Teacher Certification & Continuing Education

by Jennifer Croley
Teacher Certification & Continuing Education

Whether you are a novice educator or veteran teacher, you want to provide the best classroom experience possible for your students. If you are already teaching, you’ve met any basic requirements, but going beyond the basics and continuing your education can make a huge difference in your classroom and in your career. Fortunately, there are many great options for teachers to continue their education including advanced degrees, national certification, and individual professional development programs.

Getting Started in Teaching

There are four specific types of aid that families can receive:

Most teaching jobs require a minimum level of education and/or experience, but the requirements vary greatly depending on the level you teach, the state where you teach, and whether you teach in a public or private school. To teach in a public school at pre-kindergarten through 12th grade levels, you will need state certification. Certification requirements usually include completing an approved education program through an accredited college or university and obtaining a bachelor’s degree, although most states do offer alternative certification programs. You can find more information about certification requirements at National Education Association - State Licensure and Certification website.

Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade teachers at private schools may not be required to obtain certification depending on state and school policies. However, even it is not required by the state, private schools usually seek out certified teachers.

Requirements for teaching at the postsecondary level are even less consistent than for primary and secondary schools. Four-year research universities usually have the highest educational requirements, while career and technical schools tend to focus on experience and expertise in a related occupation. At this level, requirements vary by school and program and range from expertise in a particular field to a PhD. It is best to check with individual schools to determine their policies and program requirements.

Keeping Up With Requirements

After obtaining initial certification, most teachers are required to complete some continuing education to stay certified. According to Debbie Brown, Director of Program Development for the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, the No Child Left Behind Act has stepped up the requirements and motivation for many teachers to continue their education.

According to Brown, “the accountability has definitely increased. For those teachers who have been in the classroom for a while and maybe hadn’t paid a lot of attention to professional development, it has been somewhat of a wake up call. Most states have imposed stricter requirements on what type of continuing education must be pursued and the timeframe to complete it.”

She also notes that while many states have upped their requirements, most have also established or expanded programs to help teachers pursue continuing education. “Most states have a program in place to help teachers continue their education past initial certification,” says Brown. “In order to keep good teachers and to keep them knowledgeable, the school districts and states need to provide as many options as possible to help teachers continue their education.”

Teachers interested in continuing their education should look to their school system as a primary resource. Most school systems offer professional development programs throughout the year. Popular programs include summer courses, after-school classes, and professional day programs. Many school systems also offer assistance and support, including financial aid, for teachers who want to go beyond what is offered at the local level.

Going National

National Board Certification is the highest credential in the teaching profession and is gaining popularity and recognition throughout the country. While state certification sets entry-level standards for new teachers, National Board Certification establishes advanced standards for experienced teachers.

The certification is offered through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which is an independent, nonprofit organization governed primarily by classroom teachers. National Board Certification is voluntary and does not replace state certification. In fact, to pursue the certification, a teacher must have held a valid state teaching license, possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, and have completed three years of successful teaching.

There is a cost associated with gaining National Board Certification. For 2006, the assessment fee is $2,500, and although many teachers find the process well worth paying for on their own, financial support is available through various sources. Scholarships are available through the National Board Scholarship Program, while the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers both offer loan programs. Financial support is also available in each state through the federal Candidate Subsidy Program, and many states and local school districts provide loans and scholarships to their teachers.

Teachers gain National Board Certification by completing a thorough process that includes assembling a portfolio and completing computer-delivered exercises. The process is demanding and usually takes more than a year to complete. Joseph A. Aguerrebere, Ed.D., president and CEO for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, notes that National Board Certification holds teachers to the highest standards. “Certification is more than just an advanced teaching credential,” notes Aguerrebere. “It is a rigorous professional development experience that requires teachers to demonstrate how every aspect of their work – both inside and outside of the classroom – improves student learning.”

Gaining National Board Certification can be a difficult task, but Aguerrebere points out that the benefits gained are well worth the effort. “The benefits generated by teachers achieving National Board Certification are immeasurable,” he says. “In addition to having a profound impact on their students, National Board Certified Teachers have the opportunity to impact their schools, their school districts, and their communities as teacher leaders.”

While gaining National Board Certification offers many benefits for teachers, Aguerrebere emphasizes that certification makes a difference where it counts most – in the classroom. “It's important to point out that our nation's students are the ones who benefit the most from teachers who achieve National Board Certification. Documented research clearly demonstrates that teachers who earn this distinction represent the gold standard in teaching and are among the most effective teachers in our classrooms today in terms of proven impact on student achievement.”

For additional information about National Board Certification and candidate support you can visit the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website.

Advancing Your Education

For many teachers, seeking an advanced degree is a logical step in continuing their education. Although this option is not limited to experienced teachers, newer teachers are less likely than experienced teachers to have a master’s degree. According to a National Center for Education Statistics survey, 20 percent of teachers with three or fewer years of experience have a master’s degree compared to 54 percent of teachers with ten or more years of experience.

Debbie Brown says this statistic is not surprising. “More often than not, new teachers don’t pursue an advanced degree right away,” observes Brown. “This happens for two primary reasons. The first is that they usually need to get some classroom experience before they know what area of education they would like to study further. Teachers fresh out of school need some time to get their bearings, find out what their ideas are, and determine if they want to specialize in a particular are. The second reason is monetary. Starting salaries for teachers are not usually top-of-the-line, so many teachers find they have to supplement their salary just to make ends meet. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra money to pay for school.”

Although pursuing an advanced degree can be financially challenging, it can offer a monetary incentive when completed. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public and private school teachers with higher degree levels earn higher salaries with an 11.31 percent salary difference for public school teachers and an 8.2 percent difference for private school teachers.

If you do decide to pursue an advanced degree, don’t overlook the support your school system offers. Many districts and states offer financial and other support for teachers who go back to school.

Keeping Focused on the Classroom

From meeting state requirements to pursuing personal interests, many things may motivate you to continue your education, but it is important to keep focused on your ultimate role as a teacher – helping your students. So whether you choose to pursue an advanced degree, work toward national certification, or take a few professional development classes on the weekend, make sure your efforts include getting useful information that can be taken back to the classroom and applied for the benefit of your students. Keeping this focus will help you make your continuing education efforts, whatever they may be, a success for you and your students.


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