Arizona’s K-12 teacher shortage is at an all-time high, as are the recruitment efforts of schools in search of the next generation of educators. To help those interested in answering the call to teach, Rio Salado College’s Educator Preparation Programs Analyst Paulina Ngo has the following advice and answers to some of the most common questions for newcomers to the teaching profession. The college is also hosting a series of free orientation sessions for newcomers to learn more about how to become a teacher.

How do I become a teacher?

Paulina Ngo is celebrating 15 years of service to the college and 14 years as a member of the Teacher Ed team.

As a field experience coordinator in a college educator preparation department, I can say this is the most frequently asked question we get.

Most states have the same standard licensure requirements: completing an approved educator preparation program, clearing and/or background and fingerprint check, and passing the state’s exams for the certification.

While these requirements may appear basic, it is helpful to break down each requirement into manageable steps.

Completing an approved educator preparation program

Investigate potential colleges or universities to see if they offer a state-approved educator preparation program and confirm the program will lead to certification and not just a degree.

For example, some universities offer a degree in education but do not include all of the state certification requirements such as student teaching.

Don’t rule out community colleges, which have the unique advantage of offering 2+2 partnerships, which will give students a chance to complete an associate degree and transfer seamlessly to partnering colleges and universities. Rio Salado College has 40+ university partnerships, many of which offer teacher education degree programs. Candidates who begin their degree program at a community college typically save thousands of dollars through lower tuition costs. Community college does not mean lower quality. Many community college educator preparation programs have been recognized nationally for their work.

Clearing a background and/or fingerprint check

Any person seeking teacher certification must clear a state background and/or fingerprint check. These checks are made through the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). For specific instructions, visit each state’s department of education website. As a rule of thumb, expect the process to take 6-8 weeks. School districts may require a separate background check for job applicants.

Passing the state’s exams for the certification

Generally, there are two state mandated exams required for certification: a subject/content knowledge exam and a professional knowledge exam. Teaching candidates must receive a passing score on both exams. The subject/content exam measures how much a person knows about a specific subject area as defined by the state’s academic standards. The professional knowledge exam measures how much a person knows about teaching/pedagogical skills. 

Explore Teaching with Rio Salado College Virtual Orientations

To learn more about Rio Salado’s Educator Preparation Programs, requirements and how to transition to a teaching career, the college is hosting a series of free virtual workshops this spring and summer.

• Post-Baccalaureate Traditional Educator Preparation: This program is a great opportunity for individuals with a bachelor’s degree to work toward their Teaching Certificate. Register here.

• Teacher-in-Residence: This program provides a convenient and cost-effective way for students and working professionals with a bachelor’s degree to transition into a K-12 teaching career. Through paid employment opportunities in the classroom, students can earn an income while completing the certification coursework. Register here.

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