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Alternative Certification for Special Education?


Facing vast special-education teacher shortages and the highly qualified requirement set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act, some districts are turning to alternative certification as a way to fill the void.

While proponents of alternative-route programs argue that they attract many candidates who may not have chosen the traditional track, critics are concerned that non-traditional routes, especially fast-track certification programs, aren't up to par. Certifying inadequately prepared teachers, the critics warn, will be equally, if not more, detrimental to student achievement in the long run.

What do you think? Is alternative certification a poorly chosen last resort for meeting the special education teacher quota? Has the No Child Left Behind Act created an impossible situation for school districts? How effective are alternative programs in preparing teachers to deal with the unique issues that arise in a special education classroom? How best can schools address teacher shortages in special education?


I am one of those "altenative" teachers in two respects--not only am I getting my certification through PACE (SC's alt. certif. program), but I am teaching at my district's alternative school. I have a bachelor's and a master's, but didn't get certified while in school because I didn't think I'd want to teach. And then I changed my mind. I am learning as much through PACE as I would in college, just in a shorter amount of time. The heart of teaching comes not from what you read in books and talk about in a college class, but what you learn from experience in the classroom. This is especially true at an alternative school. One day I think I'll write a book about it, because I'm in a totally different academic world from the one described in many teaching books. But I dare say I'm just as good of a teacher as any who went to college for certification.

I think that much more training needs to be given in classroom management and in how to deal with the many emotional issues that arise within the special education population. I went to college after working many years, and majored in it, with an emphasis on Specific Learning Disabilities, but I teach (due to changes in IDEA and budget!) the emotionally handicapped, some severely emotionally disturbed, and educable mentally handicapped. This is not a prime mix for a class that offers a feeling of belonging and safety but I do my best and have 9 years of experience, all in SE, but to come in as an alternate who has not dealt with the behaviors and needs, well I have seen many folks who believe that teaching this population is'easy', because they think the classes are smaller, and some of them seem to think that its easy due to the 'kids not being able to do as much'. A few alternate certs. I have seen do an excellant job, but across the board, more training in discipline, behaviors and the differences in exceptionalities should be required, plus a period of internship with an experienced SE teacher should be required before we throw these folks into total control. The paperwork alone is enough to sink a first year college-trained teacher, not all schools have a separate slot for IEP/Re-evals/Testing. These kids are so important, and needy in ways that the'regular' population isn't, they deserve the best they can get, not just the quickest to fill a space. How to get more teachers to stay? Train them better to begin with, make the paperwork less important than the student, and train the 'regular' teachers that 'our' kids are just as intelligent and able as any other.

I began my career as a special ed teacher in Virginia when the school district I lived in became desperate for a replacement elementary special ed teacher in the second half of the school year. I had already worked with conduct disordered adolescents in residential treatment for many years as well as street youth and single parents who were learning job skills while working. So the concept of working with individuals who had learning disadvantages was not new for me. Nor was the idea of learning on the job. I was given a conditional license to teach and took graduate courses in special education from Virginia Tech at the same time. Within 3 years I was not only a certified teacher, but had also completed my M.Ed. Yes, I did learn on the job, but my first year was a day-to-day effort. I lacked an understanding of pedagogical theory and sound, research based (take that to mean research in the broadest way, not simply quantifiable, experimental research) knowledge. My efforts were well meaning, the students loved me, but did they receive a purposeful, well designed program? I don’t think so. Yes, they learned and for the most part they enjoyed school and certainly parents, colleagues and administration were pleased. However, I think it is a grave mistake to think that teacher education is a side-issue. If there is no firm foundational understanding of child development, pedagogical frameworks, curriculum design and appropriate ways of developing a classroom conducive to teaching and learning, all the heart in the world is not going to move children forward in their cognitive and affective development. We risk wasting time…children, their teachers and parents, and administrators need to consider what combination of disposition and teacher education is best for all stakeholders.

