How Long Does It Take To Get a Teaching Certificate in 2024

Published On: March 1st, 2024·By ·

Educators hoping to have a fulfilling and enriching career require a teaching certificate. Each state has its unique requirements and steps to achieving certification. However, regardless of state, the process is typically completed in 1-2 years. It depends on the program and the pace candidates set for themselves.  

While some states have emergency licensing options that allow schools to hire teachers without full certification, these positions come with many restrictions, less pay, are short-term, and offer no chance for advancement until certification is complete. In addition, private schools that hire non-certified teachers typically pay less than public schools and limit career options.

Our article will outline how long it takes to get a teaching certificate using traditional and alternative pathways, including online certification options. 

Teacher certificate

What Is a Teaching Certificate?

A teacher's certificate is an official document that states an individual has successfully completed a teacher preparation program. It must be submitted to a state's licensing board as part of their certification process. Each state's education department determines the type of training, competence, and steps, such as examinations, necessary to be licensed. 

All states require a teacher to hold a bachelor's degree or higher to teach. While the process after that varies between states, there are some common steps, such as:

  • Completing a teacher certification program
  • Completing state-mandated examinations
  • Submitting fingerprints and undergoing a state and federal background check
  • 1 year of supervised teaching

Teacher licensing is an ongoing process. Teachers are required to continue their education throughout their careers. The state mandates the amount of professional development that can be achieved through various in-personal and online opportunities such as:

  • Conferences
  • Webinars
  • Workshops
  • Courses
  • Mentorship and coaching  

How Long It Takes to Get a Teaching Certificate

How long does it take to get a teaching certificate with a bachelor's degree? It depends, but the traditional teaching pathway typically takes 4-5 years. 

Becoming a teacher involves three main steps, which may overlap:

  1. Bachelor's degree: 4 years
  2. Teaching experience: 1-2 years 
  3. Teacher preparation: 1 year

Those wishing to teach traditionally begin by pursuing a four-year bachelor's degree through an accredited college or university. However, those who took AP or college credit classes in high school may be able to achieve their educational degree in 3 years. Also, those who begin at community college before progressing to a four-year institution may take five years. 

Many institutions that offer a bachelor's degree in education incorporate the teacher preparation program into the final fourth year or add it as a fifth. Some of the institutions requiring a fifth year also award a master's degree in addition to the teaching certificate. 

Candidates may also decide to apply to a teaching preparation program outside their institution. Once the candidate has been accepted, getting a teaching certificate takes 1-2 years. 

Once candidates have documented evidence of completing a teacher preparation program, they can apply for the appropriate license or certification. Depending on the state, the candidate will wait a few weeks to a few months to hear if their application has been successful. 

To ensure a successful application, candidates should ensure they submit their application with all the required documentation, which may include:

  • Transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Fingerprint card
  • First-aid certificate
  • Suicide prevention training

Alternative Certification

The traditional pathway, as described above, is not the only way to become a teacher. College graduates looking for a career change can use an alternative pathway to get into education. Candidates choosing this route typically take 1-2 years to gain their teacher's certificate, and some routes result in a master's degree. 

A popular option is a formal teaching preparation program, such as Teachers of Tomorrow. They are often more affordable than attending a university's preparation courses. Many are offered online, designed to be flexible, and can be done at the candidate's pace, meeting the needs of a working adult who may be raising a family. 

Candidates who have gained certification through a formal alternative pathway program can be particularly attractive to school districts. Teachers with subject-matter expertise from their original careers can draw from their past to expand and enhance classroom lessons. They help students understand how their learning material can be applied to the real world. 

Formal alternative teaching preparation certification programs typically fall into two main types, although they may be both:

  • Residency programs: Candidates work as a teacher while being mentored or coached. They may also be required to do coursework online or take in-person classes at night or on weekends. 

Some residency programs use unpaid internships or fieldwork positions to gain teaching training. Others, such as Teachers of Tomorrow, allow candidates to work in a school for pay while completing their coursework. 

  • Accelerated programs: Programs that are faster than the traditional route's 4-5 years. Many are completed in 1-2 years, but some can be completed in under 12 months. 

For instance, Teachers of Tomorrow allows candidates to work at their own pace. So, while many candidates choose to spread the work across 1-2 years, there are ways to accelerate the process so it can be completed in under 12 months.

