How to Become a Teacher in Washington

How to Become a Teacher in Washington State

If you're interested in teaching in Washington State, the traditional pathway includes four broad steps:

  1. Get a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university.
  2. Pass the required exams for Washington teacher certification: the WEST-B Basic Skills exam and the NES/WEST-E content knowledge exam.
  3. Complete a Washington State-approved teacher preparation program with student teaching.
  4. Apply for a Washington State teaching certificate

Your pathway to teaching in Washington State might not go in this exact order. For instance, most approved bachelor's degree programs in education build the teacher preparation program and student teaching components into the degree plan. You may also be taking the WEST-B Basic Skills exam and the NES/WEST-E content knowledge exams during your college career (instead of after graduation).

However you approach the process, when you've completed the steps, you'll receive a Residency Certificate, which is the entry-level teaching license given to most new educators in the Evergreen State. We'll cover these steps in greater detail below, and give you some ways to earn a Washington State teaching credential if you don't fit into the traditional box.

Washington Teacher Certification Programs

Teacher certification programs in Washington State are plentiful (there are upwards of 37!). Here are a few examples:

  • The University of Washington, Seattle boasts programs of preparation in teacher residency programs, with endorsement offerings including biology, English language arts, mathematics, theater arts, special education, elementary education, and more.
  • Washington State University (located in Pullman, Washington) offers training in career and technical education and teacher residency programs. Endorsement options include earth and space science, history, choral music, early childhood education, and more; alongside agricultural education and family and consumer sciences through career and technical education training.
  • Gonzaga University (located in Spokane, Washington) provides preparation in a range of teaching endorsements including world languages, health and fitness, general music, reading, elementary education, history, and more.
  • Pacific Lutheran University (located in Tacoma, Washington) has a unique set of programs, including undergraduate elementary education for multiple endorsements, a 1-year master's program with certification, and alternative routes to certification.

Other schools with approved programs include:

  • Eastern Washington University
  • Lower Columbia College
  • Northwest University
  • Walla Walla University
  • Yakima Valley College

The Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) ensures that teacher preparation programs meet a rigorous set of standards that includes candidate performance, cultural responsiveness, state workforce needs, the quality of the field experience and competency in specific endorsement areas. These standards also mean that programs must provide instruction in several state initiatives including:

  • Issues of abuse
  • Paraeducator supervision and support
  • Since Time Immemorial (STI)
  • Social emotional learning (SEL)
  • Teacher and principal evaluation program (TPEP)

Educational Requirements for a Washington State Teaching Certificate

Bachelor's degree programs in education typically include 120 credits across a range of coursework designed to meet the requirements for a Washington State teaching credential and, of course, turn you into a good teacher. Some of the coursework you'll take depends on the type of endorsement you're seeking. For example, if you want to teach high school English, you might take courses that improve your understanding of the subject (like College Writing or Western Literature) and courses the help you understand how to teach these principles (Secondary Classroom Management, Methods of Teaching Secondary English).

Some coursework that's common to most degree programs in education include:

  • Intro to Education
  • Child/Adolescent Development
  • Educational Technology
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Communication
  • Cultural Diversity in Education

Every approved bachelor's program in education in the state will also include a student teaching internship, meaning you'll have a chance to get real-world experience in a working classroom. You might observe teachers, participate in class discussions, lead lessons and help design lesson plans.

Washington Teacher Testing Requirements

While many states use the Praxis test, Washington State has developed its own set of teacher certification exams. There are two: the Washington Educator Skills Test-Basic (WEST-B) and the Washington Educator Skills Test-Endorsement (WEST-E). We will go into the basics here but the PESB site has details on the exams and their equivalencies. It's also a good idea to check with your educator preparation program to see what exams you will need to take.

The WEST-B exam

The WEST-B is taken as a sort of admissions test to a teacher preparation program. It assesses the applicant's knowledge of foundational skills and proficiencies that will be required of them. Its competencies include Mathematics, Reading, and Writing. This test, while exclusive to Washington State, is similar to other national-level exams such as the Praxis Core and NES-Essential Skills Assessment and state-specific exams like the California Basic Educator Skills Test (CBEST), the Georgia Assessment for the Certification of Educators (GACE) and the Texas - Higher Education Assessment (THEA). In fact, the state of Washington allows candidates to apply for an exception and use these tests in place of the WEST-B. SAT and ACT scores can also sometimes be used instead of the West-B exam on a section-by-section basis.

The WEST-E exam (and the NES)

Depending on their endorsement choice, applicants will either take the WEST-E or the NES, a national test that is not specific to Washington State. For instance, if you want to teach history, theatre arts, dance, deaf education or health and fitness, you'll need to pass the WEST-E exam. There are WEST-E exams for a huge range of subjects including everything from Library Media and Agricultural Education to Social Studies and World Languages.

If you want to specialize in fields like physics, English language arts, computer science, chemistry, earth and space science, art, and more, you'll have to pass the NES. For out-of-state applicants, tests such as the Praxis 2, MSAT, and SSAT can be used to satisfy the WEST-E/NES requirement.

