How to Become a Teacher in Pennsylvania

Earn teaching certification in Pennsylvania to qualify for lucrative jobs in critical areas of PreK-12 education including STEM, special education, and technical education.

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by Meg Whitenton

Updated June 10, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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How to Become a Teacher in Pennsylvania

Teachers can take one of several paths to earn licensure through the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). To gain teaching certification in Pennsylvania, candidates must complete a state-approved certification program or traditional bachelor's degree and student-teaching requirements and pass qualifying exams.

The PDE offers competitive job opportunities for teachers with active or pending certification. Students can pursue certification in early childhood, elementary, middle, or high school teaching skills and subjects. Pennsylvania offers diverse paths to certification for teachers educated in or out of state and emergency certification for in-demand substitute teachers.

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Ready to start your journey?

Certified teachers in Pennsylvania are among the top earners in their field, nationwide. Pennsylvania pays secondary teachers an annual mean wage of $69,530 and is the fourth-largest employer of secondary teachers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Learn how to become a teacher in Pennsylvania through our guide, below.

How Do I Become a Teacher in Pennsylvania?

Applicants can obtain teaching certification in Pennsylvania by completing a PDE-approved teacher education program, which leads to a bachelor's degree and meets the state's student-teaching requirements. Students who hold a bachelor's degree in a non-education major must also complete a teacher education program. Additionally, teachers must pass credentialing exams and pass a background check.

In Pennsylvania, public school teachers can pursue an instructional certificate in their desired teaching subject and grade level. Pennsylvania also offers private academic school certification at some private schools' request, and issues substitute teaching certification by district. Teachers certified in another state may qualify for certification in Pennsylvania.

Meet Minimum Education Requirements

Students must earn a bachelor's degree and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA to obtain teaching certification in Pennsylvania. Teachers may major in a generalist course of study, common in elementary education, or a specific teaching subject and grade level, such as middle school math. Other specializations include English as a second language (ESL) or special education.

Pennsylvania teachers most commonly pursue PDE-approved certification programs to meet minimum education requirements for licensure. These bachelor-level programs include the field experience teachers need to qualify for teaching certification in Pennsylvania.

PDE offers the following options to meet education requirements for certification.

Gain Student Teaching Experience

PDE typically requires students to complete a 12-week supervised student-teaching experience to qualify for licensure. Along with bachelor-level coursework in education, certification programs approved by PDE include a practicum designed to meet the state's requirements for hands-on teaching experience.

Students can develop skills in classroom management, lesson planning, and student assessment through the required field component. Candidates for teaching certification in Pennsylvania who hold a standalone bachelor's degree must also complete a separate teacher training program and student-teaching requirements.

Pass Required Certification Tests

PDE requires students to undergo a basic skills assessment prior to enrolling in an approved certification program through a college or university. After completing the program, students must pass a series of basic skills and subject-specific Praxis tests in their desired teaching subject or specialization to apply for certification.

All prospective teachers must receive a passing score in reading, math, and writing skill tests to pursue certification, though the required minimums vary depending on the administrator of the test. Students can pursue such tests through ACT, ETS, ES Pearson, or College Board.

Apply for Certification

Applicants for teaching certification in Pennsylvania must submit the necessary forms to verify their education, experience, and test results and pay an application fee. PDE charges $200 to teachers who complete an approved program in Pennsylvania and $260 to graduates of an out-of-state program.

Students can submit their applications online through PDE's Teacher Information Management System (TIMS). The application process includes answering questions that assess an applicant's character. Applicants can check the status of their application and ultimately print their certificate through TIMS. Certification processing time takes approximately eight weeks.

How Do I Maintain Teaching Certification in Pennsylvania?

Teachers must comply with Act 48 to maintain active teaching certification in Pennsylvania. Act 48 begins on the date a student receives their initial teaching certificate and ends in five years, once students have met the renewal requirements. Teachers must satisfy continuing education requirements to renew their certification every five years.

Continuing professional education (CPE) options include six-semester credits of college coursework, six CPE credits of PDE-approved coursework, 180 hours of CPE programs, other PDE-approved activities or workshops, or any combination of the above. PDE sends a reminder to students at least 12 months prior to the end of their renewal period.

Students may apply up to 50 hours of excess CPE earned during the last two years toward the next renewal period.

Career Outlook for Teachers in Pennsylvania

Certified Pennsylvania teachers can work in their choice of public PreK-12 schools. Education professionals including teaching assistants, substitutes, and administrators, can pursue certification through PDE. Teachers may eventually pursue a master's degree to become certified in an endorsement area and potentially command a higher salary.