Alternative routes to teaching certification are determined by the state. Other options available may include: 

  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification: An advanced certification usually obtained after gaining a teaching certificate through the traditional pathway or a teacher preparation program plus three years of teaching experience. However, those who are working as substitute teachers or as private school teachers may be able to gain their initial certification through this route. 
  • Career and Technical Education Certification (CTE): One of the few exceptions to teaching without a bachelor's degree. In certain states, candidates can apply for a CTE if they have years of technical experience in specific trades, such as automotive technology, health care, construction, or culinary arts. 
  • Emergency and Provisional Certification: These allow candidates to teach for pay without necessarily having completed a traditional or alternative teaching program. However, most require the candidate to be enrolled in an alternative teaching program to qualify. Others are only available after completing a teacher certification program but may lack other standard certification requirements, such as passing specific exams. 

Emergency and provisional certificates can be issued for as little as 30 days and some for as long as three years. Most are renewable for a limited number of times. 

  • In-district training: School districts provide on-the-job training to teacher candidates. While working in the classroom, candidates receive feedback and guidance from a qualified mentor or coach in the educational field. These programs often require the candidate to be enrolled in a teaching preparation program, such as Teachers of Tomorrow
  • Teaching equivalency and portfolio evaluations: Some states allow unlicensed educators who have taught at private or postsecondary schools, such as a community college, to become certified through an evaluation and portfolio process. 

Teacher Certification Types

Types of teacher certification depend on the state and dictate what grades and subjects a candidate is licensed to teach. Common certification options for teaching include: 

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • Elementary Education
  • Secondary Education (English, Mathematics, Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Life Sciences, Physics, and Social Sciences)
  • Agriculture
  • American Sign Language
  • Art Teacher
  • Business Education
  • Computer Science
  • Dance
  • Drama/Theater
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Foreign Language (French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish)
  • Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) Certification
  • Health Educator
  • Home Economics
  • Journalism
  • Music
  • Physical Education
  • Reading Specialist
  • Special Education
  • Speech Language Pathologist
  • Technology
  • Visually Impaired Teacher
  • Education Technology
  • Administrative Licensing
  • Reciprocity
  • Alternative Certification
  • Librarian Certification

Candidates must research certification types and think critically and deeply about the age group and subjects they feel called to teach. Educators who later decide to add or change their teacher certification must undergo further training and testing. 

Not all alternative pathway programs offer the full breadth of certification types. Investigating the various programs and ensuring the one you select has the resources to help you reach your education career goals is essential. 

State rules and regulations also heavily impact the available certification types through alternative pathways. For instance, some states demand the traditional pathway for early childhood education. Certification in American sign language and the visually impaired also have requirements typically not provided by alternative pathways.

Also, some states require a master's degree for specific certification types. These may include: 

  • Special Education
  • Reading Specialist
  • Speech Language Pathologist
  • Librarian

However, the master's requirement varies between states. For example, Teachers of Tomorrow has helped many candidates with a bachelor's degree become special education teachers in Texas

Teacher Preparation Programs

Teacher preparation programs, or education preparation programs, are designed to provide candidates with the knowledge, skills, strategies, and tools to succeed in the classroom. The programs aim to ensure the country's schools have quality teachers who meet state and national education standards. 

Teacher preparation programs often involve a blend of coursework, exams, and internships. They may also provide networking opportunities, job seeker advice, workshops, and exam preparation support. 

Application guidelines for teacher preparation programs vary depending on the institution and state regulations. For instance, some require candidates to pass certain exams, such as the Praxis Core, before official admittance, while others allow it to be done at a later date. Common requirements include:

  • Bachelor's degree
  • 2-2.5 GPA or higher
  • US citizen or legal resident
  • Background check
  • Passing the Praxis Core

Each state mandates which exams candidates must pass to gain teaching certification. Some examples of common exams include:

  • Praxis Core: The test evaluates the foundational academic skills: reading, writing, and mathematics. Candidates may also be required to take Paxis subject tests and Principles of Learning and Teaching
  • TExES: The Texas Examination of Educator Standards evaluates the knowledge base and skills of teacher candidates in three general areas: subject-specific, content, and pedagogy, and professional responsibilities. The series of exams a candidate must take depends on the grade level they wish to teach, specific subjects, and any specialties.  
  • edTPA: Performance-based exams designed by Stanford University are used to assess a candidate's readiness to teach a specific grade level and subject(s). 
  • NES:  The Nation Evaluation Series are computer-based exams designed according to national subject and pedagogy standards. 
  • FTCE: The Florida Teacher Certification Examination is a series of tests that evaluates the subject matter knowledge of candidates to assess their ability to meet the state's standards.  
  • MTTC: The Michigan Test for Teacher Certification is a collection of exams that assess a candidate's readiness to teach specific grade levels, subjects, and specialties. 
  • SAT: The Scholastic Aptitude Test is a common college and university application requirement for those needing to obtain their bachelor's degree. It is split into three main sections: math, evidence-based reading, and writing. 
  • ACT: The ACT is another aptitude test often required for admissions to colleges and universities. Some will accept it as an alternative to the SAT, while others want both. It is a multiple-choice exam split into four sections: English, reading, math, and science.