Additional Requirements for a Washington State Teaching License

All new applicants seeking Washington teacher certification must undergo a background check and submit a copy of their fingerprints for analysis. You can be fingerprinted at your local Educational Service District (ESD) for $45.25 plus the ESD's processing fees. This uses a live scan method where digital copies are automatically sent along. Alternatively, you can request a fingerprinting card through the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The card will be mailed to you. You'll take it to a local fingerprinting agency, complete the fingerprinting process and mail it back, along with a check for $45.25.

Washington Teacher Licensing Process

After you've completed all the Washington State teaching requirements to earn teacher certification in Washington, the final step is to apply for licensure. You'll use Washington's E-Certification system to supply or verify official documentation of your bachelor's degree transcripts, educator preparation program, test scores, background check, fingerprinting, and personal information and work history. From there, an application for a recommendation for certification will be submitted, and upon payment of a fee, the application for teacher certification will be submitted.

Alternative Routes to Teaching in Washington State

Washington offers four alternative routes to obtaining Washington State teaching credentials. These programs seek to serve those who wish to enter fields that are experiencing teacher shortages. All routes require candidates to take the statewide basic skills exam (WEST-B in Washington) and meet requirements regarding age, good moral character, and professional fitness. Applications from military members and veterans are given preference for these alternative routes:

  • Route 1: For district staff (paraeducators) with an associate's degree. You must be employed with the district and demonstrate one year of student interaction and leadership. You must also complete a bachelor's degree and teaching internship within two years.
  • Route 2: For district staff with a bachelor's degree: All of the above requirements, plus you must take a subject matter assessment, complete a pre-residency intensive academy and a year of mentored teaching.
  • Route 3: For 'career changers' with a bachelor's degree: You must have a bachelor's degree, take the basic skills and subject matter assessments and get external references demonstrating experience working with children (like reference letters from employers). You'll complete a pre-residency intensive academy and a year of interning.
  • Route 4: For district staff with a bachelor's degree and a limited certificate: You'll have to meet all of the requirements of Route 3 and, if you're applying with a conditional certificate, you can serve as the teacher of record.

Certification in Washington for Out-of-State Educators

Washington, as a member of the NASDTEC, or the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, requires all educators to hold Washington teacher certification to teach in the state. Out-of-state teacher preparation programs and education can be used to apply for Washington teacher licensure. Teachers who have a teaching certificate from out of state can apply for a Washington State teaching credential by:

  • Demonstrating the completion of a bachelor's degree or higher (via official transcripts)
  • Passing the WEST-B and WEST-E/NES (or their equivalents)
  • Undergoing a background check with fingerprints
  • Completing a Washington state-approved teacher certification program OR demonstrating three years of experience teaching in another state with a valid teaching credential.

Washington also accepts teaching credentials from two states: if you hold either a Wisconsin Masters Educator License or an Ohio Professional Teaching License, you can apply directly for the Washington Professional Teacher Certification.

Washington State Teacher Employment Outlook & Salary

There are 1,094,330 students and 67,841 teachers in the Washington State public school system and the average class size is 18. About 60.8% of teachers in Washington opt to continue their education, holding at least a master's degree or higher.

As of May 2021, Washington is experiencing teacher shortages in 22 fields, with elementary education, special education, career and technical education concerning technology, health and fitness, mathematics, English Language arts, and career and technical education and business and marketing holding some of the greatest shortages.

The following table details the average teacher population salary and projected job openings for 2024-2029 for each category of teachers.

Statewide Teacher Population Average Teacher Salary Projected job openings 2024-2029
Preschool teachers, not including those working in special education 11,240 $35,630 5,306
Kindergarten teachers, not including those working in special education 5,000 $69,140 1,287
Elementary-level teachers, not including those working in special education 29,080 $74,400 7,573
Middle-grade-level teachers, not including those working in special education, or career and technical education 10,370 $76,370 2,511
Middle-grade-level teachers working in career and technical education 480 $80,120 114
High School-level teachers, not including those working in special education, or career and technical education 14,810 $77,140 3,523
High school-level teachers working in career and technical education 2,830 $76,800 714
Preschool teachers working in special education 730 $70,700 182
Kindergarten and elementary-level teachers working in special education 3,080 $72,040 No data available at the time of this article. However, the projected openings for all other special education teachers aside from preschool, middle school, and high school teachers is 856
Middle-grade-level teachers working in special education 1,340 $74,730 338
High school-level teachers working in special education 2,190 $76,740 562

Sources: May 2020 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates Washington, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, All occupational projections, Employment Security Department-Washington State

Expert Contributor

Katie Slaughter

Katie Slaughter, M.A. has taught middle school science and math for over 6 years. She has helped lay a foundation for personalized learning in her school and has presented internationally about what she is doing in her classroom. She has successfully passed numerous Praxis exams. Katie completed a B.S. in Marine Science from Coastal Carolina University and an M.A. in Teaching from Georgetown College.

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