Emergency Teacher Certification Explained
By Catherine Dorian – former English Teacher, Brattleboro Union High School and Fort Benton Middle/High School
There’s no secret that the US has been experiencing a teacher shortage in the last decade. In 2018, the Learning Policy Institute compiled data about teacher shortages from 40 states for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years and found a total of over 6,000 unfilled vacancies and over 87,000 teachers not fully certified for their teaching assignments. At minimum.
While they’re still collecting data post-pandemic, it’s not unreasonable to guess that these numbers have only increased.
While the LPI data varies by state—with some states providing more generous pay and packages that attract more teachers in general—the totals are staggering enough to wonder: how can we prevent such a shortage, and get qualified people in these teaching positions?
The truth is that you don’t have to have a BS or an MS in Education to teach in an elementary or high school. In fact, professionals who have worked in other fields as chemists, journalists, engineers, accountants—anything, really— are just as capable of making an impact on our students as anyone with a degree in education. With the right training and an emergency teacher certification, these professionals can quickly transition to the world of teaching.
Interested in getting your emergency teacher certification? Learn more about this teacher certification alternative.
What is an Emergency Certification for Teachers?
Emergency teacher certification is the most efficient way that we can get qualified, passionate professionals in classrooms. They are also one of the best ways to fill the many vacancies around the country and help our students find success and resilience after two years of online and in-person learning.
Emergency certifications for teachers are enacted by districts to address local shortages. When a school district is experiencing teaching shortages, they prioritize filling the job with an adaptable, trainable professional. Sometimes, that means that they will accept applicants who do not hold a teaching license or a BA/BS in a field related to education. Sometimes these are professionals who have worked in other fields, even tradesmen who are looking to get into vocational training, and/or school personnel and paraprofessionals who would like to become classroom teachers.
After accepting an applicant who does not hold teacher licensure, the district will seek permission from their state Department of Education or Office of Public Instruction to grant said applicant an emergency teacher certification so that they can start teaching at the beginning of the year. This may also happen mid-school year if a teacher goes on maternity leave or must leave for an emergency.
Like other alternative teaching certificates, an emergency certification for a teacher can provide an avenue for professionals to enter a school district and learn the profession by doing the profession. But unlike a full-on bachelor’s degree or graduate program, they won’t cost you much (if anything, save for processing fees) and they won’t require that you commit to going to school full-time. Instead, emergency certifications allow you to dive into the teaching experience.
Needless to say, emergency teacher certifications are for those who are willing to learn from experience.
Critical Teacher Shortages Are Creating a Growing Need for Emergency Certification
Hiring those who are not licensed by the state seems like an exceptional circumstance. So, when are emergency teachers needed?
Emergency teachers are needed when the district is experiencing shortages that are extreme enough that they are required by law to hire additional staff. Many states have what are called maximum class size policies, meaning that, depending on the grade and with the exception of courses like music and physical education, a district must not allow more than a certain number of students in each class. For instance, in Kentucky, Kindergarten through third grade classes must not exceed 24 students, while middle and high school classes (grades 7 – 12) must not exceed 31 students. Many states also have some kind of policy that incentivizes districts to reduce their class sizes—a prospect that is especially necessary in elementary grade levels—and especially necessary in a post-pandemic world where many children need additional attention and support as they adjust to being back in school full-time.
Full-time teachers aren’t the only ones in short supply. In March of 2021, The Learning Policy Institute collected additional data in one state that has been particularly ravaged by teacher shortages: California. According to the report, one of the greatest obstacles to filling classrooms with teachers are retirements and extended leaves of absence. According to the report, as districts move back to in-person instruction post-pandemic, many expect that more teachers will be necessary to comply with rules for smaller class sizes as a way to accommodate physical distancing. This means shortages could get even worse. And with substitutes already in short supply, everyone is bracing for what might happen.
