Teacher Certification and Certificate Program Overviews

Mar 04, 2021

Essential Information

Although the traditional route to teacher licensing is completing a bachelor's degree in education, master's degrees and non-degree alternative certification programs are also available. Many programs allow students to select grade-level or subject concentrations, such as early childhood education or mathematics. The curriculum consists of lecture classes and student-teaching experiences, and most programs fulfill the requirements for state licensure and prepare students for required competency exams.

Prerequisites for four-year undergraduate programs in education require a high-school diploma or equivalent, and student teaching may be required to graduate. Master's programs typically require two years of full-time study, which is longer than the 12-14 months required for non-degree alternative programs. Admission to alternative programs in single-subject instruction, like English or science, may require prior completion of undergraduate coursework in that subject. Additionally, Some Masters of Arts in Teaching programs require students to pass a basic skills test for admission. Once a student has earned their degree, state licensure generally requires a bachelor's degree, a competency exam, and completion of a training program.

Bachelor's Degree Programs for Teacher Certification

Bachelor's degree in education programs cover pedagogy and include a period of student teaching. Some programs allow students to focus on an area such as early childhood, elementary or secondary education. Secondary education programs usually require that students focus on a specific subject area like math or science. Topics covered include:

  • Educational psychology
  • Classroom technology
  • Curriculum development
  • Child or adolescent development
  • Philosophy of education

Non-Degree Teacher Certification Programs

Alternative teacher certification programs are designed for students who already hold a bachelor's degree. Some programs are designed for individuals seeking certification in a specific academic area, such as science or math, and they may require previous coursework in that area. These programs are offered by many colleges and universities and are often a collaboration among state licensing agencies and the college. Programs are meant to attract individuals from other professions to the teaching profession and focus on teaching methods and strategies and preparing students for state licensing requirements. Students also participate in student teaching experiences. Course topics include:

  • Curriculum development
  • Teaching methods
  • Educational psychology
  • Human growth and development
  • Educational laws and ethics

Master's Degree Programs for Teacher Certification

Students who hold a bachelor's degree in an area outside of education may pursue a master's degree program designed to prepare them for teacher certification. These programs are often called Master of Arts in Teaching. Master's degree programs for teacher certification provide students with a solid foundation in the methods and theories required to become effective teachers. Students also participate in a period of student teaching. Topics covered include:

  • Student evaluation and assessment
  • Human development
  • Teaching strategies
  • Educational psychology
  • Current issues in education

Licensing and Certification

Licensing for public school teachers is required and generally includes a bachelor's degree, completion of a teacher training program (including a period of student teaching) and a minimum score on a competency exam. Applicants may be licensed for general education or in a specialized level. Teachers must earn continuing education credits in order to maintain their teaching license. Certification is offered by professional organizations such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. While this certification is optional, many school districts encourage teachers to seek board certification and may offer incentives, such as increased pay, to certified teachers.

Popular Career Choices

Students who complete teacher certification programs are eligible to obtain teaching certificates or licenses. Common career options within the teaching profession include:

  • Early childhood teacher
  • Elementary school teacher
  • High school teacher
  • Middle school or junior high teacher

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicted employment for teachers at the elementary, middle and secondary (high) school levels to grow at 3%, 3%, and 4% respectively over the 2018-2028 decade. The median salary for elementary school teachers was $59,670 annually, middle school teachers earned $59,660 annually, and secondary school teachers earned $61,660 per year in 2019, according to the BLS. Demand for teachers may be greater in rural and inner-city areas and in high-need subject areas like math and science.

Students looking to earn a teacher certification degree can choose from a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or an alternative, non-degree certification program. Courses include student teaching and lecture courses, and many programs allow students to concentrate on single subjects or specific grades as part of their course work.

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