The California educator's guide to choosing the right teaching credential

california teaching credentials

Teachers tend to be great at planning ahead. Whether it’s creating lesson plans for the upcoming school year or lining up substitutes for days they’ll be absent, being organized and proactive is integral to success in this profession.

If you’re an aspiring teacher, you can start honing this skill right now as you plot out your career path. Before you commit to a program, you need to have a clear idea of the education requirements needed to gain licensure for the subject and grade level you’ll be teaching.

To help you on your journey to the front of the classroom, we’ve put together a handy guide to understanding California teaching requirements and becoming a teacher in the Golden State.

What are teaching credentials?

Caring for, guiding, and educating our communities’ children is a monumental responsibility. This is why teaching credentials are so important. They signify to school administrators and community members that you — as a teacher — are qualified to help mold the minds of young learners.

As you map out your career pathway, be sure to analyze the teaching requirements for the location you want to work. The state-specific teaching permits may be referred to as credentials, licenses or certifications depending on where you land. You may find yourself asking questions like:

  • Why do I need a teaching license? The licensure process confirms that instructors are sufficiently qualified to teach the subject matter and have also passed any background checks and assessments required for the age they want to teach.
  • Why do licensure requirements vary by state? Each state has its own agency that oversees its public school teachers’ qualifications to ensure they’re properly educated. Some states even have specific coursework requirements. For example, California teaching requirements include coursework and a passing score on a test about the U.S. Constitution. Meanwhile, Alaska requires its public educators to take courses on Alaska history and multicultural studies.
  • Can teaching credentials transfer between states? There are specific guidelines you can review about teaching credentials transferring between states. Even if a teacher meets a different state’s requirements, they will still need to apply for a new license to teach there.
  • Do teaching credentials expire? Even if you stay in your home state and have no intentions of moving, most teachers still have to renew their credentials every five years. One of the main criteria for renewal is showing proof of dedication to continuing education, whether through in-service training sessions or formal academic study.
  • Do teaching credentials expire? Even if you stay in your home state and have no intentions of moving, most teachers still have to renew their credentials every five years. One of the main criteria for renewal is showing proof of dedication to continuing education, whether through in-service training sessions or formal academic study.
  • How long does it take to earn a teaching credential? It depends on how many classes you take per term and the number of successful transfer credits you can apply to your degree. On average, earning a Single Subject or Multiple Subject Teaching Credential will take from 15-18 months. An Education Specialist Instruction Credential will take closer to 24 months.
  • How much does it cost to earn a teaching credential? Although the answer to this will vary from school to school, at UMass Global each online credit costs $695 (as of May 2023). The number of credits needed to earn a teaching credential at UMass Global varies from 32-36.

    Understanding California teaching requirements

    As we discuss the regional differences in requirements for teachers, it can be helpful to examine an individual state’s credential model to gain a better understanding of what to expect. In California, for example, teaching credentials are acquired through a two-level process: the preliminary credential followed by the clear credential. Teachers can choose from three options:

    It’s important to note than in order to earn these credentials, all aspiring teachers must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET). The CBEST features reading, writing and mathematics sections, and passing this exam makes the student eligible to start student teaching. The CSET tests students on specific subject matter relevant to their specialty – for Multiple Subject teachers this includes math, English and history.

    What is the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential?

    If you hope to teach elementary school in California, you’ll need to obtain the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. It is most commonly used for teaching all subjects in a self-contained K-6 classroom, but also authorizes the holder to teach in higher grade levels.

    Multiple Subject teaching programs also include content aimed at working with students who are learning English. This prepares educators to foster language development in ESL students and provide specially designed academic instruction in English according to the subject area and grade level.

    What is the Single Subject Teaching Credential?

    If you have your sights set on teaching a particular subject, you should pursue the Single Subject Teaching Credential. Educators holding this credential are authorized to teach a specific subject to students ranging in age from preschool to 12th grade, and less commonly, adult students.

    The subjects you can pursue within the California Single Subject Teaching Credential are as follows:

    • Agriculture
    • Art
    • Biological sciences
    • Business
    • Chemistry
    • English
    • Geosciences
    • Health science
    • Home economics
    • Industrial and technology education
    • Mathematics
    • Music
    • Physical education
    • Physics
    • Social science
    • World language: English language development
    • World language: languages other than English

    What is the Education Specialist Instruction Credential?

    The Education Specialist Instruction Credential authorizes educators to teach and provide special education support for students in a particular area of focus. They can also conduct educational assessments to identify how to best help students progress toward achieving their academic goals.

    Programs that align with this credential will include content related to Autism Spectrum Disorders and teaching English learners. There are several potential specialty areas that fall under this teaching credential:

    • Deaf and hard of hearing
    • Early childhood special education
    • Language and academic development
    • Mild/moderate disabilities
    • Moderate/severe disabilities
    • Physical and health impairments
    • Visual impairments>

    Again, the three California state teaching credential options listed above are specific to the state. But hopefully this information provides you with a clearer picture of what the credentialing landscape looks like.


    How to get a teaching credential that will drive your career forward

    If you’re hoping to dedicate your career to teaching, you now know how important it is to consider your long-term teaching credential goals sooner rather than later. Getting these details sorted out early on can help ensure you’re setting yourself on the right path to achieve your career goals.

    If you’re ready to get started on your journey to becoming an educator in the Golden State, your next step is to start researching accredited programs. Explore UMass Global’s Teaching Credentials & Authorizations to find important info about admissions, outcomes, internships, and more.

    Read “How to become a teacher in California” for a handy infographic and guide.

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