Illinois Teacher (K-12) Professional Licensing Guide
The Illinois education system
Illinois has both public and private schools, but the majority of children attend public school and begin schooling by the age of 5. Schools are usually grouped by grade into elementary schools (Kindergarten through 5th grade), middle schools (6th to 8th grade), and high schools (9th to 12th grade).
There is no single, standard education model in the US. The State of Illinois sets learning standards that regulate educational goals for each subject and grade level. Illinois also requires standardized testing for all students. Additionally, school districts set certain policies regarding education. A school district is a grouping of several public schools in a community. Each school district has discretion regarding specific teaching methodology and the order in which subjects are taught. Districts usually have administrative offices that serve all of its schools, including a Human Resource Department to help hire teachers and other school staff. It is important to build relationships with both the Human Resource Department and the individual schools where you are interested in teaching.
The Illinois State Board of Education licenses teachers to work anywhere in the state. Teachers must take continuing education classes every year to keep their certificates, which need to be renewed every few years depending on the type. Your Illinois teaching license will not work in other states: you have to reapply for certification in each state you move to.
Types of Illinois Teaching Certificates
In Illinois, teachers first earn an Initial Teaching Certificate. After 4 years of full time teaching experience and after meeting continuing education requirements, a teacher will apply for a Standard Teaching Certificate. Standard Certificates are valid for 5 years and can be renewed repeatedly. A teacher with a Standard Certificate will usually earn more money than teachers without one.
Both Initial and Standard Teaching Certificates are grouped into Types. The type of certificate you apply for depends on the age groups or subjects you plan to teach.
- Early Childhood (birth to 3rd grade) - Type 04
- Elementary (Kindergarten to 9th grade) - Type 03
- Secondary (6th grade to 12th grade) - Type 09
- Special (Subject Specific, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve) - Type 10
It costs $75 to apply for initial and standard teaching certificates.
There are other teaching certificates available which have restricted use, are temporary, or have limited renewal. The section Other Credentials and Careers describes some of these and their benefits.
A teaching certificate can be endorsed. This proves that a teacher is eligible to teach a specific grade levels or subjects. Endorsements are not required by law, but they help you compete for jobs. For example, if you have a regular elementary teaching certificate and are also bilingual, you can take additional coursework and then check the system requirements in order to become endorsed.
Market for teachers in Illinois
There is high demand for teachers in science and math, special education (working with children with disabilities) and bilingual Spanish classrooms. Some communities with high concentrations of other languages (Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese) may search for bilingual teachers with these language skills.
For foreign-educated teachers, private schools or public charter schools can be another good option for faster employment. This is because private schools have more flexibility in hiring teachers and in some cases teachers do not need a teaching certificate. However, many of these schools have lower pay and benefits (insurance, retirement) than public schools. You must research these schools on your own.
To teach in Illinois public schools you must have permanent work authorization. You do not have to be a citizen to be eligible for certification, but you must sign an agreement promising to apply for citizenship as soon as you are eligible. You will have to take a variety of tests before you can qualify for your certificate. You should have strong English, but you will only be tested directly in English if you are applying for bilingual certification or endorsement.
There are four steps foreign-educated teachers must take in order to become certified in the state of Illinois:
i. Degree evaluation by a credentialing organization
The Illinois Board of Education accepts credentials evaluated by 10 different organizations. You must give the organization your school records for secondary school and university, including your university transcripts (course names and grades) if possible. You must also show proof of the grade level you were trained to teach, which may be on your actual transcript from your university or a document that shows you were certified in your country.
The credentialing organization will charge you money depending on the condition and number of your documents (prices vary greatly, often between $100 and $500). The organization will create documents in English describing your degree and making a course-by-course evaluation that compares your program to U.S. programs. This can take one month or more.
ii. Application for certification and evaluation by the Illinois State Board of Education
Once you receive the documents from the credentialing organization, contact a Certification Clerk in your Regional Office of Education. This person will help you put together an application for teacher certification to the Illinois State Board of Education. For foreign-educated teachers, the application includes:
- Documents from the credentialing organization evaluating your degree
- Original copies of the school documents from your country (not translated)
- A chronology of your education (a form will be provided)
- Proof of permanent work authorization
- An agreement to apply for U.S. citizenship as soon as you are eligible (a form will be provided)
- Your application for certification, plus fees ($75)
The Board of Education will evaluate your foreign credentials along with your application for certification at no extra cost. The process can take up to 3 months before you receive a letter. The letter will say if your credentials are complete or deficient (incomplete).
