How to Become a Teacher in Pennsylvania

How to Become a Teacher in PA

To become an educator in Pennsylvania, prospective teachers need to meet the requirements outlined by the state. First, individuals should determine what type of teacher they want to be. Options include working with young children as an elementary school teacher or older students as a high school teacher. Prospective teachers should also consider the subject area they plan on teaching, whether it be a major subject such as math or English or a more specific subject area such as art or special education. Teaching candidates need to have a bachelor's degree and can choose one that has an emphasis on the area they plan on teaching in. In addition, individuals need to complete a teacher education program. To complete the process of becoming a teacher, individuals have to take the teacher certification exam in the subject area and grade level they would like to become certified in and earn a passing score.

Pennsylvania Teaching Certification Programs

As part of the requirements to become a teacher, prospective educators need to complete a teacher education program that has regional accreditation by the Department of Education. Pennsylvania offers over 100 colleges, universities, and providers that offer these approved programs. Some institutions that offer approved certification programs are Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, Drexel University, Immaculata University, Eastern University and the University of Pennsylvania. In the state of Pennsylvania, accreditation is provided by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, MSCHE. Individuals can find certification programs that can be completed in-person at the university or options that can be earned completely online.

For example, the largest university in the state, Penn State University, offers bachelor's degrees in areas such as elementary and early childhood education and secondary education. The Bachelor of Science in Elementary & Early Childhood Education requires the completion of at least 127 credits which includes about 60 hours of pre-school field experience. For the Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education, coursework includes several field experience and student teaching opportunities. This program also offers the option for prospective teachers to become certified in multiple subjects by taking additional courses in the selected subject areas.

A teacher education program allows individuals to gain experience teaching in a school setting alongside a teacher who can serve as a mentor. Hands-on programs allow prospective teachers to get a sense of the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities that come with being an educator. This can serve as practice for what working in the classroom is like. Prospective educators can also select the specific grade level and subject they would like to student teach in. This immersive experience provides individuals with the preparation and skills that will be applied to their future careers.

Prospective teachers can request a recommendation for certification from their institution. This certification reflects how they have met the education requirements, passed the necessary tests and requirements laid out by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.

PA Teacher Education Requirements

In order to become a licensed teacher in Pennsylvania, individuals must have at least a bachelor's degree. Prospective teachers have different options when it comes to the bachelor's degree they earn. While it is not necessarily a requirement to have an undergraduate degree in education to become a teacher, most prospective educators will choose an educator or teaching degree. Bachelor's degrees include courses for the main subjects such as English, writing, mathematics, and science. Some of the core courses cover teacher preparation, curriculum, teaching methods, instruction, student learning and classroom management. Individuals could also choose a more specialized bachelor's program, such as a degree in elementary education, secondary education, or educational leadership. These bachelor's degrees feature courses related to that particular level or area of educational studies. Some bachelor's degrees require students to complete fieldwork, internships, student teaching as well as seminars or capstone project. Many universities require students to have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA and to have earned at least a C for specific courses in their program.

Prospective teachers can continue their education and choose to earn a master's degree in education or related area of study. This increases their knowledge and their qualifications for positions in the field of education. In addition to a bachelor's degree, there are teaching certifications that can help individuals establish a professional teaching career. Many institutions offer certificates that indicate an individual has the necessary skills and is able to apply their knowledge to the classroom. Having a certificate can be used to demonstrate a prospective educator's understanding of different areas. These credentials can provide new opportunities for career advancement.

Pennsylvania Teacher Testing Requirements

In the state of Pennsylvania, prospective teachers need to meet the Pennsylvania Praxis requirements that assess their knowledge of basic and specific information. The first set of exams are completed before individuals begin their teaching programs. This includes the Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment (PAPA), the Praxis Core, and relevant Praxis Subject Assessments. These exams are designed to measure a prospective teacher's knowledge of basic skills and content areas in major subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics.

The Praxis Subject Assessment is a more specialized exam that correlates to the subject or grade level an educator plans to teach in. There is a wide array of exams offered from other main subjects such as science or history to music and world language. These exams also cover the method and practice of teaching and how to handle classroom situations.

Other Requirements for PA Teachers

Prospective teachers in Pennsylvania are required to have an evaluation of their background prior to working as a teacher. The law in Pennsylvania requires those who want to become teachers to complete a federal background check, a Pennsylvania state criminal records check, and a Pennsylvania child abuse history clearance. Public and private school teachers must submit a fingerprint-based and federal background check before earning their state certification. In addition to these state requirements, there are some fees that need to be paid associated with these clearances.

