How To Become a Teacher in California

Written by Liz Simmons

One in eight U.S. residents lives in California, the most populous state in the country. The large population of school-aged Californians guarantees the state’s ongoing need for teachers, making a teaching degree at any level a solid career move. Potential students can find many university programs offering education degrees in the state, including a variety of online teaching degrees.

Teaching in California offers many benefits, including higher-than-average salaries, plentiful job opportunities, and the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives. The average annual salary of high school teachers in California is $85,080, significantly higher than the national average of $61,660. The state boasts some of the largest school districts in the country and employs 271,805 teachers. This guide explains how to become a high school teacher in California, including requirements for teaching other grades.

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Read on to learn more about becoming a teacher in the state, including reasons to earn an education degree and how to get a teaching license in California.

California at a Glance

Per Capita Income$39,393
Full-Time Equivalent Teachers271,805
Number of Public School Districts2,174
Number of Public K-12 Schools10,437
Number of Higher Learning Institutions150

Average Annual Temperature: 59.4℉

Annual Precipitation: 22.2 inches

Major Sports TeamsLos Angeles Lakers, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks

Top California Schools for Teaching

  • University of Southern California
  • Azusa Pacific University
  • Biola University
  • Hope International University
  • San Diego State University
  • California State University-East Bay
  • Fresno Pacific University
  • California Baptist University
  • National University
  • Brandman University

Why Go to College for Education in California?

Education majors in California can choose from hundreds of universities and high-quality online learning opportunities. The state’s more than 400 two- and four-year schools provide opportunities for prospective students to find nearby education programs from nearly anywhere in the state, offering convenience and flexibility.

California values higher education and invests in its students. The state does a particularly good job of funding higher education, spending $9,078 per college student compared to the national average of $8,196.

A teaching degree may cost less in California. To attract students to the teaching profession, the Golden State offers special financial aid programs to make college degrees more affordable for future teachers. These include scholarships, grants, and loans for education students. California residents may qualify for federal TEACH grants, which offer yearly aid to those who commit to teaching in a high-need field after graduation.

Earning an education degree in California offers many opportunities for those who plan to teach in the state after finishing school. These may include networking benefits and familiarity with state certification requirements.

Postsecondary Education Statistics for California

California offers a large number of postsecondary institutions and better funding of higher education than the national average. The state is home to 264 four-year and 184 two-year colleges. California allocates 6.8% of tax revenue to higher education, compared to the national average of 5.8%.

Californians earn postsecondary degrees at about the same rate as residents of other states. With fewer online learners than the national average, the state is well-positioned to expand its online learning opportunities.

Higher Education in California
CA DataNational Data
Number of Four-Year Colleges2643,004
Number of Two-Year Colleges1841,579
Percentage of Students Enrolled in Distance Education29.1%34.7%
Postsecondary Education Appropriations per Full-Time Student$9,078$8,196
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education6.8%5.8%
Percentage of Adults Over 25 With an Associate Degree7.8%8.4%
Percentage of Adults Over 25 With a Bachelor’s Degree20.8%19.4%
Percentage of Adults Over 25 With a Graduate Degree or Higher12.5%12.1%
Sources: NCES, SHEEO, U.S. Census Bureau – American Community Survey

Accreditation for California Schools

Students must earn a degree from a regionally accredited school to qualify for a California teaching license. Accreditation shows that a college went through a rigorous third-party evaluation of its academic programs, faculty, and student services. Colleges can hold regional or national accreditation.

Regional accreditation is more popular and prestigious than national accreditation. Benefits of attending a regionally accredited university include the chance to receive federal financial aid and more easily transfer credit to another school. A degree from a regionally accredited school also makes it easier to qualify for graduate school or professional certifications. When choosing a school in California, look for institutions accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the state’s regional accrediting body.

Although not required by California, future teachers should look for education programs accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, which sets industry standards and assures quality of teacher education programs.

Considerations for a Teaching Degree in California

The grade level and subject you plan to teach may affect where you consider earning your teaching degree. The requirements for how to become a preschool teacher in California differ from those for becoming a middle school teacher, for example.

