Certified Teachers Vs. Licensed Teachers

Certified teachers might seek additional licensing to teach a special subject for which no credential currently exists.
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States have strict rules governing which individuals can enter a classroom to teach. In most cases, teachers must undergo professional training in addition to basic academic preparation before earning a teaching credential or licensure. Although the terms are sometimes earned interchangeably, in some states they hold quite different meanings. Some teachers might be both certified and licensed depending on their education level and qualifications.


    Some states, including New York, use the term “certified” to indicate teachers who have reached the minimum requirement for professional certification. Teachers might pursue different certifications depending on their subject area, level of education and prior experience. For example, entry-level certificates allow professionals who have just completed their teacher training programs to begin teaching with certain restrictions, according to the New York State Education Department. Teachers who complete additional training and professional development hours receive a professional certificate. Paraprofessionals can also earn teaching-related certificates, such as an entry-level provisional certificate.


    In some states, such as Louisiana, licenses are available to teachers as an alternative to certification. Practitioner licenses are considered to be a type of certificate that enables educators to teach for up to three years while completing a professional preparation program, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. Examples of teachers who might seek licensure instead of certification include educators working toward an education-related master’s degree who did not complete an undergraduate degree in education. Licenses can also allow certified teachers to temporarily teach outside their specialized subject area while earning units or experiences leading toward additional certification.

Interchangeable Use

    Some licenses are considered to be a type of certificate; in other cases, a certificate is considered to be a type of license, according to All Education Schools. When used generally, both terms refer to a teacher who has received authorization to educate children. Authorization is only granted to individuals who have completed a bachelor’s degree and completed standardized test forms ascertaining subject matter competency. Elementary school teachers take a more general test measuring their understanding of multiple content areas. Middle school and high school teachers must take subject-matter tests to establish competency in their content area of choice. Teachers wishing to bypass state-by-state requirements for certification can apply for national certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards if they meet specific standards. For example, eligible teachers must have three years of classroom experience.

Special Circumstances

    In some states, such as New York, licenses are used rather than certificates to address special circumstances. For example, a certified teacher might request a license to coach a particular extracurricular sport. Someone who is unusually qualified to teach a subject but lacks formal credentials might receive a short-term license at the request of a superintendent in order to instruct in the classroom. Certified teachers might also seek licensure to teach a special or unusual subject for which no current certification exists.

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