Teacher with students in classroom

How to Become a Teacher in California

With many current teachers planning to retire and fewer early-career educators ready to take their places, new individuals must answer the call to meet a statewide need by becoming teachers.

In light of this growing demand for qualified educators in California, the education of the next generation of teachers is paramount, ensuring they are equipped to take on these roles and make a lasting difference in their classrooms and schools.

The process of starting a teaching career or making a career change into the field may seem overwhelming, but with the right resources, guidance from a leading School of Education, and a specific plan, learning how to become a teacher can be straightforward and manageable. One of the most common paths to teacher certification is outlined here.

1. Research and evaluate goals

Prospective teachers often find that their current interests and knowledge play a part in deciding what and where they wish to teach. An aspiring teacher candidate should consider their teaching qualifications and talk with those who are knowledgeable about the process of becoming a teacher in California, such as other teachers in local school districts and educator preparation program faculty. To be well informed about the field, research current trends and events that may influence this decision, like a strong demand for teachers in certain subject areas. For those who haven’t already had experiences with K-12 students, time spent volunteering or working among school-age youth can provide a glimpse of what it is like to serve as a teacher.

2. Pick a subject or specialty

There are several teaching credential options for California educators, and choosing which one to pursue depends on what subject and at what school level an individual wants to teach. Selecting a credential is also helpful in establishing what teacher education requirements need to be met.

Those who want to teach in elementary schools or in a self-contained middle school typically earn a multiple subject credential, enabling them to cover all subjects in a given classroom. Those interested in becoming a high school teacher or teaching in a departmentalized setting in middle schools typically earn a single subject credential, allowing them to focus on a specific subject, ranging from mathematics to art to Spanish and everything in between.

A third credential option, the education specialist credential, is for those who want to become a special education teacher serving special needs students of varying abilities. The special education credential has specialty areas, including one for working with students who have mild to moderate disabilities and one for students with moderate to severe special needs.

Not sure which credential type is right for you? Read this guide to help your decision process.

3. Select an educator preparation program

Where a future teacher completes their credential program is significant, and many also opt to earn a master’s degree to enhance their résumé and earning potential. Combined master’s and credential programs, like those at APU, enable teacher candidates to complete both concurrently. Different colleges and universities offer unique approaches and requirements for teacher programs and should be thoughtfully considered to ensure a strong fit for each teacher candidate’s needs.

4. Work through the credential program

Depending on the college, university, or other teacher preparation program, the exact path to earning a teaching credential will be unique. Each program has different requirements for admission and completion, but the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) sets statewide standards for educator preparation and credentialing. APU candidates study alongside mentoring faculty as they pass through several checkpoints on their way to becoming a teacher. Among the requirements are CTC assessments such as the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA), California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET), or Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). The required assessments may vary by credential area and individual. (View teacher test preparation resources and tips for success on the CBEST and CSET.) Out-of-state teachers have different ways of meeting the requirements to be a teacher in California.

5. Get field experience in the classroom

Student teaching, or clinical practice, is an essential part of teacher certification and an opportunity to experience the rewards and challenges of being a teacher first-hand. At APU, candidates begin with introductory field experiences before moving into daily, supervised student teaching in clinical practice. This step provides clear insight into how a teacher’s own education contributes to the classroom setting, allowing learners to immediately apply new knowledge and strategies. Before beginning clinical practice, students must meet certain teacher education requirements, including holding a valid Certificate of Clearance, proof of coursework or examination on the U.S. Constitution, and meeting subject-matter authorization. Students already employed with a contracted teaching position may be approved to complete their clinical experience on-the-job, in some cases through a specialized internship credential option.

6. Obtain teacher certification

Candidates who successfully meet all requirements to become a teacher in California—including coursework, clinical practice experience, and state-required exams—can apply for recommendation to receive a preliminary credential and anticipate the start of their teaching career. As part of this process, candidates demonstrate their knowledge and preparedness for becoming a teacher through an electronic portfolio evaluation. APU teacher candidates work with the Office of Credentials to submit a credential application and receive their official California teaching credential.

7. Find a teaching job

With preliminary credential in hand, it’s time to find a place to teach. Basic considerations include school type, size, and region, and the aspiring educator’s goals and teaching qualifications. While hiring can be competitive in desirable school districts, for teachers called to underserved schools there are added incentives, including loan forgiveness programs. APU’s School of Education provides dedicated career resources through its Office of Alumni and Professional Services, which connects students and alumni to job openings, networking events, and professional development opportunities.

Next steps:

Maintain credential requirements and continue growing Even after obtaining a teaching position, a teacher’s commitment to lifelong learning is just beginning. To maintain credential requirements, new teachers begin an induction program to be completed during their first two years working in the field. Through this program, teachers transition from a preliminary to a clear credential, the next stage of California’s education requirements for teachers. Those who get into teaching must also keep expanding their knowledge of current learning strategies through professional development activities. After several years on the job, educators may wish to explore further opportunities through an additional teaching credential, a school counseling or school psychology credential, or an administrative services credential.