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Teacher Certification: The Basics

How does one become certificated to teach in the public schools (K-12) in Washington?

To be qualified to teach in the public (K-12) schools in Washington, you need to earn three things:

1. A Bachelor's Degree. If you want to teach in Washington, you must earn a bachelor's degree, either before beginning or concurrently with* an approved teacher certification program. *The concurrent option is only available if the college or university where you're pursuing your bachelor's degree has an undergraduate teaching option; UW does not.

2. Teacher Certification. This can be accomplished through any approved four-year college or university in Washington, and can be accomplished through an undergraduate program, or through a "fifth year" (post baccalaureate) program, or through a graduate (master's) program. The University of Washington-Seattle's Teacher Education Program (TEP) results in a master's in teaching (MIT) degree. There is no undergraduate or "fifth year" certification option available at UW's Seattle campus. Other schools in Washington do offer undergraduate and post baccalaureate (i.e. "fifth year") options for teacher certification. Click here for a list of all approved programs in Washington, compiled by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). For more detailed information about becoming an English teacher, please visit this UW Department of English web page: Information for UW Undergraduates Planning for Careers in K-12 Teaching.

3. One or more teaching endorsements. Endorsements are conferred in conjunction with your teacher certification and specify what subject(s) you're qualified to teach. Elementary school teachers (K-8), as generalists, need an endorsement in Elementary Education, and may also opt for additional endorsements, e.g., Special Education or ELL. Secondary school teachers (6-12), as specialists, choose one or more endorsements from a list of subject areas, e.g., English-Language Arts, French, Social Studies, Biology, and so on. Often much or all of the required endorsement course work must be completed before you enter the approved teacher certification program -- that is, it should be completed while you're still an undergraduate working toward your bachelor's degree. For more information about endorsements in general, visit the UW's College of Education Teacher Education Program site or read about endorsements at the Washington OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) site. For more information about undergraduate course work preparation for secondary endorsement in English/Language Arts, visit this UW Department of English web page: Information for UW Undergraduates Planning for Careers in K-12 Teaching.

For information about Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification in Washington, click here. This information is provided by the Professional Educators Standards Board in conjunction with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Should I do anything to prepare while I'm still a UW undergraduate?

Yes! All teacher certification programs will have some prerequisites that must be completed before entering the certification program. These will vary from school to school, and will also be dependent upon the level (elementary or secondary) at which you intend to teach, and the subject area(s) you intend to teach. You should investigate the teacher education program prerequisites for each college/university to which you plan to apply. Click here for a list of all approved programs in Washington, compiled by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

If you plan to apply to UW's Teacher Education Program through the College of Education, please do these things now:

Attend an information session with UW's College of Education TEP advisers. See the TEP website for details and to sign up for an orientation session.

Review all information at the TEP web site, and be aware of prerequisites for applying to the program of your choice (elementary or secondary education).

If you're planning to teach English/Language Arts at the secondary education level, click here to review the undergraduate content work required to earn a Secondary Education Teaching Endorsement in English/Language Arts. You should plan to see a UW undergraduate English adviser early to discuss your plans and your options.

What's the process for a UW undergraduate who wants to become a certificated teacher?

Pursue your bachelor's degree.

While you are completing your bachelor's degree, you should

  • complete required endorsement courses in English language arts (for secondary) or in elementary education;
  • complete all application prerequisites for the master in teaching (MIT) program admission.

Apply to an approved teacher certification program.

Prepare your application materials early. Most schools require standardized tests, letters of recommendation, a personal/goal statement, verification that you have completed required classroom observation hours, your transcripts, and completion of all necessary coursework for your endorsement(s), and sometimes additional items.

Check program deadlines; each school is different. For the UW Seattle, deadlines are in early October for programs starting the following spring or summer.

Earn your teacher certification.

Upon completion of the program, your certification and your endorsement(s) are recommended to the Superintendent of Public Instruction. You will then receive your Residency Teaching Certificate for elementary or secondary education.

Is it possible to teach without earning teacher certification?

Yes, depending upon a number of factors such as where you want to teach (what state), what level you want to teach (pre-K, K-12, college), whether you want to teach in the public schools or private schools, what kind of teaching position you want to secure (including considerations like salary, benefits, and long-term employability), etc. Each state sets its own requirements and standards.

Remember that teaching is a skill and that the best-prepared teachers are the ones who have gone through an approved certification program. Certificated teachers will be the first to be hired, to obtain permanent employment, to be eligible for benefits, to be eligible for promotions, and so forth. If you want to teach in a K-12 school, you are strongly advised to pursue certification.

That being said, there are a few web sites where you can explore teaching options for non certificated teachers:

Seattle Teacher Residency Program is a collaboration between the UW College of Education, Seattle Public Schools, and other partners, which allows teacher-residents to begin teaching in paid intern positions while they complete requirements for teacher certification. STR prepares residents to become teachers in the context of, and for classrooms in Seattle Public Schools and requires a five-year commitment.

Teach For America is a non profit, Americorps agency whose mission is to place teachers in the public schools in underresourced areas in the USA. Those selected by Teach for America commit to a two-year program designed to help the nation's most disadvantaged students. A short (summer) training session is provided, and "emergency credentials" are supplied. The program provides support for members of its Corps in a number of ways. Teachers in the program are paid the normal first-year teacher's salary for the geographic area in which they teach, and can also be eligible for many other benefits, including Americorps grants toward education. Geographic areas range from inner-city areas like Los Angeles and New York to rural areas such as New Mexico's Navajo Reservation or the Mississippi Delta. Application deadlines begin annually in October. See the web site for details.

The MATCH Corps is a one-year urban education fellowship in either Boston or Chicago with charter public schools. The Corps is a group of top recent college graduates who work one-on-one with six to eight MATCH High School, Middle School, or Elementary School students each day for an entire academic year. Corps members live together in apartments nearby the Middle School and Elementary School, and in a dorm on the top floor of the High School. This full-time service year program is designed to fully close the academic Achievement Gap between minority students and their non-minority peers, one student at a time.

The New York City Public Teaching Fellows program recruits and prepares high-quality, dedicated individuals to become teachers who raise student achievement in the New York City classrooms that need them most.

For information about Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification in Washington, click here. This information is provided by the Professional Educators Standards Board in conjunction with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

What are the requirements for teacher certification in other states?

Each state establishes its own requirements for teacher certification. For information, see the 50 States' Certification Requirements compiled by the University of Kentucky's College of Education. Teachers who have been certificated in one state and who later relocate to another state can apply to obtain certification with the new state's superintendent of public instruction. Check with each state regarding its policies and procedures for transferring or obtaining teacher certification.

Where can I go for more information about K-12 certification?

UW-Seattle's College of Education's Teacher Education Program
UW-Bothell's Teacher Certification Program
UW Tacoma's Teacher Certification Program
UW Department of English: Information for UW Undergraduates Planning for Careers in K-12 Teaching
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Approved Four-Year Schools in Washington
Teach for America
Washington Center for Teaching Careers (WATeach)
Northwest Educational Service District 189
Puget Sound Educational Service District