Training AND Other QualificationS


All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed. Licensure is not required for teachers in private schools. Usually licensure is granted by the State board of education or a licensure advisory committee. Teachers may be licensed to teach the early childhood grades (usually nursery school through grade 3); the elementary grades (grades 1 through 6 or 8); the middle grades (grades 5 through 8); a secondary education subject area (usually grades 7 through 12); or a special subject, such as reading or music (usually grades kindergarten through 12).

Requirements for regular licenses to teach kindergarten through grade 12 vary by State. However, all States require general education teachers to have a bachelor's degree and to have completed an approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits as well as supervised practice teaching. About one-third of the States also require technology training as part of the teacher certification process. A number of States require specific minimum grade point averages for teacher licensure. Other States require teachers to obtain a master's degree in education, which involves at least 1 year of additional coursework beyond the bachelor's degree, with a specialization in a particular subject.

Almost all States require applicants for teacher licensure to be tested for competency in basic skills such as reading, writing, teaching, and subject matter proficiency. Most States require continuing education for renewal of the teacher's license. Many States have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers licensed in one State to become licensed in another.

Increasingly, States are moving towards implementing performance-based standards for licensure, which require passing a rigorous comprehensive teaching examination to obtain a provisional license. Teachers must then demonstrate satisfactory teaching performance over an extended period to obtain a full license.

Many States offer alternative teacher licensure programs for people who have bachelor's degrees in the subject they will teach, but lack the necessary education courses required for a regular license. Alternative licensure programs originally were designed to ease teacher shortages in certain subjects, such as mathematics and science. The programs have expanded to attract other people into teaching, including recent college graduates and mid-career changers. In some programs, individuals begin teaching quickly under provisional licensure. After working under the close supervision of experienced educators for 1 or 2 years while taking education courses outside school hours, they receive regular licensure if they have progressed satisfactorily. Under other programs, college graduates who do not meet licensure requirements take only those courses that they lack, and then become licensed. This may take 1 or 2 semesters of full-time study. States may issue emergency licenses to individuals who do not meet requirements for a regular license when schools cannot attract enough qualified teachers to fill positions. Teachers who need licensure may enter programs that grant a master's degree in education, as well as a license.

In many States, vocational teachers have many of the same requirements for teaching as their academic counterparts. However, since knowledge and experience in a particular field are the most important criteria for the job, some States will license vocational education teachers without a bachelor's degree, provided they can demonstrate expertise in their field.

Licensing requirements for preschool teachers vary by State. Requirements for public school teachers are generally higher than those for private preschool teachers. Some States require a bachelor's degree in early childhood education and others require an associate degree, while others may require certification by a nationally recognized authority. The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is the most common type of certification. It requires a mix of classroom training and experience working with children, along with an independent assessment of an individual's competence.

For several years, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has offered voluntary national certification for teachers in kindergarten through grade 12. To become nationally certified, teachers must prove their aptitude by compiling a portfolio showing their work in the classroom, and by passing a written assessment and evaluation of their teaching knowledge. Currently, teachers may become certified in 1 of 7 areas. a certificate for teaching English language arts to early adolescents (ages 11-15), or they may become certified as early childhood generalists. All States recognize national certification, and many States and school districts provide special benefits to teachers holding national certification. Benefits typically include higher salaries and reimbursement for continuing education and certification fees. Additionally, many States allow nationally certified teachers to carry a license from one State to another.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education currently accredits more than 500 teacher education programs across the United States. Generally, 4-year colleges require students to wait until their sophomore year before applying for admission to teacher education programs. Traditional education programs for kindergarten and elementary school teachers include courses-designed specifically for those preparing to teach-in mathematics, physical science, social science, music, art, and literature, as well as prescribed professional education courses such as philosophy of education, psychology of learning, and teaching methods. Aspiring secondary school teachers either major in the subject they plan to teach while also taking education courses, or major in education and take subject courses. Teacher education programs are now required to include classes in the use of computers and other technologies to maintain accreditation. Most programs require students to perform a student teaching internship.

Many States now offer professional development schools, which are partnerships between universities and elementary or secondary schools. Students enter these 1-year programs after completion of their bachelor's degree. Professional development schools merge theory with practice and allow the student to experience a year of teaching first-hand, with professional guidance.

In addition to being knowledgeable in their subject, teachers must have the ability to communicate, inspire trust and confidence, and motivate students, as well as understand their educational and emotional needs. Teachers must be able to recognize and respond to individual differences in students, and employ different teaching methods that will result in higher student achievement. They should be organized, dependable, patient, and creative. Teachers also must be able to work cooperatively and communicate effectively with other teaching staff, support staff, parents, and other members of the community.

With additional preparation, teachers may move into positions as school librarians, reading specialists, curriculum specialists, or guidance counselors. Teachers in kindergarten through grade 12 may become administrators or supervisors, although the number of these positions is limited and competition can be intense. In some systems, highly qualified, experienced teachers can become senior or mentor teachers, with higher pay and additional responsibilities. They guide and assist less experienced teachers while keeping most of their own teaching responsibilities. Preschool teachers usually work their way up from assistant teacher, to teacher, then to lead teacher-who may be responsible for instruction of several classes-and finally to director of the center. A master's degree is often required to become a director. Preschool teachers with a bachelor's degree often are also qualified to teach kindergarten through grade 3. Teaching at these higher grades often results in higher pay.