Not all teaching programs offer the degree level or specialization necessary for your prospective teaching career. Students should also consider degree cost, which varies significantly depending on the type of school (public or private) and tuition rates (in-state or out-of-state).

The data below can help you decide whether California offers suitable educational options for teaching programs. We discuss teaching degree levels, choosing which grade or subject to teach, and paying for your teaching degree.

Teaching Degree Levels

Students can pursue teaching degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. level. The level of degree you want to pursue may impact your school decision, since not all schools offer every type of teaching degree.

Associate Degree in Teaching

An associate degree in teaching prepares graduates for careers in education and related fields working with young children. Most graduates work as preschool teachers or in childcare. A teaching associate degree usually takes two years to complete, with many transferring to bachelor’s programs. Common teaching specializations for associate programs include early childhood education, paraprofessional education, and special education.

Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching

A bachelor’s degree in teaching from a regionally accredited university qualifies candidates for most K-12 teaching jobs in California. Learners must earn their bachelor’s from a Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC)-approved educator preparation program. Most bachelor’s programs take four years to complete. Typical degree specializations include special education, elementary education, and adult education.

Master’s Degree in Teaching

Do you need a master’s to teach in California? No, but it can expand earning potential and job opportunities. A master’s also prepares graduates for doctoral programs. A master’s usually takes 1-2 years to complete. Specializations may include secondary education, elementary education, educational technology, and English as a second language.

Ph.D. in Teaching

The terminal degree in the field, a doctorate in teaching qualifies students for high-level management, administrative, public policy, and postsecondary teaching careers. Program length varies from 3-7 years. Doctoral candidates often design their own area of specialization, developing expertise in a narrow area of the field. A major component of a doctorate in teaching includes researching, writing, and defending a doctoral dissertation.

What Grade or Subject Will You Want To Teach?

Prospective teaching students should consider what grade or subject they want to teach before choosing a program. Degree emphases and concentrations vary by program. Candidates must meet state teaching requirements for specific grade levels to qualify for some teaching paths.


Preschool teachers need an associate degree, but some may hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. Typical concentrations include early childhood education, special education, and paraprofessional education.

Elementary School

Teaching elementary school children requires a bachelor’s with a specialization in elementary education. An associate teaching degree with a concentration in paraprofessional education or elementary education qualifies graduates to work with elementary school children as assistant teachers or paraprofessionals. Some elementary school teachers hold a master’s or Ph.D.

Middle School

Middle school teachers need a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. in teaching. They may also need a subject area specialization in the area they teach, such as math, English, or physical education.

High School

High school teachers need a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. in teaching. They also need a subject area specialization in the field they teach, such as science, math, or social studies.

Special Education

Teaching special education requires a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Special education teachers should choose a special education concentration.

On-Campus Versus Online Program Options

What type of program format do you prefer? California teaching programs offer on-campus, online, and hybrid options.


Students can choose from many traditional on-campus teaching programs in California. Ideal learners for this type of program include those coming straight from high school and others who prefer the structure and sense of community of an in-person program.

Online Programs

Online education programs offer flexibility and convenience for working teachers and others who learn well independently and want to set their own schedules. Instead of traveling to campus at a particular time, teaching students log on to the virtual classroom and complete coursework anywhere and anytime. Distance education programs may also offer accelerated options that let learners complete their degree in less time than a traditional on-campus degree.

Hybrid Programs

Students can complete many teaching degrees in California through a combination of online and in-person learning. Many education programs offer most coursework online. Students must still complete an in-person internship or student teaching experience. A hybrid teaching degree may offer the best of both worlds.
Percentage of Students Enrolled in Distance Education
Enrolled Exclusively in Distance Education CoursesEnrolled in Some but Not All Distance Education CoursesNot Enrolled in Any Distance Education Courses
CA Students11.6%17.5%70.9%
United States Students16.3%18.4%65.3%
Source: NCES

Paying for Your Teaching Degree

Although it is one of the most expensive places to live in the country, California charges its residents less for a degree from a public college than most other states. Annual in-state tuition at a four-year public university is $8,020, compared to the national average of $9,037. California charges $1,268 for in-state tuition at an average two-year college, compared to the U.S. average of $3,243. Out-of-state learners attending public four-year schools pay more, while those attending two-year public colleges in the state pay slightly less than the national average.

