Understanding Teacher Certification & Licensure

Teaching Certification 101: Ultimate Guide

In order to be eligible to assume full teaching responsibilities, teachers must first earn an official “certificate” or “license” to practice in the state. (Some states use the term “license” and others refer to them as “certificates.”)

Also, there are non-mandatory certifications for teachers that are not required by education boards, but can result in several positive benefits for teachers and students alike. We will cover voluntary certification options below.

The certification/licensure process guarantees that educators meet minimum state standards for essential knowledge and teaching skills and that each student is served by professional staff. 

Each state sets its own teacher certification/licensure requirements. Most states require that teacher candidates:

  • have at least a bachelor’s degree
  • complete an approved teacher preparation program (traditional or alternative)
  • have a major in either education or the subject area which they plan to teach
  • meet the state’s testing standards, and
  • satisfy background clearance requirements to be eligible for a certificate/license.

There are two ways you can approach a certification/licensure of this kind:

Designed for graduates having a teaching degree. To become certified through traditional means, teachers new to the profession first complete an approved teacher preparation program through an accredited college or university. The candidate is then recommended for certification by an authorized college official.

Designed for students with degrees other than teaching who still want to enter the education field.

Voluntary Teaching Certifications

In the past decades, national certification programs have emerged, designed in large measure to promote higher standards for teachers and to establish a cadre of “master” teachers. These efforts have focused on elevating the professional standing of teachers as well as increasing the overall quality of classroom teachers and student achievement.

National certification has been propelled by state efforts designed to encourage more teachers to become nationally qualified. Nearly all states nationally have adopted incentive pay, bonuses or other rewards for teachers securing certifications like that. So, what are your options?

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)

Teachers must also complete a series of written exercises that assess their subject-matter knowledge and understanding of how to best teach subjects to their students. This component of the assessment process consists of assessment exercises that are focused on a candidate’s content knowledge. Candidates are responsible for content and pedagogical knowledge across the full age range of a selected certificate area (and specialty area, if applicable).

The assessment center exercises are computer-administered during the spring and summer months at testing centers located in every state in the nation. There are more than 300 centers available to accommodate candidates for National Board Certification, and candidates can choose any location they wish to attend.

At the assessment center, candidates respond to exercises that may be based on advance materials (sent to candidates well in advance of the assessment center testing period), on-screen materials (provided to candidates during the assessment), or on-site materials (provided upon arrival at the assessment center).

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE)

Founded in 2001, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence addresses the need to place a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. American Board certification offers a novice teacher assessment called the “Passport to Teaching” and plans to develop a “Master Teacher Certification” assessment.  

The American Board was created to develop high quality teacher credentials that are portable, time efficient, and cost effective. American Board certification is available for individuals first entering the teaching field, as well as to experienced teachers.

Passport to Teaching Certification is designed specifically for individuals first entering the teaching field or current teachers seeking a high-quality credential. Master Teacher Certification is designed for experienced teachers of high merit based on classroom effectiveness. 

Both certifications focus on subject area mastery and classroom preparation, ensuring that teachers have the skills to successfully impact student learning. Passport to Teaching tests for new teachers were first offered in Fall 2003 in a limited number of academic subject areas.