Online Teacher Certification Programs: Benefits and Challenges
Many teachers don’t discover a passion for teaching until they have already finished college and worked in other careers. When you decide to make that transition from the cubicle to the classroom, you will need to begin researching teacher certification programs. While many schools hire teachers without certification on a temporary basis, most schools will require professional certification within your first two years.
In the past, there was only one path to become a certified teacher. You had to get a degree in education on a university campus. It was four years of courses and up to two semesters of student teaching – even if you already had a degree in another field. Today, the expertise that second-career teachers can bring to the classroom is much more widely recognized. If you have a bachelor’s degree in any area, you can become certified as a teacher by meeting the additional requirements.
Although teacher certification requirements vary from state to state, all teachers must have the following:
- a four-year undergraduate degree in any field
- a minimum number of hours teaching in a classroom under the guidance of a mentor teacher (student teaching)
- a passing score on one or more standardized teacher certification exams
The quality of online teacher certification programs has grown significantly in the past decade. They can offer a more streamlined, affordable and flexible path to certification for working adults. If you want to become a certified teacher, the information in this article can help you decide if an online program is right for you.
Types of Online Programs
- Synchronous. All students are online at the same time and learning together.
- Asynchronous. Students are not learning in a collaborative environment. You are not required to be logged in alongside your peers at scheduled times.
Benefits of Online Teacher Certification Programs
- Flexibility. By removing the brick and mortar classroom, time and location become less of an obstacle. For full-time workers, this can make the difference between success and failure.
- Convenience. No travel saves time and money.
- Increased Teacher Concentration. Instructors aren’t distracted by the barriers of a disruptive classroom environment.
- Better Organization. Instructors have immediate access to many online teaching tools. This can increase the effectiveness of their instruction and feedback to help make you a better teacher.
- Diverse Learning Experiences. Instructors and students come from different backgrounds and cultures.
- Easy Access and Sharing of Information. Students can use digital libraries, social media, forums, and other online tools to build a strong network and share effective resources.
- Competency-based Curriculum. The online environment lends itself to assigning practical activities that accommodate different learning styles.
- Accelerated Pace. In an asynchronous program, it is possible to design a curriculum that can be completed a the student’s pace. If you have time to dedicate to intensive study, some programs can be completed in less than a year.
- Affordable Tuition. College board 2018-2019 average 1-year cost of tuition and fees for full-time, in-state students is $10,230. The total cost of the TeacherReady Program is $5000.
“What’s great about the online program is that where I am in life right now, and where so many of our students are, we can’t physically attend classes, so having the option to work online essentially at our own pace is extremely appealing. A disadvantage would be that some people prefer and appreciate face to face interaction. We can’t physically meet with our students, but I know that we do our best to be personable and reach out as often as possible.”
-Mimi Surratt, TeacherReady Instructor
Challenges of Online Teacher Certification Programs
- Time & Effort. Because all instruction is delivered in writing, most online courses require more reading and analysis. The time it takes to interpret and learn in this environment will differ. Because you are not engaged in face-to-face discussions, you should also be prepared for the extra effort it may take to prove your mastery of a specific skill.
- Instructor Access. Instructors are available via email and phone more often than in person. Feedback and complex guidance can lose effectiveness when not conducted in person. Strong communication skills are important.
- Peer Interaction. There is less opportunity to network with other students in the traditional sense. Building relationships with instructor and classmates takes more effort. You have to be willing to interact with peers in a different way (discussion boards, Facebook groups, meet-ups, etc.).
- Time Management. Without efficient time management skills, you risk falling behind. Learning in an online environment requires internal motivation, discipline, and self-direction.
- Technology Skills. When you are working with technology, there may be a learning curve, especially if you are working with systems and tools that you have never used. Even with polished tech skills, problems can occur that are outside of your control. You have to be prepared for possible technology issues that could take you off schedule.
- Program Accreditation. Some online programs are not accredited. You have to do your research to make sure that the program you choose is nationally accredited through a national accrediting agency. Teacher certification from an online program without accreditation will not be valid in many states.
What is Alternative Certification?
“Alternative certification” is not a different certification. It’s an alternative route to the same certification that you receive in a traditional university program. This option for would-be teachers with a college education is one solution to bring effective teachers into understaffed schools.
The National Association for Alternative Certification (NAAC) is the professional organization that advocates for alternative educator preparation. NAAC reviews practices and policies relating to teacher recruitment, preparation, certification, support, assessment and retention of high-performing educators. They sponsor professional development opportunities, research grants, and more. Their goal is “to prepare highly-effective teachers who will impact student achievement in meaningful ways.”