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Alternative Routes to Teaching

You have years of knowledge to offer the younger generations, but going back to school for an education degree just isn’t in the cards. Learn how one of today’s alternate routes to teaching could have you in a classroom fast.

Meet the Expert
Meredith Essalat
Meredith Essalat

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Meredith Essalat has been an educator for over 17 years, supporting secondary and elementary school students as a teacher and now Principal in San Francisco, California. While her journey to become an academic leader may be considered unconventional, it continues to be filled with passion and purpose. Meredith is the author of The Overly Honest Teacher and an active teaching blogger. She uses her love of writing to advocate for students and empower teachers everywhere.

A teacher standing in a classroom in front of seven students.

A teacher shortage threatens educational quality across much of America, leading some states to develop alternative routes to certification for talented professionals who lack a teaching background. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that approximately 18% of teachers working during the 2015-2016 school year entered the field via an alternative certification program. Understanding the process for becoming a teacher when you possess an unrelated bachelor’s degree can be confusing, especially since each state sets its own requirements. If you’re interested in this path but aren’t sure where to start, keep reading to discover the top options available.

Why Take an Alternative Route to Teaching?

Maybe you wanted to explore another career field in college. Or the teaching program where you went to school just didn’t appeal to you. Whatever the reason, you’re not the only one who’s gone through it. Here’s a closer look at why people make the move to teaching later in their careers.

  • Current career untenable. Whether you’re getting burned out or phased out, your current line of work may not be going well. Teachers will always be in demand, making this a steady career option.
  • Desire for meaningful contributions. Teachers work as selfless and compassionate professionals to educate the next generation – a worthwhile endeavor. You can give back to your community in numerous ways as a teacher.
  • Teacher shortages. The need for qualified teachers is greater than ever, providing excellent opportunities for those who want to get involved. Feeling needed can provide a great sense of achievement.
  • Work with children. After working with adults for a while, you may realize they actually prefer working with a different population. Working with young children and adolescents allows teachers to see the world through their eyes.
  • Shifting priorities. Some professionals set out to make as much money as possible, but these goals can change over time. Teachers typically desire to make a difference in the lives of their students.

How Requirements for Teaching Vary

Requirements for traditional and alternative route teaching programs can vary significantly. Differences usually depend on grade level, subject, and demand for teachers at the time. For example, teachers brought in to fill an emergency posting usually meet less stringent requirements than those who join a school via a teacher residency program.

By Grade Level – Elementary vs. Middle vs High School

Credentialing requirements typically vary by grade level, with people seeking certification in primary education requiring less time than those seeking certification in secondary education.

By Subject

Teachers of STEM subjects are often in the greatest demand, making it possible for candidates with relevant undergraduate education to progress through training more quickly. Conversely, someone looking to work in special education will likely participate in a longer alternative route.

Options for Teaching if You Don’t Have a Teaching Degree

To pursue an alternative teaching program, you typically need to possess a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Many states give preference to candidates whose undergraduate education matches the topic they hope to teach in a K-12 setting, such as math or English. Because you already possess knowledge of their academic area, they can focus on building skills around classroom management, lesson planning, and educating diverse student populations.

Alternative teaching programs assess candidates’ existing knowledge through extensive screening in basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, arithmetic) as well as their selected content area. Candidates must also pass a background check. Many programs set minimum GPA requirements for their undergraduate degree.

Once admitted to an alternative teaching certification program, you are expected to maintain a high GPA and show promise for a future teaching career. Several alternative routes to becoming a licensed teacher exist; we review your options in the following sections.

AR Teacher Education Through a University Program

University-based AR programs work in tandem with the state department of education to make sure you gain all required skills and competencies needed to lead a classroom. These programs usually take between 18-24 months to complete, depending on whether you enroll on a part-time or full-time basis. Upon completing all requirements, you earn a master’s degree and clearance to apply for a teaching certificate. Some of the components to keep in mind when applying to a university-based program include:


Minimum GPA requirements vary by institution. Many colleges and universities offering alternative teacher education require applicants to possess a minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA. Those who cannot meet this requirement may need to submit GRE scores.


Coursework typically takes one year to complete and depends on the type of license/certification a student intends to seek. Anyone who wants to teach PreK-5 will study different topics than those looking to lead high school classrooms. Most programs require completion of their coursework before starting the internship portion.


You must receive a provisional teaching certificate/license from their state board of education prior to beginning the internship. This experience mirrors student teaching and requires candidates to build their classroom skills under the mentorship of a fully licensed educator. The majority of states require the internship to last at least one year.

Who is this good for?

This program caters to learners looking for a more structured, traditional approach to gaining a degree and teacher licensure.

What grades can you teach?

University-based programs offer many different types of certifications based on the candidate’s undergraduate qualifications and their intended teaching level. Students select their certification area when applying and qualify for certification/licensure in that area after meeting all programmatic requirements.

What subjects can you teach?

As with grade levels, you must select your subject area when applying to the program. This is typically dictated by your undergraduate major and/or existing professional experience.

Program Spotlight: Mountain View College

This Texas-based program takes 1.5-2 years to complete and partners with public, charter, and private schools in North Texas to both meet training requirements and provide a career pipeline for graduates. Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree and 2.5 or higher GPA. They must also pass a background check. Admitted students can choose from 23 different academic certifications at all K-12 levels. To graduate, they must complete 300 clock hours, pass examinations, and undertake a one-year internship.

Additional Resources

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The Center for Effective School Practices at Rutgers provides in-depth information about their program, which meets all state requirements.

University of Houston.The Alternative Certification Program at UH provides a clear overview of requirements from admission through graduation to help interested students learn what will be expected of them.

