How to Become a School Teacher in California

Becoming a School Teacher in CA

When it comes to changing lives, teachers are among the most influential professionals in the U.S. However, as a state hit hard by the current nationwide teacher shortage, California is struggling to provide its students with quality educators who can create life-changing impact in the classroom.

Whether you have always dreamed of being a teacher, or are currently working in another field and looking for a career change, now is the time to consider investing in the future of students by pursuing a career in education.

Wondering how to become a teacher in California? At whatever level you are interested in teaching, the career path involves the following six steps:

  1. Determine if teaching is right for you. 
  2. Choose your area of teaching.
  3. Fulfill the California teacher education requirements.
  4. Gain experience in the classroom.
  5. Fulfill the California teacher testing requirements.
  6. Apply for jobs.

STEP ONE: Determine if teaching is right for you

Is teaching right for you?

Your first step in becoming a teacher in California is to determine whether the role is a good fit for your personal and professional goals. Teaching is a challenging job that requires patience and commitment. Though highly rewarding, it is not for everyone.

In fact, the Gallup State of America’s Schools Report found that between 40 and 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching, a number that emphasizes the importance of giving serious thought to the pros and cons of the field before investing in this career path.

So how can you decide if teaching is the job for you? Lynne Anderson, a professor of Teacher Education at National University, recommends asking yourself three questions:

  1. Am I willing to serve?
    Whether you are helping kindergartners tie their shoes or walking high school seniors through college applications, teaching involves serving students day in and day out.

    “To be a teacher, you must have a real love for children and for aiding in their development,” Anderson says. “So, ask yourself, are you a person who believes in and wants to serve others?”

    If this is something that you feel fulfilled by, a career in education might be right for you.
  2. Am I a continual learner?
    You may be the teacher while in the classroom, but that does not mean that you ever quit being a student yourself. Educators are always learning, whether it is from a continuing education course, teaching conference, or the students themselves. It is an ideal profession for someone who wants to be a continual learner.

    “Maybe you always have a book in your hand, or are constantly on your smartphone looking up new information,” Anderson says. “Those are signs that you enjoy learning wherever and whenever you can, which is important for a teaching career.”
  3. Can I accept the salary?
    When you pursue any career, it is important to be informed about the salary and other financial considerations. According to the California Department of Education, the average salary for a teacher in the state was $79,128 in 2017. However, starting salaries are generally between $42,000 and $49,000, depending on the size of the school district.

    “Economics play a role in all of our lives, and the bottom line is that you won’t get rich being a teacher,” Anderson says. “So, you have to ask yourself if that’s something that you can live with, if that’s okay with you.”

STEP TWO: Choose your area of teaching

If a teaching career seems like the right fit for you, you still have an important decision to make: At what level of education are you interested in teaching?

Whether you love to read books out loud during story time, help create Civil War dioramas, or work through complex algebraic proofs, teaching is a diverse field that offers many different opportunities for those who want to make a difference in the lives of the younger generation. To determine your next steps, you need to start by choosing between two options: elementary education or secondary education. These two specializations have different credentialing requirements, so you will need to make your decision before you go very far to ensure you receive the correct training.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct students at the beginning of their scholastic journeys. They are responsible for creating a basic foundation in subjects such as math and reading, that will equip their students to engage in a lifetime of learning. Because of the younger age of these students, teachers in the lower grades often aid their charges’ development in other areas as well, such as learning to sit still during lessons or tie their shoes.

When it comes to how to become a teacher in California at the elementary level, one of the most important things to know is that you must hold a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential.

Despite the many rewards of teaching at the elementary level, interacting with younger students is not for everyone. If you are more interested in having academic conversations and engaging with the material you teach on a deeper level, middle school or high school may be a more appropriate setting.

