What is Licensing in Teacher Education?

Teaching is one of the noblest pursuits someone can undertake. Educating the next generation to have the capability to take on new challenges that arise in the world and in their career is no easy task. With unfortunate times impacting teachers as of late, there is a shortage of available high-quality educators. 

With this new high demand, you may have thought about pursuing a teaching career. With teacher licensure paving a clear path for becoming a professional teacher, we’ve put together this guide to cover the basics. 

What is a Teaching License?

A teaching license or teacher certification assists in providing professional and public assurance that an educator has met all of the necessary state standards. The license also ensures that future educators have effectively demonstrated their skills to improve students learning abilities. Every public institution in the United States requires educators to have a license, certification, or both. 


So are a license and certificate the same thing? Yes, more or less. This can be confusing as many universities and states use the terms interchangeably. The difference is minor even in the states where they mean different things. To put it simply, a certificate means that a teacher has completed all the requirements necessary to be a certified teacher in that state. Whereas, some licenses are considered to be a type of certificate. 


With teacher shortages becoming more common, you might see the phrase “emergency teacher permits” pop up. They vary by state, but Indiana issues them “at the request of a school district in a content area for which the district is experiencing difficulty staffing the assignment with a properly licensed educator.” This is another avenue those with basic teacher experience can use to get started with their career. Either way, check your state's laws to get the most accurate information on licenses and certifications. 


Why is Licensing Important in Education?

As with any field that requires expertise, there must be a way of identifying qualified people to perform their work. Teacher licensing serves as the standard in the education world. However, a license is not always enough to identify a suitable candidate. On-the-job experience working with students tests the actual ability of an educator. The National Education Association puts it wonderfully: "NEA believes that all teachers should be ‘profession-ready’ from their first day of responsibility for student learning. This means that before becoming a teacher-of-record, teacher candidates must demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed for effective classroom practice." 


Licensure effectively creates a network of educators who possess the necessary abilities to progress a student's education effectively. The education landscape is constantly changing, and teachers are expected to stay up-to-date with their teaching methods. This is why each state requires that a teaching license be renewed. Some state teaching licenses allow for ten years before a renewal is needed, while others require it after five school years. Check with your current state laws to stay up to date. 


How to Get a Teaching License?

Each state will have different requirements and benchmarks that must be met in order to acquire a teaching license. Beyond each state's nuances, here is a brief outline of how the process might look.

  1. The first step is to graduate from a nationally accredited university with a bachelor's degree and complete a teachers preparation program. 
  2. While earning your degree you will begin as a student teacher, and fulfill the student teaching requirements. This will vary by state. Go to your state's federal website and navigate to the educator's licensing section to find this information. Here is Indiana's to use as a reference. 
  3. You will need to acquire a master's degree in education in some states. A master’s degree is not required for k-12 but may be necessary if you plan to teach in postsecondary education, including dual credit courses 
  4. This step is where you will take all required exams. This will likely involve passing the Praxis tests. This is a set of exams that aim to analyze your knowledge in the core academic areas in which you aim to teach. Only five states will not include one or more of the three Praxis Tests. These states are Arizona, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, and Massachusetts.
  5. Once you have passed your state's required licensing exams, you can apply to the state's Department of Education to receive the teaching certificate. This process also entails you passing a background check. 

It is important to note that this process can diverge into many routes as you specialize in a particular teaching field. What we have laid out in five steps takes many years and countless hours of student teaching. 


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