The average tuition of $33,483 at a private university in California outpaces the national average of $30,731. The state offers a variety of scholarships, grants, and loans for education majors.

Average Cost of College Tuition and Fees in CA, 2017-2018
Average In-State Tuition and Fees (Public Four-Year)$8,020$9,037
Average Out-of-State Tuition and Fees (Public Four-Year)$29,173$25,657
Average Tuition and Fees (Private Four-Year)$33,483$30,731
Average In-State Tuition and Fees (Public Two-Year)$1,268$3,243
Average Out-of-State Tuition and Fees (Public Two-Year)$7,504$7,971
Source: NCES

In-State Versus Out-of-State Tuition

Out-of-state students pay more than three times the amount of tuition assessed to in-state learners at many schools in California. Legal residents of the state qualify for in-state tuition. Some online teaching programs offer out-of-state learners a tuition discount. Non-residents may also receive a tuition discount by applying to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), a tuition reciprocity agreement between California and 15 other western states.

WICHE coordinates the Western Undergraduate Exchange, Western Regional Graduate Exchange, Professional Student Exchange Program, and Online Course Exchange. Out-of-state students can attend programs at participating schools in California and receive a substantial discount, paying no more than 150% of that institution’s in-state tuition rate.

California’s Cost of Living

Students should consider how California’s high cost of living may affect their education budget. The second most expensive state in the U.S. after Hawaii, California’s cost of living index score of 151.7 indicates that residents of the state pay more than 50% more for basic necessities of daily life than the national average. Factors included in cost of living include the cost of housing, transportation, groceries, and utilities.

Other School Selection Criteria

In addition to the factors above, prospective teaching students should consider a variety of other issues when selecting a school.

  • How competitive is the admission process? Do you meet all minimum requirements? Ask about the program’s acceptance rate.
  • What type of admission materials does the program require? Applicants must submit letters of recommendation, a resume, statement of purpose, and standardized test scores. Gathering these materials takes time.
  • Do you prefer the resources and diversity of a large school or the intimacy of a small one?
  • Does the teaching program facilitate connections with former students? Many learners use their school’s alumni network for mentorship, internship, and job opportunities.
  • Does a school’s prestige or reputation matter to you?
  • What types of student resources does the university offer? Look for career services, tutoring, a writing center, and a library.
  • How long does it take to complete the degree? Program length varies by number of required credits, availability of classes throughout the year, and accelerated options.
  • Do you want to participate in extracurricular activities or student groups? Research your options.
  • What kind of instructors do you prefer? Consider instructional styles, research interests, backgrounds, and credentials of prospective teaching faculty.

Teaching in California

Teaching in California offers benefits like a strong state economy, high numbers of teaching jobs, competitive salaries, and the chance to make a difference. California teachers also get to experience the state’s beautiful landscapes, cultural and social influence, diverse communities, and some of the best universities in the country. The average California teacher salary of $82,282 exceeds the national average by more than $20,000. According to data from the California Department of Education, teachers in the state’s wealthiest districts make as much as $136,000 a year.

California teachers know that the state cares that its children receive a good education. In 2013, California launched the Local Control Funding Formula, an education initiative that brings more money to high-need schools. The new approach to education, known as “The California Way,” focuses on developing 21st century skills, promoting equity, and helping teachers develop skills to support students’ needs.

Teachers can find jobs at public, charter, magnet, and private schools. Major school districts include the Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Fresno Unified, and Long Beach Unified. The Los Angeles Unified district alone serves nearly 600,000 students. California also boasts many well-known private and college preparatory schools, including Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, San Francisco University High School, and the Harker School in San Jose.

How to Become a Teacher in California

Requirements for becoming a teacher vary by state, and state licenses do not transfer to other states. Students can explore several pathways to teaching in California, with conditions set by the CTC. The Golden State maintains stricter teaching requirements than many others.

