Alternative (Graduate) Pathways

With 60% of current New Mexico teachers entering the profession through alternative pathways, here is a detailed look at how to become a teacher in New Mexico by obtaining alternative teaching license* and taking coursework / getting trained while teaching**.

*Definition: Alternative Pathways refers to any pathway into teaching other than through a traditional college degree program. Most Alternative Pathways involve completing training and/or coursework while working as a full time K-12 teacher.

**Please be advised that getting trained to teach while teaching can be very challenging. Be prepared to spend time outside of your teaching day learning about curriculum, instruction, assessment, and content-specific strategies. Be prepared to build a network of other education professionals whose classrooms you can observe, whom you can ask day-to-day questions, and who can sometimes give you the tough feedback required to become a great teacher as quickly as possible.

Get a Teaching Job

Once you know you want to teach, it is often best to start by talking to local schools and districts to find out whether they have openings, if there are specific training programs they require or recommend, and if there are opportunities to volunteer, visit classrooms or substitute teach.

Get a NM Teaching License

Alternative Pathway teachers can get a 2-year Teaching License, which allows 2 years to complete training and pass content knowledge assessments. To get this license, you have to be accepted to a training program, have proof of a Bachelors, and pass a background check.

Get Trained

Alternative Pathway teachers must get trained via a NM Public Education Department “approved pathway or program.” This typically involves taking night and/or weekend classes during the first two years of teaching. Once training is complete, the NMPED will issue a 5 year Level 1 license.

Check out the Full NM Alternative Licensure A to Z Video Playlist

Requirements to Obtain a 2-year Alternative Level 1 License

List of Requirements to obtain a 2-year Level 1 alternative license:

  1. Transcripts showing a Bachelors Degree with 30+ credits that align with the subject area you want to teach OR post-graduate degree with 12+ graduate credits that align with the subject you want to teach
  2. Proof of acceptance into an approved licensure program or pathway
  3. Completed Licensure Application, including a $150 Fee
  4. Cleared Fingerprints and NM Gemalto Background Check

Things to consider when selecting an approved Alternative Licensure Program

Type of Program

NM Alternative Licensure Programs are offered by non-profit organizations, community colleges and 4 year colleges. Some are focused on licensure while others are licensure plus a Masters in Education. Some are cohort-based (everyone who enrolls at the same time sticks together, taking the same courses, and completes the program together) and others ask you to choose and register for classes each semester.

Licensure Only - Are shorter and cost less than Masters programs. You typically earn credits but not a degree when you finish these programs.

Masters Programs - Often take 3 or more years but allow teachers to get both a teaching license and a Masters in Education. Eventually becoming a Level 3 teacher requires having a Masters degree, so this type of program can be advantageous in the long run, even if they take longer and cost more up front.

Cohort-based Programs - typically do not require you to register each semester or to keep track of your progress toward completion. They also allow you to get to know one group of educators over time.

Semester-based Programs - tend to be more flexible and customizable. Because you select and register for your courses each semester, you can choose ones that fit better with your schedule and/or are aligned to your personal needs and interests.


Being a good teacher requires both a set of foundational skills as well as contextualized knowledge unique to the school and community where you teach. Although most programs are online right now, Alternative Licensure Programs taught nearby the community where you'll be teaching are more likely to include community-specific context. Bigger programs located in more urban areas may have less community-specific context but may meet your other needs. There is no perfect answer, but it's important to consider both foundational teaching skills as well as community-specific context when choosing a program.


Programs tend to range from 1 year for intensive, cohort-based programs to 3+ years for Masters Degree programs.


Program cost ranges from $350 for the Online Portfolio for Alternative Licensure (OPAL) to ~$15,000+ for some Masters Degree Programs. Non-profit and Community College programs tend to be on the less expensive side (a few thousand) while programs at 4 year institutions tend to be more expensive.

Program Fit

All of the licensure programs in New Mexico align to the same set of InTASC Standards but have unique approaches and styles. If you have considered the above factors and are still choosing between a few different approved options, try looking at program websites, reaching out to program graduates and program advisors/faculty to ask a few of the following questions. These questions are not designed to have right answers but, rather, to help you find a program that will work for you.

  • What is the program's philosophy?
  • What supports does the program offer?
  • What types of assignments / assessments are typically assigned? (i.e. paper-based, project-based, individual, group, etc.)
  • What is the balance of theoretical knowledge to practical knowledge?

List of additional items that must be completed prior to move from the 2 year Level 1 alternative license to the 5 year Level 1 license:

  1. Proof of Passing Scores from a state-approved Portfolio and/or Required Praxis Tests***
  2. Proof of Alternative Licensure Program Completion****
  3. Email these items to

***New Mexico recently changed its Praxis requirements and is planning to phase out the majority of the tests by Summer 2024. Check the NMPED Portfolio / Praxis requirements frequently and reach out if you want 1:1 support to determine your requirements.

****The Online Portfolio for Alternative Licensure (OPAL) Pathway works a little bit differently from what is described above. If you choose this pathway (NOT recommended for those without prior teaching experience!) you will not receive additional training while teaching but will have to prove your competency by passing a Portfolio Assessment. You need to obtain permission from your school district to enter this pathway and will need to take 1-2 Teaching of Reading courses (depending on whether you are pursuing an Elementary or Secondary license).

Video Transcript:

Hello everyone, this is Missy Wauneka with Teach For America New Mexico here with a Teach New Mexico resource for you in our series called Licensure Low Down. The goal of Teach New Mexico in general is so that anyone who wants to become a teacher in New Mexico has easy to use resources to help you through that process. Today's topic specifically will be moving from a 2-year level 1a license to a 5-year Level 1 License. We've got videos and resources for a lot of topics from the big question of "how do I teach in New Mexico?" to "what am I qualified to teach in New Mexico?" We cover all those things, but here we're zooming in very specifically on the transition from a 2 year level 1 license to a 5-year level 1 license and there's a key difference in this video compared to most of our resources, because most of our resources are geared toward folks who are becoming teachers for the first time whereas this resource is geared toward people who hold an alternative license and finished their training program and are moving to a 5-year license, so this year is for people who are already teachers. Sometimes you, you know, really focus in on that initial application and then at the end of two years you're sort of like "didn't I do everything?" and it can be a little bit hard to get your head back into "what do I still need to do to move from that 2-year to 5-year license?" Hopefully this video can help.

Let's start with a few key definitions:

First, what is a 2-year level 1a alternative teaching license? This quote comes from the Public Education Department website, just like all of the information you see here.

A quick disclaimer: I should have said this up top. I am not an employee of the Public Education Department of New Mexico. I've just helped a lot of people get their teaching licenses and become teachers. The Public Education Department is our official licensing body in New Mexico. They have all of the official, most up-to-date information on their website. I'm just trying to share that information in videos and easy to use resources so that folks who want to become teachers can do that and get support through the process.

All right, here we go. So a two-year level 1a alternative teaching license is a "non-renewable two-year license granted to allow a person to simultaneously teach and complete face-to-face courses or online courses at an approved university or community college." So your first two years of teaching you can also, nights and weekends, be attending a training program or completing other requirements to prove that you are a qualified teacher and then a 5 year "full" level one alternative teaching license is the license you get after you've provided the documentation that you completed your program and passed the required tests and so on.

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