Alternative Teacher Certification: What’s the Difference?

Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? He was a staple in my education, and he is still teaching science in a way that makes it fun and understandable. Bill Nye got into our classrooms via a rolling cart, a color tube TV, and a VHS cassette. In the classroom is where he planted a seed that grew into future scientists across the nation.

Bill Nye did not have a degree in science or education. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University. Yet, he is undoubtedly one of the most effective and influential teachers of my generation. Unfortunately, most of the Bill Nyes of the world aren’t starring in PBS shows that are broadcast to classrooms nationwide. To get the world’s inspirers and wonder-makers into the classroom and in front of today’s generation, they need professional certification – and we need to make it worth their while. That’s where “alternative” teacher certification comes in handy.

What is Alternative Teacher Certification?

Let’s clear something up: it’s not an alternative certification at all. In fact, it’s actually an alternative route to the same certification that you receive in a “traditional” program. This route helps second-career professionals become teachers without an education degree. Traditionally, teachers became certified by getting a bachelor’s degree in education. These programs last four years and include a full-time, unpaid, student teaching internship that can last up to two semesters.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, believes that this is keeping excellent teachers out of our schools:

“…in too many of our states and communities, lots of talented people find that they cannot say yes to teaching because of hoops and hurdles that have been placed in their way. If the only option for midcareer professionals interested in teaching is to go back to school for several years, then complete an unpaid student teaching assignment, all before receiving a paycheck, many wonderful candidates with families and mortgages will have no choice but to say no.”

Luckily, the traditional route is no longer the only choice. You have options.

An Option Designed for Working Adults

In our world, obstacles are abundant. Our options should be, too. If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher and don’t already have a bachelor’s degree, the traditional route makes sense. But, if you’ve already had the college experience, you probably aren’t looking to do it all again. Alternative routes to teacher certification provide solutions that allow you to concentrate on what’s important to you: your family, your bills, and becoming a teacher to make a difference.

 

Alternative Teacher Certification Routes Help Get Professionals In the Classroom

Over the past decade, a growing number of alternative routes to certification have popped up across the country. Some offer night classes that last two years. Other programs offer online coursework and student field-work that is stretched across the length of the program, which can typically be completed in less than a year. By splitting up student teaching hours like this, we have found that our students are able to manage their work schedules and complete field assignments more easily. This type of flexibility puts control back in the hands of the student, making your goals obtainable.

Do Alternative Certification Programs Skimp On Quality?

It is a common misconception that Alternative Certification programs are shortcuts and therefore cut corners. After all, won’t a teacher who has been trained for four years always be better than one who has not? Not necessarily? The National Association for Alternative Certification found that teachers who complete alternative route programs stay in the classroom longer. They reported that 83% of teachers who take alternative certification programs continue teaching after their first three years in the classroom. Compare that to a 60% retention rate for teachers who completed traditional certification programs.

Why Are More Alternatively Certified Teachers staying in the field?

Teachers who finish alternative route programs tend to bring real-world experience and get more practical training. The most successful teacher preparation programs offer carefully thought-out, research-based curriculum that can be immediately applied to show results in the classroom. In other words: more practical, less theoretical. Pair this with an adult student who has experience from another career, and you get staying power.

“I think the biggest difference that I see is that teachers who come through a program like ours, have been “out there in the Real World”. This seems to provide a perspective that the traditional certification students do not always seem to have,” Wes Gordon told me. Wes became a certified teacher through a traditional program. He is an 5th-grade teacher at Ensley Elementary in Pensacola, FL and an instructor for TeacherReady®. “… it seems that the teachers I see from the universities are expecting their experiences to match some stereotypical class they have imagined in their mind. However, when they accept a teaching position in a school that can not match that image, they panic. This leads to them leaving the profession after a few years.”

Schools have become a revolving door for teachers who feel under-prepared for life in the classroom. In their Teacher Shortage Series, the Education Commission of the States reported that the solution is two-fold: Recruit more teachers. Keep them in the classroom.

“Many [alternative] programs…attract a broader pool of applicants, especially mid-career professionals looking to change their career tracks. [They] not only increase the supply of teachers but contribute to the diversity of the teacher pool.”

Is the alternative route right for you?

Chances are that if you need flexibility in scheduling, you are considering an online alternative path to certification. The success of our program rests on our ability to recruit the right candidates for the program. Before making any decisions, it’s important to know what traditional programs offer that you won’t always find in alternative programs. If you want to know if an accelerated, online, program is right for you, ask yourself these two questions:

Are you a communicator?

You need to communicate in writing clearly and often when you are studying in an online and self-paced environment. You will not have collaborative group projects or face-to-face classes with your instructor. When I asked our instructors who became certified through a traditional program, they said that this was one of the biggest differences in the learning environment.

Wes Gordon recognizes that there can be a greater distance between the professor and the student:

“There is a certain connection or experience that I miss, not being able to meet face-to face with the students… our students cannot get that being online.” 

Wes understands that communication with his professors was vital to implementing the practices that he still uses in the classroom, today. In a program where that contact is less tangible, student and instructors must work harder to forge those connections.

“I take my role in this journey very seriously in making sure TeacherReady® students have all of the tools and information they need to do this job successfully,” says Wes.

We rely on top-performing instructors, just like Wes, who continuously work to master and perfect teaching and learning in an online environment. Our students must be able to adapt their communication styles to partner with their instructors in this process.

Are you self-motivated?

In our program, students set their due dates and move through the lessons at their own speed. This model offers great flexibility for adult students but also requires planning and discipline.

One of our instructors, Susan Vanderwerken, attended an alternative program in California. Her program met on campus for 8 hours, each week. The program had hard deadlines for all assignments. Her program did not allow her to be as agile in her scheduling, but it also offered her a snapshot of classroom life:

“[As teachers, our students] will have hard deadlines at the schools they will be working in. They will expect their students to turn in work on time…”

Our most successful students are self-motivated and set disciplined plans for themselves. If you can master this skill, it will benefit you when it comes time to lead your classroom.

If you are ready to roll-up-your-sleeves and tackle your own learning, then you are the type of teacher we need. As Wes Gordon puts it:

“Perhaps like everything else in education, we are a part of the ‘shift’ or pendulum swing that occurs every few years… Ultimately, I believe that not matter how they get there, a quality teacher is a quality teacher.”

Will you be our next Bill Nye?


Photo credit: By Ed Schipul (originally posted to Flickr as Bill Nye) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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