All public school teachers in California need a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school and must complete a CTC-approved teacher preparation program. Those who earn a teaching or education degree usually meet this requirement while in school and become teachers in four years. Prospective teachers who did not complete a teacher preparation program as part of their bachelor’s program can earn licensure through alternative certification.

California also requires teachers to earn a subject- or grade-specific credential. Elementary school teachers must earn the multiple subject testing credential and middle and high school teachers complete the single subject teaching credential. Special education teachers earn the educational specialist instructional credential. Each credential requires applicants to pass a relevant test.

Steps to Becoming a California Teacher

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution to teach elementary school, secondary school, or special education. Preschool teachers need an associate degree in childhood development or early childhood education and must also complete a field experience.
  • Complete a CTC-approved teacher preparation program including requirements for the grade or subject you want to teach (usually included in a teaching bachelor’s program). This includes 600 hours of student teaching.
  • Apply for the credential for the grade or subject you want to teach after passing the appropriate subject area test.
          • Preschool: Apply for the child development teacher permit.
          • Elementary: Apply for the multiple subject teaching credential.
          • Secondary: Apply for the single subject teaching credential.
          • Special Education: Apply for the education specialist instruction credential.
  • Take the California Basic Educational Skills Test and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers.
  • Complete a fingerprint application and pass a criminal background check.

Education Requirements for California Teachers

Education and training requirements vary depending on what grade level or subject you plan to teach. Teaching preschool requires an associate degree in childhood development or early childhood education. California educators teaching elementary, secondary, and special education must hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university. The bachelor’s need not be in education. Those who plan to earn a single subject teaching credential to teach secondary school often pursue their bachelor’s degree in the subject they plan to teach.

Prospective educators in California must also complete a CTC-approved teacher preparation program. Earning a bachelor’s in education from a regionally accredited school fulfills this requirement. Those with a bachelor’s in another field may complete the teacher preparation program separately through alternative licensure. Do you need a master’s to teach in California? No, but earning a master’s degree or doctorate in education can open doors to greater career opportunities and higher salaries.

Teaching program length varies by degree level. Typically students spend two years to complete an associate degree, four for a bachelor’s degree, and two for a master’s degree. A Ph.D. takes 3-5 years.

Teacher Certification and Licensure in California

The CTC sets the requirements for how to get a teaching license in California. Certification qualifications for teachers vary by grade level and subject. Elementary school teachers need a multiple subject teaching credential, while middle and high school teachers must earn a single subject teaching credential. Teaching special education in California requires an education specialist instruction credential.

Teachers can pursue their California teaching credential through many routes, including a university, school district internship program, university internship program, or with experience from teaching at a private school. Applicants must complete education and teacher preparation program requirements and pass the appropriate exam. Everyone applying for a preliminary teaching certification must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test.

Once an applicant meets all criteria for licensure, they submit college transcripts, proof of completion of an approved teacher preparation program, test scores from all required exams, and their fingerprints/background check.

California teachers renew their licenses every five years. A California teaching license does not seamlessly transfer to other states. However, California participates in an interstate agreement maintained by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, which offers reciprocity in recognizing teaching credentials between states. This allows teachers to apply for a license in another state more easily.

Student Teaching and Other Required Experience

Teaching in California requires extensive classroom experience. Student teaching plays an essential role in the teacher training programs required for licensure. The state’s CTC-approved teacher preparation program requirement for elementary, secondary, and special education teachers includes a student teaching experience. All approved teacher preparation programs must include 600 hours of student teaching.

Preschool teachers must complete a field experience to qualify for the California child development permit. California does not require teachers to earn continuing education credits once they receive their teaching credential.

Many teacher candidates have been unable to obtain the required hours of student teaching due to school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CTC may temporarily change its rules to allow prospective new teachers to get their credentials without meeting the 600-hour student teaching requirement.

Alternative Paths to Becoming a California Teacher

Many teachers decide to pursue a career in education after completing a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to teaching. Rather than making them earn a bachelor’s degree in teaching, California offers alternative paths to licensure. Applicants must complete an approved teacher preparation program, which usually takes 1-2 years.

