Certified public accountant. Licensed registered nurse. Bar-certified attorney.
Many industries and occupations rely on third-party organizations to set professional standards, and teaching is no different. In the United States, teaching credentials are issued at the state level and are usually required to teach in public schools. There’s also an opportunity to become a nationally certified teacher, but that’s above and beyond what you need to start your career as an educator.
So how do you become a certified teacher? And does the process differ in each state? Each state does indeed have its own criteria, and in this article, we’ll discuss how to get a teaching certificate in California.
About California’s Teaching Credentialing Program
Donna Elder, associate dean at National University’s Sanford College of Education, says California has one of the most rigorous credentialing processes in the country. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) is the agency charged with overseeing standards in the Golden State.
The CTC’s mission is:
To ensure integrity, relevance, and high quality in the preparation, certification, and discipline of the educators who serve all of California’s diverse students.
National University has recommended more candidates for teaching credentials in California than any other school in the state, and the 2018-2019 academic year illustrates this volume.
“In the fall and spring of last year, we placed 1,255 teacher education and special education students across the state,” Elder says.
Types of California Teacher Certifications
Before we get into the details of the certification process itself, we’ll explore the different types of credentials offered by the CTC.
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential
People are likely most familiar with the concept of a multiple subject teacher from their elementary school experience, where you’d stay in one classroom most of the day, and your teacher would toggle between subjects.
A Multiple Subject Teaching Credential in California authorizes the holder to teach all subjects in a self-contained classroom in most elementary schools, as well as in preschool, grades K-12, and in some adult education settings.
If your goal is to teach elementary school, this credential is likely the most applicable to you.
(You can learn more about earning an early childhood education degree in this blog article.)
Single Subject Teaching Credential
When you were a young student, remember how exciting it was to reach the grade where you “change classes?” You’d have a variety of classes throughout the school day, each new period with a different teacher and subject.
The Single Subject Teaching Credential in California authorizes the holder to teach the specific subjects named on the credential in departmentalized classrooms, such as those in middle and high schools, but also in preschool, K-12, and adult education classes.
California offers dozens of single-subject certifications including in art, math, English, a world language, social science, business, and various specialized areas of science (such as chemistry or geoscience). Certifications go beyond the “typical” school subjects, too: physical education, home economics, agriculture, and industrial and technology education are additional examples.
If your goal is to specialize in one subject area and teach in middle or high school, this is the ideal credential for you.
Education Specialist Instruction Credential
The CTC’s education specialist instruction credential allows the holder to provide instruction and support, as well as to conduct educational assessments (such as a student’s access to the core curriculum or progress toward meeting institutional academic goals). This certification isn’t limited to special and general education settings in schools; with this credential, you can also provide services in a home or hospital setting or at a correctional facility.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) content is also part of this credential, and additional specialty areas include mild/moderate disabilities, moderate/severe disabilities; or hearing, visual, language, or physical and health impairments. Special education teachers can also choose to specialize in early childhood.
If your goal is to teach or work in special education, this is the credential you’d aim for.
How to Become a Certificated Teacher in California
The route to becoming a certified teacher in California typically starts with choosing the right college or university. You’ll want to look for a school that’s approved by the CTC, such as National University. To earn a spot on the CTC’s “approved list” an institution must also be regionally accredited. In California, this means accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
While some specifics may vary according to the subject matter or the candidate’s educational background, prospective teachers can expect to fulfill a number of requirements for their preliminary teaching credential, including:
- Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.
- Pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (commonly referred to as CBEST).
- Verification of subject-matter competence by passing the corresponding exam(s); OR complete a CTC-approved subject-matter program of coursework (or its equivalent).
- Pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, also called RICA. (Multiple subject only; this doesn’t apply to those in early childhood special education or those who earned a teaching credential along with their bachelor’s degree.)
- Complete a class or pass an exam on the provisions and principles of the U.S. Constitution.
- Complete a CTC-approved teacher/education specialist preparation program.
- Formal recommendation for the credential by the program sponsor.
The above requirements can be met in a variety of ways, whether it’s through attending a traditional teacher education program or by taking additional coursework or pursuing a graduate degree. Here’s some more detail about these pathways:
Bachelor’s Degree Pathway
Many future educators begin their college experience fully intending to become a teacher. In these cases, they’re likely to choose a teacher education-based bachelor’s degree program such as early childhood education, secondary education, or special education; or a degree in a specific subject area that also offers a teaching certification.
Elder explains how the progression of teacher education bachelor’s degree programs allows students to build on what they’ve learned.
“The program begins with foundational content, such as pedagogy and theories of teaching,” says Elder. “Then they move into teaching methods, and then it’s the clinical component: either student-teaching or interning.”
Elder explains the difference between student-teaching and interning. As a student-teacher, the education major will observe and then lead a classroom under the direction of a master teacher; Elder says “an apprentice” is another way to put it. Internships offer the same practical teaching experience, but the difference lies in logistics.
“It’s the same day, the same job, but as an intern, the student is an employee of the school district,” explains Elder. “They’re supported by National University and the district, but they are the teacher-of-record for a class.”
Master’s Degree Pathway
Sometimes people are inspired to become a teacher at other points in their education process or career. The good news is that you can still pursue a teaching certification even if your bachelor’s degree isn’t in education. In fact, becoming a certified teacher through a master’s program is now a very common entry into the field.