Choose your area of teaching

As a high school teacher, you are responsible for both instructing your students and helping them prepare for their life after they graduate. This may mean assisting with college applications, or helping with them develop the skills required to enter the workforce once they finish school. Middle school is a transition between elementary and high school, building on the foundational skills taught in the lower grades and preparing students for more advanced work at the high-school level.

To teach at the middle or high school level, you must hold a Single Subject Teaching Credential.

If you think that a career as a high school or middle school teacher would be a better fit for you, you also need to determine which subject matter you are interested in teaching. As opposed to elementary school teachers, who teach every subject, secondary school educators typically teach in a single academic area, though they may instruct students at different grade levels within that subject. For instance, a math instructor may teach 9th-grade algebra classes as well as senior-level calculus. If you want to take a deeper dive into a single subject that interests you, secondary education may be the right fit.

Not sure which level is best for your interests and skills? Consider getting your feet wet by working in a school setting before you enroll in a teaching program. Anderson notes that many National University students work as substitute teachers before enrolling in the school’s teaching education program. Because you do not need to have a California teaching credential to fill these roles, they provide a great opportunity to gain experience in the classroom before committing to a teaching program. Volunteering in the classroom can also give you some first-hand insight into the teaching profession.

Confident that you want to pursue a teaching career and ready to get started on that path? In order to teach full time at a California public school, your next step is to enroll in an accredited teaching program.

STEP THREE: Fulfill the California teacher education requirements

California has high standards for its teachers, which include a rigorous course of study and, at a minimum, the completion of a bachelor’s degree. If you are looking at how to become a teacher in California, you will need to enroll in a program that has been approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to obtain California teacher certification.

While standards for entering the field of education are high across the country, Anderson reports that California’s requirements are different than those of most other states in that all candidates are required to complete five years of higher education.

There are two primary ways to meet this requirement. The first is to complete a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, and then complete a graduate program in teacher preparation—usually a Master’s degree. This has traditionally been the route completed by most teachers in California.

More recently, the state passed legislation that allows a teacher to be trained in an undergraduate teacher preparation program. These blended programs help you earn your education degree and teaching credential in one streamlined process.

Worried about finding the time to pursue a teaching degree? Online degree programs like National University’s make it easier than ever to further your education at the time and place that are most convenient for you.

STEP FOUR: Gain experience in the classroom

Gain experience in the classroom

To become a teacher in California, you need to gain teaching experience before you can be hired for a full-time role. This component of your training is typically blended into your educational program and completed alongside your coursework.

Students at National University, for instance, are encouraged start building relationships with schools in their own neighborhood from day one of their program to gain a sense of whether they may want to complete their student teaching at that location. Some even end up spending a few hours a week on campus as aides or as classroom volunteers.

“We have a process whereby our students gain appropriate entry into that school and get support from us to enter that school for the purpose of observation primarily or limited practice with a small group of students,” Anderson says. “By reaching out early on, they get to know the school, they get experience in the classroom as an aide or volunteer, and then that relationship often extends to student teaching once they’re ready to be in a classroom full time.”

Classroom teaching experience can help you to develop the skills you are learning through your coursework and identify the level of teaching for which you are best suited.

As a bonus, you can start networking and building relationships at schools in your community while student teaching. Once you complete your program and earn your credential, you may be able to turn that experience into a full-time job.

STEP FIVE: Fulfill the California teacher testing requirements

Before you can start giving examinations, you will have to take a few yourself to earn a California teacher credential.

Whether you are looking at how to become a teacher in California at the elementary, middle, or high school level, you must fulfill the state’s basic skills requirement. You can satisfy this requirement by passing one of the following:

  1. California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST): A general test that covers reading, writing and math. You must pass all three sections, but you do not need to do so in a single test-taking session.
  2. CSET Multiple Subject  Plus Writing Skills Examination: Subject matter tests that cover a range of academic areas, from English, mathematics, and science, to agriculture, home economics, and Mandarin. You must pass both the CSET: Multiple Subject Examination and the additional Writing Skills examination to fulfill the basic skills requirement.
  3. CSU Early Assessment Program or the CSU Placement Examinations: These options available to students enrolled in programs at California State Universities.

