What You Need to Know to Become a Teacher in California | Quick guide

By Diana Lambert, EdSource

Governor Gavin Newsom and California lawmakers have poured billions of state dollars into special grants and programs to recruit, train and retain educators to ease the state’s ongoing teacher shortage. . Lawmakers have also made temporary and permanent changes to teacher certification requirements since the pandemic, including waiving fees, to make it easier to become a teacher in California.

Teacher candidates have many choices. They can go the traditional route—take a teacher preparation program and complete student teaching—or they can participate in a teacher residency or internship program that allows them to take required courses while teaching.

Teacher candidates can apply residency programs through a university teacher preparation program that operates in partnership with one or more school districts. During their residency, teacher candidates are paired with experienced teachers for a year of clinical training. Residents usually receive an allowance.

Future teachers can also enroll in a commission-approved district internship program or university internship program. Both allow candidates with a bachelor’s degree to teach while they complete their teacher preparation courses. Most interns are the main class teacher. These teachers hold trainee degrees until they meet the requirements for a preliminary degree.

The state also has a Teacher employed at a California classified school Credentialing Program, which provides financial aid and academic counseling for school personnel who wish to pursue an undergraduate degree and obtain a teaching qualification. Staff members must work in districts that have received a grant for the program from the state.

Most California teachers hold one of three basic teaching degrees – multi-subject, single-subject, and education. Multi-subject degrees are for elementary school teachers, single-subject degrees are typically for middle and high school teachers who teach one subject, and an education specialist degree is for special education teachers.

They must first obtain a preliminary teaching diploma and, after additional training and mentoring during their first two years of teaching, they can obtain a clear diploma.

To obtain a preliminary teaching qualification, a teacher must have:

  • A Bachelor’s degree.
  • Completed an accredited teacher preparation program.
  • Completed 600 hours of teaching students.
  • Was fingerprinted and passed a background check.
  • Passed the mandatory tests or taken university-approved courses.
  • Completed a course or passed a test on the provisions and principles of the US Constitution.
  • Earned a recommendation from their teacher preparation program.

A preliminary diploma is valid for five years.

Required tests and their alternatives

Teachers must prove that they have the necessary skills to educate students. Before the pandemic, testing was traditionally used to determine if a teacher candidate was ready for a teacher preparation program or the classroom, but new legislation gives them the option of using university-approved courses instead in some cases. Teacher candidates can check with their teacher preparation program administrator to determine which courses to take or have their transcript assessed by the Commission on Teacher Certification.

Current flexibility: California waived testing fees through June 30, 2023.

Basic skills required

Teachers must demonstrate that they have the basic skills to teach. Typically, this is done before a teacher preparation program. Here are the options:

  • Take the California Basic Teaching Skills Test.
  • Pass the California SET: Multiple Subjects plus Writing Skills Examination.
  • Pass the CSU Early Assessment Program or the CSU Placement Exams.
  • Earn a qualifying score on the SAT, ACT, or College Board Advanced Placement exams.
  • Take a basic skills test from another state.
  • Submit a transcript showing a grade of B or better in a Critical Thinking, Literature, Philosophy, Reading, Rhetoric, or Textual Analysis course to show reading proficiency; a course in composition, English, rhetoric, written communication or writing to demonstrate proficiency in writing; and a course in algebra, math, quantitative reasoning, or statistics to show proficiency in math;
  • Complete a combination courses and exams to meet the requirement.

Current flexibility: The Commission on Teacher Credentialing has extended the pandemic waiver that allows teacher candidates to teach students without meeting their basic competency requirements. The flexibility ends May 1, 2023. Teacher candidates must meet the requirement before being recommended for a preliminary degree.

Competence in the matter

Teacher candidates must demonstrate proficiency in the subject matter they will be teaching before they can graduate. This has traditionally been done by passing the appropriate tests in the California subject exams for teachers, or CSETbut teachers can now also take courses or a combination of tests in the CSET and courses to meet this requirement.

Teacher candidates can also obtain a bachelor’s degree in the field of the title they seek. A teacher preparation program will assess the major to see if it is acceptable, but the Commission on Teacher Certification will call for candidates who are contact the committee directly for credentials, such as those requesting emergency style permits.

Current flexibility: The test may be canceled until the end of a teacher candidate’s preparation program if they have applied for a trainee title to teach in a school before June 30, 2022.

Reading skills assessment

The FADN measures the extent to which candidates for multidisciplinary degrees and education specialists teach reading. The test is expected to be phased out in 2025 when it becomes part of the Teacher Performance Appraisal, which requires teachers to demonstrate their ability to teach.

Current flexibility: A teacher candidate enrolled in a teacher preparation program by June 30, 2022 is not required to pass the RICA before earning a preliminary credential, but must pass it before earning a clear credential.

Performance evaluation

Once a teacher is in class, they are required to complete a performance appraisal that demonstrates hHow well they assess students, design instruction, organize subject matter, and perform other skills. All three assessment models—California Teaching Performance Assessment, edTPA, and Fresno Assessment of Student Teachers—require teachers to make a video of themselves teaching at the school where they work.

Special education degrees

Special education applicants must meet all basic requirements for other teachers, as well as teaching in one of four areas – mild to moderate support needs; significant support needs; deaf and hard of hearing, visually impaired; and Early Childhood Special Education – to earn a degree in this specialty.

Foreign teachers

Teachers moving to California must submit their college transcripts and a copy of their out-of-state teaching license, along with proof that they have been fingerprinted, to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

To avoid unnecessary testing and training, the commission recommends applicants submit their score on basic out-of-state competency testing and proof of two or more years of teaching experience.

Where to apply

Most requests are submitted to California Commission on Teacher Certification on line. It usually takes about 50 days for the commission to process applications, which are available on the commission’s website. Application fees vary by document, but are generally under $100 each.


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