Moving to the Head of the Class: How to Become a Teacher in Georgia

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.” Teachers are the special people who are entrusted with the future. Preparing today’s youth for a future we can’t predict is no easy task. Noodle's guide to teaching in Georgia will make sense of the process necessary no matter what your background.

Georgia’s on your mind

Here are some statistics about Georgia’s education system from the Georgia Department of Education based on the 2015-2016 school year:

  • 207 school systems (21 city, 159 county, 24 charter, 3 state for students who are deaf or blind)
  • 2,292 schools (558 charter schools)
  • Approximately 1.7 million students (About 800,000 elementary, 400,000 middle school, 500,000 high school)
  • 4 year graduation rate in 2015 - 78.8%

Teachers: - 114,244 teachers employed - 35% have a Bachelor’s Degree - 43% have a Master’s Degree - 19% have a Specialist Degree - 2% have a Doctorate Degree - 43% have 10 years experience or less - 35% have 11-20 years experience - 21% have over 20 years experience - Average Salary for Beginning Teachers $40,392 - Average Overall Teacher Salary $55,529

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement identifies the following teacher certification areas for the 2015-2016 school year: - 46% Early Childhood (PK-5) - 30% Middle School (Grades 4-8) - 25% Secondary (Grades 6-12: 6% Language Arts, 5% Math, 6% Social Studies, 8% Science) - 2% Foreign Language - 22% Gifted - 23% Special Education - 10% ESOL - 39% STEM

Georgia teachers wanted

Georgia needs and wants to hire more teachers. Just like in the United States as a whole, which showed a 35 percent decrease in students enrolling in teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities between 2009 and 2014, Georgia is also seeing a decline in students studying to become teachers. Enrollment in University System of Georgia schools of education, which is a big source of new teachers for the state, was down by about 14 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Georgia is finding that there are not enough certified teachers to fill the vacant positions they have all throughout the state. This is true in both rural and urban school districts of all sizes. While the number of teaching positions that are vacant or filled by those without a certificate in the necessary field is typically higher in large urban districts such as those in the metro Atlanta area, the smaller rural districts, as well as districts that are considered high poverty or underperforming, often have a more difficult time competing with larger districts for teaching candidates. The Learning Policy Institute goes into specifics about teacher shortages in their article Teacher Shortages.

While teachers are needed in all areas of Georgia, there are shortages in several specific fields of study, which creates a sense of urgency to recruit new candidates and try to retain the teachers they have. These fields of study are in line with the teaching shortages in the United States as a whole as well. The areas facing the most critical need for an increase in candidates are math, special education, science, and foreign and bilingual language instruction. These are the areas where there have been shortages in teachers traditionally, but postsecondary schools are now hearing requests for assistance in training teacher candidates in other areas like early childhood education and English too.

Georgia is trying to aggressively attract new teachers to the state. They are thinking outside of the box and trying to recruit teaching candidates in innovative ways. From advertising on billboards, to beginning the recruitment and interviewing process as early as late fall or early winter, to working with colleges and universities to collaborate and come up with strategies to combat the teacher shortage, to asking the private sector to act as partners in offering incentives such as mortgage assistance and a reduced cost for childcare. Georgia schools are proving they are willing to invest in their teachers.

There is no reason to think that the teacher shortage in Georgia or the United States will end anytime soon. The demand for teachers is growing at such a rate that many are afraid we will see a severe teacher shortage across our country. If today’s trends maintain their rate, we will see an increase in annual teacher demand up nearly 20 percent from what it was in 2015. The United States could need 316,000 teachers per year by 2025.

Why is Georgia seeing a teaching shortage?

School districts were forced to layoff large numbers of teachers during the recession, which led to increased class sizes. Now that the economy is doing better, public schools are looking to hire teachers back to return classes to their normal size. Student enrollments are expected to grow by 3 million in the next decade, as birth rates and immigration increase. However, the supply of teachers is decreasing. It is not unusual for the number of potential teacher candidates to decrease when the economy is performing well as some, particularly in the fields of math and science, explore higher paying careers. If the numbers we are seeing today continue, we could see as few as 200,000 available teacher hires each year by 2025. This would mean the United States would be short by more than 100,000 teachers annually. The Learning Policy Institute wrote an informative brief Teaching Crisis that offers a look at projections for a teacher shortage and possible solutions for it.

Types of Georgia Teaching Certifications

Since there is not yet a uniform national process for teacher certification, each individual state has designed its own requirements for how someone may become a teacher. This can be confusing because Georgia, like many other states, has had to come up with a variety of ways people can earn their teaching certificate. Georgia recently revamped its system with new requirements having taken effect in 2015. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) is responsible for overseeing teacher certification in the state and is constantly re-evaluating and updating the process. It will prove helpful to check their website Standards Commission in order to make sure that you are up to date on the most recent information.

Georgia has implemented a new Tiered Certification System to provide mentoring and support for new teachers as well as professional development and opportunities for teachers to advance in their careers as they gain teaching experience. Whether you are a new teacher trying to earn an Induction certificate, or you have some experience and are trying to earn a Standard or Performance Based Professional certificate they will discuss the process. If you are further along in your career and trying to earn an Advanced Professional or Lead Professional certificate, they will explain that process as well.

