Vocational Teacher Certification


Do you love to cook? Are you good with your hands? Do you want to teach but don’t like the idea of sitting in a classroom lecturing all day?

Vocational teaching may be a good fit for you. This profession offers educators an alternative to the traditional setting of academic classrooms (although vocational schools have increased their academic offerings in recent years). These teachers directly help students become the people they want to be and do the things they want to do, whether it’s taking on culinary arts, auto mechanics, health care, or one of the many other occupational skills that are taught in a vocational setting.

Potential vocational teachers have many options. These classes are included in traditional schools as well as schools devoted to vocational studies. In fact, almost all students (or 96.6%) graduate from high school having taken at least one vocational course, according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Education.

Perhaps most importantly, these teachers get to do what they love every day and share their enthusiasm with their students. Teachers who like to work on cars can tinker on auto repairs on a daily basis. Cosmetology instructors can practice their craft alongside students who will one day reach the skill level of their teachers and possibly beyond it. As a result, these teachers can keep their skills fresh plus gain the satisfying experience of watching their students’ progress under their tutelage.

Moreover, vocational teachers play many rewarding roles. They act as trainers, mentors, and career counselors. They share their expertise, and they influence and set up students for their profession. It’s a gratifying experience for anyone who has a specialty and the means for communicating their knowledge.

Knowledge is not enough to qualify for such a job, however. Certification is necessary to become a vocational teacher.

What is Certification?

Certification shows that a vocational teacher is knowledgeable about their particular skill and is serious enough about their role that they have taken the time to educate themselves and pass a test to prove their proficiency. Getting certificated implies that vocational teachers will continue to keep themselves up-to-date by taking additional classes during their tenure. It also solidifies their status as well-trained subject matter experts.

The Benefits of a Practical Education
  • Students who go to schools with highly integrated career and technical (or vocational) education and academic programs perform better in reading, mathematics, and science than students who attend schools where these areas are not integrated, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.
  • Graduates of career and technical teachings are 10% to 15% more likely to be in the workforce.
  • They may earn as much as 9% more than their counterparts who solely took academic courses.

Source: Association for Career and Technical Education

Like other teachers, vocational teachers need to have a state-issued certification or license. Specific requirements for certification vary by state (explore your state’s certification requirements here). In general, states expect potential vocational educators to have completed a bachelor’s degree or have extensive work experience. Potential teachers should also complete a preparation program and a test, such as the Praxis exam for vocational general knowledge, which is a multiple-choice test that includes questions about social studies, mathematics, and science.

Potential teachers can seek out different levels of certificates in some states to start out in the classroom if they lack substantive teaching experience and post secondary education history. They will be expected to continue their education to eventually achieve higher certification. In these cases, before they will be hired, these teachers should be licensed to work in their area of expertise.

The Roles of a Vocational Teacher

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 103,000 teachers provide career and technical education, which is another term used for vocational education that was made more commonplace by its use in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act. This number is expected to be maintained through 2020.

Working on a Workforce

For the most part, vocational teachers have the satisfaction of knowing where their students are headed. They are providing the basis for many occupations, including:

  • Agriculturalists
  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Barbers
  • Child care providers
  • Cosmetologists
  • Graphic designers
  • Home health aides
  • Hotel managers
  • Interior decorators
  • Physical therapists
  • Plumbers
  • Registered nurses
  • Veterinary assistants

Most vocational teachers work at the high school level, and some teach in middle schools. They specialize in one area and are responsible for introducing and expanding students’ skills in that area so that, eventually, the students will be ready for work when they graduate.


Vocational teachers help their students perfect a trade and prepare them for a successful career. In effect, these teachers are always surrounded by apprentices eager to learn a particular skill.

However, vocational teachers have to do more than talk about a subject; they need to have the means to show students how to do tasks. For an industrial arts teacher, they will need to be in a setting where tools and materials are readily available. Cosmetology teachers will work in an area that has mirrors and equipment for haircuts and spa treatments. And culinary arts teachers will have access to a kitchen and all the supplies necessary for showing students how to become chefs and line cooks.

These types of settings enable teachers to give their students hands-on experience in their chosen field. Vocational teachers can walk around as their students work to check on their progress and give them individualized attention. The most effective way for students to learn is by doing, and these environments will make that possible. Indeed, according to a 2005 report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 81% of dropouts believe if they had had “more real world learning,” they may have stayed in school.

Practical training benefits teachers as well since this type of teaching varies on a daily basis and keeps the work interesting.


Vocational teachers are working with students in a field that students may likely stick with upon graduation. For that reason, these teachers are in a prime position to have a lasting effect on their students as they can influence their lifelong ambitions.

These teachers can fill the role of mentors. They give advice to students over whether the subject they are working on is appropriate for them. They can also make suggestions about their career paths.

A great way to help students confirm the path they want to take is by exposing them to other mentors outside of the school. Effective vocational teachers often partner with nearby businesses to connect students with internships, onsite visits, and training. Teachers may use this experience to help their students find jobs upon graduation.

Teaching How to Work Well with Others

Vocational teachers help students develop a skill that can’t be taught through lectures. They show them the merits of teamwork. This is something that will be invaluable when students go off into the real world and have to work with various personalities that make up their coworkers and bosses.

Teachers guide students to work together toward an end goal, such as baking a wedding cake, renovating an old car, or designing kitchen cabinets. That experience is tremendously rewarding for the teachers as they get to see firsthand the progress their students have made from the first day of introducing a concept, to the day when a project has been successfully completed.

Another interesting aspect of being a vocational teacher is setting up practice scenarios so that students – most of whom will be in the service industry – can see what their future jobs will really be like. For example, teachers can have their physical therapy students help the school’s athletes with getting ready for games by doing things like taping ankles. They could also invite local residents to try student services, such as a prepared luncheon or a haircut.

An Evolving Curriculum

Gone are the days when vocational schools had the stigma of serving only troubled teens who had few aspirations. They now serve a range of students and a range of skills for industries including technology and health care.

Through various tweaks of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, the schools emphasize academics more than they did in the past. There is no longer a presumption that students of these schools won’t go to college; instead, the curriculum offers a mix of training and education to give multiple options when they graduate.

At the same time, there is wide recognition that the type of coursework taught by certified vocational teachers is necessary for the good of the economy. Occupations that come out of vocational degrees continue to grow. In fact, some technology companies have taken it upon themselves to fund their own version of vocational schools and provide training on their software to create sets of specialists.

The curriculum will continue to evolve, much as it has since it was first supported by a federal law in 1917 creating federal funds for the development of farmers. The government recognized that the country needed to encourage people to see agriculture as a profession to fulfill a need. However, it was a different time when many low- and medium-skilled jobs provided adequate wages for one person to support his family.

At this point, unskilled workers are still needed in many jobs. However, in order to earn decent wages, all employees are expected to have had a more substantive academic background than they did in the past. Since the Perkins Act requires periodic reauthorization by Congress, pressure on the offerings of vocational schools to emphasize academics will likely continue.