Teachers are in extremely high demand in Pennsylvania. PDE recently addressed a critical shortage of PreK-12 teachers in areas like special education, English, math, and social studies. Pennsylvania school districts also awarded emergency certifications in record numbers in 2021, due to a shortage of available substitute teachers.

According to the BLS, Pennsylvania is a leading employer of teachers, especially secondary educators in urban-metro areas like Philadelphia and Johnstown. Certified high school teachers earn a higher annual mean wage ($69,530) in Pennsylvania than most other states, with salaries among the highest in the U.S. for this occupation.

In-Demand Teaching Careers in Pennsylvania

Social Studies Teacher

Social studies teachers incorporate geography, history, and anthropology into their curriculum. They also use current events to teach students about human society. These educators may hold generalist certification to teach social studies along with other subjects or specialize in social studies for elementary, middle, or high school classes.

Median Annual Salary: $49,377 (as of January 5, 2022)

Math Teacher

Most educators certified in this subject teach math to middle or high school students; however, math teachers can also obtain general certification to teach math with other subjects in K-6 classrooms. Math teachers must explain complex formulas and calculations in a language their young students can understand. Topics include algebra, calculus, geometry, and trigonometry.

Median Annual Salary: $51,353 (as of January 10, 2022)

Special Education Teacher

Special educators teach students who have mild-to-moderate learning, behavioral, or physical disabilities. Some special education teachers work with other specialists and therapists to focus on students with severe disabilities. Special educators require a unique skill set beyond that of a traditional teacher, making them highly desirable in the national teaching workforce.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500

Middle School Teachers

Middle school teachers educate students in grades 5-8, marking the culmination of elementary education and preparing students for high school. Aspiring middle school teachers may choose to earn a degree in generalist education, which enables them to teach all subjects in middle school or specialize in teaching a specific subject such as math, science, or social studies.

Median Annual Salary: $60,810

High School Teacher

High school educators teach students in grades 9-12. They typically earn a degree and certification in a specific subject, such as computer technology, English, or math. Though more common for postsecondary educators, some high school teachers specialize in career and technical education. They may also pursue teaching certification in special education or ESL.

Median Annual Salary: $62,870

Frequently Asked Questions About Teaching Certification in Pennsylvania

How do I get teaching certification in Pennsylvania?

Teachers need a bachelor's degree, student-teaching experience, and passing scores on several exams to obtain teaching certification in Pennsylvania. Most teachers receive training through a PDE-approved teacher training program, though PDE offers alternative pathways to certification. Students may pursue a degree toward generalist teaching certification, such as in early childhood or elementary education, or major in their desired teaching subject and grade level. Meeting these requirements, answering ethical assessment questions, and paying the appropriate application fee qualify teachers for initial certification in Pennsylvania.

Can I teach in Pennsylvania without certification?

Not for the long term in public schools; however, Pennsylvania offers alternatives to traditional certification for some candidates. In all states, public school teachers require certification, though private schools maintain their own regulations for employees. Private schools in Pennsylvania can choose to require their teachers to pursue credentials through PDE's private academic teacher certification. Additionally, teaching students in the process of meeting certification requirements, interns, and substitute teachers in Pennsylvania may qualify for temporary certification through PDE..

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

The length of time required to earn teaching certification in Pennsylvania varies by applicant. Teachers can complete a PDE-approved teacher training program in roughly four years, which includes student-teaching experience; however, teachers who earned a bachelor's degree in another state or major may take longer to meet additional field experience requirements for certification. Teachers who obtain an initial Level I certificate need three years of full-time teaching experience and 24 completed post-baccalaureate credits during the five-year renewal period to advance to Level II certification.

What can I do with teaching certification in Pennsylvania?

Educators who earn Level I certification in Pennsylvania can teach in public schools in grades K-12. Certified teachers may aspire to become generalists, teaching all subjects to kindergarten or elementary school students. Teachers can also focus on providing early childhood education. Others can major in a specific teaching subject and grade level to pursue certification in that area. The PDE also awards teaching certification to qualified career and technical education instructors and offers endorsements in specializations including autism spectrum disorders, STEM, and gifted education.

How do I become a substitute teacher in Pennsylvania?

Teachers can obtain substitute teaching certification in Pennsylvania directly from the district they apply to. Typically, substitute teachers require a valid Pennsylvania or out-of-state teaching certificate, or a bachelor's degree, background clearances, and U.S. citizen or permanent resident status. Due to a substitute teacher shortage in Pennsylvania, the state also grants temporary certification to substitute teachers who do not hold teaching certification but conferred a bachelor's degree in education or another subject and meet other requirements listed above.

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