How to Obtain a Teaching Certificate in New York State

Education, competency testing, and student teaching. Completion of these three tasks will be necessary to obtain a teaching certificate in New York State. There are several routes that can be taken to achieve the goal of getting certified. Which method a person should choose depends on his current education and career experience.

Many individuals began their teacher preparation program and started the certification process before these new requirements went into effect. There consequently exists a group of people who, in many instances, are not yet bound by these new rules. Due to a “grandfather clause”, these people will instead complete the requirements that were in effect when they submitted their application for certification. New York State is diligently keeping track of who must meet which requirements. In a few years–as these new requirements become completely phased in–everyone will fall under the same rules.

Types of Certificates

An Initial Certificate (formerly known for years as a Certificate of Qualification or Provisional Certificate) is the first certificate that an aspiring teacher must acquire. Once issued, this certificate will be valid for five years. During this five year time period, the new teacher will then be working on meeting the requirements for a Professional Certificate (formerly known as a Permanent Certificate). This Professional Certificate is the certificate that the teacher will hold throughout the remainder of his or her teaching career.

Receiving an Initial Certificate

The following requirements must be successfully completed to be granted the Initial Certificate. These include:

Educational coursework requirements (gaining a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree depending on the subject in which certification will be granted)
Completing a Student Teaching experience (usually of 40 days)
Competency testing requirements (a series of exams that must be passed)
Getting fingerprinted and a criminal background check done by the State of New York
Completion of a workshop in the identification and reporting of child abuse
Completion of a workshop in school violence intervention and prevention

Satisfying the Education Requirement

A Bachelor’s degree will be the usual requirement–but an exception to this rule does occur in a few subject areas where a two-year degree is the requirement. Most certificates require the completion of the four-year degree. Examples of some of the teaching certificate titles requiring a bachelor’s degree are:

Childhood Education (teaching students in grades 1 – 6)
Generalist in Middle Childhood Education (grades 5 – 9)
English (grades 7 – 12)
Social Studies (grades 5 – 9)
Biology (grades 7 – 12)
Music (all grade levels)
Physical Education (all grade levels)
Business and Marketing (all grade levels)

All teacher candidates are also required to take various courses in education, teaching methods, and the liberal arts specified by the State Education Department.

Many of the teaching certificates classified under the Career and Technical teacher category require only a two-year degree. Some examples of certificates in this category include: Automotive Repair and Maintenance, Cosmetology, and Drafting. In addition, these Career and Technical subject teachers must have at least two years of occupational work experience in the field that they teach.

Teacher candidates seeking to teach at the elementary level often pursue a degree in education. Some colleges don’t offer a degree in education itself–they only offer the many education related courses that are required for certification. These colleges expect the person seeking elementary teacher certification to instead pursue a degree in a liberal arts area. This degree could be in any of the academic subjects such as English, biology, or Spanish. Many elementary teacher candidates pursue a degree in psychology to meet this requirement.

A person seeking to teach at the middle or high school level most often pursues a four-year degree in the field of study he will teach. For example, an individual seeking certification in Social Studies (for grades 7 – 12) would be likely to gain a bachelor’s degree in American or European History. But, it is also true that a person does not have to obtain a degree in the same subject he will teach. Instead, a teacher candidate at the secondary level DOES have to complete a certain number of college courses (usually 30 credit hours worth) in the field of study in which he will teach. Here are a couple of examples of when this situation can happen:

An individual may have graduated from college years ago with a four year degree in psychology. She now wants to change careers and become a high school biology teacher. She does not have to go back to college and get a degree in biology. What she does have to do is to complete the college level biology courses required by New York State to receive certification in biology. In addition, this individual must complete a student teaching experience and any other education and liberal arts courses required for certification.

A college student may want to receive teaching certification in two subject areas–for example, biology AND chemistry. This individual may decide to get a four year degree in biology. She will also take the required college level chemistry courses that will satisfy the requirement to receive teaching certification in that subject too.

In any case, it is important that a person be sure that he or she is taking all of the specified courses required by the State Education Department for the type of teaching certificate being sought.
This information can be determined by contacting the State Education Department or checking their website at for the requirements.

For those students attending a college in New York State offering a state approved teacher preparation program, they can assume that the educational plan laid out by their college meets the requirements for the type of teaching certificate they are pursuing.

Satisfying the Testing Requirements

A series of exams must be passed to receive teaching certification in New York State. These exams cover liberal arts topics as well as teaching methods and skills.

All teacher candidates must pass an exam called the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test (LAST). This exam includes multiple choice questions and a writing assignment and covers a broad area of subjects including math, science, and the language arts.

