The teacher shortage in America is a significant issue which is only likely to get worse in the future. No subject area has seemingly been spared the shortage. In the 2018-2019 school year, the Department of Education listed the Illinois subject areas with teacher shortages: Special Education, ESL, World Languages, Health and Physical Fitness, Art, Science, Mathematics, Language Arts, Arts and Music Education, Social Studies, Career and Technical Education, Gift/Advanced Education, and Driver’s Education. Consequently, many states have implemented and leaned into a variety of alternative routes to teacher certification in an attempt to cope with the problem.
When teachers do not take university teacher education preparation in state-approved undergraduate programs, such as when entering education from other fields, from other states, from other countries, or via certain volunteer programs, they must do so through alternative means. The general term for pathways to certification that do not follow the traditional college educational pipeline is “alternative certification”. These certifications have a wide variety of requirements which differ to a great degree from state to state, and these include emergency certification, certification through a charter or private school in-house program, AmeriCorps/Teach for America, transitional, emergency, and professional certifications. By and large, alternative certification leads to the standard certification within the state system, but there are instances where this is not the case.
States typically provide all this information through their department of education or similar educational agencies responsible for teacher certification. It is critical to seek out this information directly from the relevant organization in your state, as requirements can change from year to year, and are generally not applicable across state lines. For almost all routes to certification (with the notable exception of a very few professional subjects, e.g., cosmetology), a bachelor’s degree is an essential requirement. The US Department of Education provides a list of state contacts that can be a good starting point for investigating teacher requirements in your area.
Texas, for example, provides their basic steps of alternative certification:
- Decide what to teach
- Select an approved Texas Alternative Certification Program (ACP)
- Meet the Screening Criteria of the Program
- Develop a Certification Plan with the program
- Obtain teaching position
- Apply for a probationary Certificate (valid for one year)
- Complete all the requirements for standard Certificate
- Apply for Standard Certificate
Some teachers get their certification through national organizations/programs. These initiatives, like those run through the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), may be valid in a number of states. Certifications such as these may come with additional benefits beyond their recognition in multiple states. Loan forgiveness programs (sometimes up to %100) for education expenses are offered in some locations as well as higher rates of pay for these certifications over those completed via traditional pathways.
ABCTE certification is valid in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and South Carolina. The benefit of this certification is that is offered online. Given the current climate of online education and limitations on in-person training, this may be an ideal option for many people transitioning into teaching.
NBPTS certification is very widely accepted, though there are some restrictions on the certification for areas such as primary school and special education. Often, the NBPTS surpasses any other certification one might earn, and there are even stipends offered in some areas for this certification. As of 2010, 39 states accepted this certification. In other states, this certification may count toward the total requirements for certification, though they may not count as a full certification by itself.
There are similar programs which may only be valid in a small number of states. Teachers of Tomorrow Teacher Certification is valid in 9 states: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. Programs also exist for specific subject areas, such as the STARTALK multi-state program, aimed to help speakers of languages like Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu become language teachers in k-12 classrooms in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Reciprocity is term for when states honor the teaching credentials and education from other states. For a long time, teachers had limited mobility within the profession due to the number of hurdles to teacher licensure for out-of-state professionals. Reciprocity is intended for professionals with valid, traditional certification. There is no guarantee that any provisional, temporary, emergency certificate will be covered under reciprocal acceptance by the state into which you wish to move your certification.
An important agreement for teacher reciprocity is the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement. This facilitates license reciprocity for member that have signed on to the agreement. These are not agreements among the states, but one-way assertions of what is deemed acceptable for transferring a credential into the jurisdiction. Currently all 50 states have signed on, but not all have full reciprocity agreements with each other. For example, California does not grant full reciprocity to out-of-state teachers. This is because,
“Each individual ‘agreement’ is a statement by that state or jurisdiction outlining which other states' educator certificates will be accepted by that state. Specifically the agreement outlines which particular types of educator certificates (teachers, administrators, service personnel, or career/technical), and which particular styles of certifications (titles, fields, etc.) will be accepted.” (www.nasdtec.net: Feb. 18, 2021)
Only six states, as of 2017, had full reciprocity for out-of-state educators: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, and Nevada. NASDTEC provides comprehensive information for out-of-state applicants on their website to help teachers navigate what can be a complicated process depending on the location. A professional could have 3 degrees from Harvard and a decade experience as the chair of two departments in New York City public schools, but not be qualified to teach in California or Illinois. Many teachers facing a lack of reciprocity find themselves teaching in private or charter schools, which may have different requirements for teachers than public educational institutions.
