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Can a Felon Get a Teaching Certificate?

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Some felons may have thought of becoming a teacher after their release. There are resources available for felons to start a new career as many employers have found that felons make good employees.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get a teaching certificate.

  • What is a School Teacher?
  • What is a Teaching Certificate?
  • What is Required for a Teaching Certificate?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a School Teacher?

A school teacher instructs students and helps them learn and apply the concepts in basic academic subjects such as:

  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Art
  • Music

A school teacher works at all levels of education:

  • Elementary school (Kindergarten through 5th Grade)
  • Middle school (6th through 8th Grade)
  • High school (9th through 12th Grade)

A teacher working in elementary school typically instructs in all subjects while someone in middle school and high school usually specializes in teaching one subject.

What is a Teaching Certificate?

A license is issued by a state agency to practice a profession and is required in order to call oneself a licensed professional. Some states have a single license and some have a level system. Licenses, as well as requirements, vary from state to state.

Licensing is a type of mandatory certification. Under a licensure system, states define the practice of a profession and stipulate that the position may be legally performed only by those who are licensed.

Certification is typically a voluntary process, although certification can be mandatory or required to practice in certain states.

Certification is often provided by a private organization for the purpose of providing public protection for individuals who have successfully met all requirements for the credential and demonstrated their ability to perform their profession competently.

Teaching certification is the process of obtaining a state license to teach.

What is Required for a Teaching Certificate?

In the United States, education is typically regulated by each state rather than by the Federal government. Each state sets its own standards for teachers and a teaching certificate or license.

The Board of Education in each state system requirements for achieving a teaching certificate. Certification programs are designed to provide individuals with the skills necessary for:

  • Developing and implementing effective lesson plans
  • Managing classroom behavior
  • Assessing student progress
  • Working in a professional setting

The first step in obtaining a teaching certificate is to complete a bachelor’s degree at a college or university that is credited and approved by that state board of education. A candidate for a teaching certificate completes a major based on the subject and/or grade levels he or she plans to teach.

All certification programs include practical teaching experience. Typically, this requires at least one semester of student teaching.

A candidate must also take three state education exams:

  • Exam for core academic skills for educators
  • Content knowledge for teaching assessments
  • Principles of learning and teaching

Then a candidate must apply to the state Department of Education for a teaching certificate. Typically, a teaching certificate is valid for one to five years and will need to be renewed every few years.

Requirements for certification or licensure vary by state but generally involve:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • Completion of a teacher education program and supervised experience
  • Passing a background check
  • Passing a general teaching certification exam
  • Passing a specific exam covering knowledge in a particular subject

There are alternatives for those who are unable to qualify for a teaching certificate. Substitute teachers, teaching assistants, and educational aides work with students under the supervision of a teacher without a teaching certificate. These will require either a college degree, a certain number of college credits, or a high school diploma.

Private and independent schools also offer teaching positions for those without certification. Schools that do not rely on government funding do not have the same requirements as public schools. They’re not required to hire certified teachers. They may, however, prefer an applicant who has a teaching certificate.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon can pursue any degree he or she wants. Approximately 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, although there is no standard policy regarding a background check. Any felon that wants to get a degree to teach can find a college that will accept him or her.

Criminal background checks are necessary for anyone wanting to become a school teacher. While minor crimes may not interfere with a felon becoming a teacher, certain criminal offenses will prevent them from being certified. Each state legislature determines which crimes are not allowable for a teacher.

Regulations differ from state to state, but there are certain crimes that will keep all felons from becoming a teacher:

  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Rape
  • Sex crimes with a minor
  • Kidnapping
  • Extortion
  • Domestic violence

Certification requirements vary by state as do regulations for various offenses. Often, teacher certification is possible with a felony conviction of theft but the offender will be required to provide additional information for consideration.

In some states a felony conviction requires the individual to provide to the State Board of Education the following:

  • A certified court record of the conviction
  • Evidence that a minimum of one year has passed since the end of the sentence
  • An explanation of the circumstances of the crime from the applicant
  • Signed statements from employers and college instructors

The State Superintendent reviews these documents and determines evidence of good character and rehabilitation in combination with the:

  • Seriousness of the offense
  • Individual’s age at the time of the offense
  • Individual’s background
  • Penalty that was imposed

It’s important to be honest when applying for certification as a school teacher. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable. It is a crime to falsify an application which could result in being sent back to prison.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in obtaining a teaching certificate. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It’s a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to get a teaching certificate. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding.

Spending time in a volunteer role in the educational field initially to gain experience could allow him or her to take the initial steps towards certification and working as a teacher.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can also make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. Our mistakes do not define us, but how we recover from them does. An honest life, no matter how difficult it might seem, can be accomplished with patience and perseverance.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a teaching certificate with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

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