The Teaching Credential

So your state says teachers need to have a credential. What does that mean? What do you need to do? Is a credential a piece of paper? Is it a license?

The term “teaching credentials” can broadly mean the qualifications you hold that allow you to be a teacher – your degree, passing tests and such. But it can also mean something very specific.

In the US, all states regulate the practice of teaching in the public schools. Teachers are placed in positions of authority and trust with the nation’s children, and are tasked with giving them the skills they need to be happy, healthy adults who contribute to the growth of the country. This is no small task. To that end, the government has placed certain expectations in the hands of the states, and the states then enact them.

Each state in the US has developed an agency to oversee the education and qualifications of its public teachers. This ensures that people who seek jobs in these important roles are properly educated and trained. The state then issues a formal permit for an individual to teach, and in some states the permit is called a “credential.” In other states it might be called a license or a certification.

A credential is the permit your state issues after it confirms that you’ve met the necessary requirements. A credential is only issued to individuals who have met all the state’s requirements. While each state can set its own process and application requirements, they must encompass the federal guidelines. Additionally, many states choose to set very rigorous criteria to improve the quality of the education being provided to its students.

In many states, there are two basic types of teacher credentials – elementary education (sometimes called “multiple subject”) and secondary education (sometimes called “single-subject”). The organization of education in the US places teachers of younger grades in charge of the whole curriculum – everything from reading and writing to mathematics and science, with a little art and physical education thrown in. Teachers in early grades need to have basic competencies in all these areas and need to understand the unique needs of children just starting the education process. Teachers in later grades then teach a deeper, more sophisticated and detailed understanding of specific subjects. Teachers in these grades are expected to have greater knowledge and ability in their specialty areas, and to understand how to help children transition to adulthood. In order to ensure that teachers are capable in those two very different aspects of education, a teacher candidate generally needs to select age and grade they want to teach early in the teacher education process. The credential itself is then issued specific to the qualifications the teacher has earned through his or her education.

In general, getting your teaching credential requires the following:

  1. Completing a bachelor’s degree in teaching or education, or completing a bachelor’s degree and then completing a post-baccalaureate teacher education program.
  2. Passing the required competency examinations – this may be a simple basic skills test, or completing a series of tests including basic skills and specialty areas.
  3. Completing your state’s official application for a teaching credential.
  4. Paying fees.
  5. Agreeing to a background check and submitting your fingerprints.

The credential you hold in your home state may be recognized as part of the application for a new state. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states, which means that a new state will accept the requirements of another. This is not true for all states, and while the credential may be recognized for the competency it conveys, a state-specific credential, certification or license will always be necessary to teach in a different state.