As a foreign-educated teacher, you should expect a "deficient" letter - this means that the Board of Education had determined that you must take a combination of courses, credit hours or tests before you are eligible for Illinois teacher certification. The letter may list specific classes (for example, Introduction to the US Constitution), or it may specify a certain number of course credits to take in a general subject area (for example, 6 credit hours in curriculum development). Do not sign up for additional classes until you receive this letter, as recommendations can be different for each applicant. Your letter will also list the tests required by your particular certificate type. These tests are organized by the Illinois Certification Testing System and are described in the next section. The Board's letter will include a deadline for completing these required courses and tests - usually one year or more.
iii. Meet any deficiency
You will have to do your own research to decide where to take the courses or credit hours required by your evaluation letter. Course types and costs will vary by institution: community colleges will probably be less expensive than a university, but a university teacher education department will probably offer more specialized courses. You can take courses in more than one institution to fulfill your requirements.
Remember your deadline: if you miss it you will have to reapply for certification and evaluation of your degree by the Board of Education.
When the Board of Education writes you an evaluation letter listing course and test deficiencies, it will sometimes offer you the option of a Provisional (temporary) Teaching Certificate. The Provisional Certificate allows you to teach full time while you take the classes and tests you need to receive your Initial certificate. This is only a good option for you, however, if you are very close to meeting the requirements of your Deficient letter and you are applying for a Provisional Certificate at the beginning of the school year. This is because Provisional Certificates expire at the end of each school year (June 30) and by that time you must have met all requirements for licensing. The Provisional Certificate, in effect, shortens the deadline the Board of Education may give you to meet requirements. Instead of a Provisional Certificate, you may want to consider substitute teaching, which will not affect your deadline. There is more information about substitute teaching in the section Other Credentials and Careers.
iv. Pass certification tests for the state of Illinois
These tests are described in detail in the next section, Tests.
When your credentials are evaluated you will be told which Illinois tests to take for your particular teacher certificate. Three types of tests are required for most Initial Certificates. They are organized and administered by the Illinois Certification Testing System (ICTS). See their website for important information about test registration and content links are given under Important Links for Teaching. Tests are held about 6 times a year. You may need to use more than one test date to take all of your required tests. Each test costs $60, plus $20-35 to register for each testing period (this can include more than one test). It is highly recommended that you take practice tests to learn the types of content, format, and vocabulary used in these tests. Additionally, you can request extra time to take the test, which can make a significant difference for non-native English speakers.
1. Basic Skills Test
The Basic Skills Test takes a full day to complete (7:15 a.m.-1:00 and 1:30-7:15 p.m.). The test has 125 multiple-choice questions plus an essay writing question. Topics include reading comprehension, language arts (grammar and writing), and mathematics. You can download or print a free practice test (computer test or paper test) from ICTS.
2. Content-Area Test
You must take one Content-Area Test for each subject you plan to teach, for example, Social Science, Chemistry, or French. Most Content-Area Tests take a half-day session to complete (either morning or afternoon) and have 125 multiple-choice questions. Foreign language content tests, however, take a full day. Some foreign language content tests have 100 multiple-choice questions and 2 short essays; others use only 7 essays in total.
3. Assessment of Professional Teaching
The Assessment of Professional Teaching (APT) test takes a full day to complete (7:15 a.m.-1:00 and 1:30-7:15 p.m.). You will choose one of 4 APT tests depending on the grade level and certificate you want. The APT covers a variety of teaching knowledge and skills, including classroom management, lesson planning, and student assessment and evaluation. Each APT test has 120 multiple-choice questions and 2 short essays.
More information on testing
See the Important Links section for links to Test Frameworks (descriptions of test goals) and free Study guides from the ICTS web site.
Practice tests, test preparation classes, and study groups can be great tools to help you pass your tests.
The time and cost of evaluating your foreign degree and being eligible for teacher certification depends on many factors, including:
- The service you choose to evaluate your degree
- The completeness of your educational records (more detail, such as your school's official descriptions of classes you took, is helpful)
- The speed of your foreign educational institution's process and foreign mail system
- The cost and speed of services in the state of Illinois
We provide two hypothetical scenarios to show some of the variety of results that immigrant professionals may find when they seek to become teachers in Illinois. Please consider these scenarios as two examples out of many possibilities. Your experience will vary.
|Step||More Efficient Scenario|
Approximate Time and Cost
|Less Efficient Scenario
Approximate Time and Cost
Degree evaluation by a credential organization
Application for certification and evaluation by the Illinois State Board of Education
Meet any deficiency
Pass certification tests for the state of Illinois
|More Efficient Total
About 1 1/2 years + $1,850
|Less Efficient Total
About 2 years + $3,250
Other Teacher Certificates
Up to now, this Guide has explained the steps for Initial and Standard Teacher Certifications. However, there are some other special teaching certificates that you may want to consider. These certificates often have some restrictions (for example, they are valid for a shorter time or cannot be renewed in the same way Standard certificates are renewed). But other certificates may also get you into the classroom faster while requiring few or no extra courses.
Part Time Provisional Teacher Certificate
This 2-year certificate is good for people teaching classes in grades 6-12 who only want to work part time. With this certificate, you can only teach 2 courses at a time. You must show proof of some university education including courses in the subject you want to teach.
