The California educator's guide to choosing the right teaching credential
The ability to plan ahead is a crucial competency for educators. Whether it’s creating lesson plans for the upcoming school year or lining up substitute teachers for days they’ll be absent, being organized and proactive is integral to success in this profession.
This skill also comes in handy for aspiring teachers planning their careers. 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 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.
- Why do I need a teaching license? The licensure process confirms that instructors are sufficiently qualified to teach the subject matter and also passed any background checks and assessments required for the age they want to teach.
- 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.
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:
- Multiple Subjecting Teaching Credential
- Single Subject Teaching Credential
- Education Specialist Instruction Credential
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:
- Biological sciences
- Health science
- Home economics
- Industrial and technology education
- Physical education
- 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.
Now that you’re aware of some of the teaching credential options available, you might want to dive into the details of some preparatory programs. If you’re looking for information on how to get a teaching credential in California specifically, explore University of Massachusetts Global’s Teaching Credentials & Authorizations. You’ll find important info about admission requirements, program outcomes and internship opportunities.
*This article was original published in 2019 and was last updated June 2021.
Become a Student
Have questions about enrollment, degree programs, financial aid, or next steps?