There are many scenarios for this, such as working in a specific industry or field for a number of years and then deciding to share your knowledge with students. Other times it could be a move associated with the changing job landscape. Take a journalist who lost their job due to the shift in print media as an example; that person could use their professional writing, editing, researching, and other experience to teach high school writing classes. Other times, the call to teaching may come when someone has school-age children of their own; becoming more involved in the classroom or district could very well spark a new career path.
Since the bachelor’s degree requirement is already fulfilled (and perhaps some of the subject matter expertise), the future educator will get the pedagogy and teaching theory in their master’s classes.
The CTC accepts a few alternative routes to earning a teaching credential. These options still require a four-year degree, but the differences include accepting other appropriate classroom experience in place of student-teaching or other formal teacher preparation programs. These include:
- School district intern.
- University intern.
- Private school experience.
- Peace Corps.
- Early completion intern.
Refer to the CTC website for full and up-to-date details.
What Else is Involved in Gaining Teaching Certification in California?
Obtaining the right educational background and gaining practical teaching experience is just part of the process. In California, future teachers must also go through an assessment, Elder says.
This process includes the applicant recording themselves teaching, twice. As future teachers are likely still students at this point, the taped classroom sessions are generally done during student-teaching or interning. They then submit the videos, as well as a reflection, to a third-party agency. CTC’s assessments are managed by Pearson Education.
“There are some strict rubrics,” Elder says of the evaluation process. “If you pass both of those, you’ll receive recommendation for credentialing.”
That’s not all, explains Elder. “This is just the preliminary certification. They then have to ‘clear their credential.’”
Moving from preliminary (or level I) to clear (or level II) involves additional academic requirements based on their pathway or subject matter.
How to Get a Teaching Certificate Online
Many colleges and universities offer general teacher education classes online. Elder says that’s the case at National University.
“Our content-based classes, such as foundational and methodology courses, are all offered online,” she says. “But we recommend that students take the classroom management course face-to-face at one of our campuses across the state.”
With a people-centered career like teaching, it makes sense that some classes might be more effective in person. However, there’s one aspect of teacher education that isn’t likely to be replaced with an online component any time soon: student teaching.
Depending on the specific degree and considering if someone already has acceptable teaching or work experience, some education-based graduate programs might be offered as 100 percent online degrees.
What If I Relocate? How to Become a Certified Teacher in Another State
It’s important to know that every state has its own teaching and certification requirements. This is why future teachers generally choose to earn their teaching degree and become certified in the state in which they plan to teach. As Elder explains, National University and other California-based teacher education programs base their curriculum to match what’s required of the state board.
However, what happens if you are a California-certified teacher who is moving across the country, perhaps because a spouse took a new job or you are relocating with the military? The good news is you’ll likely be able to teach in your new location. However, this might entail additional coursework, practical experience, and passing new exams first.
While much of the foundational knowledge, such as teaching theory and methods, does not change, each state’s certification criteria is unique. One example Elder pointed out pertains to curriculum differences, such as in history and social studies. For example, a California-based middle school teacher relocating to Montana or Oklahoma would likely have to take a course in that state’s history to show they can adequately teach it.
Each state’s department of education website should provide all the details you need about how to get a teaching certificate after you relocate.
Advancing in Your Teaching Career: Up the Pay Ladder
Since state board certification is a requirement to teach in California, this credential doesn’t necessarily earn you a higher starting pay. What can move you up the teaching pay scale is years of experience, an advanced degree, additional college credits, and specialty certifications.
“Every district is different in how they negotiate their contracts,” Elder explains. “But they all will have an established pay structure.” For example, a salary structure might take additional educational units earned after the master’s degree into account for a certain level.
Aside from earning additional credits, continued professional development is always encouraged. “Most districts offer these opportunities within the district,” she explains. Think back to your elementary or high school days when you, as a student, had the day off, but teachers had to report for an in-service day. That’s an example of how teachers keep up with the latest approaches in their field or stay up to date on specific district policies and practices.
Elder also suggests that teachers join the professional organization related to their area of specialty for access to conferences and other resources.
“When you belong to that association, you can stay current and be more involved in your profession,” she says.
What About the National Board Certification?
National Board Certified Teachers, also known as NBCTs, have demonstrated they meet specific standards through a series of performance-based and peer-reviewed assessment components. Having earned what’s considered the highest credential in education, NBCTs are considered accomplished in their field.
According to Elder, national board certification isn’t required to teach in California, but this credential does have its benefits. For example, some states have tiers of certification, and reaching the highest level sometimes requires national certification. Other states offer incentives to NBCTs, such as extra stipends for the school year. According to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, nationally certified teachers are often sought out for leadership positions within their schools and districts, such as team leaders, department chairs, or administrators.
Elder reiterates that California teachers do not have to be nationally certified, but says this level of recognition demonstrates quality teaching skills and high standards.
“It’s another way to stand out,” she says of becoming an NBTC. It demonstrates, she says, “… that you’ve gone further than the average teacher.”
Now that you know a little more about how to become a certified teacher in California and beyond, explore the on-campus and online degree options at National University’s Sanford College of Education on our program page.