Beyond the Tiered Certification System, Georgia has certificates that can be earned based on the individual circumstances of the teaching candidate. A Pre-Service certificate, Certificate of Eligibility, Retired Educator certificate, Certification by Interstate Reciprocity, International Exchange certificate, Non-Renewable Professional certificate, Waiver certificate, Permit certificate, and Adjunct license are many of the different certificates Georgia offers its teachers to make sure they can be competitive in recruitment and attract the most knowledgeable and highly qualified candidates available.

Steps to earning your Georgia Teaching Certification

Are you ready to enter a teacher certification program?

Pick the age group you think you’d most like to teach. If you aren’t sure, try to get as much exposure working with kids of different ages as you can. Look for opportunities to volunteer as a tutor or youth coach, look for a part time job that would involve working with children, or look for opportunities to volunteer in schools or libraries in your area. You will be gaining valuable experience you can use in your teaching. You will see which children you are the most successful working with, and you will be engaged in activities that you can put on your resume later.

In Georgia, the age groups are categorized as:

  • Birth - Kindergarten
  • PreK-5: Early Childhood
  • Grades 4-8: Middle Grades
  • Grades 6-12: Secondary
  • P-12: Some subjects allow you to be certified to teach all grades (for example: art, music, PE, special education, health, drama, and dance)

Pick a subject area you would most like to teach.

Early Childhood Teachers usually teach all academic subjects. Middle School Teachers usually choose one or more of these subjects: math, language arts, science, social science, or reading. High School Teachers typically choose one or more subjects that are more specialized like: earth/space science, economics, geography, or biology. Special Education Teachers select General Curriculum if they plan to work with children with mild disabilities or Adapted Curriculum if they plan to work with children with moderate or severe disabilities. If a Special Education teacher will focus on delivering instruction in a particular subject, they will have to follow the content assessment requirements for that subject.

Obtain the Georgia renewable professional teaching certificate

Begin working toward your renewable professional teaching certificate by enrolling in a college or university that offers state-approved programs. Visit the website Initial Certification to learn more about these programs.

Take all the required assessments:

Upon completing your bachelor’s degree and the teacher certification program. Take the required assessments.

You will need to achieve a passing score on: - Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) Program Admission Assessment. There are 3 areas: reading, math, and writing and you must receive passing scores in all of them. You may qualify for an exemption of this assessment if your SAT, ACT, or GRE scores are high enough. For information on the exam, visit GACE. - GACE Content Assessment that is needed for your certification. Visit the website Content Assessments for more information on these tests. - Georgia Educator Ethics Assessment

Get that certificate of eligibility

Apply for a Certificate of Eligibility which will inform potential employers that you are well on your way to being a fully certified Georgia teacher.

If you are not from the United States, but want to teach in Georgia.

If you have completed a teacher preparation program in another country, you may be eligible to become a certified teacher in Georgia. You will be asked to:

  • Submit a complete application packet for Georgia certification to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Your packet must include:
  • Initial Certification Application
  • Verification of Lawful Presence Documentation
  • Foreign Credential Report about the education you have obtained
  • Transcripts from colleges and universities you have attended
  • A $20 processing fee
  • The Georgia Professional Standards Commission will review your application and let you know if you need to complete any more requirements such as the Special Georgia Requirements. If you do not need to complete any additional requirements, they will send your certificate to you electronically.
  • You will need to be employed by a Georgia school when you apply for your first certificate in order to get fully certified. Refer to the webpage International Educators for more information.

If you are already a teacher, but in a state other than Georgia:

Georgia participates in interstate reciprocity with teachers. However, that does not mean you will automatically be issued a Georgia teaching certificate just because you held a teaching certificate in another state. It does mean that the Georgia Professional Standards Commission will review your application packet and completed documents and determine if there is any additional requirements that you must meet before you are eligible to be a certified teacher in Georgia. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Submit these documents as part of your application packet:
  2. Initial Certification Application
  3. Verification of Lawful Presence Documentation
  4. Experience Verification Form including evaluations for up to the past 5 years
  5. Copy of your teaching certificate or a website where your certificate can be verified
  6. Copies of official score reports for content or subject area assessments or a website where these scores can be verified
  7. Official college or university transcripts
  8. A $20 processing fee

  9. The documents will be evaluated. A certificate will be issued to you electronically if all of the requirements have been met. You will be notified if you need to complete any additional requirements like the Special Georgia Requirements. You will need to be employed by a Georgia school when you apply for your first certificate in order to become fully certified. See the webpage Out of State or more information.

If you are already a Georgia teacher, but would like to teach another subject:

The requirements for adding a field or subject to your teaching certificate depend on whether you hold a professional or an induction certificate and what field you are hoping to add to it.

