If you’ve answered the call to become a teacher, then congratulations are in order. You are about to enter what has been called the noblest profession on the planet. Teachers make their mark on the world every single day that they walk into their classrooms. Their influence cannot be overstated as they quite literally change the world one student and one lesson at a time. Once you have decided that a career in education is for you, the next step is to choose one of the many teacher certification programs available. This is a big decision since it will affect your daily life in the short term as an enrolled student in a teacher preparation program and your long-term career in the field of education. Depending on the teacher certification program you choose, you will be licensed to teach certain grade levels and populations of students and/or specific academic disciplines.
How to Evaluate Teacher Certification Programs
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 500 colleges and universities in the United States offer teacher preparation programs. Thus, deciding which teacher certificate programs are suitable for you is not a task to be taken lightly. Making the wrong choice here could potentially limit your job opportunities in the future. Fortunately, we have some solid advice for you when selecting the right teacher preparation program.
Step One: Confirm the Program’s Accreditation
Choosing the right teacher certification program may seem like a complex process, but it starts with identifying an accredited teacher certification program. Accreditation is a non-negotiable factor because it ensures that the teacher preparation program you’re considering is high-quality and 100% legitimate. Programs that are not accredited have not proven their overall quality or effectiveness in proper teacher education and therefore must be dismissed immediately.
When evaluating teaching certificate programs regarding their accreditation status, you’ll want to look for two indicators: university or school-wide accreditation, sometimes referred to as institutional accreditation, and program-specific accreditation. Let’s talk about each of these accreditation types in more detail.
Institutional Accreditation: Institutional accreditation is a fairly straightforward concept. This type of accreditation is held by the college or university itself and applies to all academic degree programs offered by the school, not just its teacher preparation programs. Institutional accreditation can be awarded to a school by two different types of accreditors—regional accreditors and national accreditors. To extend institutional accreditation to a college or university, these accreditors must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Common accrediting agencies for postsecondary institutions of higher learning include:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- WASC Senior College and University Commission
- New England Commission of Higher Education
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission
Programmatic Accreditation: Programmatic accreditation is similar to institutional accreditation, but it is more specific to the particular type of degree program you are pursuing (i.e., teacher certification programs). Programmatic accreditors carefully and thoroughly examine the curriculum for the teaching certificate program and other factors such as faculty members and student teaching requirements, for example. The accrediting agency then awards accreditation to programs they feel meet their standards for effective teacher preparation. Accrediting bodies in the field of education and teacher preparation include:
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
- Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)
- American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)
Here’s a tip: when searching for a good teacher certification program, look for an option that has both institutional and programmatic accreditation.
Step Two: Decide How You Want to Learn (Traditional Versus Online)
In today’s increasingly connected world, degree programs in virtually every academic discipline are widely available online. Teaching certification programs are no exception. To illustrate, U.S. News & World Report ranks more than 80 colleges and universities in the United States that offer online bachelor’s degrees in education. Many of these schools offer multiple teaching certificate online programs.
Advantages of Earning a Teaching Certificate Online
Learning online certainly has its advantages, particularly if you are looking for a convenient teacher preparation program that you can complete from home. These online bachelor’s degrees in education offer fully online coursework so that you can study at a time and place best suited to your schedule. Pursuing a teaching certificate online is an appealing prospect for teacher-hopefuls with full-time jobs or small children. Anyone can benefit from the flexibility of these offerings, though, especially considering that they are often just as rigorous and respected as their in-person counterparts. In fact, many online teaching preparation programs follow the same curriculum guidelines as their school’s in-person teaching certification programs. Some are even taught by the same professors who teach on campus.
Asynchronous/Synchronous Teaching Certificate Online Programs
If you decide to enroll in one of the many available online teacher preparation programs, you will need to be aware of the differences among these degree plans, chiefly their content delivery methods. Generally speaking, these content delivery methods fall into one of two categories: asynchronous and synchronous.
Asynchronous online teaching certificate programs are the most flexible of the two types of programs, enabling students to pursue their degrees on a truly self-paced basis. With these programs, students can log into their virtual classes at any time of the day or night to complete assignments, watch pre-recorded lectures, and contribute to discussion forums. There are no scheduled class times, so your days will be open to taking care of your other obligations like work or family.
Synchronous online teaching certificate programs, on the other hand, are more structured and require students to attend virtual class meetings at specific times of the day and week. While still more convenient than traditional in-person teacher preparation programs, these degree plans don’t quite live up to the flexibility of asynchronous offerings. Still, some students prefer them since they provide an organized framework that tends to keep students on track in their coursework. Some self-reflection and evaluation of both your schedule and your ability to be self-motivated will help you choose between primarily asynchronous or synchronous teacher certification programs.
Hybrid/Fully Online Teaching Certificate Programs
When looking for a school that offers a teaching certificate online, be aware that some programs marketed as online programs are, in fact, hybrid options. A hybrid program blends online courses with face-to-face classes and meetings, so you will have to make some trips to campus to complete this type of degree plan. If your schedule allows, hybrid teacher certification programs could present a “best of both worlds” opportunity for you. Just be aware of when and where you will be required to attend classes before enrollment so that you can plan accordingly.
Accelerated Teacher Certification Programs Online
The online nature of teacher certification programs delivered via distance learning technology makes it more feasible for students to earn their degrees in education at an accelerated pace. If you’re eager to finish your coursework and teacher certification online so that you can get on with your successful career in teaching, then an accelerated program may be ideal for you. Any bachelor’s in education degree plan that can be completed in less than four years is considered an accelerated offering. Still, some of these programs can be finished much more quickly. Degree completion programs, in particular, offer students a fast track toward their teaching certificate online, but these programs only accept students with prior college credit or an associate’s degree.