If you’re interested in substitute teaching, you may be wondering: what is an emergency substitute teaching certification? Emergency substitute teacher certification is available in parts of the country where the teacher shortage is so acute that there aren’t even enough subs in the pipeline. It’s designed to get substitutes into the classroom fast, ensuring students don’t miss a single day of class. It’s the easiest and fastest way to start teaching in your area. If you are looking to work part-time or to make a little extra income on a more flexible schedule, and particularly if you are interested in working in a variety of environments, an emergency substitute teaching certification can be an ideal route to getting started in the profession.
How To Get Your Emergency Teaching Certification?
So, you’ve decided that you’re open to the idea of teaching, and you’re willing to take the fast-track to get there. So, at this point, you might be asking, how do I get an emergency certificate for teaching?
Each state has its own laws regarding emergency teacher certification requirements, and they may even evaluate the needs of a particular district on a case-by-case basis and adjust those requirements accordingly. In Kansas, for example, mid-career professionals in a field related to what they plan to teach may apply for what is called a Restricted License, which will allow them to teach under the condition that they begin coursework in the field of education. The New York State Department of Education typically requires that teachers earn a master’s degree within 5 years of starting work in a public school district. Under an Emergency COVID-19 teacher certificate program, however, NYSDE lifted that requirement through September 2022.
Many states also routinely experience ESL teacher and foreign language teacher shortages, and to fill those gaps, often offer emergency licenses to professionals who have taught abroad or who are multilingual.
In many states, teachers who are earning an emergency certificate will need to participate in some kind of mentoring program where they receive guidance from a qualified, experienced educator. They will also most likely need to complete coursework and trainings as they teach throughout the school year.
Before seeking out your emergency teaching certificate, be sure to contact your state’s Department of Education or Office of Public Instruction and inquire about their state-specific requirements. You may also apply for a position on SchoolSpring or via a district’s website and work with administrators to obtain the license that you need to begin.
Alternative Pathways to Certification
Many professionals in other fields looking to change careers want to know how to become a teacher, and obtaining an emergency certification is not the only way. There are a few other ways that mid-career professionals and those without a bachelor’s in education can get in the classroom.
You don’t need a bachelor’s in education to get a master’s degree in the field, particularly if you are looking to teach at the secondary level, where you will be teaching a field-specific subject. For instance, if you hold an undergraduate degree in any of the sciences, you will most likely be able to begin a master’s in secondary education or perhaps a master’s in curriculum and instruction, and transition to the classroom after you have completed your coursework (or during). These programs may be fully online, in-person, or a combination of both, and they will include some kind of teacher residency, where you will teach in a classroom and receive mentoring and feedback from a field supervisor.
Many colleges and universities also offer post-baccalaureate certificate programs for those who are looking to get into the profession, but who do not necessarily need a graduate-level degree.
For those who are not necessarily looking for additional education, there are alternative paths to getting into the classroom that let them skip the graduate degree. For instance, Teach for America does not require that an applicant have a degree in education, but they do put all applicants through a competitive selection process as well as an intensive training experience. The American Board also provides an online, self-paced set of coursework that can lead you to certification.
If you’re interested in receiving more guidance on alternative pathways to certification, the National Association for Alternative Certification (NAAC) advocates for such non-traditional pathways and provides resources for those seeking to enter the profession.
How Do I Know If It’s Right for My Situation?
Knowing whether or not you should pursue an emergency teacher certificate depends on your comfort level. While some thrive in an academic setting, where they learn about educational theory, best practices, methods of instruction, and how to build curriculum, others fare better when they dive into the classroom experience. If you are someone who is comfortable learning through trial-by-error and you have the discipline and grit to reflect on your instruction, to adapt, and to seek professional learning experiences on your own, earning an emergency teaching certification is a viable option.
Children need good teachers, and no matter their circumstances or lack of advanced degrees in education, the profession needs passionate individuals. Earning an emergency certification will allow you to contribute to the profession at a time when teachers are in short supply—and to contribute to a child’s learning and development at a critical time in history.