Teachers have the important role of educating our nation's children and teens. They teach a variety of subjects, but may specialize in a particular area of instruction, such as mathematics education, special education, or English as a Second Language (ESL). The most common path to becoming a teacher involves completing a bachelor's degree program, including approved teacher education coursework from an accredited college or university, and obtaining a license from their state's board of education or license advisory committee. However, teachers at private schools are not required to be licensed, and those with bachelor's degrees outside of education may have alternative paths to teacher licensure. The requirements for teacher licensure vary by state, with most states requiring that teachers take a test measuring their competency in basic subject areas, as well as proficiency in the subject they will teach.

Public and consumer confidence should be increased when they discover that the teacher of record is a fully licensed teacher because it indicates a commitment to professional preparation and continued growth.

Linda DavinSenior Policy Analyst at the National Education Association

Getting Teacher Licensure and Certification

Licensure requires teachers to prove they have both the knowledge and the teaching experience necessary to effectively educate students. Teaching experience comes into play prior to licensure since most states require approved teacher certification programs to include student teaching in a real classroom under the supervision of a mentor. Teacher certification programs in colleges typically require courses in classroom management, child development, and teaching in certain subject areas, which directly apply to a teacher's work in the classroom.

"A fully licensed teacher has completed all the course requirements and state assessments needed to serve as the teacher of record in a public school," said Richelle Patterson, a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association (NEA). "Fully licensed teachers are instructional content experts who work with students to ensure that learning is meaningful and relevant. Public and consumer confidence should be increased when they discover that the teacher of record is a fully licensed teacher because it indicates a commitment to professional preparation and continued growth at a time when multiple options to enter the classroom exist."

Often, teachers are licensed only to teach certain grade levels in their state, such as elementary students, middle school students, or certain subjects for secondary students. In Texas, for example, teachers must complete certification tests for the grade levels and subjects they wish to teach, according to the Texas State Board for Educator Certification. In Wisconsin, there are three levels of teacher licensure — Initial, Professional, and Master. Licensed teachers in Wisconsin begin with the Initial licensure, move on to Professional licensure after five years, and have the option to pursue Master licensure after either earning a master's degree or becoming certified through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), according to the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Consult your state's board of education for complete licensure requirements.

Teachers in all states can voluntarily obtain advanced credentials through organizations such as NBPTS to complement their state teaching license. NBPTS offers 25 certificates in areas such as art, mathematics, and social studies, as well as teaching certain age categories, according to the NBPTS website. You must have at least three years of teaching experience to be eligible for NBPTS certification.

Maintaining Teaching Licensure and Certification

Education is a constantly changing and advancing field. Teachers must stay on top of these advancements so that they can continually improve the quality of education they provide. For this reason, merely obtaining a state teaching license is not enough — teachers must routinely maintain their licensure through continuing education and renew their licenses periodically, according to their state's requirements. Even if your state does not require teachers to accumulate continuing education for license renewal, your employer may require or encourage continued professional education.

"Educators must engage in ongoing professional learning to improve their skills," said Linda Davin, senior policy analyst at NEA. "Lifelong learning and the pursuit of education should be an expectation in the teaching profession. To inspire students, teachers must lead by example. Professional learning in the learning profession should be expected, respected, and valued."

Often, the most important factor in renewal is the completion of continuing professional education (CPE) credits. The number of CPE credits required for renewal differs by state. For example, Texas requires 150 hours of approved CPE for renewal every five years, according to the Texas Education Agency, while Wisconsin has several options for meeting professional growth requirements, such as completing six semester credits every five years, completing a professional development plan, or pursuing the Master educator process, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Specific information pertaining to license renewal and CPE requirements can be obtained through your state's board of education. Teachers who must accumulate CPE to maintain a national teaching credential should refer to their credentialing organization for additional information on specialized CPE requirements.

Teachers have demanding jobs and busy lives, making continuing education difficult at times to work into their schedules. We suggest completing your course work on your own schedule by taking your classes online. "For many educators, taking online courses is a matter of convenience," said Davin. "They can choose to log on and take courses when they wish. They can access their learning any time, any place, which is appealing to busy educators who work full time but want to continue to improve their practice." Davin emphasized that quality is an important consideration for online education and that not all online courses are equal. Care should be taken to determine that online courses meet high professional learning standards, she noted.

The classes you will need to take depend on your state's requirements, so we recommend consulting with your state board of education prior to signing up for online CPE courses, and verifying that credits earned online are approved for your CPE requirement.

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