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Taking the Shortcut to Certification

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Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that South Carolina recently became the seventh state to approve a streamlined fast-track certification program for prospective public school teachers. The program, Passport to Teaching, targets career changers and can certify would-be private school teachers in all 50 states. Although requirements vary among states, teacher candidates using the program in South Carolina can be certified to teach after passing two tests and being mentored for 10 months. Their training requires no in-classroom experience or coursework. "I don't think anybody would want an empty classroom if they can get a certified teacher," said Gayle Sawyer, executive director of the Center for Educator Recruitment Retention and Advancement. "But I do know those teachers are going to need a lot of support from their peers and principals to be successful."

What is your opinion of accelerated fast-track certification programs like this? Are they ultimately good for the teaching profession, or are they reducing the standards of entry? What do you think the requirements should be for career changers who want to become certified?

23 Comments

I find it interesting that many new teachers, after four years of college, still do not get basic courses in classroom management, behavior interventions, differentiated instruction, and a thorough understanding of different disabilities because universities claim that there is not enough time to teach them all they need to know, yet they can take someone from another field and have them ready in 10 months.

Our school has had a few teachers from other fields, and my observation is that they are not receiving enough information relative to normal child development and child psychology. They often have no children of their own, and have had careers that were devoid of children. They don't know how to get "Mary" to do what they have asked if she doesn't want to, so their answer is often to kick her out of class and not take the responsibility of teaching her. I know this is a broad generalization and that there are many teachers out there that have gone through the regular route that have the same lack of understanding.

I think this is the wrong approach to getting teaching professionals in the classroom. I feel this is a slap in the face to those of us who have spent hours (years and lots of money) to obtaining our teaching degrees. It also doesn't seem like it would even come close to meeting the requirements of "highly qualified" teachers. Would you knowingly send your child to a doctor or dentist who has only passed a couple of tests with no course work or training? Would you hire an electrician to wire your home who has only passed a couple of tests, again with no training or course work?
A better approach would be to offer free tuition to the top 10% of our high school graduates to enter the field of education and to teach at least 5 years in our nation's public school.
A second alternative would be to work to get teaching salaries on pace with other PROFESSIONALS, so teachers would stay in the field as well as recruite others to do the same. We are working longer hours, more days, have more students and a heavier work load then ever before, expectations a higher and appreciations of teachers is at an all time low. Reward the once who are dedicated and stay.

I think that an alternative certification can be effective, however, step one should be to get them into a classroom to observe and hopefully do some substitute teaching. We all know that that is a real test. I have another degree, chose to substitute fairly regularly for a couple years then returned to school part time for the certification courses. I subbed on alternative class days. I learned massive amounts in the actual classroom and found the course work extremely simple compared to my first degree. Maybe I was in the right fit for me and that is why it came easier. Nothing beats hands on training. I am now National Certified and after 20 years still love my job most of the time.

While I encourage those people who receive the call to teach later in life to pursue a career in education, I do not believe that these alternative certification programs create outstanding teachers who will have long tenures in the classroom. These programs continue to perpetuate the stereotype that "anyone" can be a teacher. Given the diverse needs of students in urban areas (which have the highest incidence of teacher shortage), it is even more imperative that new teachers receive the most preparation possible.

Any other profession would be in an uproar if similar programs were introduced in their field. Tomorrow morning I would not be able to make the decision that I wanted to be a nurse or doctor, pay a fee, practice medicine on real patients, while taking a couple of classes and attempting to pass a certification test.

It is time for state legislators and school districts to seek alternative means of attracting qualified candidates to the teaching profession, such as increased salaries or student loan forgiveness. My loans have been in deferrment for years for undergrad and grad school because my salary won't cover my living expenses and the $700/month I'm expected to pay back in loans.

In addition, if they are willing to spend money on "free" degrees for alternative programs, why not provide a stipend for candidates to attend a full-time accelerated program (ex:2-3 yrs instead of 4), while student teaching with a mentor teacher?

Classroom instruction to teach teachers how to teach is largely useless. This is even more true for those individuals who have spent a period of time working jobs outside of education. Getting 3rd or 10th grad "Mary" to do a particular assignment that she doesn't want to do has the same level of difficulty as getting senior engineer "Bill" to complete his assignment that he also doesn't want to do. I spent 25 years as a manager in a variety of businesses then, because I was so unhappy about the math and science education my kids were getting, decided to get a teaching certificate. I found the experience completely useless while still getting straight A's. The only time I actually found myself learning how to teach was when I was in the classroom (during clinicals) observing, teaching and being observed by other excellent teachers. This, and demonstration of content knowledge, are the areas where teacher education should focus. Somehow we need to create a "master" teacher certification. These masters would take teachers-in-training and mentor them for some stipulated period of time (1-2 years). While this mentoring could be augmented with a small amount of course work in growth and development the rest of the course work could be safely dropped and, I have know doubt, we would end up with a much better prepared teacher core.

