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How to Become a Teacher in California

The Golden State is at a tipping point when it comes to education. Its high school graduation rates are near an all-time high, it’s home to some of the nation’s best universities, and it’s considered a pioneer among states for its pre-kindergarten standards. Despite California’s commitment to education, however, the state is experiencing a teacher shortage. According to an April 2019 report from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, demand for teachers far exceeds supply.

With plentiful opportunities for qualified teachers and increased funding and programs to improve education, now is a great time to explore teaching credential programs in California. Read on to discover valuable information about how to become a teacher in California, as well as salary and career outlook.

California Teaching Credentials

In order to teach in California, you need to earn a California teaching credential. The type of credential you need to earn, and the process for earning it, depend on which grade level or subject matter you want to teach as well as your current level of education or training.

For details about what’s involved in earning your chosen credential, see the Earning Your California Teaching Credential section on this page.

California requirements call for teachers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Further training could be required for certain positions. Depending on your chosen degree program, here is a breakdown of what you can expect: 

Bachelor’s Degree

  • General information: Your bachelor’s degree program in education can prepare you to set up and manage a classroom, develop lessons, assess student needs, and help students to succeed. Program coursework can include educational psychology, teaching methods, and education for exceptional or diverse populations. Students will also perform supervised student teaching.
  • Time to finish: Four years
  • Types of careers: Preschool, special education, elementary, middle, or high school teacher; an education administrator; a librarian; or a trainer

Master’s Degree

  • General information: If you are interested in postsecondary teaching or specializing in a particular area of education (e.g., reading instruction or English as a Second Language), you will most likely need at least a master’s degree. A master’s program can provide higher-level training in classroom leadership, ethical decision-making, community partnerships, and educational research. Many classroom teachers with Master’s degrees receive higher pay, often in the form of a bonus.
  • Time to finish: About two years or 36 credits, although this may vary widely depending on the program and whether it’s delivered online or through traditional classroom instruction.
  • Types of careers you can get: Advanced positions such as librarian, school counselor, assistant principal, principal, resource teacher, curriculum developer

Doctorate Degree

  • General information: It’s not a requirement to earn a doctorate in order to teach K–12, but if you want to pursue postsecondary teaching a doctoral degree is usually required. It can also give you an edge for high-level administrative positions. A doctorate program can include both classes and independent research presented in a dissertation format.
  • Time to finish: According to the The College Board, a doctorate takes six to eight years to complete, although this varies depending on the program and whether you are enrolled full or part time
  • Types of careers you can get: Postsecondary teacher or education researcher

Salary and Job Outlook for Teachers in California

Salary Outlook for California Teachers

Each school district sets its own salary scale and benefits for teachers, with experience level also playing a role in determining salary. Some districts offer higher salaries for advanced degrees or additional job responsibilities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for elementary school teachers in May 2018 was $80,100. The mean wage for secondary school teachers was $80,510.

Career Outlook for California Teachers

The California Center on Teaching Careers reports more than 65,000 teaching jobs are advertised for the state each year. The ten teaching positions projected to experience the greatest demand in California, according to CEDD data, are listed below, along with their projected growth rates between 2016 and 2016 and the level of education they typically require:

PositionGrowth Rate (%)Education Required
Postsecondary teachers (all specialties)14.5doctoral or professional degree
Special education teachers, preschool11.8bachelor’s degree
Preschool teachers, except special education9.7associate degree
Kindergarten teachers, except special education7.7bachelor’s degree
Secondary school teachers, except special and career/technical education7.1bachelor’s degree
Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school7.1bachelor’s degree
Special education teachers, middle school7.1bachelor’s degree


Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers, secondary school7bachelor’s degree
Middle school teachers, except special and career/technical education7bachelor’s degree
Elementary school teachers, except special education6.9bachelor’s degree

Teaching Credential Programs in California

A college degree and completion of a teacher-preparation program are required for employment as a teacher. Preparation programs vary depending on how much education or experience you already have.

Before choosing a program, you’ll need to decide what subject, student type, or grade level you would like to teach. This determines the requirements for your California teaching credential. See the Earning Your California Teaching Credential section on this page.

There are a variety of program paths toward a teaching credential to suit a range of teaching career interests and career and education goals, including:

  • Teacher Preparation Pipeline: Ten California Community Colleges (CCC) have created a way to prepare future teachers in certain high-demand areas, including CTE; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and early childhood education. The program allows aspiring teachers to complete lower-division prerequisite courses at their local CCCs at a lower per-credit cost, then transfer to four-year institutions of their choice.
  • Blended or integrated baccalaureate programs: Some four-year baccalaureate programs allow you to complete both your degree and your teacher training at the same time. They are intended for students who know before entering college that they want to teach.
  • Alternative certification or intern programs: If you already have a bachelor’s degree and have earned certain subject matter competency requirements, you can complete an alternative certification or intern program, in which you have an opportunity to practice teaching, under supervision, while also completing your required teacher preparation coursework.
  • Post-baccalaureate programs: If you already hold a bachelor’s degree, you can complete this type of program, which might only require a fifth year of study or could mean a full master’s program, as well as complete coursework and student teaching experience.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing where to earn an education degree in California:

  • Does the program offer the credential you’re seeking? Not all schools offer all programs.
  • Do you have prior teaching experience you can apply toward your program? Check with prospective schools about whether you can earn credit for this experience.
  • What can you afford? The CCC Teacher Preparation Pipeline can be a more affordable option for students who haven’t completed prerequisites. TEACH California suggests online teacher preparation programs can help keep costs down as well.
  • Is location a factor? Is the program you need conveniently located? Some online programs may be a good option if you’re in a rural area or cannot attend classes at your local campus.
  • How long will the program last? While some accelerated programs offer a lower cost benefit, they can take up more of your time, so it’s important to consider your individual pace when considering online versus onsite.

