Education

How to Become a Teacher in California

December 02, 2016 by Guest Contributor

Teacher Info Session Are you interested in launching a career where you can make a difference impacting the lives of young people? If so, a career in teaching may be for you. Being a teacher is rewarding, yet challenging. Plus, according to the Department of Labor’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, education is a growing field.1 In fact, there is actually a teacher shortage in California, where over a hundred thousand teachers—or one-third of the workforce—may need to be replaced in the next decade.2

Teacher Training, Education, and Licensure

The basic steps for becoming a teacher and gaining teaching certification are:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree.
  2. Complete a teacher preparation program either as part of your undergraduate degree, or in a master's or credentialing program.
  3. Gain state or national certification.

Bachelor's Degree

To teach in a K–12 setting, you typically must have a bachelor’s degree; however, the requirements will vary based on whether you teach grade school or secondary school, and whether it’s in a public or private school.

  • Kindergarten, Elementary, or Middle School: The standard route is to get a bachelor’s degree with a major or minor in education. For example, if you want to major in education, a bachelor's in early childhood education prepares you to teach students up to age eight. Or you can go for a Liberal Studies degree that includes coursework in teaching multiple subjects.
  • High School: You can either get a bachelor’s degree in the subject you want to teach, e.g., History, Mathematics, Biology, etc.—or, you can get a general degree that includes education courses. 

Brandman University Top Education Master’s Programs

MA, Education, Curriculum and Instruction  

MA, Education, Educational Leadership 

MA, Education, Instructional Technology, Teaching the 21st Century Learner 

MA, Education, Leadership in Early Childhood Education 

Master’s of Education

If you already have a bachelor's degree, a master’s degree in education can increase your teaching job prospects and lead to higher wages.3 Furthermore, a master's degree can also be beneficial if you plan to continue on with a higher-level career in education, perhaps as a principal.

Specialist Credentials, Authorizations, and Graduate Certificates

Are you interested in teaching gifted students, special education students, or English as a second language (ESL) classes—or perhaps in helping students as a counselor? Specialty teacher certification programs may help. Options in California include the following:

  • Credential in Specialist Education: If you are already a teacher, this program prepares you to teach students with mild to moderate learning, development, and behavior disabilities.
  • Specialized Master’s Degrees: Many people also choose to further their education by earning a master’s in subjects like autism.
  • California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) Exam: If you are interested in teaching ESL classes, the CTEL authorization enables you to provide specialized instruction to English learners in a California classroom. 
  • Applied Behavior Analysis Graduate Certificate: This certification prepares you to help individuals improve their quality of life inside and outside of the classroom. Analysts enjoy the flexibility of working for hospitals, health agencies, consulting agencies, private practices, or schools.
  • Pupil Personnel Services Credential: The pupil services credential in school counseling focuses on developing the skills to help adolescents in the classroom and beyond.

Teacher Exams

After earning your teaching degree, you will need to earn a teaching credential, which entails taking exams. In California, you'll need to pass the following:

  • California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST). This is a proficiency test consisting of the three subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic.
  • California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET). This exam shows mastery in K–12 content.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Teacher?

Traditionally, completing a bachelor's degree in teaching takes 4 years. Now, with online and nontraditional educational options there are accelerated paths, as well as options to complete your degree more slowly if you need to continue working while in school. Many students choose online programs because it enables them to balance other responsibilities such as jobs or family.

If you already have a bachelor's and are looking to complete a teaching credential, it can be completed in less time. For example, Brandman offers a graduate certificate as well as several credential programs for California residents, which can be completed in a year to 18 months.

The bonus is that many teaching programs require you to complete practicums or supervised student teaching as part of the program, so you can gain hands-on experience while completing your education.

Teaching Salaries

In 2014–15 the average salary for California public school teachers was $72,535.4 That number will depend on the setting you teach in, how long you've been a teacher, and where in the state you live. California cities with higher teacher salaries include:

  • Fresno—High School: $76,4504
  • Berkeley—Middle School: $69,3245
  • Richmond—Elementary School: $68,0816
  • Irvine—Special Education: $71,9687

Public School vs. Private School

The average teacher salary varies based on whether you are teaching in a public school or private school. Private school teachers often make less money, but enjoy better benefits and work environments.

Starting Salary for Teachers

As with most careers, teacher salaries rise with experience. According to the California Department of Education, beginning teacher salary in 2014–2015 was $44,507.8  

For a more in-depth look on a national scale, this infographic from the U.S. Census Department highlights the lifetime earning potential for completing a degree in education. These numbers are generally higher in California, where teacher salaries surpass the national averages.

Pathways after a Bachelor's Degree in Education

How to Become a Substitute Teacher in California

Becoming a substitute teacher can take a somewhat different path from becoming a teacher. To substitute teach in California, you must do the following:

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree.
  • Take and pass the CBEST.
  • Complete any required credentials.

Emergency Credentials

Due to the shortage of teachers and substitutes in the state of California, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) offers the Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for prospective teachers that completed at least 90 credits of course work from a qualifying accredited college. The Emergency Career Substitute Permit may also be an option for substitutes that have taught at least 90 days per year for three consecutive years.

Substitute Teacher Salary

Salaries range depending on where you live and how often you work as a substitute teacher. However, the mean wage for substitute teachers is as follows:

  • Los Angeles Unified School District:
    • Per hour: $31.83 9
  • Nationally:
    • Per hour: $14.2510

Due to the teacher drought in California, more subbing opportunities are available. Some districts even offer paid intern programs that allow students to work in the classroom while earning their credentials.

Career Outlook for Teachers

As previously noted, the number of teaching jobs is growing and should continue to grow over the next few years. The Department of Labor estimates that education, training, and library occupations will increase by eight percent through 2024. The career outlook for teachers is strong due to some of the following factors:

  • Retirement: A large number of older teachers will retire by 2024, creating a need for new teachers to fill those jobs.1

  • Further Opportunities in Education: With a teaching degree, you could go on to become a school counselor or become an educational recruiter. There are many transferable skills that teachers can apply to alternative careers.

  • Online Teaching: As more and more students attend online schools, including elementary and secondary students, the need for teachers versed in online teaching will likely grow. As such, Brandman University also offers degrees in teaching the 21st century learner.

No matter the path you choose, having a teaching degree can help you find a rewarding career.


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Education, Training, and Library Occupations, www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/home.htm

California Teachers Association, www.cta.org/en/Issues-and-Action/Retirement/Teacher-Shortage.aspx

3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm  

4 U.S. News & World Report, http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/high-school-teacher/salary

5 SalaryExpert, https://www.salaryexpert.com/salarysurveydata/city=berkeley-ca/job=middle-school-teacher/salary

6 Salary.com, http://www1.salary.com/CA/Teacher-Elementary-School-salary.html

7 SalaryExpert, https://www.salaryexpert.com/salarysurveydata/city=irvine-ca/job=special-education-teacher/salary

8 California Department of Education, http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fr/sa/cefavgsalaries.asp

9LAUSD,https://achieve.lausd.net/Page/4140

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