Become a Teacher in WA State

I want to be a teacher in Washington State. Where do I go to school and what do I study?

This depends on you.

  • Do you already have an undergraduate degree?
  • What grade level do you want to teach?
  • Do you have a particular subject area that you are interested in teaching?
  • Is there a particular university you want to attend?
  • Are you wanting to attend school full-time or part-time?

Requirements can vary and at some point you will want to talk to an advisor, but here is some information that can help frame the conversation.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), teachers in public and private schools in Washington State are required to hold a teaching certificate. The certificate is an official document which attests to minimum prerequisites, which include the following:

  • Age. At least 18 years old.
  • Character & Fitness. A background check which includes obtaining fingerprints and being screened by both the Washington State Patrol and the FBI.
  • Degree. A bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college/university.
  • Preparation Program. A teacher preparation program at a state-approved college/university which includes content (what to teach) methodology (how to teach), and a student teaching experience (internship, or practicum).

You do not really have any choices around the age requirement and the "Character & Fitness" requirement. If you have questions about the "Moral Character & Fitness" requirement, you can talk to an advisor or to someone at the OSPI. The bachelor's degree and the preparation program requirements involve choices on your part.

The first major decision is what grade level you want to teach. People who teach young children (e.g. Kindergarten through 6th grade) are usually responsible for teaching all subjects. Therefore, your undergraduate program would require academic breadth, but almost any major is acceptable, including an education major.

People who teach older students (e.g. junior high and high school), typically teach only one subject, such as history or math. Therefore, your undergraduate program would consist of acquiring expert level knowledge by majoring in the field in which you plan to teach. If you are interested in teaching more than one subject, you can take extra classes in college to gain expertise in more than one field. If your undergraduate degree did not include a major in education, then you must still attend a teacher preparation program to get a teaching certificate.

The required teacher preparation program can stand alone as a post baccalaureate program, it can be part of a Master in Teaching (MIT) degree program, or it can be part of a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree program. The UW Bothell's K-8 Teacher Certification program is an example of the stand alone program and the Secondary Teacher Certification M.Ed. program is an example of the M.Ed. program.

Teacher certificate programs in Washington State vary by what grades and subject areas they specialize in. For example, UW Bothell's post baccalaureate K-8 Teacher Certification program is for Elementary Education. When people graduate from this program, they are authorized to teach children from Kindergarten to 8th grade in all of the standard subject areas. The Secondary Teacher Certification M.Ed. is for Secondary Education in the subjects of Biology, English/Language Arts, History, Mathematics, and Social Studies. When people graduate from this program, they are authorized to teach in one of these subject areas at the high school or middle school level.

To help you decide what you want to focus on and what college to attend, OSPI maintains a couple of lists of colleges in the region that offer teacher certificate programs. One list is sorted by subject area and the other list is sorted by college. If you know what you want to teach, you can see what schools you can attend in Washington State. If you know what college you want to attend, you can see what areas you can focus on for a teacher certificate.

"Endorsements" are the official way that Washington state keeps track of what you are authorized to teach. For example, if you graduate from the UW Bothell's K8 Teacher Certification program you will have a teacher certificate with an "Elementary Education" endorsement. A graduate from the Secondary Teacher Certification M.Ed. program will have a teacher certificate with an endorsement in Biology, English/Language Arts, History, Mathematics, Social Studies, or some combination of these.

Typically your endorsement is based on what teacher certificate program you attended, but there are alternative paths to endorsements. Also, you can have more than one endorsement on your certificate, and there are "primary" and "supporting" endorsements that depend on the number of required college credit hours. Endorsements can get complex. For more information, talk to an advisor and/or check out the OSPI endorsement question page.

Because Washington State regulates what is required in a teacher certificate program for a particular grade range and subject area, all approved programs focus on the same knowledge and skills. However, each university program has its own distinctive features. There are also some differences in how universities schedule their classes. For example, The Secondary Teacher Certification M.Ed. program is a two year program that starts with part-time evening  coursework and ends with full-time coursework and student teaching. What choice you make in this regard is dependent on individual circumstances. Teacher requirements can change, so be sure to talk with an advisor before making major decisions. This can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.