If you are seriously considering an accelerated teacher certification program, you’ll want to think carefully about whether or not your schedule can withstand the commitments required of such a program. Though less time-consuming over the long term, these intensive programs will require a significant investment of your time and energy over the short term. Unless you have numerous college credits toward a teaching certificate online credential, you should plan to study full-time to earn your degree in education via an accelerated track.
Challenges of Distance Learning in Delivering Teacher Certification Programs
Keep in mind that despite the convenience of distance education, there are some drawbacks and disadvantages to taking this route to teacher licensure. One thing to consider when deciding whether to pursue your teaching certificate online or in-person is that some aspects of a traditional teacher certification program cannot be accurately replicated online. To some extent, this is true for any academic program. Online teacher preparation programs have unique challenges, though. For instance, traditional programs often require students to complete an internship or practicum experience with a local school district. No matter how technologically advanced, virtual student teaching experiences are inadequate substitutes for these face-to-face experiences. Many teaching certificate online programs have addressed this issue by requiring their distance learning students to complete a similar in-person internship/practicum at a nearby school of their choice. While this requirement does take away from the convenience of an online program, it proves to be a worthwhile tradeoff for many students.
Step Three: Choose Who and What to Teach (Grade Levels and Subject Areas)
There are many different types of teachers. Some examples include preschool teachers, elementary school teachers, high school teachers, and special education teachers. And that’s just the beginning. Within each of these fields of education, there are numerous sub-fields and subject areas. In order to choose the right teacher certification program for your career goals, you’ll need to first decide what type of teacher you want to be.
In this section, we’ll help you make this critical decision by describing in detail some of the most common types of teachers and teacher certification programs.
Certified Elementary School Teachers
Certified elementary school teachers instruct and manage classrooms of primary grade school children, usually from kindergarten to grade five. These teachers undergo training in specialized instructional strategies and classroom management techniques for younger kids who often need more engaging and structured learning experiences than older students. Once they complete their teacher preparation programs, elementary school teachers are usually assigned to a certain grade level, but this assignment may change from year to year.
To become certified to teach at the elementary level, students will need to complete their teacher certification programs successfully, including a student teaching experience. They may also have to maintain a certain grade point average, which could vary depending on the state where they wish to be licensed. Finally, an exam assessing their knowledge of educational concepts and methods is required.
Certified High School Teachers
Certified high school teachers are trained and licensed to provide educational services to students in the higher grade levels of secondary education, typically grades 9-12. These teachers are usually experts in a specific subject area such as mathematics, English, history, or science. They may teach one grade level or multiple grade levels as part of their official teaching assignment.
Unlike elementary or middle school teachers, high school teachers have the unique responsibility of preparing students for life after graduation. This could include teaching them college-level writing, for example, or giving them the vocational skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
High school teacher certification programs prepare teachers to provide effective instruction at the secondary level by combining educational theory and pedagogy classes with advanced courses in their chosen subject area (e.g., English, history, foreign language, etc.). To become certified, prospective high school teachers will have to pass examinations in education and the academic discipline they plan to teach.
Certified Special Education Teachers
Certified special education teachers teach students who have mild, moderate, or even severe disabilities. These disabilities may be physical, intellectual, or emotional. In their teacher certification programs, special education teachers learn how to develop and modify lessons and activities to accommodate the unique needs of their students. They may also learn how to provide care and basic skills instruction to students with severe disabilities.
Certified special education teachers must complete a teacher certification program with a major or minor in special education. Some states mandate that these teachers also earn a master’s degree in special education before licensure. Teacher preparation programs in special education typically include some mentorship in which prospective teachers in this field work alongside a seasoned, licensed special education teacher to learn the fundamentals of teaching this particular population of students.
Certified Career and Technical Education Teachers
Another concentration you may want to consider when searching for teacher certification programs is a career and technical education, or CTE. Certified CTE teachers specialize in vocational training for specific careers such as culinary arts, cosmetology, welding, automotive repair, or agriculture. Career and technical education teachers typically teach middle and high school students as they prepare them to enter the workforce after graduation.
Teacher preparation programs in CTE give prospective teachers the skills to provide specialized instruction in a particular occupational field. Successful career and technical education teachers must learn to balance traditional classroom coursework with an ample amount of hands-on instruction so that their students are truly prepared to take on positions in their respective fields once their classes are complete.
Unlike other teachers, CTE teachers are often required to have work experience in the field they want to teach before entering the teaching profession. This requirement ensures that these teachers have adequate knowledge of the occupation to pass on to their students. These educators may also be required to pass some of the same licensing exams as other types of teachers—that is, those that assess the prospective teacher’s knowledge of educational theory and instruction. In addition, they may need to hold certain professional certifications and/or licenses in the occupational field they choose to teach.
There are so many different types of teaching certification programs that the task of choosing one may seem daunting at first. Don’t worry too much, though. The process is as simple as deciding on an accredited teacher certification program that accommodates your desired learning mode and professional teaching aspirations. It’s really all about ensuring that the program is legitimate and aligns with the type of learning and teaching you’re most interested in. Once you choose one of the available teacher preparation programs and receive your acceptance letter from the college or university of your choice, you will be well on your way to achieving your career goals as a licensed professional teacher!
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook
- National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): College Navigator
- U.S. News & World Report: Best Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs