Many people don't decide that they want to become a teacher until they've earned a college degree and begun a career. Due to the popularity of teaching as a second career, more institutions are adapting certification programs to meet the needs of career changers. With a criminal justice degree, you may already have some of the coursework you need to obtain your certification. However, depending on your state's licensure requirements, you will likely need additional coursework in pedagogy and possibly also the content area you want to teach.
Decide what grade level you'd like to teach. The coursework you will need to complete will differ depending on whether you want to teach pre-kindergarten, elementary or secondary students. Certification Map, an online service partnered with the University of Southern California's education program, explains that most districts require coursework in education, while elementary school teachers generally need a variety of basic subject coursework and secondary teachers require specialized coursework in the area they want to teach. If you plan to teach elementary school, you may have satisfied some of the content area requirements while earning your criminal justice degree, particularly if your major required coursework in social studies or history.
Identify the subject you'd like to teach, if you intend to teach middle or high school. If your degree program required you to take coursework in history, economics or the social sciences, you may have some of the coursework needed to teach social studies. Some criminal justice programs also require students to declare a minor, which may have provided coursework needed for other content areas.
Contact your college for copies of your transcript, and call your state's department of education to find out the requirements for certification in the grade level and subject area you want to teach. Some departments of education will audit your transcript, identify what courses count toward your certification and outline what coursework you still need to complete. Also, find out if your state offers alternative licensure programs that allow you to begin teaching while completing your coursework.
Identify what requirements you still need to complete. With a criminal justice degree, you will likely need pedagogical and content area coursework. Some districts offer alternative licensure options, but you often must meet the content area requirements before beginning such a program.
Find programs that meet your needs, both in terms of coursework, location and time commitment. If you are working in a criminal justice career currently, you may need classes that meet in the evenings, weekends or online. Many colleges offer these options for career changers, and there are also online programs that award teacher certifications. However, unless the program guarantees certification in your state, you should always check with your state's department of education first to be sure that they will accept a certificate from that program.
Tips & Warnings
- Because a criminal justice degree often doesn't contribute many credits toward your certification requirements, getting started in your certification program can be discouraging. Keep in mind, though, that your degree will confer advantages to you as a teacher that you cannot measure in credit hours. Your work in the criminal justice field has likely taught you stress- and time-management skills that new teachers directly out of college struggle to master. Your criminal justice studies and work also bring an important, real-world perspective that will help you to engage and challenge your students.
- If you are completing your certification while continuing to work in your field, it is likely that you are taking coursework online or even cobbling together requirements from different institutions. Unless your program specifically guarantees certification in your state, be sure to check with your state department of education every six months to be sure that the certification requirements haven't changed, that distance-learning or out-of-state coursework is still acceptable and that you are still on the right path to certification.
- Certification Map: Become a Teacher
- U.S. Department of Education: Survival Guide for New Teachers
- "School of Education Handbook"; American Public University System; 2010