What is Emergency Teacher Certification?

Emergency teacher certification developed as an early attempt to address critical teacher shortages. It is a process whereby states grant temporary teaching certificates to individuals who do not meet the ordinary certification criteria. Emergency teaching certificates can only be granted in cases where no certified teacher can be found to fill a given position. During this temporary certification period, a teacher may work toward permanent certification through the traditional channels. The rise of alternative teacher certification has made emergency certification largely obsolete, but it still exists in some states.

Critical Teacher Shortages

Despite the popularity and obvious rewards of teaching as a profession, certain areas in the United States continue to be plagued by critical teacher shortages. Rural and inner city schools suffer from teacher shortages. Teacher shortages also exist in certain subject areas, such as math, science and some foreign languages. Emergency teacher certification and alternative teacher certification were both created in efforts to remedy this problem. However, the problem persists, in part because teachers often work at high-need schools only until earning long-term certification, at which point they frequently opt for easier or higher paying teaching jobs.

Emergency Teacher Certification

When a school district cannot fill a teaching position with a certified teacher, that district may issue an emergency certificate, either to an uncertified individual or to a teacher only certified in another subject-area. This allows the individual to begin teaching immediately, while working toward long-term certification. Emergency certification requirements vary from state to state, but most states require a bachelor’s degree. In some states, beginning the traditional certification process is also a requirement for emergency certification. This certification usually lasts for one year, and may not be renewable unless the teacher is working toward traditional certification and/or the teacher shortage continues.

Teachers granted emergency certification may be required to complete some training before teaching, and may receive some degree of mentoring and support from their school district. However, emergency certification has been heavily criticized for allowing under-qualified individuals to teach without adequate preparation. This problem probably arises because of the severity of the need for teachers. Another reason this problem might occur is that some individuals who hold emergency certification are actually experienced, certified teachers in another subject area, while others have no teaching experience at all. Alternative teacher certification programs were created to offer more appropriate training and support to qualified individuals who wish to teach in high-need areas.

Traditional Teacher Certification

Teacher certification requirements vary greatly from state to state, and many states have multiple levels of licensure and/or distinct types of certification for specific subject areas. However, most states do share some requirements such as a college degree (in education and/or the subject area to be taught), completion of a teacher-training program, successful completion of a teaching exam and, in some cases, a Master’s of Education. It is possible to earn traditional teacher certification while teaching with an emergency certificate. 

Alternative Teacher Certification

While it is entirely possible to earn a teaching certificate through traditional channels while working with an emergency certificate, alternative certification programs are specifically designed to address the difficulties of this process. Alternative certification programs vary from program to program and from state to state, but most programs provide intensive training, mentoring from more experienced teachers and accelerated coursework. While completing the alternative certification process, teachers generally hold a salaried position in a particularly high-need school. In order to complete the certification process, all teachers must pass a teaching test of some kind.