Getting a teaching certificate after your bachelor’s degree

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For many people, the call to teach isn't heard until after they've received their college degree and worked full time in a completely different field. The good news is, this type of career change is not impossible-in fact, it's quite common. At times this change can be overwhelming, due to the various programs and types of certifications available.

Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in something other than education usually requires what is called an alternative teaching certificate.

There are a variety of areas where an aspiring teacher can receive an alternative teaching certificate, including, but not limited to: early childhood, elementary education, secondary education, foreign language, health educator, and physical education.

By far, the most common are elementary and secondary education certifications.

Requirements for getting your alternative teaching certificate

While the requirements vary from state to state, as of 2010, 48 states and DC have alternative teaching certifications. Most certificate programs require:

  • An interview and that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter
  • Maintain high performance standards while enrolled in a program
  • Work directly with students as well as with mentors, such as teachers and educational support staff
  • Take courses or equivalent workshops in educational studies prior to and while teaching

Looking for an alternative certification (not 4 year degree) program near you? Try doing a search on the left side of the screen. Be sure to select "Alternative Path to Teaching."

Elementary Education

To obtain a teaching certificate in Elementary Education, the prospective teacher must:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree
  • Fulfill the curriculum requirements in an elementary education program- including student teaching
  • Satisfy the required number of semester hours in one teaching field of either math, science, language arts, reading or history
  • Pass an assessment of basic skills, teacher competency and demonstrate that he or she has the knowledge of a specific subject

The prospective teacher must also understand and demonstrate this understanding in the four subject areas introduced in elementary school, which include Literacy and English language arts, sciences, mathematics and social sciences. The certification process ensures that teachers know a range of topics and understand how to present information to elementary-age children.

Secondary Education

The certification process for secondary education differs by state and teachers normally focus on the subject matter in which he or she has specialized in while obtaining their bachelor's degree. The prospective teacher is tested on his or her knowledge of the subject, ScienceSocial StudiesMathematics, or English, and their knowledge of effective student teaching methods. For example, a prospective teacher who wishes to teach in social studies will have a certification that focuses on five main content areas, including history, U.S. history, geography, government and civics and economics.

Emergency teaching certificates

In certain situations, such as an "emergency," prospective teachers can receive an emergency certificate which will allow the individual to teach, generally without on-site support or supervision. However, he or she must take traditional teacher education courses required for full, standard certification.

In other instances where there's a "high demand," prospective teachers work with mentors and have the ability to enroll in alternative certification programs in groups or cohorts. These programs "integrate classes, workshops, and professional development efforts from the state's department of education, colleges and universities, and the hiring school districts."

Teaching Residencies

Another form of alternative certifications is called "teaching residencies." The requirements and programs vary depending on each state's teaching needs. Nonprofit organizations, school districts and states have developed the teaching residency program based on medical residency programs.

The "residents" learn the fundamentals of great teaching under the guidance of an experienced teacher. The comparable difference to other alternative certification programs is that the "teaching residencies" prefers the candidate to work towards a master's in education. Additionally, residency programs require the candidate to make a commitment for several years once finished.  

For more information on alternative teaching certificates , visit one of these four resources: Teaching CertificationEducation DegreeThe National Association for Alternative Certification and Teach.