How to Become a Teacher in California

Our guide walks through how to become a teacher in California, including the certification process and in-demand subject areas.

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by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated April 26, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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How to Become a Teacher in California

Teachers educate learners in core subjects like math, language arts, and science. They also prepare teenagers for the workforce or college. In California, teachers educate more than 6.2 million students.

Teaching in California comes with some of the highest salaries in the profession. And the state reports high demand for educators. Prospective teachers curious about how to become a teacher in California should start with the certification requirements. California's requirements differ from other states, so current teachers considering a move should also pay careful attention to the state's requirements.

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Ready to start your journey?

Whether your path includes going back to school to earn a teaching degree or enrolling in an online California college to become a teacher, our guide explains the process.

How Do I Become a Teacher in California?

In every state, teachers must meet licensure and certification requirements. The process for how to become a teacher in California is similar to many other states. California requires a bachelor's degree, teacher preparation requirements, and passing scores on certification exams.

In California, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing provides teaching certification and endorsements resources. Teachers initially apply for a five-year preliminary credential. This non-renewable credential lets educators work in the state's public schools. Educators strengthen their skills during the preliminary credential period to qualify for a clear credential. Teachers licensed in other states may qualify for a reciprocal license.

Meet Minimum Education Requirements

California teachers must meet the following minimum education requirements:

Educators can meet these minimum requirements in several ways. The most common path includes earning a bachelor's in education or a bachelor's in teaching from a teacher preparation program. Approved California programs meet the state's requirements for student teaching experience and other certification requirements.

Middle school and high school teachers can also earn a bachelor's degree in their subject area. Alternatively, they can fulfill subject matter requirements through a combination of coursework and testing. Elementary teachers can major in liberal studies or an interdisciplinary major.

Gain Student Teaching Experience

While some states do not require student teaching to earn a certification, California sets a high requirement for student teaching experience. Teacher certification in the state requires 600 hours of clinical practice experience.

According to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, educators can meet this requirement in several ways. The 600 hours might include placements in classrooms, supervised clinical experiences, and independent hours of instruction. California also requires a minimum of four weeks of solo or co-teaching.

Learners typically meet the student teaching requirement through their program. Educators with out-of-state or private school teaching experience typically meet the requirement.

Pass Required Certification Tests

California requires several certification tests, depending on the level and subject matter. For example, secondary educators must pass a subject-matter examination in their specialty area. Adding an authorization often requires a specific certification test. Scores remain valid for initial certification for ten years after the passing date.

The exams vary in terms of length and content. Most tests take at least 2-3 hours. Teachers can learn more about the following exams through California Educator Credentialing Assessments:

Apply for Certification

After meeting the requirements for teaching certification in California, educators must complete the certification application process. Students enrolled in an approved teacher preparation program in the state complete the process through their program. After meeting program requirements, the program submits a recommendation for certification. California's Commission on Teacher Credentialing typically processes these program recommendations within ten business days.

For other certification situations, the process requires a paper application. Applicants can apply for a teaching credential with an out-of-state license, private school experience, or preparation outside the U.S. Paper applications allow teachers to add a new teaching authorization to their credential or apply for English learner authorization. Paper applications can take up to 50 business days to process.

How Do I Maintain Teaching Certification in California?

California differs from several other states when it comes to maintaining a teaching certification. Educators initially receive a preliminary credential, which remains valid for five years. The preliminary credential requires a bachelor's degree, basic skills requirements, subject-matter competency, and the other requirements discussed above.

At the end of the five-year period, educators must obtain a clear credential. Teachers can meet the requirements in two ways. First, they can complete a teacher induction program. The two-year induction program provides support and mentoring for new teachers. Second, teachers with a preliminary credential can complete the requirements for a National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification.

Educators with a clear credential can renew their credentials online without additional continuing education, service, or coursework requirements.

Career Outlook for Teachers in California

California teachers benefit from a strong career outlook. During the 2018-19 school year, more than 315,000 teachers worked in California. The state boasts over 1,000 school districts and more than 6.2 million students. These educators pursue teaching careers in areas like reading intervention, math instruction, and special education.