If you hold a level 4 or higher Professional Certificate: - Any subject can be added by taking a state-approved certification program in the new field and passing the related assessment. - Most fields can be added by passing the appropriate content assessment - Completing a state-approved endorsement program will allow you to add endorsements to your certificate

If you hold a level 4 or higher Induction Certificate: - Any subject can be added by taking a state-approved certification program in the new field and passing the related assessment. - Most fields can be added by passing the appropriate content assessment if the school where the teacher is employed requests it. These can be transferred to the teacher’s Professional certificate once it is earned. - Completing a state-approved endorsement program will allow you to add endorsements to your certificate if the school where you are employed requests it. These can also be transferred to your Professional certificate once it is earned.

Types of teacher training programs in Georgia

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission provides a search engine on their website where prospective teaching candidates can look up postsecondary schools that have been approved by the state to deliver a teacher preparation program. It lists them for every certification category. Be sure to visit the webpage Approved Programs for specifics on colleges and universities offering these approved programs.

Early Childhood Education approved teacher preparation programs are offered by 34 colleges and universities with nearly half of them also offering a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. A few of them are: - Albany State University - Augusta University - Georgia Southern University

Middle Grades Science approved teacher preparation programs are offered by 28 colleges and universities with over half of them also offering a master’s degree in that concentration. A few of them are: - Piedmont College - University of Georgia - Valdosta State University

History (6-12) approved teacher preparation programs are offered by 26 colleges and universities with over half of them also offering a master’s degree in that concentration. A few of them are: - Georgia Gwinnett College - Mercer University - University of North Georgia

Special Education General Curriculum(P-12) Consultative approved teacher preparation programs are offered by 11 colleges and universities with all of them also offering a master’s degree in that concentration. A few of them are: - Brenau University - Georgia College and State University - Piedmont College

Alternative routes to teach in Georgia

For those who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than education, Georgia offers the alternative route to becoming certified as a teacher called Georgia TAPP (Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy). This is a program lasting from 1-3 years in which candidates who meet the criteria GaTapp Admission can be employed by a Georgia school while they work on completing their teaching certification requirements. There are 19 TAPP Providers in the state which also serve to give the teacher mentoring, feedback, and support throughout the process.

In Early Childhood Education, a few of the state-approved TAPP Providers are: - Clayton County Public Schools - Dekalb County School District - First District RESA

In Middle Grades Science, a few of the state-approved TAPP Providers are: - Fulton County Schools - Georgia Charter Schools Association - Griffin RESA

In History (6-12), a few of the state-approved TAPP Providers are: - Gwinnett County Public Schools - Metro RESA - Middle Georgia RESA

In Special Education General Curriculum (P-12) Consultative, a few of the state-approved TAPP Providers are: - Pioneer RESA - Southwest Georgia RESA - Technical College System of Georgia

Visit the webpage Approved Programs for a complete searchable list of approved TAPP Providers for your chosen field of emphasis.

Georgia Teaching Exam

Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) is the state-approved set of assessments for certifying teachers. These computer- based assessments were developed by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and the Educational Testing Service. Special care was given to make sure that the GACE assessments are aligned with state and national standards as well as the Georgia P-12 curriculum. Input was sought from teachers all through the state, professors who deliver the content of teacher preparation programs, and content and assessment specialists to develop the assessments. Visit GACE Exams for more information.

The general teaching assessment is called the Program Admission Assessment. It tests teaching candidates in three areas: reading, math, and writing to see if their knowledge and skills in these subjects are satisfactory. All three sections of the test are assessed by selected- response questions, but the writing portion also requires 2 written responses from the test -takers. This assessment is computer based.

Subject Area Exams

The subject area exams in Georgia are called Content Assessments and are computer based. They test the knowledge and content skills in very specific areas. Most of the questions are selected-response questions, but there are a few constructed response questions thatwhich need to be written, spoken, or signed in some of the exams. Visit the webpage Content Assessments to see the specifics about each of the content assessments that are offered.

Georgia Ethics Assessments

The Georgia Ethics Assessments are a combination of teaching and testing. The assessments were designed with the express intent that they would better help teachers understand and follow the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators. The candidates are presented with a variety of scenarios they may face as a teacher and are asked to exhibit their ethics and professionalism in their responses. Teaching candidates trying to obtain their initial Georgia teaching certificate are required to complete this assessment either at the beginning of their teacher preparation program or before its completion.

Perhaps an old Chinese proverb says it best: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” Teachers have the profound ability to touch and shape the future in infinite ways. The one thing that is certain about life is that it is always changing. We may not be able to predict all of the changes we will face in the future, but states, like Georgia, that are trying to invest in teachers and their training in order to ensure that all children have access to the wonderful education they deserve, are doing their part to make certain that we are as prepared as possible for it.

There is a teacher shortage that spans the state of Georgia, and the United States, that shows no signs of slowing down. School districts throughout the country are trying to come up with new incentives to attract the best and brightest teaching candidates in a competitive economy with too few teachers currently coming out of college to enter the workforce to fill the demand. They are coming up with innovative ways to combat the shortage and preparing teachers for a challenging, yet rewarding, career is perhaps more crucial today than ever.

Offering many pathways to teacher certification, and providing a strong foundation for new teachers, built upon mentoring, feedback, and support, are two of the ways Georgia hopes to ensure every classroom in the state is led by a highly- qualified and well- prepared teacher.


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Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.