I will be interning this Fall as a secondary science major. Three years ago I decided to make a career change and have sacrificed much to accomplish my goal. I could have gone the fast track way but didn't feel I would have been adequately prepared. I do not regret my decision. Professors with previous teaching experience in the public school system are invaluable sources of information. Just as we are taught to make content real-life relative for our students, college professors with real-life stories about their experiences add a lot to a pre-service teacher's education. The internship is the culmination of this advice/mentoring. Unfortunately, fast track candidates are not required to spend a semester in internship. With a handful of of education courses and the promise that they will continue their professional development, they enter the schools to try their hand at educating our children. I think it is wrong. Our students deserve the best trained teachers they can get. One can see it is not working by looking at the turnover of fast track teachers. A large percentage quit within the first few years. More resources should be allocated to encourage students to enter four-year educational programs. Loan forgiveness, scholarships, and higher teacher pay are just a few possibilities. Additionally, interns should receive some compensation to help them during their final term. Full time internship makes it difficult, if not impossible, to work, especially for older, career-changing candidates with families. I have had to give up substituting this semester because of the full-time nature of internship. I depend on scholarship money to help with tuition, and know it will be a struggle to pay bills and put gas in my car. However, I know it will pay off in the end, for my students as well as myself.

As someone who is deeply involved in assisting the new teachers in our district, I can see the debris of those who tried the "fast track" and who are not sucessful. Offering the "fast track" to those who may be willing to try but who have little knowledge of the real workings in the classroom too often results in the children being shortchanged and the unprepared adults trying to fill the complicated role of teacher feeling overwhelmed or a failure. If state governments who have not fully attended to the growing shortage over the years,are going to continue this very bad stop gap method, then they need to provide funding to enhance district mentoring programs to provide support and real time, close at hand assistance from well trained mentors who are conpensated for their valuable time, dedication, and energy.

I believe that individuals that have implemeted content in real world situations and have been exposed to the cultural differences in the work place are better prepared than the traditional teacher preparation program graduates with no professional work experience.

The focus of alternative certification for second career professionals should be to fill the gaps in their education and experiences. While some may arrive with extensive experience with children (coming perhaps from social work, recreation, early childhood), they may need coursework in content. Others may be highly prepared in content but need a supervised experience in a classroom. All in all, they can provide a valuable diversification that is badly needed in education. We need to be finding more ways to honor what they bring while ensuring that they are prepared to do the job at hand with quality.

I am a career-changer in a fast-track program in NYC. My program will get me an internship certification, which requires a full school year of mentoring, after having completed 18 credits towards my Masters in Ed degree. I must also pass all the licensing exams and workshops required by the state. Believe me, other than by-passing student teaching, it is not what many of you seem to consider a free ride. I must still complete my Masters within the state mandated time period and must already have an undergrad degree. I get classes in all the subject areas mentioned by all the above concerned writers, and every class requires some sort of observation fieldwork, either in a classroom at the grade level we wish to teach or working in some other capacity with a student. We may be thrown into a classroom "cold" due to no student-teaching, but certainly not completely unprepared. We have taken classwork in IEPs, child/adolescent psychology, ESL, students with disabilities across the curriculum and the level of restricted classroom environment. We have seen and been taught differentiated instruction. We have oberved, first hand, teachers who can control their classroom and teachers who can't and study the methods the successful teachers use. Believe me, we are no different, at least in the fast-track program I am in, than any other first year teacher. It is an unfortunate truth that no one can be a teacher at the start of his or her career and claim to be experienced, seasoned, and highly-qualified. But older career-changers, such as myself, do have something that the more traditional first year teacher does not have. We are seasoned, experienced and educated in life. We have already spent a career learning valuable lessons the more traditional first tear teacher hasn't even contempleted. We have a wisdom that cannot be taught in books or classrooms. And we wouldn't be choosing such an over-worked and underpaid (not to mention often unappreciated) profession if we did not have a love for it, and a belief that we have something valuable to offer to the future of America. I understand that some fast-track programs may not prepare their teacher candidates as long or as well as the program I am in, but some do work and are concerned not only with filling the teacher shortage but also with filling that shortage with well-educated and well-prepared teachers.

I think if you believe you can safely drop all the teacher training you received than you did not receive the training you needed. I am currently in a 4 year program full-time and I could not imagine going into the field not knowing the things that I have learned even in the past 6 months. There are many issues such as this very debate that teachers should know about when entering the field and I am insulted by those who believe real training for teachers is useless. Many times I learn most from my observations when I see teachers doing things I don't agree with, but if I had not been encouraged to analyze certain aspects of teaching I would be much more likely to simply emulate everything I saw done in another teacher's classroom. Shortcut certification is not the answer.