After 34 wonderful years in the field of Special Education, as an SLP, teacher, and supervisor in a large school system I have became involved in an alternative certification program as a field based mentor with the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore. Two years ago we interviewed 55 folks for 15 slots in the program. This June,06 12 of these folks will graduate as highly qualified special education teachers. Results of this program have been outstanding. Principals are extremley pleased with these highly effective teachers. Assessment has clearly documented student progess and overall results has proven the value of this excellent program. I would be more than glad to share our program with any interested folks!

I think basically that some of these people choose the alterntive route to special education as a way to get a job. A lot of them weren't successful at their first profession, so why not try special education. A special education job is easy to get considering there are not enough teachers to go around. When a position comes open, the school hires the first one interviewed because they are afraid they will get away. I believe that our alternative route has a lot to be desired. To hear some of these alternative teachers complain about these students with disabilities gets my blood boiling. Did they really think it was a cakewalk? I do think that it is the person that makes the job successful. There are plenty of good people who would make exceptionally good special education teachers, but there are plenty who would be just as bad. I also believe that the schools need to do a better job of mentoring with the special education teacher. They need to have the support to avoid being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of the job.

I too am a product of an alternative route to special education here in Hawaii. To test if I wanted to make a career change from law to special education, I took a job as an emergency-hire paraeducator in a middle school resource room and I loved it. Shortly thereafter I entered a 2-year alternative special ed program and upon completion, I believed that I had acquired enough tools to handle almost any teaching situation.

I had always wanted to become a teacher but when I entered college in the l970s, there was an over-abundance of educators. Luckily for me, I was able to afford and make the career change. I was able to work and earn a salary as a full-time special ed teacher during the day and attend courses in the evenings and weekends thanks to this alternative teaching program in special education. Today, my dream of becoming a teacher has come true and I feel so fulfilled as a person.

I am currently training paraeducators and our state now has alternative routes for teachers as well as paraeducators to attain their Associates degree and/or BA in special ed. Awesome!!!

As a director of an alternative certification program, and as a former principal that hired not only teachers from alt. cert. programs, but also traditional programs, I continue to be concerned about this discussion topic. I agree that many teachers coming from alt. cert. programs are lacking in knowledge and experience when they enter the classroom the first year. SO ARE MANY TEACHERS FROM TRADITIONAL PROGRAMS. To me, the question is not whether traditional programs are better, or whether alternative programs are better. The real question is "what does a quality program look like?" and "how do we assure that ALL programs are quality?" Our program has a stellar reputation for having our teachers ready when they first take over a classroom. We develop our curriculum and assessments in such a way that we set them up for success. We also have supports in place for them all throughout the first year to ensure their success. Many, many principals tell us they hire our teachers first for these reasons. When I was a principal, there were applicants from certain universities in the area that I would not interview, as I had seen a lack of quality over time in teachers from those universities. Alternative programs can do a great job if they put into place the curriculum and support that is needed to produce quality teachers. So can traditional programs. But both types of programs can do a disservice to students when they simply put a sturcture in place to meet certification requirements rather than a structure for assuring a quality teacher.

I have been a special ed teacher for 15 years and first came into the educaiton field through Teacher Corps. I don't think the certificate matters as much as how much support and training the teacher gets once he or she agrees to be hired. Because of No Child Left Behind, every special ed teacher has to adapt curriculum to meet academic standards. One problem with special ed certification, as I understand it, is often that certification does not prepare you to teach academic subjects.
Then, there is the range of ages, abilities, and emotional needs of the children placed in your class. Special educators have to be multi-taskers. And, as someone previously mentioned, the paperwork/computer data entry is overwhelming.
If the nation wants to have enough special ed teachers and to keep them in the profession then ongoing training and support is needed and a lot less clerical duties and pressure to fit the student to the state standards. As many of my co-workers are now saying: due to the testing requirements, the joy has gone out of teaching and many of us are no longer continuing to teach because "of the kids". Rather, it is because we need our paychecks in order to feed our own kids and we may have no other alternative but to stick it out in a situation that has us extrememly stressed and overworked.

