Seven Steps to Become a Teacher in California

teacher working with student

Becoming a teacher in California may seem like a confusing, daunting process, but getting the proper teacher training and California teaching credentials doesn't have to be complicated. These seven steps will set you on the path to becoming a teacher.

laptop icon STEP 1

Research what teaching is all about.

Teaching is a challenging yet rewarding profession that requires teachers to be lifelong learners. Before pursuing this profession, make sure you thoroughly research the occupation's requirements, time commitment and pros and cons to determine if teaching is the right fit for you. In order to fully understand the commitment you are going to make, speak to any friends or family members who have experience teaching and learn about the latest trends in education through e-newsletters and other resources.

paper magnifying glass icon STEP 2

Assess your situation.

What type of education and work experience do you already have? Do you have teaching experience? Teachers come from a variety of backgrounds. Figure out which areas interest you the most and look through your résumé to see what work you've done in the past that involved the skills necessary for teaching. You could also speak with a USC Rossier Admissions Counselor who can help you review your experiences and explore your interests.

globe icon STEP 3

Choose what you want to teach.

Consider what type of students and which subject you'd like to teach. Do you want to teach in elementary school? High school? Special education? The Commission on Teacher Credentialing has separate steps and guidelines for teachers with different goals. You can change your mind later, but having an idea of where you want to end up allows for an easier, more seamless journey to obtaining your California teaching credentials.

website icon STEP 4

Consider enrolling in a teacher preparation program.

If you want to teach in a K–12 setting, you may want to consider applying to a teacher preparation program where you can be recommended for a California teaching credential. Teacher prep programs such as USC's Master of Arts in Teaching program or our MAT – TESOL program are offered online, allowing you to enroll in a top-ranked teacher prep program while gaining field experience in your community.

USC Rossier's teacher preparation programs offer different content area focuses and additional certificates in Special Education or Gifted Education. The curriculum also provides a comprehensive look at pedagogy and combines theory and practice, fully preparing aspiring teachers to gain the confidence to be successful in the classroom. Our Admissions Counselors can help you determine how USC Rossier can best fit your future goals.

Take the Next Step

Become a teacher by earning a Master of Arts in Teaching and teaching credential online from USC.

Explore the Curriculum Choose Your Content Area Focus Request More Information

teacher blackboard icon STEP 5

Gain teaching experience.

While learning in a teacher prep program is important, it is also essential to gain real-world experience teaching in a classroom. Our online Master of Arts in Teaching program allows students from around the world to gain hands-on teaching experience assisting a professional teacher in their area in addition to their teacher prep courses.

certificate icon STEP 6

Complete the certification process and get a formal recommendation.

The next step to becoming a teacher in California is passing teacher certification exams such as the CBEST, a test on reading, writing and math, and the CSET, a subject-matter competency exam. You can also meet the requirement by taking CSU Placement examinations in place of the CBEST, or by passing another state's basic skills examination. Evaluations can usually be taken several times if you do not pass the first time; however, a fee is required each time. In the event that you are transferring to California from out of state, you may be exempt from testing if you hold a valid, non-emergency teacher credential and meet other qualifications. Also, if you want to teach in a California elementary school, it is required to pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA), unless you are coming from out of state.

Once you pass your teacher certification exams and meet student-teaching and degree requirements, you will need to submit a formal recommendation for the credential from your college, university or teacher preparation program. Many students also put together a portfolio or ePortfolio to showcase their experience and readiness to teach.

certification icon STEP 7

Find a job.

The key to finding a job is to research vacancies and determine your ideal work environment. After completing a teacher preparation program and earning your credentials, you should have a very clear sense of where you want to teach as well as a network of colleagues in the education space. USC Rossier's programs provide you with resources such as a career and credentialing advisor as well as the necessary resources to advance your teaching career, including fieldwork. Fieldwork can lead to full-time post-graduate employment, and USC Rossier graduates boast a 94 percent employment rate1.

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Alternative Routes

The steps detailed above represent the most common path you can take to become a teacher in California, but there are also other ways to achieve your career goal. For example, if you would like to teach elementary, middle or high school students, you may be able to obtain your California teacher credentials through a teaching internship. Otherwise, you may be able to earn your elementary or high school teacher credential by having teaching experience in a private school or in the Peace Corps, or obtaining National Board Certification. Special education teachers can obtain their credentials only through a college, university or designated internship program.

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Never Stop Learning

Once you find your first job and start teaching in California, it is essential to continue learning through professional development opportunities. Teachers in California must stay on top of trends and educational research by taking occasional classes and participating in workshops. Becoming a teacher is a commitment that impacts our future leaders, so remember to chart your path as clearly as you can and put your best foot forward from the beginning of your preparations to every day in your own classroom.


Q: I am currently a credentialed teacher in another state or another country, and I would like to teach in California. What are my next steps?

A: If you want to teach in California and you already have been teaching in another state, you should be able to transfer your credential to California schools. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) can provide more information for your specific circumstances. If you currently teach outside of the United States, you must earn a California teaching credential. The CTC outlines this information as well.

Q: I already have teaching experience at a private school. Does teaching experience count for anything during the credentialing process?

A: Yes, teaching experience does count, but it depends on where you are teaching. It is best to check with your specific school district for details, or if your university has student support for alumni (USC Rossier offers this kind of support), you can contact your university for help. You can also read the CTC guidelines for private school teachers.

Q: I still have question about what I need to do to earn my credential to teach in California.

A: Certification Map outlines the steps to receive your credential in more detail. If you still have questions, you can request information and our Admissions Counselors can answer any questions you have.


1 Percent of reportable online Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Arts in Teaching-TESOL graduates who are employed full-time or part-time within nine months of their degree conferral date.