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The fact that you can read this sentence is proof that one or more teachers may have had a positive influence on your development. When thinking back on your formative years, you can likely name a particular educator who made learning fun and memorable and perhaps even inspired your interest in teaching. If you want to teach but haven’t investigated the requirements, you’re likely wondering, “What do you need to become a teacher?” This guide will help answer that question and point you in the right direction.

Step 1 - Refine Your Career Goal

The first step in discovering how to become a teacher is to obey a phrase that teachers-in-training often hear when learning how to write lesson plans: Begin with the end in mind. It's a good piece of advice for career planning, too. You can't know the steps you'll need to reach your goal unless you first know exactly what that goal is. So spend time visualizing yourself as a certified teacher. What's your ideal teaching position? What subject do you want to teach? And to whom do you want to teach it to? Do you aspire to be an elementary school teacher, a middle school teacher, or a high school teacher? Do you want to run your own classroom or become a substitute teacher? Clarifying these details will help you move on to the next steps.

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Determine whether you want to teach one subject or multiple. Multiple-subject teachers are typically elementary school instructors who work with a single group of students the entire year in a self-contained classroom. Many special education teachers instructing students with disabilities also have multi-subject credentials.

Single-subject teachers, on the other hand, see multiple groups of students and grade levels throughout the year. These teachers are the minority in most elementary schools, and typically teach the special-area or elective subjects: art, music, physical education, computer, and library. However, in middle and high schools, almost all teachers are single-subject teachers.

Step 2 - Check State Teacher Requirements

Because requirements vary from state to state, you should check the Department of Education (DOE) website for the state in which you plan to apply for a teaching job. This assures that you’ll meet the requirements without taking unnecessary steps. You may have to do some navigating to find the information you’re looking for. For example, California’s DOE website contains a “Professional Learning” tab and a menu item labeled “Become a Teacher,” but the actual credential requirements are found on the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing website

Step 3 - Create a Career Plan

When you think about all your must-do's that you need to complete in order to start a teaching profession, you may quickly feel overwhelmed. To help you focus and stay on track, make a career plan that lays out everything you must do to meet the requirements such as getting licensure or going through a teacher certification course. Your state may provide resources that walk you through the process. Based on whether you’re a high school or college student, have a bachelor’s degree, are changing careers or licensed in another state, the tool tells you how to proceed.

Step 4 - Earn Your Undergraduate Degree

If you don’t yet have a four-year degree and are wondering what degree you need to be a teacher, you'll be pleased to know that there's more than one option for aspiring teachers. Although all states require that teacher candidates have at least a bachelor's degree, they typically don't specify a particular area of study. As long as you can prove through testing that you're proficient in the subject you plan to teach, you don't need a degree in that subject. This is particularly helpful if you have a non-teaching bachelor's or higher degree and are transitioning into teaching from another career. In that case, you would need to complete a teacher training program.

But knowing ahead of time what you want to teach allows you to choose a degree and teacher education program that relates to your career and perhaps integrates teacher training – which will save you time. These bachelor’s degrees are commonly held by PreK-12 teachers:

  • Early Childhood Education (primarily for preschool and kindergarten school teachers)
  • Elementary Education (primarily for K-5 teachers)
  • Special Education 
  • Degree in a Specific Content Area 

State-approved education degrees typically include teacher training, but degrees in particular subjects, like math and history, usually do not.

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Step 5 - Complete a Teacher Preparation Program

If your degree does not incorporate teacher training, you will need to complete a state-approved teacher training program after earning your bachelor's. In these programs, you learn how to plan lessons and units of study, present class content, manage a classroom, and other necessary skills. The program works hand-in-hand with student teaching. Over a semester, you assist a local school teacher in his or her classroom, and gradually take on a portion of the teaching duties. You are regularly observed by a program supervisor and do not get paid to teach.

