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Ready to become a teacher? Understand the pathways and certification options

Ready to become a teacher? Understand the pathways and certification options

Is your calling to become a teacher, but you’re wondering which education and certification pathway is right for you? Today, aspiring teachers take different routes into the profession, given their various backgrounds and experiences. Understanding the process of becoming a teacher can be confusing, especially when you possess a degree outside the field of education.

First, it’s essential to know your state’s licensure rules and regulations, since certification requirements vary from state to state. For example, in New York State, teachers must first obtain initial certification to work in public schools. Then, after completing a master’s degree program and three years of experience, initially certified teachers can seek professional certification in order to continue their careers.

Next, choose an educational pathway that matches up with your previous academic experience and current professional goals. If, for example, you have a bachelor’s degree in the content area you wish to teach but no preparation in teaching, your degree pathway will be different from that of someone who already is initially certified in one content area and is considering adding another. There are several options from which to choose: a master’s degree in teaching leading to initial certification, a master’s degree in teaching leading to professional certification, advanced certificates for already-licensed teachers seeking additional certifications, or a master’s degree without certification. The next step in your journey to becoming a teacher is understanding how to advance your career through one of these pathways. 


Entry-level initial certification

The master’s degree with initial New York State teaching certification provides the entry-level credentials needed to begin your career in K-12 public schools. While some undergraduate programs offer initial certification, beginning teachers still must complete a master’s degree within five years, plus three years of service in the field, in order to obtain professional certification. A graduate-level degree leading to initial certification allows those who are new to the profession to enter the field, having already met that essential criterion.

This pathway is for individuals who hold undergraduate degrees in liberal arts (BA) or sciences (BS) and have the minimum number of credits in their desired area of specialization. A master’s degree with initial certification will provide you with the educational experiences and credentials you need to teach in your area of specialization in New York State’s public schools. And because New York has high standards for licensure, certified New York State teachers who apply for licensure in other states often find the process to be relatively straightforward.


Advanced professional certification

Professional teaching certification is the next level after an initially certified teacher has obtained a master’s degree and completed three years of service. It is the certification status that you will carry with you throughout your career, pending successful teaching practice and timely completion of ongoing professional learning requirements. In New York State, professionally certified teachers must complete at least 175 hours of professional development every five years. This credentialing requirement varies by state, so if you intend to seek certification beyond New York, you should investigate what kinds of professional learning experiences are needed to maintain certification over time.  

If you hold an initial teaching certificate as part of an undergraduate degree program, you can pursue a master’s degree leading to professional certification in your current licensure area, or you might choose to add another licensure area as part of your graduate program. If you already have a master’s degree and initial certification in one licensure area, and you wish to add another licensure area to your credentials, you have the option of pursuing an advanced certificate, rather than another master’s degree program. Advanced certificate programs are shorter pathways than degree programs. They consist of specialized coursework and clinical experiences that align with the state certification you seek. 

No teaching certification 

Suppose you are interested in teaching in a learning environment that does not require licensure. In that case, you can enroll in a flexible master’s program, not leading to New York State certification. This alternative pathway to teaching may allow you to work in independent or private schools, community colleges, schools and universities outside the United States, or informal education settings, such as afterschool programs, enrichment programs, and summer camps.


Taking the next step 

Staying on top of application deadlines is essential. Equally important, familiarize yourself with program admissions requirements. The best way to do that is by contacting an admissions representative or the department chair, who can guide you throughout your search for the right graduate degree and teacher certification program.


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