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Teachers in the classroom: Understanding requirements and certifications

At a glance

  • K–12 teachers make up roughly 3.8 million workers in the U.S., and they often complement their educational background with certifications and endorsements.
  • To apply to receive licensure, teachers must complete a series of steps determined by the state in which they work. The steps might include successfully completing exams, assessments and training.
  • Endorsements are essentially areas of specialization that teachers can pursue, such as in reading or teaching English as a second language (ESL).
  • Discover how University of Phoenix supports experienced and aspiring educators with online degree programs and continuing education opportunities!

Most of us can remember a teacher or counselor who made a positive impact on our lives. This nearly universal experience shows how teachers play an indispensable role in supporting and sometimes even influencing how young people decide to live their lives.

Teachers make up a significant portion of the U.S. workforce: K–12 teachers at both public and private institutions constitute about 3.8 million workers in the U.S. While nearly all teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree, degree programs can vary and additional certifications and licenses are often required.

Here, University of Phoenix’s (UOPX) regional development specialist Crystal Perez and enrollment representative Brittany Keegan provide information on how certifications and endorsements can help teachers grow their careers and enhance their earning potential.

Learn more about our education degrees.

Teaching challenges and opportunities

In the past few years, many states have either temporarily or permanently altered their requirements to make it easier for those interested in teaching to begin their careers early. This comes, no doubt, in response to the recent exodus of teachers from the classroom. As many as 7% of public school educators (close to a quarter of a million people) quit between 2019 and 2021, according to an ABC report, which cites data from the Government Accountability Office.

To address the high number of vacancies, some states and school districts have been reevaluating their hiring practices. “We’ve seen an ‘emergency permit’ process put in place [in some states, even temporarily],” says Perez, “in which a school district will hire a teacher who is not yet certified but is on track to complete a certain number of courses in the next few years.”

Emergency permits could allow teachers to begin their careers sooner rather than later.

“I had a student the other day who has five years to take her certification [after graduating],” Keegan says. “States have different timelines for teachers to complete [state certification requirements], but overall, we are seeing more and more students take advantage of emergency [and temporary policies] so they can begin their teaching career” as soon as possible. 

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Different states, different rules

But what certifications and endorsements are typically required? It depends on the state.

Every state requires a unique combination of degrees, certifications, in-classroom experience and/or assessments before awarding licensure. However, it’s nearly universal for all teachers to at least hold a bachelor’s degree.

For people interested in teaching, the first place to start researching requirements would be their state’s Department of Education website. “States use different lingo,” Keegan says. “Some call them licenses, others call them certifications.” For most states, the terms are interchangeable. Also, it’s typical that state licenses must be renewed every five years.

Keegan explains that new teachers typically have more steps than those who have already received licenses in the past. Before entering a classroom, they may have to:

  • Log observation hours
  • Intern in a full-time student-teaching role
  • Pass various exams about their subjects
  • Pass a background check, before entering a class

One important exam is the Praxis® test, which measures teachers’ knowledge of the subjects they intend to teach. According to the National Education Association, exams are pass/fail but provide additional information to the test takers about their performance relative to other aspiring educators who take the same exam.

The Praxis tests are not the only assessments that states use to certify teachers. Some states require teachers to pass separate, state-specific competency exams

Praxis is a registered trademark of Educational Testing Service nonprofit corporation NEW YORK Rosedale Road, Princeton, NEW JERSEY 08541

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After teachers complete licensure requirements, they can start enrolling in classes to receive additional endorsements.

Most states offer incentives such as weighted compensation to teachers who hold endorsements. Perez views endorsements as “additional specializations, such as being able to teach bilingual classrooms, becoming a certified ESL teacher or reading specialist.”

Considering the way licensure varies from state to state, it’s not surprising that receiving an endorsement is equally individualized. “Some states just require university credits,” Perez says, “while others require assessments, and still others want practicum hours.”

Perez and Keegan reiterate how important it is for teachers seeking endorsements to review information on their specific state’s requirements

Explore continuing teacher education at University of Phoenix.

Becoming a teacher later in your career

For some, the passion for teaching comes later in life. Perez has seen a number of mid-career professionals decide to switch, maybe even from corporate roles to teaching high school.

In Perez’s experience, “many come from a business background inspired to teach high school pre-business or economics class,” she says. “Others are experienced IT technicians, electricians or welders looking to become certified teachers in vocational schools.”

For these individuals, Keegan suggests they volunteer as a paraprofessional in their local school district to get a feel for the classroom.

Continuing teacher education at UOPX

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a veteran teacher, most educators subscribe to the notion that you should always be learning. This is true in the general sense but also in a practical one: To achieve state license recertification, teachers need to stay on top of continuing education.

At UOPX, continuing teacher education (CTE) classes help teachers prepare for recertification (licensure renewal) as well as find professional growth opportunities.

And it’s not just about checking boxes. Participants learn alongside other educators who communicate about their own experiences, Keegan notes.

“Students in these [CTE] courses can develop a community and share resources,” Keegan says.

CTE courses fall into the following categories:

  • Adult education
  • CTEL (California teacher for English learners)
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Early childhood education
  • Educational administration
  • Educational technology
  • Elementary education
  • Secondary education
  • Special education
  • Teaching strategies

Assignments often require participants to implement teaching strategies in their classrooms, so even seasoned educators can learn a lot.

Education, after all, is all about lifelong learning.


William Ordeman is a lecturer of business communication and a PhD candidate studying communication, borders and public health. Before entering higher education, he led marketing initiatives for several global enterprises as a marketing automation specialist. He has since published an edited book, written several articles, and continued to teach writing, public speaking and employment training to his students. When not plugging away at his dissertation, Ordeman is likely playing his drums or reading a sci-fi novel.


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