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Richard Kornweibel, Ph.D., Professor, CSUS History Department

(updated September 2003)

This brief brochure provides basic information about meeting requirements for entry into a teaching career, elementary through high school. Even though some students declare a major especially designed to prepare them for a credential, half of California's new elementary school teachers and a significant number of middle and high school teachers do not enroll in a special major. Please read the following introduction to get an idea of options open to you.

California needs teachers.

There will always be a demand for properly prepared public school teachers. Because of population growth, retirement of current teachers, and the need to replace or advance teachers who now operate with "emergency" credentials, there will be teaching jobs available throughout the state, although demand is greater in urban areas. Special areas of need are secondary science, math, and Spanish, as well as special education and bilingual education.

Teaching is a rewarding and challenging profession.

K-12 teachers will play an important role in creating the California of tomorrow. California citizens are increasingly interested in school improvement and in attracting the best possible individuals to a teaching career. Successful teachers work hard but have high job satisfaction.

Credentialed public school teachers in California are educated to professional standards. Preparation for a teaching career may include a specific major but can also be accomplished through quality general preparation. That is, you can pursue a teaching career through most majors. Since the state defines teaching subject areas and standards for professional preparation in precise and technical ways, getting detailed and accurate information as early as possible is very important to exploring a teaching career.

Should you consider a teaching career?

There is no single profile of a good teacher. Good schools have teachers who reflect the political, social, religious, cultural and ethnic diversity of California. Teaching styles also vary among good teachers. Significant factors to think about when considering a teaching career might be the following:

Do you enjoy working with people? A successful teaching career involves not only daily work with classes filled with individual students, but also the teamwork of building and maintaining a school faculty.

Do you communicate well? Successful teachers not only convey instructions and information in an understandable way but also model effective writing and speaking for students. Without communication there can be no teaching. Knowledge of subject matter alone is not enough.

Can you learn to challenge, stimulate and motivate students and are you interested in learning to help young people grow and mature? Successful teachers focus on the student as a growing and developing person. Good teachers motivate; great ones inspire.

Are you a good student? California students deserve teachers who are well educated, who not only know their subject matter, but by example, can help students master basic skills of reading, writing and critical thinking.

Can you work hard and accept different challenges over time? Good teachers work hard and, because we live in a dynamic society, continue to update and improve both knowledge and technique. A teaching career requires a commitment to lifelong education of the self.

Are you hoping to become rich through a teaching career? If so, you are pursuing the wrong profession. However, if you are looking for a profession that carries both emotional rewards and decent pay, the place to look is teaching. Salaries for teachers have increased and California likely will continue rewarding its teachers with higher salaries during the coming decade.

Is a teaching major a requirement before obtaining a credential?

No. While many prospective teachers do complete a major designed to meet state standards, that is not a requirement. One of the purposes of this brochure is to explain the pros and cons of completing a teaching major versus another major. Read on.

CSUS offerings for California's next generation of teachers.

Teacher preparation is and has been a central mission of CSUS since its founding as Sacramento State College fifty years ago. The California State University regularly provides about 55% of California's teachers. CSUS has one of the largest teacher preparation programs in the CSU system. In 2003-2004, CSUS recommended 894 individuals for teaching credentials. Recently CSUS has hired additional faculty, expanded existing teacher preparation programs and, in partnership with school districts, has begun new ones.

CSUS offers the following:

