What You Need to Know About Licensing and Certification for Teachers in the USA
If you’ve received your training and education for a teaching career outside of the United States, you will need to pay particular attention to the one defining characteristic of the American educational system: rules for licensing and certification are set on a state-by-state basis by each state’s board of education.
This has important implications for your teaching career because there is not one unified standard that applies to all 50 U.S. states. While many states have reciprocity agreements with each other when it comes to accepting the credentials and certifications of teachers from another state, it’s not such a simple process for foreign teachers coming to work and teach in the United States.
As a general rule of thumb, foreign-educated teachers need to have completed the foreign equivalent of a U.S. undergraduate (i.e. Bachelor’s) degree. You will also need to have completed a teacher preparation program that meets all the requirements of the state where you would like to teach. Finally, you will need to have completed a certain number of university-level credit hours in education and in the subject area you would like to teach. You can think of those three requirements as the “core” of what you will need for licensing and certification.
As a foreign-educated teacher, you will also have to submit a credential evaluation report. This report briefly explains your foreign credentials to the state board of education of the state where you would like to teach. This is particularly important if your country does not typically send teachers to the United States.
Next, you may be required to take an exam to demonstrate your proficiency in reading, writing and speaking English if English is not your native language. This is important to show that you are qualified to teach on a daily basis to English-speaking students.
Finally, you will need to pass state-specific certification tests. Some states only require you to pass a general test to demonstrate your mastery of certain educational concepts. However, some states also require you to receive a certification for reach individual subject matter you plan to teach or even for each specific grade level that you plan to teach.
In terms of a national-level license, there is one noteworthy certification – the National Board Teacher Certification – that is available via the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This certification requires you to demonstrate knowledge beyond that required for state licensing. So you can think of this as a “bonus” or “optional” certification, not a “core” certification. But having one enables you to earn a higher salary and take on more administrative roles.
It’s also important to note that some U.S. states have “emergency certifications” that enable foreign teachers to bypass the traditional certification route. However, this is only for states with critical teacher shortages, and only in “high-need” subject areas, where demand cannot be met by U.S. teachers.
Thus, before you can teach in the United States, it’s important to have a very good idea of the specific certification standards for the state where you will be teaching. While all 50 states have similar rules for which certifications are required, differences do exist and must always be kept in mind.