Utah State University.This alternative teacher preparation licensure program offers a unique take by providing paths for those looking to work with special education students.

Residency Program: Transition to Teaching

Alternative licensure residency programs follow in the footsteps of residencies used in other fields (e.g., medicine, law). They immerse learners in real-time practical skills building alongside academic learning. Students begin their teaching residency upon enrollment and focus on building competencies in both areas for the duration of the program. A few things to keep in mind when considering this program:


Admission requirementsmirror university programs and typically include an accredited bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 or higher GPA.


Residency requirements range from 1-2 years, depending on state regulations. Some offer paid opportunities and make you the teacher of record for their classroom while others are unpaid and function more as a student teaching experience. Candidates typically take on more responsibility as the residency continues.


Required classes focus on responding to the experiences you have while leading K-12 classrooms but generally touch on topics of pedagogy, behavior management, and current trends in education. Some programs now offer online learning options.


Most states require candidates to pass several Praxis exams focused on both teaching and content areas. Some state-specific exams may also exist.

Who is this good for?

If you’re looking for a more hands-on learning method, opt for this program. Same goes for anyone who wants to work in high need fields/schools.

What grades can you teach?

Residency participants must make a decision about the grade level they want to teach prior to beginning the program, as this will determine where they are placed.

What subjects can you teach?

The subjects you can teach depend on your undergraduate training and existing professional experience. Most residency programs call on students to focus efforts on their bachelor’s training.

Program Spotlight: Jefferson County Public Schools

JCPS in Louisville, Kentucky recently started the Louisville Teacher Residency program in concert with the University of Louisville. This one-year program focuses on preparing teachers in urban educational environments who possess little to no classroom experience. Participants benefit from mentorship by a master teacher, coaching and feedback, a peer cohort, competitive salary, benefits, and access to a pension. When they finish the program, they receive a master’s degree and a Kentucky Professional Education certificate.

Additional Resources

Teach for America.This program lasts two years and places recent graduates in in-need classrooms across the nation. The process for applying is extremely competitive; this program offers a salary while participating.

Teachers of Tomorrow.This program began in 2005 and has licensed more than 60,000 teachers since then. Participants complete online training while meeting their classroom teaching requirements.

Teacher Residency Programs: A Clinical Way to Prepare Educators.New York University provides an in-depth look at the pros and cons of residency programs while also offering insightful findings and research.

In-District Training

Some school districts provide locally approved training programs overseen by individual and/or group districts. In-district training programs may not hold approval from the state board of education and not all states provide this type of path. To receive consideration for in-district training, you must meet the following requirements:


Submit an application


Demonstrate completion of a bachelor’s degree in the subject area you wish to teach and receive a passing score on a content area assessment


Begin teaching under a provisional/limited license and work with administrators/mentors to build necessary classroom skills


After teaching for 1-2 years, apply for and pass required state examinations


Receive teaching license/certification

Anyone considering this path should note that not every state offers in-district training, nor does every program lead to state-wide licensure. In Texas, for instance, you can only teach in the school where they completed training and their teaching permit does not transfer to other districts.

Who is this good for?

This option caters to those living in an area where in-district training exists who want to earn a salary while completing requirements.

What grades can you teach?

As with other routes, you select your grade area upon enrollment. Availability may be dictated by the school.

What subjects can you teach?

You teach content areas based on your undergraduate training.

Program Spotlight: Mississippi Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence

The Mississippi Department of Education allows teaching hopefuls with a bachelor’s degree who enroll in a qualified program to receive licensure in biology, chemistry, English, math, or physics after receiving an ABCTE certificate and a letter from a school district offering employment. Participants must complete a one-year teaching internship, summer training, and content area assessments. They must also find a board-certified teacher to provide mentorship.

Additional Resources

Kentucky Department of Education.Kentucky provides a glimpse of requirements for in-district training but notes no programs currently receive approval via the Education Professional Standards Board.

Delaware Department of Education.Delaware offers an option for those who already possess at least one year of substitute teaching to receive district/charter positions, but these do not lead to licensure in certain subjects.

Texas Education Agency.The TEA provides a program allowing districts to employ educated professionals without a teaching license, provided they understand this does not lead to certification.

Emergency and Provisional Teaching

Emergency and provisional teaching licenses are used by states experiencing critical shortages. This allows the state or school district to hire someone with a bachelor’s degree unrelated to education to fill either substitute or classroom teacher positions. Not every state offers emergency and provisional pathways, but this could be a viable option if you live in a state that does. Some requirements to qualify include:


Possess an accredited bachelor’s degree in an in-demand content area.


Receive an offer of employment as an emergency teacher from a qualified school district that can request an emergency certification through the state’s board of education.

Many emergency licenses expire after one year, and few offer a direct path to licensure once the shortage has been met. People living in states that offer alternative routes to licensure via portfolio evaluation or teacher equivalency may be able to receive a full license after meeting additional requirements.

Who is this good for?

This option serves people who want to meet an immediate need in the classroom as a way of ensuring this path fits their career goals.

What grades can you teach?

Grade area is dictated by educator needs at schools facing teacher shortages.

What subjects can you teach?

You can teach any subject in which they receive postsecondary training, so long as it is deemed an in-need topic.

Program Spotlight: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

The California Department of Education provides four different types of emergency teacher permits based on specific educator needs. Three of these focus on substitute teaching, with one offering a path for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree to move towards becoming a prospective licensed teacher. The Emergency Designated Subjects Career Technical Education Permit supports candidates with a degree and/or trade experience who want to teach Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes.

Additional Resources

Arizona Department of Education.The AZED offers several different types of emergency certificates to meet the needs of schools and districts lacking qualified teaching staff.