  1. Advice and information to those interested in or just curious about a teaching career in California. Whether an individual is an experienced teacher from another state, a mature individual considering a career change, an undergraduate searching for a career path, or a recent high school graduate just ready to begin college, CSUS faculty and other professionals can lay out the basic steps that would lead to teacher preparation and certification (i.e. a credential in technical terms).
  1. Subject matter preparation via academic program. While all credentialed teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree, the major foundation in working toward a credential is knowledge of the subject(s) to be taught. Students must achieve subject matter competency. CSUS offers such programs approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) in the following areas:
    • For elementary teaching (multiple subject credential):
      • Child Development (Major B)
      • Liberal Studies
    • For middle school and high school teaching (single subject credential):
      • Art
      • English
      • English/Drama and English/Humanities
      • French
      • German
      • Home Economics
      • Mathematics
      • Music
      • Physical Education
      • Science/Chemistry
      • Science/Geosciences
      • Science/Life Science and Science/Physics
      • Social Science (includes Civics, Economics, and History)
      • Spanish 
  1. Subject matter preparation via examination.  In order to establish subject matter competence, students will need to pass an examination.  The California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), is currently the designated examination.
  1. Professional preparation. Beyond subject matter proficiency and a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university, California teachers need professional training. The CSUS School of Education offers a teacher preparation program that includes methods classes and student teaching. An individual qualifies for a preliminary credential after the following steps: successful completion of the teacher preparation program; passage of the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA) [for multiple subject only] and the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST); and completion of a college-level course or examination on the U.S. Constitution. CSUS provides professional preparation in the following areas:
    • Multiple Subject (Elementary)
    • Multiple Subject with emphasis in:
      • Special Education (Mild/Moderate and Moderate/Severe Disabilities Specialist)
      • Early Childhood Special Education (Credential and Certificate) [does not require subject matter competency]
    • Multiple Subject or Single Subject with an emphasis in:
      • Bilingual Crosscultural Language and Academic Development (BCLAD Emphasis)
  1. Advanced professional preparation. CSUS also offers advanced professional preparation in several fields for those who hold a basic credential.

Paths to a teaching career for undergraduates (including recent transfers):

You will need to do some serious detective work, meet several people and collect quite a bit of information. The information will allow you to make an informed decision. You might also consider talking with former teachers and visiting schools.

Initial steps

First, decide whether to investigate elementary teaching, secondary teaching, or Special Education teaching. You could, of course, investigate all of these areas. Visit the Advising Center for Teaching Majors in Lassen Hall 2008 for a start.

Second, meet a subject matter advisor in each of the areas you want to investigate. If you are investigating secondary teaching, you may want to meet with an advisor in more than one subject area.

Third, investigate requirements, admission standards and application deadlines for the teacher training program. Obtain a "Teacher Preparation Program Guide" from the Teaching Credentials Office in Eureka Hall. The Guide lists dates for informational meetings. The CSUS teacher training program carefully evaluates candidates for admission. Beyond completing subject matter preparation and meeting minimum standards, successful applicants must submit a quality application by the established deadline.

Which major?


Elementary (multiple subject) area:

About half of those who get a multiple subject credential in California complete a multiple subject major. CSUS has two: Child Development and Liberal Studies. These are comprehensive majors that provide a balanced program in the Arts, Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. They are large majors and bundle up many general education and some other university graduation requirements. Electing one of these majors could be an efficient strategy for freshmen.

Students will need to pass the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), a commercially developed exam selected by the state as a means to identify a “highly qualified” teacher for the No Child Left Behind federal legislation.

Who is likely to pass the exam the first time? Individuals with a strong "college prep" high school background and or a strong record of achievement in college. If you have a strong GPA (3.0 or higher) and have taken a good selection of courses in science, humanities, math, and the social sciences (including history), you are more likely to pass. Persons from all majors pass the CSET, but there is some variation. If you are doing well in a major, if you are a good test taker, if you have strong basic skills and a solid preparation, you have a good chance of passing. There are commercially available study materials for the CSET.

Single Subject (secondary area):

While elementary subject matter preparation must be broad and comprehensive, secondary or single subject preparation is more specialized and focused. Furthermore, it is directly tied to the curriculum California has mandated for its middle and high schools. For example, in social science, subject matter preparation emphasizes the economics, geography, history and political science that is in the state curriculum framework. Therefore, a general preparation is somewhat less likely to prepare an individual to successfully teach this content to middle/high school students.

For Single Subject areas the state has identified a package of exams.  Depending on the content area, students will need to take the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) and the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET).  Are the exams difficult? In each subject area the package of exams includes tests of knowledge as well as written exercises designed to determine if an individual can read, then organize an analysis or present an analysis or solve a problem. Individuals with subject matter background and strong reading and writing skills are most likely to pass.

Where to start for additional information.

Contact a subject matter advisor in the appropriate area. Some work on a drop-in basis, others by appointment. For information about Multiple Subject (elementary school) and Single Subject (middle and high school) careers and curricula, stop by the Advising Center for Teaching Majors in Lassen Hall 2008. For detailed information about requirements for a teaching credential, visit the Teaching Credentials in Eureka Hall 401. Study guides for the CSET and CBEST exams are available at the Bookstores.