As another means to address teacher shortages on a local level, many areas have developed special kinds of programs to train teachers much like the way doctors train on the job in residencies are part of the completion of their medical training. Organizations such as the National Center for Teacher Residencies work across the country to empower the development of educational professionals. Some of these programs may require future educators to complete master’s degrees while in the program. These programs are often available in areas with high-poverty or failing schools, in cities such as Denver and Chicago. These may also be requirements after completing the program that the teacher remain at the district where they completed their residency for a prescribed period of time. This commitment it to ensure that once trained, teachers are dedicated to continuing to contribute to the institution that mentored them. There are many programs, some of which include the Memphis Teacher Residency, the University of Delaware Teacher Residency Program, and the Chicago Teacher Residency.
There are different ways that working at a private or charter school can allow one to avoid traditional routes to certification. Some charter schools can train and have their teachers certified in-house. This means that they can hire applicants without proper certification and are authorized by the state to administer teacher certification programs. In some states charter schools do not need to have 100% certified staff. Louisiana, for example, does not require teachers at charter schools to be certified. In Mississippi, up to a quarter of the teachers at a charter school can be exempt from licensure.
Another example, Illinois does not require any certification to teach at a private school. While there are requirements for education (bachelor’s degree) and that teachers are evaluated on a formal basis at least every two years, certification of faculty is entirely up to the school’s administration. More information about these Illinois state regulations has been provided by the US Department of Education.
Additionally, some states, such as California, allow educators with six years of experience teaching at a regionally accredited private school to bypass the teacher preparation program and student teaching requirements for state certification. Professionals with only three to five years of experience may have additional requirements. Texas provides a list of requirements for different professional areas of expertise.
La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:3991
Miss. Code Ann. § 37-28-47
Transitional and Emergency Certification
Some states, like New York, have certifications that allow people to teach while completing an alternate certification. New York offers transitional certificates for industry professionals as well. It is possible to teach in high-demand subject areas, provided two years of industry certification. Other states, including California, have similar routes for professionals to attain certification to teach in these specific subject areas. These transitional certifications or provisional are often for individuals finishing training programs with completed undergraduate education.
Emergency Certifications exist for districts that face difficulty filling positions and are often granted with the condition that there is a commitment to completing a training program at some point in the future. These typically have professional and educational (bachelor’s degree) requirements, such as noted in the state of Indiana’s requirements for emergency teaching permits.
In Wisconsin, these colloquially called “emergency certifications” are increasingly common, and officially referred to as a “One-Year License with Stipulations”. While this can be utilized for out-of-state teachers, it is often used for filling positions in high-need roles, such as special education and foreign language. These certifications are controversial but have been in use for quite some time. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides more information on these certifications online.
Teach for America
This program allows for people to attain their teaching certification after a 2-year commitment to a training program which incorporates classroom experience. However, “Most corps members are considered “nontraditional” teachers, as they haven't completed a traditional course of study in education before starting in the classroom. This means you will need to earn a temporary teaching license to qualify for teaching jobs in your assigned region.” This program is available in 25 states.
This can be a fantastic option for recent graduates interested in working with communities in need or for those who wish to pursue a career in education. Teach for America corps also be eligible for AmeriCorps benefits, such as help paying off student loans. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree by the first day of training, a minimum of a 2.50 GPA and citizen, national/resident, or DACA status. Pay may vary, as compensation does not come from AmeriCorps, but the districts where you might teach, but these salaries are commensurate for the areas wherein corps members work.
Many people who choose to participate in Teach for America do not remain teachers for the duration of their professional lives, however, a majority of Teach for America alumni end up working in careers connected to education or low-income communities. Because there are also several graduate school and employer partnerships with Teach for America, there are also many post-corps opportunities outside the classroom.
While most educators pursue standard certification through the college to classroom pipeline, there are many ways for teachers to seek certification outside this traditional pathway. For teachers entering a new education system, such as from another state or abroad, certification to teach in an elementary or secondary school can be a daunting process in the United States. Requirements vary highly between different jurisdictions, change from time to time, and may have many exceptions depending on the region. Scholaro understands that for professionals from abroad seeking to enter the education profession in the United States, it is critical to evaluate foreign undergraduate credentials and provide future employers and state boards with expert evaluations to ensure that all prior educational achievements are honored. Scholaro’s international education experts are equipped to accurately convey the nature of your educational background to help you advance your career in education.
Below you can find links for further information about education and teacher certification for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.