind them and began to swing, first slowly, then so violently that her black curls swept back and forth with her swift progress and her speech came in jerks. "I wouldn't mind-how long I had to wait-if I only knew-when she was coming."

Nobody answered. Rosie had only asked a question that they all asked at intervals, hoping against hope that somebody would make a comforting guess.

"I don't believe she's ever coming back," Rosie answered herself, recklessly swinging almost over their heads.

Question 1 1.

According to the passage which of the following best describes the setting?

More Praxis Practice Tests Questions

Browse Licensing & Certification by State

Every state requires that public school teachers be licensed by completing education requirements and passing examinations.
Click on your state to learn more.

Alternative Pathways to Teaching

There are several pathways to becoming a teacher. Besides the traditional route, you also have some alternative certification options that help place talented individuals in classrooms.

Alternative Certification Programs

For those that already hold a bachelor's degree, these programs place teachers in the classroom while they complete their educational coursework. Some colleges and universities offer accelerated, one-year programs that begin with the college-level educational courses taken during a traditional teacher certification program and include a teaching internship with mentoring from a lead instructor. Other programs, such as Teach for America (TFA), recruit recent college graduates for two-year teaching positions in high-need areas. TFA members take education coursework while participating in the program.

Emergency Teaching Credentials

If you have a bachelor's degree and live in a state with a shortage of certified teachers, your state may provide a temporary teaching certificate. Emergency certificates place college graduates in classrooms that would otherwise be unable to secure a teacher for the school year. These certificates are typically valid for one school year and in some cases may be renewed if there is a continuing need.

Non-Credential Options

While most public school teachers are required to hold a teacher certification to teach in the classroom, there are some teaching opportunities that don't require a teaching credential. Many private schools, for example, do not require faculty to hold a teaching certificate. Instead, they may look for subject-related degrees and prior work experience in education.

Depending on state and local requirements, some substitute teachers are also exempt from obtaining a teaching license prior to teaching. However, there are often other competency requirements that must be met before entering the classroom.

For those with a sense of adventure, there are also opportunities to teach outside of the U.S. without a credential. For example, there is often a need for teacher of English as a second language in places across the globe. These positions often require at least a native proficiency in English and either a bachelor's degrees or English langauge teaching credential.

Test Prep Strategies

Studying for your teacher certification exams may seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach you can prepare without unnecessary stress. Here are some tips for success on these certification exams.


Familiarize Yourself with the Exam

First, make sure to research which exams you will need to take. Your state education agency should provide online a list of exams and other requirements for teaching. Then, look for resources with details about your exam, such as the registration process, any associated fees, when and where it is administered, and the format of the exam. Finally, research what material is covered on the exam. Your state education agency or test provider should provide a test resource that gives you an outline of what to expect on the test.


Develop a Study Plan

Once you know the topics you will be tested on and the format of the test, you'll want to develop a study plan. Your plan should be based on which topics you will need to study most and how long you plan to study prior to test day. That way, you will know how often to study and what specifically you will need to practice. Establishing a study plan and sticking to it can also help boost your confidence for exam day!


Use Practice Tests

While preparing for your teacher certification exams, practice tests can help you determine your strengths and weaknesses. This information can give you insight into which topics you may need to spend additional time on for mastery. Consider taking multiple practice tests throughout your preparation to get continuous feedback while preparing for your exam. While there are many options available for practice tests, here are some resources to get you started:

  • Mometrix: Study guides and flashcards for content practice
  • Teachers Test prep: Study guides, practice tests, and other prep resources
  • Exam Edge: Realistic practice tests for content assessment

Hear more from other Teachers

There are several pathways to becoming a teacher. Besides the traditional route, you also have some alternative certification options that help place talented individuals in classrooms.

Jori E.
Math Teacher

"Study, study, and then study a bit more"

In college, I majored in Middle Grades Mathematics Education, with the intention to teach High School math at a local public school. After graduating, I taught 6-8th grade Math at a local public school, Geometry for a virtual, public, high school, and all levels of mathematics and various other subjects through private tutoring.

While in college, I was required to not only take various courses in math, but also on classroom management and various forms of assessment to name just a few. During my studies, I had to pass the FTCE General Knowledge test for my subject area and the FTCE Professional test. I was also required to obtain a Reading Endorsement and ESOL endorsement through extensive professional development both during and after my schooling.

The best advice I could offer a prospective teacher preparing for their exams would be to study, study, and then study a bit more. These tests are not easy, and I have found that most of the material covered are things I was never taught in any of my education coursework. The best way to do this is with specialized guides or courses that are tailored to the tests.

Dominique T.
English Teacher

"Stay Immersed"

I majored in English for undergrad and then decided to get my Masters in Secondary Education afterwards. I've since taught English for seventh, eighth and twelfth graders. English always gets such a bad rap in school as one of the "not fun" subjects. I always loved reading and writing, and my hope was that I could share my love of that with my students and change their mind about the subject.

While completing my bachelor's degree, I had to take the Praxis, both the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators tests and a specific Praxis English Language Arts subject area test. As part of the education program, I student taught at a charter school in Northeast Washington, D.C. and a public high school in the state of Maryland.

My advice to prospective teachers preparing for teacher certification is to build up the habit of studying a little bit every day. The easiest way to master the material is to stay immersed in it.

Jake D.
Science Teacher

"Learn about the requirements"

While in college I earned a B.S. in Physics and later an M.Ed. in Science Education. During my credentialing program, I was a student teacher in an 8th grade physical science classroom, and high school general and conceptual physics classrooms. After graduation, I taught several subjects, such as high school physics, engineering design, and principles of engineering, which required additional training in topics like CAD, robotics, and engineering design principles. My favorite thing about being a teacher is seeing students grow personally and academically over the course of a school year.

My advice to teachers preparing for their certification exams is to visit your state's website to learn about the requirements. Most states do a great job of specifying the topics covered on their certification exams, so if you're looking to get certified in a subject you majored in, it's just a matter of brushing up on those topics and general test taking skills.