I am looking for an alternative program in Ohio. Is there anybody who has some info? Thanks!

Not only is IDEA not followed in our district, neither is NCLB. Children suspected of having a LD are not being referred for evaluation. I believe there is an unwritten mandate for teachers to suggest retention instead of evaluation. I believe fast tracking teachers just to get bodies will make the situation worse for kids who are already at risk. How about getting some researched based programs in place and stop excluding these kids?

I am one of these "alternatively certified" teachers you speak of, and I take exception to some of the complaints leveled at these programs. Someone earlier hit on the real issue - designing a quality program and using a good screening mechanism to determine a way of selecting good applicants. The people who entered our program simply as a means of getting a job have long been weeded out, during the first year, before we began teaching in the classroom.

Our program is run through a major University in Ohio and is for three years, to get the last license - Provisional. We spent one year taking five classes in the basics of special education, before being placed in a teaching position. Most of us had a background in some form of education, whether as regular ed teachers, preschool, instructional aides, or in my case, working on a Federal Grant-Funded Eductional Research project. The ones with no background in education have struggled the most, I think.

In some ways, many of us were better prepared to handle the classroom. Most of us are older and have our own kids, unlike brand new teachers straight out of undergraduate programs. We have life experience to bring to the table, and we have a better understanding of how to handle kids. Our district offers a prepared curriculum guide for each grade level, which helps at least the teachers of high incidence classrooms like learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities and emotional disturbance, who all need to teach the general curriculum anyway. It can be modified pretty easily. I have seen great progress in most of my students over the last two years, making great strides in reading and in their behavior, social skills, etc. We had a Classroom Management class in the first year that was very helpful to everyone.

We also have PAR (Peer Assistance and Review) mentor teachers paired up with us during our first year in the classroom. In my case, the other teachers in the building, both special ed and regular ed, have been a huge help to me, providing me with assistance on the spot.

As the parent of two special needs children, I say that any program that can get more qualified teachers into the classroom (however their route) is a good thing for our kids. I think it's far worse to pluck regular ed teachers out of their element and shove them into these classrooms with almost no preparation or help.

I agree that some of these programs are inadequate at preparing people for what it's really like in the classroom, but I think it's unfair to assume that all of them are (inadequate).

I am furthering my education through an alternative program here in Florida. I worked with ESE students from 1982 to 1995 and left to pursue a career in healthcare. For me this was a great way for me to return to teaching and get the credentialing I needed. I am a life-long learner, as I believe any good educator would be. Though I don't believe teaching is for everyone, the program I entered was by interview only. I had to submit a philosophy of teaching, a resume, and all of my college transcripts.

I am in the process of working with a group of professionals to develop an Advanced Alt Route to Certification in Special Education. I am interested in learning about Alt Route programs and unique components that meet real needs in preparing professionals to be special educators. Please contact me at [email protected] with any information.

I disagree...I went to school and took a multitude of classes from Instructional Technology and teaching courses to Advanced Acting and Psychology. But in college I was planning to go straight through without stopping. After accumulating a vast amount of credits, I took some time off, had a child and now I deal with autism on a daily basis and I think I'm pretty good at it. Having a two year old with autism, I don't have time to go back to school full time and major in Special Education to enable myself to teach. I do hold a B.A. in liberal arts, but that includes much sweat and tears I've experienced over the years. The alternative route I'm going holds weekly classes and seminars regarding classroom management,Pedagogy and has provided me with Special Education literature (which I'm reading from cover to cover etc etc.) I don't think there are as many students in a college class today that hold the passion for this field as I do.

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Recent Comments

  • Davesmom727: I disagree...I went to school and took a multitude of read more
  • Sonya Kunkel, Consultant: I am in the process of working with a group read more
  • Leanne/Former ESE/Healthcare: I am furthering my education through an alternative program here read more
  • E Walker/Special Ed Teacher - Ohio: I am one of these "alternatively certified" teachers you speak read more
  • Carol/ RN-parent: Not only is IDEA not followed in our district, neither read more




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