The CTC outlines possibilities for earning your teaching credential through alternative paths, including a college internship program, a school district internship program, or with experience from teaching at a private school.

Out-of-state applicants can earn their teaching credential in California by applying for reciprocity through the state’s participation in the interstate agreement. Teachers applying for a California license from another state must submit official transcripts verifying their bachelor’s degree, a copy of their out-of-state teaching license, and evidence of fingerprinting.

Finding a Teaching Job in California

One of the best ways to find a teaching job in California is to look at job boards for major school districts where you might want to work. Other ways to search include job fairs, networking opportunities at annual education conferences, and participation in professional organizations. Joining the California Teachers Association offers a variety of opportunities to network with other education professionals and learn about potential job openings.

  • TEACH CaliforniaTEACH California offers information about locations that need teachers, choosing where to teach, increasing your marketability, and tips for finding jobs in the state.
  • Oakland Unified School DistrictOUSD’s job board lists all open career opportunities with the district. The website also includes information about hiring events, salary schedules, benefit information, and the Golden State Teacher Grant Program.
  • Los Angeles Unified School DistrictLAUSD lists all open career opportunities on its job board, including teaching, administrative, and non-teaching jobs.
  • San Diego Unified School DistrictFind all of the open career opportunities with SDUSD on its job board. Prospective employees can learn about salaries, job descriptions, and benefits of working for the district.

Notable California Schools and Districts

  • Los Angeles Unified School District

    The second largest school district in the country, LAUSD serves more than 700,000 students from diverse communities. Because of its size, new teachers may qualify for a large number of career opportunities here.

  • San Francisco Unified School District

    Founded in 1851, SFUSD boasts 114 schools. The district’s emphasis on social justice may appeal to many new teachers seeking to make a difference serving marginalized communities. Teachers gain access to instructional coaching and teacher leadership opportunities that can lead to career advancement.

  • San Diego Unified School District

    Another of the country’s largest school districts, SDUSD employs more than 15,000 people and represents over 200 schools. Because of its large size, the district always needs new teachers.

California Teacher Salaries

How much do teachers make in California? Teaching in California garners higher salaries than in most other states. The average California teacher salary exceeds the national average by more than $20,000. Typical salaries vary by grade level, with those teaching the youngest children making significantly less.

The average salary of kindergarten teachers in California is $73,480, compared to the national average of approximately $60,000. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers in the state all earn an average of more than $80,000 a year. Teachers of all grade levels earn more in California.

Other factors that impact teaching salaries include experience, degree level, and district. Teachers earn more as they gain experience and earn higher levels of degrees. Because school districts receive their funding primarily through local property taxes, teacher salaries vary widely depending on whether they teach in a low-income or high-income district. New teachers in California should also consider the state’s high cost of living when deciding to take a job here.

California Teacher Salaries

Average Annual Salary of Public Elementary and Secondary Teachers, 2018-19

Average Annual Salary

California Teachers

Average Annual Salary



Source: NCES

Annual Mean Wage by Teaching Level in California, 2019

Annual Base Salary of Elementary and Secondary Teachers by Education and Experience, 2017-18

0-2 Years3-5 Years6-10 Years11-20 Years20+ YearsAverage, All Levels
CA Teachers with a Bachelor’s$54,810$60,060$66,060$77,520$83,560$72,230
National Average of Teachers with a Bachelor’s$42,440$44,490$46,990$54,380$60,770$49,890
CA Teachers with a Master’s$61,740$71,030$83,340$91,090$81,320
National Average of Teachers with a Master’s$51,050$56,140$65,700$73,430$63,120
Sources: NCES, NCES

California Trends in Education

Statistics Surrounding California Schools and Education

With more than 6 million K-12 students and per-pupil expenditures on par with the national average, new educators can find a variety of opportunities for teaching in California. Though public school enrollment faces declining numbers in the state, the BLS still projects increased demand for teachers of all kinds in California between 2018 and 2028. Teachers 55 or older make up 20% of all educators in California, while the national average ranks lower at 16.5%. As older teachers retire, California may see more job openings for new teachers than other states.

