Teaching Certifications

State teaching certifications are required for public school educators in the United States. Earning a certification typically requires that a teacher has earned a bachelor's degree, completed student teaching requirements, and passed the standardized Praxis exam for teachers. Those who have earned a bachelor's degree in a field other than education may be required to complete an alternative teacher preparation program, which includes student teaching, depending on the state. Each state has its own certification requirements, approved preparation programs, and exams. Teachers must be certified in the state in which they plan to work. Many states have reciprocity agreements that allow teachers to transfer certifications earned in another state.

Teachers may earn certifications in a specific subject and/or specific grade level. Elementary school (typically grades K-6) teachers usually generalize, teaching all subject areas. Middle school (typically grades 5-8) teachers may generalize or specialize in specific subjects (e.g., math or science). High school teachers (9-12) must earn a secondary school certification and then may add teaching endorsements for subjects they are qualified to teach.

Teachers at private or charter schools may not be required to hold a teaching certification, depending on the school and state law. However, having a teaching license opens up many more opportunities and will make you a more competitive application. Other education roles, like teaching support staff, substitute teachers, museum educators, and outreach specialists, do not require certification.

To learn more about teaching certifications and alternative routes to education careers, visit this webpage.

Gaining Experience

If you think that you might like to be a K-12 teacher, getting some experience working with students is a good way to test out the job. You can find a (usually part-time) job as a substitute teacher at a school near you by contacting your school district. You don't need to have completed an undergraduate degree to apply to be substitute teacher; the application typically involves a background check and fingerprinting. Working for summer camps or summer education programs is another great way to try out teaching, particularly if you can find a job working for a science-focused camp. Plus, many universities and colleges have STEM outreach groups where you can gain experience working in outreach while you are still a student. 

If you are working to obtain your teaching license, you will be required to complete a student teaching experience. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree in education will complete their student teaching as part of their program requirements. If you have already graduated and intend to complete the required coursework through an alternative teacher education program, keep in mind that student teaching is an unpaid full-time job. Many students who are nearing the end of their undergraduate degree and become interested in a teaching career opt to add a year of study to complete a second degree in education. If your university or college has an education degree program, you can reach out to the program advisors to discuss the best route for you to take toward a teaching license.

Career Outlook

Because there are so many different roles in the education sector, it's important to understand the opportunities for advancement, as well as potential barriers.

As discussed above in Teaching Certifications, most K-12 teachers earn a teaching license even though some jobs at private and charter schools may not require one. Being certified provides more flexibility for your career, opening up many more opportunities and improving your teaching credentials with education-focused coursework and student teaching experience. Keep in mind that the job pool for uncertified K-12 teachers is significantly smaller. Paraprofessionals and substitute teachers are not required to have a teaching license and may be hired with a high school diploma or associate's degree. However, the opportunities for career advancement are limited. 

For positions at universities and colleges (see Example Employers to learn more about these), the employment term is an important factor to consider. While some academic centers and outreach programs are permanent parts of the school, others are funded by grants with a limited term. If you take a job that is funded by a grant, there is a chance that the job will end when the grant money runs out. The same can be true for lab coordinators who may be paid by a grant to a particular faculty member. Most university offices (for example, student affairs or advising) hire for permanent staff positions, but it is always worthwhile to ask about the employment term. Taking a limited-term job may work for you depending on your goals and situation, but it's important to assess how this could impact your career trajectory.  

Ready to apply?

Check out the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Career Learning Center and Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology Career Resources for advice on writing job applications and preparing for interviews. 

For more resources, check out your university's career center or library. Most universities have published guides for resume/CV writing, interviewing, negotiating, and more. You can also look online for contacts in your campus career center or reach out to mentors for support with your applications. 

  • GROW is a collection of career resources for undergraduate and graduate students in the geosciences, intended to help students identify and pursue career paths beyond academia.
  • This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #1911527) and our many contributors who generously volunteered their time and knowledge to assist our team.

  • Any opinions, findings, and recommendations expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation nor of contributor employers.
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