There are many teacher preparation programs, although not all are equal in terms of quality, cost, flexibility, and support. Some of the most common preparation programs include: 

  • Teachers of Tomorrow: The number one alternative certification program is accredited by AAQEP and has helped 80,000 teaching candidates achieve their career goals. The affordable self-paced program is designed to allow candidates to work as a teacher while they complete their coursework. They offer a research-based curriculum, up-to-date resources, a vibrant online study community, and a wealth of knowledgeable advisors. 
  • iTeach: An online alternative certification program that is accredited by the CAEP. The 1-2 year program is self-paced and provides access to their resource library and resume builder.  
  • TeachAway: A flexible online alternative certification program that blends coursework with in-person clinical placements. They are approved for Hawaii and Arizona.  
  • Troops to Teachers: The national program helps military personnel or spouses transition to teaching. The program is run through various universities and alternative teaching programs. Despite its success, funding has been shaky since 2020. However, it is still available through some institutions in a select number of states.
  • Transition to Teaching: A government program that recruits and supports mid-career professionals and recent university graduates who did not major in education to teach. It focuses on those with experience and education in engineering, math, science, technology, and business. The program partners with other colleges, universities, and school districts to ensure it meets state requirements.  

National Board Certification

The National Board Certification is the highest certification in the United States. The prestigious certification is optional but can lead to a higher salary and more professional opportunities. The certification is particularly advantageous for professionals who may wish to teach in different states. Without it, changing states is especially onerous. 

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) oversees the certification process. They are a nonprofit committed to developing and retaining the country's teachers while seeking to improve schools nationwide.

The NBPTS process was developed by teachers for teachers. While rigorous and challenging, the program is flexible to allow educators to continue teaching and attend to their personal responsibilities. 

Candidates select from 25 different certification areas and will be required to meet four components based on their selection:

  • Content knowledge
  • Differentiation in Instruction
  • Teaching Practice and Learning Environment
  • Effective and Reflective Practitioner

The components are evaluated through a mixture of assessments and portfolios. The process takes 1-3 years, depending on the candidate's timeline. Those who do not pass a component have two additional retake attempts within a five-year window. 

Educators can apply to the NBPTS after three years of teaching. Those who have worked part-time, overseas, or as a substitute may be eligible; check the NBPTS's Eligibility Verification Forms and Instructions or the Guide to National Board Certification.  

Teaching Without a Certificate

The United States requires all public school teachers to have a certificate or license of some nature. Many candidates can still teach on an emergency or provisional license even if they do not meet all of the state's requirements for full certification. These enable teaching candidates to gain classroom experience and work for pay while completing their training. 

However, some private schools hire teachers who do not hold a state-issued certificate or license. Generally, these positions do not pay as well as the public-school equivalent nor provide as robust benefit packages. They also offer little to no room for career advancement. 

Gaining full teacher certification opens career opportunities, enhances job security, and increases pay. Having teacher certification also grants entry to educational organizations that provide excellent network opportunities and support. 

Even teachers who continue to work for private schools will have a more enriching and better-paying career with certification.

Becoming a Certified Teacher

Becoming a certified teacher is essential to having a fulfilling educational career. Certification can be obtained through traditional and alternative pathways. Each state has its own licensing and certification standards, so it is essential to choose a program that meets your state's requirements. 

How long does it take to get a teaching certificate through the traditional route?

Traditional routes take 4-5 years, providing the classic US university experience. They are often expensive and time-intensive but will result in a bachelor's degree and, sometimes, a master's, in addition to a teaching certificate. 

How long does it take to get a teaching certificate online?

Alternative pathways are often online and designed for working adults with bachelor's degrees who want to switch careers. They take an average of 1-2 years to complete and are usually flexible so candidates can continue to work and attend to life obligations, such as family. Some alternative pathways also provide the opportunity to teach full-time for pay while studying. 

What are the benefits of teacher certification?

Teacher certification courses ensure the nation has quality teachers in the classroom. Each state has coursework and field experience that develops candidates' knowledge, skills, and tools required to provide students with an excellent education. 

Being certified also benefits teachers, raising confidence and effectiveness in the classroom. Certification also provides a greater breadth of career opportunities, higher pay, job security, and better benefit packages. 

Are you reading to become one of your state’s best-certified teachers?

Don't wait! Begin your journey to inspiring the next generation today. If you have any questions, SimpleK12 is always happy to help. 

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