Getting your teaching license is exciting: it represents years of hard work and the chance to finally put to use the skills you’ve been developing. However, there are several steps you’ll need to take to do that.

No Child Left Behind requires that all teachers be “highly qualified,” which means meeting three criteria:

  • Have a bachelors degree
  • Have full state teacher certification
  • Have demonstrated knowledge in his or her subject area

However, states have significant flexibility in terms of how they meet those qualifications. For instance, while proving competency in a subject area currently means having a degree in that subject and passing subject matter tests, those exams differ from state to state. NCLB also makes special provisions for current teachers in positions for which they are not, under the legislation, “highly qualified.” It allows states to design alternate tests rather than sending the teachers back to school for an additional degree.

Depending on your state, your path to a teaching license may range from simple to convoluted. The University of Kentucky has compiled a list of each state’s requirements, so check there to see what you’ll need to do. As an illustration, we’ll compare two states’ requirements for a teaching license: Massachusetts and Mississippi.

As a consistent leader in education, Massachusetts prides itself on having some of the nation’s best teachers. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is in charge of issuing licenses.

Types of Licenses 

While the academic license is the most common type issued, you can also get a vocational technical education or adult basic education license, or you can apply for a temporary (one year) license. This is generally issued to teachers moving from other states: you can use the temporary license to work for a year while you take care of Massachusetts’ testing requirements. If you haven’t completed an approved educator preparation program, you can also apply for a preliminary license. If you’re a new teacher, you’ll get an initial license, which is good for five years of employment.

Testing Requirements

To apply for an initial license, you have to get a passing score on an MTEL exam (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure). The exams cover all subject areas, and you may be required to take more than one, depending on your area. The DOE lists the tests required for each subject. Unlike some other states, MA doesn’t require the Praxis exam.

Educational Requirements 

If you live in MA, you have several ways of completing an approved teacher education program. You can attend a college or university, complete an alternative/practice-based licensure program, or go through the performance review system.

The latter option is given for candidates who are teaching in a district in which there is no state-approved and district-based program for getting an initial license, while the alternative licensure programs in MA are for those that did not complete a certification program while in school. 

If you’re coming from out of state, you’ll need to make sure that your educational program is approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in order to quickly qualify for an MA teaching license. If your school is not approved, you’ll need to take one of the routes above to get the proper teacher preparation. 

Once you’ve completed the requirements, you’ll complete an online or paper application, submit proof of education and teacher preparation, and get fingerprinted. A graphic representation of your path to initial licensure, in MA, can be found on the DOE website, along with frequently asked questions. 

The Department of Education issues licenses directly in MS. While some requirements are similar to those in MA, MS does not require its own state tests and has a shorter application process.

Types of Licenses 

Mississippi issues a “Five-Year Educator License” to the majority of new candidates, although it also provides a number of other licenses:

  • Career technical educator
  • Special subject five-year educators licenses (for library media, dyslexia therapy, audiology, and other areas)
  • Alternate route
  • Reciprocity (two or five year)
  • Administrator
  • License by district request

The traditional five-year license is broken into class A through AAAA, depending on your experience and degree. If you’re a new teacher, you’ll apply for a class A license.

Testing Requirements 

To get a five-year educator license, you’ll need to pass the Praxis I (basic skills) and the Praxis II (subject matter) exams. MS doesn’t accept any other tests, nor does it have its own state tests, so as long as you schedule and take the Praxis series, you’ll qualify for a teaching license.

Educational Requirements 

The DOE website states that the Office of Educator Licensure will accept “degrees or coursework from any nationally or regionally accredited institution” as proof of education. All teacher preparation courses in MS will allow you to qualify for a license. If you come from out of state, you’ll need to submit the “Institutional Program Verification” showing that your institution is approved for licensure in your state. MS will also accept credentials from states with NCATE approved teacher education programs.

Once you’ve completed your coursework and tests, have ETS submit your Praxis scores to the DOE, and then complete the teacher license application. The application can be done online or on paper, and will require that you also submit academic transcripts.

Regardless of where you live, you’ll have some paperwork and testing to complete before earning your teaching license. If you have all of your application items in order, you can get a license in a matter of weeks, in some states; in others, it may take several months.

By Danielle Restuccia