Teaching Credentials: Deciding Which One Is Right for You

by Heather Nelson

The decision to pursue a teaching credential and enter the classroom as a teacher is a noble calling. In California, a shortage of teachers—particularly in key subject areas like math, science, and special education—means following that calling is more important than ever. But which credential is right for you?

Maybe you wish to become an elementary school teacher, so you can teach young students subjects ranging from reading to math to social studies. Maybe you would like to pursue a career as a high school or middle school teacher, dig into a specific subject, and help your students learn and grow on a deeper level. Or perhaps you are inspired to become a special education teacher after watching a family member or classmate with disabilities reach their goals.

Each of these scenarios is possible with a California teaching credential! It’s simply a matter of deciding which credential is right for you.

Multiple Subject Teaching Credential

If the idea of managing your own classroom of elementary school students fills you with purpose, then the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential might be for you. While this credential allows you to teach kindergarten through eighth grade, you’ll most likely work at the elementary level (grades K-6). If you have an interest in reading, writing, math, and the humanities, this credential enables you to teach all these subjects and more within your own self-contained classroom. Pursuing the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential is likely a good fit if you enjoy working with kids and are passionate about teaching them various subjects as part of a one-classroom community.

Single Subject Teaching Credential

If there is a particular subject you know and love, or you would prefer to teach older students, the Single Subject Teaching Credential may be for you. Would you excel at helping students grasp mathematical concepts like the Pythagorean theorem? Do you want to guide high schoolers as they learn about historical events and why they are meaningful today? The Single Subject Teaching Credential prepares you to focus on one subject as a middle or high school teacher (grades 7-12, also known as secondary education). Work with students to engage and master a subject that you’re passionate about—in hopes that it impacts them in similar ways it does you.

Mild/Moderate Disabilities Education Specialist Credential

You may want to pursue a Mild/Moderate Disabilities Education Specialist Credential if you feel drawn to skillfully and compassionately guide students with identified learning disabilities toward academic success. The students you will work with often have a specific learning disability in math or language arts (or both), or another issue that requires support to meet their grade-level standards. In many K-12 schools, you’ll provide these educational supports and lesson accommodations or modifications directly in the general classroom, helping students with disabilities alongside their peers while collaborating with the general education teacher. Or, you may work in a classroom setting providing specialized academic instruction.

“One common factor among the stories of how individuals came into the field of special education is a personal experience with a student with a learning difference and witnessing a positive growth in the student’s ability as a result of their involvement,” said Craig W. Bartholio, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Special Education at Azusa Pacific University. “Afterwards, they often say that they want to take more of a role in the lives of students with learning differences and help facilitate their success in school and life.” If you have a desire to meet the needs of individual students who have learning differences, and if you want to be a positive influence in their lives, then this may be the pathway that’s right for you.

Moderate/Severe Disabilities Education Specialist Credential

Some students benefit from a dedicated classroom and a special education teacher with expertise in meeting their specific, often unique, learning needs. These students may have impaired cognitive abilities, autism, serious emotional disturbance, or multiple disabilities. If you feel drawn to ensuring all students get the best education possible, then consider pursuing the Moderate/Severe Disabilities Education Specialist Credential. This credential allows you to work with K-12 students with moderate or severe disabilities, often in grouped settings (i.e. grades K-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-12), in addition to implementing inclusive practices in the general education setting. However, teachers with this credential can instruct students at their ability level in a variety of contexts, including specialized learning environments, general education settings, or through community-based instruction. Besides providing access to grade-level core curriculum, functional life skills may also be part of the curriculum you will teach. With this credential, you can be part of creating accessible learning opportunities for every student.

Pursuing Teaching Credentials at APU

No matter the path you choose, as one of the largest teacher credentialing institutions in California, Azusa Pacific University is uniquely qualified to prepare future teachers for the classroom.

APU’s teacher credential programs span K-12 education, equipping students with essential knowledge like lesson planning, curriculum development, classroom management, and best practices of teaching. All teaching credential students start with foundation classes, a specially-crafted set of classes that lay the groundwork for becoming a successful teacher—including the art, science, and soul of teaching. Once these classes are complete, students dive into their specialization coursework, culminating in student teaching, which offers mentorship from experienced educators.

At APU, students pursuing their teaching credentials are encouraged to reflect on teaching through a Christian worldview, asking how it relates to their classroom culture. With a Christ-centered approach, APU’s credential programs send teachers into the classroom with a desire to pursue inclusion, justice, and equity in the classroom, becoming the kind of teacher who is ready to transform lives.

What kind of teacher do you envision yourself being? That’s a question only you can answer. “Go with your passion,” advises Jessica Cannaday, Ph.D., director of the Single Subject Teaching Credential program, and listen to what area of teaching speaks to you. And once you decide, APU can help you make this calling a reality, equipping you with the tools you need to creatively and compassionately inspire your future students.

Ready to earn your teaching credential? Find your graduate education program and apply today.

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