California Teaching Credential Programs Online

An online program can be a great choice if cost or your schedule is an issue. Online programs can allow you the flexibility to complete coursework when it fits your schedule. Additionally, online programs can be completed from anywhere, and can potentially offer a less expensive and faster timeline for earning your credential.

There is no entirely online teacher credentialing program in the state, as you will be required to complete your student teaching in a classroom. However, some programs may allow you to complete your coursework completely online, while others offer hybrid versions, blending online and classroom work.

Finding Teaching Credential Programs by City

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How to Earn Your California Teaching Credential

All California teaching credentials are earned through a two-level process:

  • Earn a primary, or preliminary, credential, which is valid for five years. To earn this, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree and complete the requirements of your multiple subject, single subject, or education specialist instruction credential.
  • Earn a clear credential, which demonstrates that you have passed your five-year preliminary period and earned the opportunity to remain a teacher in a California public, charter, or private school. The CTC provides details about what is involved in renewing your credentials or meeting any continuing education requirements on its website.

The CTC issues credentials in the following four categories:

  • General education (which includes Multiple Subject and Single Subject teaching credentials)
  • Special education
  • Designated subjects
  • Other

The requirements to earn these credentials vary by type. Note that regardless of which credential you seek, you’ll have to be fingerprinted and cleared by the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

General Education Teaching Credentials

To teach general education, you’ll need to earn either a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential for elementary school or a Single Subject Teaching Credential (23 subjects available) to teach middle or high school. Though the requirements vary based on whether you want to teach all subjects, as you would in elementary school, or individual subjects, as you would in later grades, certain basic steps are required for any general education credential:

  • Complete a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree program or higher (degree types are discussed elsewhere on this page).
  • Satisfy the Basic Skills Requirement by earning a satisfactory score on one of the acceptable tests of basic skills, including the ACT or SAT, a college placement exam, an Advanced Placement test, or The California Basic Educational Skills Test.
  • Verify subject-matter competence through passing a subject-matter exam or completing an approved subject-matter course.
  • Complete a course about the U.S. Constitution or pass an exam administered by a regionally accredited college or university.
  • Complete a commission-approved teacher-preparation program for your desired credential (multiple subject or single subject).
  • Obtain a formal recommendation for the credential by the program sponsor.

Additionally, if you wish to earn a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential to teach elementary school, you’ll also have to pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA).

The California Commission on Teaching Credentialing provides more information about elementary school teaching credentials and secondary school credentials.

If you have a bachelor’s degree and want to teach but haven’t earned your teaching credential, California offers an alternative pathway. With your degree and successful completion of your Basic Skills Requirement, subject-matter competence requirement, United States Constitution requirement, and character/identification clearance, you can complete an intern program. This would allow you to complete your teacher preparation coursework while working in a paid teaching position.

Special Education Teaching Credential

In order to teach special education in California, you’ll need to obtain an Education Specialist Instruction Credential, which allows you to teach in areas of specialization such as autism spectrum disorders, English learners, or certain disabilities. You will work in a variety of settings, from schools to correctional facilities, hospitals, or alternative instructional settings.

The steps for earning this credential are similar to those for general education, with some important differences. They are:

  • Earn your bachelor’s degree (or higher).
  • Satisfy the Basic Skills Requirement.
  • Verify subject-matter competence through either an exam or program completion.
  • Pass the RICA.
  • Complete a course or exam about the United States Constitution from an accredited institution.
  • Complete a Commission-approved Education Specialist Credential program.

You can also complete an alternative pathway/intern program to earn this credential.

Designated Subjects Teaching Credentials and Other Teaching Credentials

If you want to teach outside of the standard general or special education settings, you will need to acquire one of the designated subjects or other teaching credentials.

Designated subjects teaching credentials include:

  • Career Technical Education Teaching Credential
  • Adult Education
  • Adult Education: Special Subjects (e.g., aviation flight instruction, aviation ground instruction, basic military drill, reserve officers training corps, driver education and training, and limited driver training)
  • Adult Education: Supervision and Coordination
  • Business and Industry Partnership Teacher Authorization

Other teaching credentials include:

  • American Indian Languages and Culture Teaching Credential
  • Exchange Certificated Employee Credential
  • Sojourn Certificated Employee Credential
  • Eminence Credential
  • University Intern Credential
  • District Intern Credential


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