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Behind nearly every successful individual stands a teacher who ignited a passion for learning and opened their eyes to a world of possibilities. As the famous saying goes, “teaching is the one profession that creates all others.”
Teachers make us. They mold future teachers, doctors, singers and artists. The art and science of teaching is embedded into every facet of our lives—even the YouTube videos that show you how to fix a broken sink, the 30-second makeup tutorials on TikTok and the online coding courses you take after work. Social media apps come and go, but education stands the test of time.
If you’ve always wanted to shape young minds and you have a knack for distilling complex concepts into simple explanations, a teaching career might be right for you—and you can even earn a teacher certification online. Read on to learn about online teacher certification programs.
What Is Online Teacher Certification?
A certification is a professional credential issued by a state education department that proves/signals your qualification to be a teacher. Some states refer to this designation as a teaching credential, certificate or license. Online teacher certification programs are distance-learning degree programs that prepare you to earn licensure in the state where you wish to teach.
A teaching credential authorizes you to educate elementary, middle, and/or secondary students in a specific state. You must complete prerequisite courses, fieldwork and assessments to earn this credential and become a licensed teacher.
Even though teaching credentials are state-specific, credentialed teachers often qualify for reciprocal licensure in other states. However, they may have to take additional tests or fulfill other state-specific criteria to earn reciprocal licensure.
Only public school teachers need to hold a formal credential; private schools can employ unlicensed teachers, but often do employ credentialed educators. Even so, earning your teaching credential can make you more marketable to private schools and may prove helpful if you later decide to join the public school system.
Steps To Earning Online Teaching Certification
The process of earning a teacher certification online varies by state and the level or subject of certification being pursued. Below, we walk through the standard process of becoming a credentialed teacher.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
If you intend to pursue a teaching career, earning a baccalaureate degree is the first step after high school. All K-12 schools require teachers to hold a bachelor’s.
Many aspiring teachers pursue bachelor’s degrees in education, as this major covers the foundations of teaching and prepares learners to earn licensure upon or after graduation. Education majors can also concentrate on specific subjects like science, math, history, or subfields like early childhood education.
Many colleges offer online education bachelor’s programs, which give you the flexibility to earn your degree without neglecting other commitments. Before applying, ensure your college and program hold institutional and programmatic accreditation, respectively. You must graduate from an accredited program to qualify for a teaching license.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the largest national accreditor of education degree programs. Some states use their own accreditation systems for education degrees.
If you’re not sure where to start in your search for a bachelor’s program, check out our list of the best online teaching degrees.
Enroll in a State-Approved Teacher Preparation Program
Teacher preparation programs essentially teach you how to conduct a classroom. In one of these programs, you will develop extensive knowledge of the content and teaching methodologies relevant to the subject and grade level you intend to teach; you may also complete fieldwork and an internship.
Most teacher preparation courses are post-baccalaureate programs, but others are integrated into bachelor’s curricula, as is often the case with education degree programs that lead to licensure. If you hold a degree in a subject other than education, however, expect to complete a separate teacher preparation program before earning your teacher certification.
Teacher preparation programs allow you to specialize in areas like in early childhood education, special education, and specific subjects like math and science.
Even if you complete your teacher preparation program online, student teaching and other in-person requirements may apply.
Pass the Certification Assessment
Upon completing an educator preparation program, you must complete a basic teaching skills test—usually the Praxis®. The Praxis typically evaluates candidates in two areas: content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.
Passing standards for the Praxis vary by state. Praxis allows test takers to complete the exam online from home.
Complete Other State-Specific Requirements
Most states conduct background checks on applicants for teaching licensure to ensure candidates do not have criminal records or histories of substance use disorder.
Your state may have basic skills requirements as well. For example, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) calls for proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. You might fulfill your state’s basic skills requirement by presenting college transcripts demonstrating previous coursework in those areas, passing an assessment, or submitting adequate SAT or ACT scores.
To verify other requirements, contact your state’s teacher licensing body.
Apply for a Preliminary Teacher Certificate
After completing the state-mandated prerequisites, you can apply for a temporary or probationary teacher credential. This credential usually remains valid for a period of years, allowing you to work while fulfilling the criteria to earn a permanent credential. The probationary teacher certificate is valid for five years in California, for example; Florida’s lasts for three.