However, faster training methods are becoming increasingly popular. States like California have come up with ways to shorten the time it takes to become a teacher. Depending on where you plan to teach, you may have the option of enrolling in a teacher intern program.  This allows you to work for four terms as a teacher-of-record in a classroom and earn a teaching salary while you complete your coursework. Since intern programs are more intense than student teaching and require you to take full charge of a classroom, they are recommended for individuals with prior teaching experience.

Whatever type of teacher training you choose, your program sponsor will issue you a teaching certificate once you complete the program. This recommendation shows that you have completed teacher training and know how to teach.

Step 6 - Meet Basic Skills and Subject Matter Requirements

One of the last steps involved is proving to the state that you know what to teach, and possess basic skills and sufficient content knowledge. You can do this multiple ways, which vary by state.

Basic skills. 

For the state basic skills requirement, you may take and pass a test – like the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) – which assesses your knowledge and skills in basic mathematics, reading, and writing in English. Your state should offer several alternative options. California, for example, allows you to choose one of these options, other than taking the CBEST:

  • Take and pass the Multiple Subjects and Writing Skills exams of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET), which measures your subject matter competency.
  • Take and pass the English and mathematics sections on California State University’s Early Assessment Program or Placement Examinations tests.
  • Earn a qualifying score on the ACT or SAT.
  • Earn qualifying scores on the College Board Advanced Placement math and English exams.
  • Take and pass a basic skills test in another state.

Subject matter.

The subject matter requirement can be met by taking and passing a test – such as the CSET exams in California – or by completing a state-approved subject matter program. So if you’ve already finished a university program in the subject area for which you’ll be certified, you will probably not need a subject matter exam unless you’re coming in from another state.

Step 7 - Acquire Your Credential

Remember to check the teacher licensing information in your own state, as there may be additional requirements. For example, California may require a Reading Instruction Competence Assessment if you didn’t complete a teacher preparation program that includes student teaching. California also requires that teacher candidates complete a course or pass an exam on the U.S. Constitution.

Once you have met all of the requirements, you must fill out an application form for the credential. California’s form, “Application for Credential Authorizing Public School Service,” contains the following sections for you to complete:

  • Personal information (Social Security number, name, date of birth, and contact information)

  • Application type (new credential, extension, upgrade, renewal, other)

  • Document type (teaching credential, services credential, emergency permits, other)

  • Subject areas you’re authorized to teach

  • Child development permit renewal (only for applicants who currently hold and wish to renew permit)

  • Professional fitness questions (dismissals due to misconduct, felony or misdemeanor convictions, other)

  • Child abuse and neglect reporting (school teachers are responsible for reporting suspected abuse)

  • Employing agency information

  • Oath and affidavit

Along with the application, you will also need to submit:

  • Official transcripts, exam score reports, and other supporting documentation
  • Application payment
  • Verification that you’ve been fingerprinted

Your application may take several weeks to process, but you may be able to track its status online through the state’s credentialing commission.

Continuing Education for Professional Development 

While a master’s degree is not mandatory in most areas for teaching, a higher education degree could come with more advantages regardless of location or the subject one intends to teach.

Most elementary and middle school teachers are required to fulfill a minimum number of ongoing education or professional development course hours to maintain their state licenses. An advanced teaching credential may also offer opportunities for job flexibility, better salaries, and career advancement into administrative roles.

Doctoral Degree

An educator preparation program at the doctoral level is ideal for those who aim to be in the highest position of education administration. Positions vary from school superintendent to director of curriculum. This is also best for those who are interested in research or in higher government roles.

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About Alliant

At Alliant International University, you can begin your path to a rewarding teaching career through various educator preparation programs. Alliant offers credential and certificate programs, including a Certificate in California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL), Leading to CLAD Certificate as well as an MAE in TESOL and an EdD in TESOL. Whether you're an aspiring teacher or someone looking for an alternative certification, you can request more information online or call (866) 825-5426.


  1. California Department of Education Accessed Nov. 23, 2021.
  2. California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Accessed Nov. 23, 2021
  3. “Teaching Credential Requirements,” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Accessed Nov. 23, 2021
  4.  “Application for Credential Authorizing Public School Service,” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing…. Accessed Nov. 23, 2021

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