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You will need a teacher certification credential to become a school teacher, but what type of teaching credential is right for you? Find out what you can do with the different types of teaching credentials.

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What are the Types of Teaching Credentials?

Elementary school teaching credentials allow you to teach pre-K, kindergarten, and elementary education.1 Credentials for elementary education cover multiple subjects, rather than a single subject, such as math or history.

Secondary school teaching credentials cover a single subject, rather than multiple subjects. You’ll be prepared to teach the subject at various levels, typically from elementary school, middle school, and high school up to adult education.2

As the name implies, special education teaching credentials prepare you to teach special education. Individuals with special education teaching credentials may teach in classrooms, special schools, and other settings. There are specialties available here, for instance, for early childhood education, visual health impairments, or physical health impairments.3

Which Teaching Credential is Right?

The right teacher credential will allow you to teach the subject that interests you to the level of children or adults you want to work with. If you are passionate about working with young children, an elementary school teaching certificate credential is a strong fit for your professional development. If you prefer to teach one subject instead of multiple, you may prefer a secondary school educator certification. 

If you would prefer to teach one subject instead of multiple, then you may prefer a secondary school educator certification. Likewise, if you are highly interested in one topic, you’ll be able to pursue your passions more with secondary school teaching credentials.

Consider what teaching experience you would most enjoy. Would you rather teach critical thinking and academic skills or direct children in play? If you’re unsure what age group is right, volunteer with children to better understand what you enjoy.

Once you’ve decided, find a student teaching training program and prepare to obtain your teaching license and credentials.

Are there alternative routes to educator certification for special circumstances?

Consideration of unique circumstances in obtaining teaching certification and alternative options are made available, such as expedited certification, temporary licensing, or bypassing the traditional certification process.

  • Accelerated Certification Programs - This type of teacher certification program allows you to earn your certification while actively teaching.
  • Emergency Teaching Credentials - States facing critical teacher shortages may offer temporary or emergency teaching licenses that bypass typical requirements, often for high-need subjects such as math, science, special education, or bilingual education in urban schools. Another one is for high-need geographic areas like urban schools. Contact the State Department of Education to determine if your state offers this option.
  • Transferring Teacher Credentials from a Different Country - Many states do not recognize teaching credentials from other countries. Still, provisional teaching certificates may be granted, allowing individuals to teach while taking a teaching credential program and fulfilling additional education requirements. Once completed, full licensure is obtained, which typically takes one to two semesters of full-time study.

As we go into the nuances of teaching credentials, it's crucial to understand the interchangeability of terms between "licensed" and "certified", and recognize how these definitions can vary based on state regulations. Knowing the specific requirements for your intended teaching state is important to ensure that you meet all criteria.

Licensed Teacher vs. Certified Teacher

While the terms "licensed" and "certified" teacher can often be used interchangeably, the exact definition and requirements depend on state regulations and policies. Whether you have a single-subject credential or multiple-subject credential, it's always important to check the specific requirements of the state you intend to teach. 


A licensed teacher has received official permission from a government authority (usually a state's Department of Education) to teach in a public school setting. A certified teacher has met all the required educational and testing criteria set forth by an educational authority (like a state's Department of Education) to teach in public schools. "Certification" and "licensure" are used interchangeably in many contexts.


A license typically involves completing a teacher education program, passing required state board examinations, and undergoing a background check. Certification also generally requires completing a teacher preparation program, passing relevant exams, and, often, earning a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field.


Teaching licenses are often state-specific. A teacher licensed in one state may need to meet additional requirements to teach in another. Most teaching licenses have a validity period, after which they need to be renewed. Renewal usually requires continuing education or professional development. Meanwhile, certification can be subject-specific or grade-specific, indicating the teacher’s proficiency in a particular subject area or teaching level.

Apply for an Online Teaching Credential Today

Interested in learning more about CA teaching, online teaching credentials, or any of our other teacher education programs? Contact an Alliant admissions counselor today. Check out our full list of online programs today to take the next step in your career. 

Become a teacher


  1. “Elementary School Teacher Career Guide,” Teacher Certification Degrees, accessed November 22, 2021,….
  2. “High School Teacher Career Guide.” Teacher Certification Degrees. Accessed November 22, 2021.…;
  3. “Teaching Special Education.” Teaching Special Education. Accessed November 22, 2021.…;

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