Education careers in California tend to pay higher salaries. For example, the national median high school teacher salary was $62,870 per year in May 2020, while California's median high school teacher salary hit $86,900. Educators with a master's degree typically earn more than those with a bachelor's degree. As a result, going to grad school can pay off for California teachers.

The next section introduces high-need subject areas in California. The salary data uses national numbers, but prospective teachers should keep in mind that California educators earn salaries higher than the national average.

In-Demand Teaching Careers in California

Mathematics Teacher

Mathematics teachers instruct students in algebra, geometry, statistics, and calculus. They typically teach at the middle and high school levels. In California, math teachers demonstrate subject-matter competency with a math teaching program or passing scores on the math subject exam. California credentials math teachers at the foundational level and advanced level.

Median Annual Salary: $51,350


Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers educate learners with disabilities. They modify lessons to meet students' needs. Special education teachers work at the elementary and secondary levels. The shortage of special educators in California makes this a high-need field. In California, special educators must hold an Education Specialist Instruction Credential.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500


Science Teacher

Science teachers instruct middle and high schoolers in subjects like biology, chemistry, earth sciences, physics, and other natural sciences. California reports a shortage of science teachers and offers several tests for educators to obtain science credentials at the foundational or advanced levels.

Median Annual Salary: $48,760


Bilingual Teacher

California reports a shortage in bilingual teachers, also called English Language Development teachers. These teachers require training in teaching English to students fluent in other languages. They must apply for an English learner authorization to teach in this high-need field, which may require the CTEL.

Median Annual Salary: $46,230


Career and Technical Education Teacher

Career and technical education teachers train students in vocational or technical subjects. They specialize in areas like business, auto repair, technology, and culinary arts. In California, CTE teachers must hold three years of work experience in their industry and at least a high school diploma for a preliminary teaching credential.

Median Annual Salary: $59,140


Frequently Asked Questions About Teaching Certification in California

How do I get teaching certification in California?

California's public schools, along with some private schools, require a teaching certification. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing grants teaching certifications in the state. Candidates must meet the certification requirements, which include a bachelor's degree, completion of a teacher preparation program, and 600 hours of student teaching experience.

California also requires several certification exams. For example, secondary teachers must pass a subject matter test. Candidates who meet the requirements earn their preliminary certification. While working as an educator, teachers complete additional requirements to earn their clear certification.

Can I teach in California without certification?

Most teaching jobs in California require certification. However, educators can pursue opportunities that do not require formal certification. Some private schools hire teachers who do not hold a state-issued teaching license.

In addition, certain teaching roles offer alternative certification options. For example, career and technical educators apply for a separate license that does not require formal teacher training for initial certification. However, teachers who hold certification typically earn higher salaries. For example, public school teachers at the high school level earn about $5,000 more per year than private school teachers.

How long does it take to become a teacher in California?

It takes several years to become a teacher in the state. Public school teachers in California must hold a bachelor's degree, which takes four years to complete. The state also requires an approved educator preparation program. Many teachers complete this training as part of their bachelor's degree. California teachers must also complete 600 hours of student teaching experience.

After meeting these requirements, educators pass exams and earn their teaching certification. At this point, educators can apply for public school jobs. However, teachers continue strengthening their skills to upgrade from preliminary certification to clear certification.

What can I do with teaching certification in California?

A teaching certification qualifies educators to work in California's public K-12 schools. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers must hold certification to teach in the state. Educators can also add authorizations to their teaching credentials. For example, secondary teachers hold authorizations in their subject areas. Educators who specialize in bilingual education or special education must also pursue authorizations.

California teaching certifications require a bachelor's degree, specialized training, and passing scores on credentialing exams. The state also requires 600 hours of student teaching experience. Teachers licensed in another state may qualify for a reciprocal certification.

How do I become a substitute teacher in California?

California substitute teachers must qualify for a substitute permit. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, California passed a law authorizing emergency substitute teaching permits in the state. The state provides routes to an emergency permit for those with previous substitute teaching or career and technical education experience and current college students.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in January 2022 to allow temporary county certificates for emergency substitutes. These certificates require a bachelor's degree, a certificate of clearance, and basic skills requirements. Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, the requirements for substitute teachers may change in the near future.

Feature Image: massimo colombo / moment / Getty Images

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