All teacher candidates must also pass an exam called the Assessment of Teaching Skills (ATS). This exam also includes multiple choice questions and a writing assignment and covers skills that a new teacher should possess such as designing lesson plans, assessing students, and dealing with situations in a school environment.

Most teacher candidates must also pass a third exam called the Content Specialty Test. The structure of this test varies depending on which test is taken. A person planning to become a high school math teacher will take the Content Specialty Test in math which is made up of 100 multiple choice questions covering topics in high school and college mathematics. A person planning to become an elementary teacher will take the Multi-Subject Content Specialty Test. This test will cover eight different areas such as English, math, the fine arts, and the teaching of reading. This test is made up of multiple choice questions and a writing assignment.

Alternative Methods of Initial Teacher Certification

New York State offers some alternative ways in which to get certified. These methods are sometimes available for subjects in which there is a shortage of teachers. Some alternative methods of teacher preparation involve less coursework being completed before the individual starts teaching. This allows for the teachers to be employed and working in the field in a shorter amount of time. These teachers receive intensive mentoring and will continue to complete the required college courses. Only certain colleges in the state offer an approved alternative preparation program and it is often closely tied in with a local school district. This district will then be involved in the training of teachers as well as receiving many of them as employees once they are trained.

There is also the situation where an individual holds teaching certification from another state and then moves to New York and would like to teach. New York State has interstate agreements with more than 30 other states. If a teacher holds certification from one of these states, she can apply for a Conditional Initial Certificate and be allowed to teach in New York for two years. During this two year time period, she must pass the required teacher competency tests. Then the teacher will be issued an Initial Certificate.

Receiving a Professional Certificate

After receiving the Initial Certificate, a teacher in New York State must continue on and meet the requirements for a Professional Certificate. If these requirements are not met within five years (or an extension is not applied for), the teacher will lose her teaching license.

For most teaching certificates (with the exception of some Career and Technical areas), the following are the requirements for a Professional Certificate:

Earning a Master’s degree
Completing three years of paid, full time teaching experience
One of these years of experience must be considered as mentored experience, meaning that another more experienced teacher will provide support and guidance during the year to this new teacher.

Completing 175 hours of professional development teacher training every five years.
This training could include school district workshops, online courses, or workshops offered by a college. Teachers employed in a public school district usually get this training provided for them. For teachers employed by a private school or community agency, the number of hours of training they must complete is reduced. It is reduced by 10% for each year they are not employed by a public school district.

Applying for a Time Extension for an Initial or Professional Certificate

There is the option of applying for a time extension. The State Education Department realizes that situations occur which make it very hard for an individual to meet these deadlines. The state allows for a time extension of an extra two years if certain conditions are met pertaining to the reason why the extension was asked for. There are several valid reasons which you can give when requesting an extension. Some examples of situations which would qualify are:

If a person has not been teaching due to illness or taking time off for child rearing
If a person has been laid off from a teaching position and cannot find another
If a person has been applying but has not been able to secure a teaching job
Other specific individual circumstances which caused extreme hardship and an inability to finish the requirements in time.

To apply for an extension, a form must be filled out, documentation sent in, and a processing fee paid. This documentation could include such things as proof of illness or a list of employment applications that have been sent in to schools in search of a position. It is also required that a person write up a plan explaining when he will complete any required courses he must still take.

Some Exceptions to the Rules

Whenever rules are made, situations often seem to occur in which the rules need to be modified. That is also true with certification requirements. New York State has made provisions to allow for some temporary certificates to be issued which let a person teach for three years. These are usually issued when there is a shortage of teachers in a certain subject and the only candidates that can be found have not met the requirements for certification. For example:

An individual may be issued a temporary certificate so she can teach while completing her college courses in an approved teacher preparation program.
A person experienced in a trade (such as drafting or carpentry) may be issued one of these temporary certificates to allow him to teach at the high school level even though he has not completed a teacher training program.
There is also the case where a teacher, currently certified in one subject, will be issued a temporary certificate to teach a different subject in which there is a teacher shortage.

How to Get More Information

It is an involved and detailed process to receive teaching certification in New York State. There are so many different subjects in which certification can be granted–each with their own specific requirements to meet. To read more about any of these requirements, you can access the state’s teacher certification website at

There is a feeling of accomplishment when all requirements are completed and certification has been granted. There is no denying that the requirements and standards are set high in order to be eligible for certification. The state wants to employ well qualified, highly trained teachers who can provide the best educational experience for their students.

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