You will additionally need to prove subject matter competence, whether you are pursuing a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential or a Single Subject Teaching Credential. This is typically satisfied through the CSET.

If you do not pass any of these exams on your first attempt, you can retake the test, but you will need to pay the registration fee again.

These requirements reinforce the importance of selecting a teaching program that will adequately prepare you to not only enter the classroom but also pass the tests that will enable you to do so.

At National University, preparing you to take—and pass—California teacher credential examinations is a top priority.

“At National University, we help students prepare for these kinds of tests in every way we can think of,” Anderson said. “We help build their testing skills and confidence, but, more importantly, we design our curriculum with certification in mind to ensure they are prepared for the tests they’ll need to take.”

When it comes to the effectiveness of National’s program, the results speak for themselves — 95 percent of National University students pass the first time. 

Once you have met the state’s educational and testing requirements and submit your completed credential application, you can start thinking about where you would like to work as a new teacher. 

STEP SIX: Apply for Jobs

Apply for teaching Jobs

It’s a promising time for becoming a teacher in California. With districts across the country suffering from staffing shortages, demand for teachers is on the rise, creating new opportunities for educators — and those who are considering joining the field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for kindergarten and elementary school teachers in the U.S. is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2016 and 2026, adding 116,300 jobs to the market, while demand for middle school teachers is forecast to grow by 8 percent, adding 47,300 jobs. Demand for high school educators is expected to see a similar increase, growing by 8 percent and 76,800.

While teaching shortages have hit every state in the country, California has been hit particularly hard. According to the California Teachers Association, the state ranks at the bottom in the U.S. in student-to-teacher ratio. Districts in the Golden State would need to hire an additional 100,000 teachers simply to catch up with the national average.

Whatever part of California you live in, you will likely find open positions in your district. The Learning Policy Institute’s report “Addressing California’s Growing Teacher Shortage: 2017 Update,” reported that approximately 75 percent of the state’s districts experienced teacher shortages at the time of the report, with the majority reporting that the problem was only becoming worse.

As you apply for jobs, remember to leverage the network that you build while student teaching. Even if there are no positions available at that particular institution, your contacts will likely know of other schools that are hiring and can help connect you to the right people once you obtain a California teacher certification.

Exceptions to the traditional teaching path in California

While the above path is typical for most teachers in California, there are exceptions.

Teachers certified outside California
If you are licensed to teach in another state and wish to become a teacher in California, your education degree will typically be honored as long as you attended an accredited institution. However, you will be required to apply for a California teaching credential, which includes fulfilling the state’s Basic Skills Requirement within one year of receiving a preliminary state credential. Depending on which state you were previously certified, your past examinations may satisfy California requirements.

Private school teachers in California
To teach at a private school in California, you are not required to complete a California teaching credential. According to the California Department of Education, EC Section 48222 only requires private school teachers be “persons capable of teaching.”

However, many teachers in the private school setting do hold a teaching credential, and completing one may make you more competitive when applying for positions.

How to become a teacher in California through National University

Ready to get started? Consider launching your teaching career by applying to National University’s Sanford College of Education. At National, you can choose from more than 50 on-campus and online programs, comprising certificate, credential, and education degree options. Accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), our teacher education programs are recognized nationwide for their rigorous, evidence-based standards.

For over a decade, National has recommended more candidates for California teaching credentials than any other university in the state. From flexible online degree programs to a curriculum tailored to teaching credential requirements, Sanford’s programs make it easier than ever for students to pursue the many rewards of a career in education.

“I’m continually amazed by educators,” Anderson says. “I don't know of another profession that serves so well. So if that's something that draws your heart and soul, you belong in teaching.”

If that calling resonates with you, consider taking the next step today by partnering with National University. Contact our admissions department to speak with an advisor about your next steps in pursuing your teaching career.