Transitional Bilingual Certificate
This is a 6-year teaching certificate for people who are bilingual and can teach subjects in both English and another language, in K-12 schools. These teachers help immigrant children in Illinois schools, or teach in dual language programs, which are programs that teach two languages to a group of students with both native English speakers and foreign language native speakers.
The state of Illinois now has Transitional Bilingual Certificates for Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Polish, Russian, Urdu and Vietnamese.
- Proof you had a teacher certificate valid in the last 5 years (foreign equivalents are acceptable) OR
- Proof of a university degree equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor's Degree.
Language Requirements (proof of skills in English and a second language):
- English: proof that you took university coursework in English OR pass the English Language Proficiency Examination
- Second language: proof that you took university coursework in the second language OR pass an exam (prepared by the State Board of Education)
You may need to work directly with a school district to get individual help with this certificate.
Other Career Opportunities Related to Teaching
The field of education employs people in a wide variety of positions. Some of these do not require teacher certification and may be worth considering as a first job as you return to your field in the US. Other positions may require other skills and credentials, including advanced degrees.
Teacher's Aide: Paraprofessional Training
Paraprofessionals, or Teacher's Aides and Assistants, help a classroom teacher with administrative work in the classroom. They also may provide teaching and other support for small groups or individual students with specific needs. Usually, paraprofessionals do not plan lessons or manage the classroom alone. Paraprofessionals have a certification process that a foreign-educated teacher should qualify for with no difficulty. This could be an interesting survival job for professionals who want to work in a U.S. classroom while they finish the teacher certification process. It is also an excellent way to network, to learn about a particular school and district, and to demonstrate your teaching abilities. Once you are working within a district, your chances of getting a permanent teaching position within that district increase greatly.
Some substitute teachers are also certified teachers who work full time as substitutes. However, you do not need Standard Certification to apply for a Substitute Teaching Certificate. You need to have a Bachelors Degree, pay a $50 fee, give fingerprints for a criminal record check, and attend an orientation session in your region.
A substitute without Standard Teacher Certification can work a maximum of 90 school days per year in one district; the exception is Chicago public schools, where there is no limit. Substitutes can work the entire school year if they move from one district to another. A Substitute Teaching Certificate is valid for 4 years, but it cannot be renewed.
Working as a substitute teacher can help you experience the differences within the U.S. school system. Again, networking is important: if you find a district you enjoy, getting to know teachers and administrators can lead to steady work as a substitute and permanent job offers once you have your Initial Teacher Certification.
Earn a US Education Degree
If your foreign degree is in teaching, you should be able to transition to teaching in the US without going back to school for a degree program in the US. However, some people choose to apply for Masters or Doctoral programs in education in the US for career advancement opportunities or to access special government funding to fill high-demand teaching positions. You will need to research these opportunities independently.
Here are a few more things to think about if you are considering teaching certification:
Joining a professional association
Professional Associations are a resource for working teachers and provide opportunities for professional development and networking with others in your field. They also help set acceptable working conditions for teachers and give information and opinions on education policy in Illinois and across the U.S. They do not help individuals with the certification process or with getting a job. Once you are certified you may want to join a professional association.
- State: Illinois Education Association
- National: National Education Association
There are many other professional associations that bring together teachers based on different characteristics like subject or grades taught, ethnicity, gender, and religion.
Follow the guidelines for renewal and recertification through the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Depending on your teacher's certificate, you will have to continually update your certification and earn professional continuing education credits. You can learn more about this through ISBE.
Licensing mobility (reciprocity)
Some states agree to accept the certifications of other states this is called reciprocity. However, Illinois does not participate in a reciprocity program at this time. This means that if you get an Illinois teaching certificate and later you want to work in another state, you will have to contact the other state s education department to learn if you can work as a teacher while you become certified in that state.
Public schools have professional jobs in school administration that you may qualify for. They require a special Administration Certification and some management experience. Many school districts desire candidates to have a Doctoral degree in education for some high-ranking positions. This position requires certification and five years of experience teaching in the US.
Common Words used in this article
- Information on Certification for Prospective (future) Teachers from the Illinois State Board of Education
- The Regional Offices of Education are the local offices for the Illinois State Board of Education. Your local office can answer many questions you have about certification. Call them and ask to speak to a Certification Clerk, especially one who works with foreign-educated teachers. You may talk over the phone or ask for an appointment. Ask what information you should bring with you if you make an appointment.
Foreign degree evaluation:
- A list of Credentialing Organizations accepted by Illinois for evaluating your foreign teaching degree
- Teacher certification study guides by subject
- Teacher certification testing dates and registration information
- Descriptions of certificates and teaching positions that don't require a degree program. This includes the following: Substitute certificate; Provisional Vocational certificate; Part Time Provisional certificate; Transitional Bilingual Certificate; Approval as a Bilingual Teacher or a Teacher of English as a Second Language; Para-Professional Approval; Approval of Educational Interpreters
- Applications for endorsement
Request documents early
Use certified translator
Use approved evaluation service
Consider private schools