Online Degrees Blog Is a Teaching License the Same as Being Certified to Teach?

Is a Teaching License the Same as Being Certified to Teach?

30 August

Although classroom teachers make just $59,346 a year on average—more if you decide to pursue a master's degree—they bear tremendous responsibility.1 Teachers have the power to change lives by inspiring and motivating individuals in their formative years. Because they spend so much time in the classroom each day, teachers also notice issues that make it hard for their students to focus on academics, such as food scarcity and domestic violence.

These responsibilities are just one reason public school teachers need to get a state teaching license—often referred to as "getting certified" to teach—before they are able to work in the classroom.

If you're interested in becoming a teacher, you might be confused about what it means to become a licensed teacher. When do you need to worry about getting a teaching license? Is teaching certification the same as a teaching license? What are the requirements to become certified?

Here's what you need to know about teaching licenses including what a teaching license is, how to get a teaching license, and what the difference is between a certified teacher and a licensed one.

What is a Teaching License?

A teaching license is a credential that allows you to work legally as a teacher. Each one of the fifty U.S. states mandates licensing for public school teachers, but the process differs widely from state to state.2

For the most part, the process of receiving a teaching license is referred to as "getting certified" to teach. A certified teacher has an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution of higher education, has completed the state's required teacher preparatory coursework, and has passed the state licensing exam.

What Is a Licensed Teacher?

In a nutshell, a licensed teacher is someone authorized to teach in the classroom. Every public school in the United States, and many private schools, require teachers to be certified or licensed, or both.

How To Get a Teaching License

Although every state has different specifics, the basic process for getting a teaching license is the same state by state. Here are the steps you'll take to get teaching certification:

  1. Get your bachelor's degree. You can't become a classroom teacher without first getting a degree from an accredited 4-year college or university. Your undergraduate major should correlate with the grade level and subject matter you wish to teach. For instance, an Elementary Education degree prepares you to teach children K-5. If you wish to teach older children, you'll want to specialize in a subject area, like math or Spanish.
  2. Complete a teacher preparation program. Undergraduates planning to become teachers typically fulfill the requirements for this program while they are doing their other coursework.
  3. Do some student teaching. All 50 states require prospective teachers to get hands-on experience in the classroom before they can be licensed. Although details vary state by state, you'll need to do at least a semester's worth of student teaching to meet this requirement.
  4. Take your state's required licensing exam. In all but five states—Arizona, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, and Massachusetts—that exam will consist of one or more of the three Praxis tests, either the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators (often referred to simply as "Core"), the Praxis Content Knowledge for Assessments, and the Praxis Subject Assessments. Some states also require prospective teachers to pass the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT) exam before they begin student teaching. The five states that don't require the Praxis series either use their own licensing exams or a curated mix of content assessments and Praxis PLT or Core.
  5. Apply for certification. Once you've passed the state licensing exam, you must apply to the state's department of education to obtain a teaching certificate. You will also be required to pass a background check and have your fingerprints taken. A teaching certificate is only good for a set number of years. You'll need to renew it by taking additional continuing ed classes or pursuing an advanced degree.

These steps are the traditional route to getting certified. There is also an alternative route to teaching certification available for individuals who have an undergraduate degree but lack the teacher preparation coursework.

The first step in the alternative teaching certification process is to choose another way of completing the teacher preparation coursework you would have taken had you majored in education as an undergraduate. Fortunately, many states treat an online master's degree in education as an alternative teaching preparation program; thus, you can earn an advanced degree and complete one of your teaching license requirements at the same time.

While completing the preparatory teacher program your state mandates, you may be able to apply for a provisional teaching license and start classroom teaching right away. Not all states allow this option, so you'll have to check with your state's board of education to see if you're eligible.

Once the coursework is finished, you'll take the licensing exam and apply for certification just as in the traditional route.

What is the Difference Between a Certified Teacher and a Licensed Teacher?

This distinction can be confusing. Even within this article, we've spoken about "getting certified" and "receiving a teaching license" as if the two are interchangeable. In fact, many undergraduate teaching degree programs and state departments of education use the terms synonymously as well.

Basically, the term "certified teacher" means a teacher who has gone through the process to be legally authorized to teach in a public school. They receive a certificate to teach, and this certificate is also a teaching license.

Some states exclusively use certification, not licensing, to determine authorization. New York state, for example, has different levels of certification, including Initial Certification, which is good for the first five years of teaching, and Professional Certification, which is an advanced level certificate for teachers with master's degrees and at least three years of classroom experience.3

Finally, states may sometimes grant teaching licenses in addition to having a teaching certification process. Here are some of the circumstances in which you might obtain a license to teach:

  • You might receive a temporary practitioner license so that you can teach while completing a professional teaching preparation program. Not every state allows this practice.
  • You might receive a teaching license if you are a certified teacher working outside their field of expertise temporarily.
  • You might receive a teaching license if you didn't major in education as an undergraduate but are seeking to obtain an education-related master's degree.

The bottom line—getting your teacher's license and becoming a certified teacher are largely considered the same thing. However, a teaching license may be used to grant temporary authorization to teach when the individual has experience but lacks the relevant degree or preparatory coursework.

Get Your Teaching License with the Help of an Online Master's Degree from KU

Whether you want to become more efficient in the classroom, earn more money, or complete your state requirements for certification, an online master's degree from the University of Kansas can help you achieve your goals. We offer master's degrees in Curriculum & Instruction, Reading Education, and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The School of Education & Human Sciences at the University of Kansas is accredited and highly-ranked, making an online degree from KU a wise investment in your future

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