Pennsylvania Teacher Licensing Process

Once prospective teachers have completed the required education, testing, and teacher programs, they can apply for their teaching license. Individuals can apply for licensure by submitting their forms to the Teacher Information Management System (TIMS). Here applicants will have to provide verification of a bachelor's degree, approved teacher education program, and passing exam scores. To complete this process, there is a list of application types and associated fees that need to be paid.

Alternative Teacher Certification in PA

An alternative path to become a teacher in Pennsylvania is holding a Passport to Teaching from the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. The American Board offers teacher certifications that can be completed in a year or less online. Individuals enroll on their website and can select the subject area or grade level they want to be certified in. There is a cost that varies depending on which certification is selected, but it is typically under $2,000. By having this credential, an individual may be eligible for a Pennsylvania Instructional I certificate to teach select subject areas and grade levels. Prospective teachers can then apply to the Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Qualify for a temporary teaching permit that lasts for one year. During that time, an individual will be able to work in a public school through supervised mentoring while also completing a program at Point Park University.

There is another option in Pennsylvania for prospective educators who have already earned a degree or post-baccalaureate program outside of an approved teacher preparation program. Individuals will need to complete an education certificate through an approved provider. The steps in this process include deciding what they want to teach, finding an education provider where they will earn their certificate, being admitted to and progressing through the program, student teaching, undergoing appropriate testing, and applying for their teaching certificate. Pennsylvania's Department of Education provides lists of instructional certificate types, approved providers, and tests. Individuals can view the available options to figure out what option best suits then on their path to becoming a teacher.

If an individual has an administrative, supervisory, or superintendent credential, they may only need to provide their documentation and not take any additional tests. Some of these advanced positions such as a school principal require applicants to have prior experience working as a teacher.

Emergency Teacher Certification in Pennsylvania

If there is an advertised role with no qualified applicant to fill the position, emergency teacher certification may be used in Pennsylvania. The Department of Education may issue an emergency permit at the request of a public school when there is not a properly certified candidate for the position. The applicant still needs to have a bachelor's degree, meet the eligibility requirements and apply through the Teacher Information Management System.

Certification in Pennsylvania for Out-of-State Teachers

Out-of-state educators who currently have teaching certification with at least two years of teaching experience may be able to apply for Pennsylvania teacher certification reciprocity. This may be used to attempt to transfer another state's teaching license to one in Pennsylvania. Along with out-of-state applicants, this can also apply to foreign teachers who earned their teaching qualifications in another country.

There are teacher certification guidelines for educators who are from out of the state of Pennsylvania. This includes if they are a resident of another state, educated outside of the United States, or have administrative, supervisory, or superintendent credentials. There are also guidelines for those who have a valid National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Credential, an active professional level out of state certification, or those who have already completed approved preparation programs outside of the state. Individuals who want to become a teacher in Pennsylvania can head to the Pennsylvania Department of Education website to view the particular guidelines, identification, transcripts, and forms they will need to provide as well as required tests that must be taken.

The process typically requires applicants to show that they have earned an accredited bachelor's degree and completed an approved teaching preparation program. Those who are from outside of the state of Pennsylvania still need to pass the PAPA exam, and obtain Praxis passing scores on the Praxis Core and Praxis Subject Assessments. Applicants must submit the documentation and forms that demonstrate that they have comparable qualifications that align with the Pennsylvania state standards.

Pennsylvania Teacher Employment Outlook and Salary

The teacher employment outlook and salary in Pennsylvania is higher than the national average. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for kindergarten and elementary school teachers was $60,940 and $62,870 for high school teachers, per the BLS. According to, for the 2019-2020, there were about 151,201 professional employees and the average salary was $72,703. There were approximately 53,914 elementary school teachers with an average salary of $70,175 and about 52,647 secondary school teachers that had an average salary of $70,948. Per Pennsylvania's Department of Education, in 2020 there were over 1.7 million public school students and almost 120,000 teachers across approximately 500 districts. The teacher/student ratio is about 1:14. The graduation rate was approximately 87% in 2020.

While an undergraduate degree is a requirement, a graduate degree helps prospective educators increase their chances for employment or opportunities to earn a higher salary. In addition, it may open the door to new employment opportunities in the field of education such as principal, school administrator or career counselor. There is high demand for teachers in areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics, (STEM), foreign language, and special education.

Expert Contributor

Nadim Tabsch

Nadim Tabsch is an adjunct English professor with over 15 years of experience. He has deep expertise in Literacy and Social Sciences and has been an educator at the elementary, middle school, high school, and collegiate level. Nadim graduated with a B.S. in Elementary Education from Barry University and a Master's degree in Literacy from the University of New England.

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