Allow plenty of time to apply for and receive your permanent teacher credential before your probationary one lapses as it’s typically nonrenewable. During your probationary period, you might also complete a teacher induction program or pursue additional subject-specific credentials, depending on your state’s guidelines.
Types of Online Teacher Certification Programs
You can pick from a wide selection of specializations when pursuing your teacher certification. However, choosing which one to pursue shouldn’t be difficult once you’ve established your desired position, school setting and subjects.
For example, if you’re considering teaching kindergarten students, look into an early childhood education certification program, such as a licensure-track bachelor’s degree in early childhood education (ECE). To teach special education, find a program that prepares you to do so.
Below, we discuss common types of online teacher certifications and their distinct requirements.
Early Childhood Education
An ECE certification prepares candidates for early childhood education careers, equipping them with the knowledge and practical skills necessary to teach children ages 5 and younger. ECE programs involve courses like instructional methodologies for young children, emergent literacy and foundations of early childhood education.
This certification demonstrates that the holder can help children develop a love for learning as they grow and transition into kindergarten. To help kick off your search, review our ranking of the best early childhood education degrees online.
Elementary Education Certification
If you’re more of a generalist and prefer teaching the same class throughout the school year, this certification may be right for you.
You can pursue an elementary education degree that leads to licensure. And if you already hold a degree, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) offers an elementary education certification that qualifies you to teach multiple subjects like math, social studies, science and English language to students in Kindergarten through grade five.
ABCTE’s program culminates in two certification exams: a pedagogy exam and a subject area exam. The former tests your understanding of teaching methods, while the latter evaluates your expertise in the subjects you intend to teach.
Enrolling in this certification program costs $1,900. Alongside the application fee, you need to submit college transcripts and pass a background check to be accepted.
If you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree that prepares you to teach elementary education, you can check out our ranking of the best online elementary education degrees.
Subject-Specific Teacher Certification
Middle and high school teachers typically focus on specific subjects, which usually align with their educational backgrounds. Subject-specific certifications validate teachers’ expertise in their respective fields.
Aspiring biology teachers, for example, should seek a biology teacher certification. Similarly, prospective history educators need a history teacher certification.
ABCTE offers subject-specific certifications. These programs require candidates to pass two certification assessments: a professional teaching knowledge exam and a subject-specific evaluation.
Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Certification
TESL certification programs provide aspiring teachers with the resources and competencies to help students learn to speak and write in English. If you want to teach abroad or help English-learning immigrants settle in better in their new homes, you might pursue the TESL certification.
You might also consider the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) credentials, which provide similar qualifications.
The American TESOL Institute offers multiple variants of TESOL and TEFL certifications, all of which can be earned online. Candidates must invest at least 120 hours of coursework including a teaching practicum.
To learn more about this option, see our guides on how to get TEFL certification and how to teach English abroad.
Special Education Teacher Certification
Special education certifications prepare prospective teachers to educate students with various l disabilities across grade levels. This program is necessary to ensure inclusivity in the education sector, irrespective of disability and/or developmental conditions.
This certification may include the elementary education curriculum to ensure special education teachers can comfortably handle multiple subjects.
Enrollment in this certification program costs between $2,750 and $3,800. Upon completion of coursework, candidates must pass three tests—the professional teaching knowledge exam, the ABCTE’s special education exam and the elementary education exam—to earn certification.
National Board Certification
If you’re already a licensed teacher, this credential might be for you. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers the National Board Certification to licensed teachers who complete a rigorous credentialing process. This advanced certification demonstrates educators’ impact on students and dedication to teaching.
To qualify for National Board Certification, you must:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
- Hold an active teaching certificate
- Have three years of teaching experience in school settings
NBPTS’ program includes five certification areas with generalist and subject-specific options. The credentialing process can take a year or more, depending on how fast candidates complete the four assessment cycles.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Earning a Teaching Certificate Online
What do you need to get a teaching certificate?
To get a teaching certificate, you must earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a teacher preparation program. You can sometimes fulfill these requirements concurrently with a licensure-track bachelor’s program. You must then gain teaching experience, take your state’s teacher certification exam and apply for a credential with your state’s board of education.
Can you get a teaching certificate online in the United States?
Yes, you can get a teaching certificate online in the United States. After taking an online teacher preparation program, you can take an online certification exam and submit an online application for a teaching credential to your state board of education. However, you may have to complete some in-person requirements, such as student teaching experience.