Total Students, All Grades6,272,734, 2018-1956.4 million, Fall 2020
Pupil/Teacher Ratio23/1, 2018-1916.0, 2016
Per-Pupil Expenditure, 2018$12,664$12,654
Change in Public Elementary and Secondary School Enrollment, 2017-2020+3%+7%
Projected Change in Public Elementary and Secondary School Enrollment, 2017-2029-3%+1%
Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) for Public High School Students, 2017-1883%85%
Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Teachers271,805, 2018-193.7 million, Fall 2020
Percentage of Teachers 55 or Older, 2017-201820%16.5%
Source: NTPS, NCES

Number of Public Schools by Level, 2017-18

Elementary schools comprise the vast majority of public schools in California. To improve their job prospects, education majors should consider earning a degree focused on children of elementary school age.

Combined Elementary and Secondary6516,278
Special Education1551,903
One-Teacher Schools34188
Source: NCES

CA Employment by Teaching Level

The BLS projects many job openings for teacher assistants and preschool teachers. These positions require only an associate degree. The BLS also projects more jobs for elementary school and secondary school teachers in California. The state boasts more elementary school teacher positions than any other type of teaching job. To boost their employment options, education majors may want to consider getting an associate or bachelor’s with a concentration in early childhood education, elementary school education, or secondary school education.

Teaching LevelCA EmploymentCA Projected Growth, 2018-28National EmploymentNational Projected Growth, 2018-28
Teacher Assistants123,200+5.7%1,380,300+4.0%
Substitute Teachers615,700+3.3%
Preschool Teachers63,600+10.1%523,600+7%
Special Education, Preschool24,000+7.9%
Kindergarten Teachers11,200+5.4%134,500+3.9%
Elementary School Teachers187,300+4.9%1,434,400+3.3%
Special Education, Kindergarten and Elementary School17,400+4.0%184,300+2.8%
Middle School Teachers44,900+5.1%615,700+3.5%
Special Education, Middle School2,400+4.2%86,800+2.8%
Secondary School Teachers124,000+5.1%1,072,500+3.6%
Special Education, Secondary School7,700+5.2%142,000+3.0%
Source: Projections Central


Frequently Asked Questions

Does California have online teaching programs?

California offers online teaching programs. Students can complete most program requirements online, but student teaching hours typically take place in person under the supervision of a licensed teacher.

How do you get a teaching license in California?

To get a teaching certificate, California residents must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and complete an approved teacher preparation and subject matter programs. Teachers must also pass all required exams and a background check.

Do you need a master’s to teach in California?

California does not require a master’s degree to teach. Public school teachers in the state need a bachelor’s degree. Earning a master’s degree may increase career opportunities and pay.

Can you be a teacher without a teaching degree in California?

Teaching in public schools in California requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of an approved teacher preparation program. The state does not require a teaching degree for private school teachers.

How much do teachers make in California?

The average California teacher salary is $82,282, much higher than the national average for teachers of $61,730. Pay varies by grade level and specialization.

Is there a teacher shortage in California?

California faces a teacher shortage. You can help address the lack of qualified teachers by getting your teaching degree and teaching license in the state. California’s teacher shortage affects up to 80% of its school districts.

Professional Teaching Organizations in California

  • California Teachers AssociationCTA represents more than 310,000 educators in California and boasts 1,100 local chapters. The association offers teacher scholarships, events, training opportunities, and leadership resources.
  • California Teacher Development CollaborativeCATDC offers learning experiences and leadership opportunities for teachers in California seeking professional growth. The organization’s leadership fellows program for experienced educators develops skills for independent school leadership.
  • California Association for Bilingual EducationA nonprofit organization founded in 1976, CABE promotes bilingual education in California. Members can join their local chapter and gain access to scholarships, professional development resources, and a monthly newsletter.
  • California School Library AssociationCSLA advocates for school library programs in California. The group offers professional development resources, organizes events, publishes newsletters and journals, and maintains a resource database for school librarians.

Related Reading

Teaching Programs in California

Students can find many high-quality teaching programs at all degree levels in California. The below list of teaching programs only includes accredited schools. Read on to learn more about some of the best teaching programs in the state.