I am torn in my feelings about this new idea of "Transitioning to Teaching." I came out of an undergrad school specifically trained to teach and spend my life in the classroom. I didn't know that when I entered college, but through taking some courses in other disciplines and not being satisfied, I eventually settled on the love of my life...teaching. Considering the trouble I had getting my first job (small job market, teachers staying in their positions for longer and longer), I resent someone ELSE coming into the marketplace and possibly taking a job when they have already had a solid career somewhere else. I see it as if I would go to an industry and take over a position that someone else had been working internally for and desperately wanted/needed.

That being said, I understand that a life skill for all of us is to be in the process of always learning more. NEVER STOP LEARNING is my motto, and if an individual with a career elsewhere for some reason feels a special bond with education, they should at least look into the possibility of teaching. I would hope that they would never be considered for hiring over an individual who has spent years in the educational field and loves what they do already, but I think that as another respondent stated, they will bring to the educational arena some very up-to-date methods and ideas for the world after school. Their insights into what is required in the workplace would be invaluable.

I also agree with another comment that was made indicating that these "newbie transfers" might not have the staying power necessary to become a life-long educator. I would never want to lose my job to someone who is trying this on a whim, but I also need to keep my own skills sharp and continue to grow and improve my own teaching styles/skills. If competition from outside our industry will encourage me to do this, that may be what it takes!

Dear Sir\Madame,

I am glad that there is a program that there is a program like this that is available to teachers. I think that it gives them easy access to program and if a teacher has a BA or a Masters degree he or she should be able to past the test given. In addition to this I have not seen or heard of the quallity of the program but I would hope that it is one in which those who take it are given the same or similar questions that are provided on other exams.

Kudos to South Carolina and other states that permit people to teach without completing lock-step education degree and certification classes. Perhaps these newer teachers will contribute a real world dimension of thinking and performance that incumbant teachers with less business and military experiences also try to bring to classrooms.

I think it is a wonderful idea. As a former teacher and possibly a teacher again, there is much in the educational curriculum that is nonsensical and much more that can be learned on the job. What we need is teachers in the classroom that know the material to be taught and professionals from other fields will add dimensions that some lifelong teachers lack. There are a great many teachers who come out of university education programs who might know the pedagogy techniques but do not know the material they need to teach. Advanced degrees in the areas to be taught should be the goal for a better educated student population.

This is a hugely important issue and one that will grow more important in the next few years. School districts must face the fact that fewer people are interested in being teachers for 20-25 years. We must add more flexibility to the way we prepare teachers, not less. The statistics for people who complete traditional ed programs are quite similar to those being bandied about for career switchers, i.e. many tend to leave the profession after 3-5 years. The best way to train teachers is to put them in the classroom with mentor teachers and have them learn on the job. States should stop subsidizing anachronistic "ed schools" and support on-the-job training and mentoring. Many of the best teachers in our school are career switchers; they bring maturity, experience, and a more sophisticated world view to the classroom. Contrary to the experience of some other commenters, many career switchers I know were parents first, so they know well the challenges and thrills of working with kids. Every member of my fast track cohort is still teaching after four years, and most are quite successful and energized by their experience.

After reading the above views, it is evident educators differ in the effectiveness of universities to provide adequate instruction for training teachers. As an experienced teacher (seventeen years), who changed careers and became a non-traditional student, I disagree with the idea life experiences or a degree in a different area prepares an individual for teaching. At the time I returned to college I was the parent of two children; however comparing parenting and teaching skills is unrealistic. Based on my personal experiences, and mentoring lateral entry teacher candidates, it is the university networks that provides a sound foundation for proficent educators. Becoming a member of a learning community as a student provides a realistic look into the challenges and rewards of what wearing the title of "teacher" entails. If an individual possesses the dedication and mind-frame of truly wanting to teach, she/he should be eager to engage in university level courses that build a solid content knowledge foundation. As educators, we need to support "ed schools" and the professors who strive to provide great educators for children rather than settle for fast track certification. Students are encouraged to graduate from high school and attend college; if those of us in the bussiness of education challenges the importance of attending a university in preparing teachers for their jobs, how can we instill in students the desire to work hard in order to get into college? Surly if universities are not important in training educators, how can we motivate students to attend college? Is it more important for a lawyer or doctor to attend a university than a teacher? With the "No Child Left Behind" mandate balancing act depending upon having "highly qualified teachers in every classroom", superiors in state offices are marching to the beat of the drum by bending high certification standards. Too often unique water-down certification guidelines are created in order to document "highly qualified teachers" are employed. Undo pressure is placed on supervisors and peer teachers to "find documentation that will provide proof of the individuals competency as a teacher". Many bodies, who are not worthy of being called teachers, are allowed to deliver instruction For the future of public education and students, please keep professional standards high. Let us not encourage educating candidates for other professionals in university settings while sending the message the field of education is not sophisticated enough to require a college education.

I usually do not add my comments to things I read on line but on this I thought I would. I too was a career changer who decided to make a difference and become a teacher. After going back to school and completing my master's in education with concentrations in Curriculm and Instruction and Administration and passing all the certification tests to be teacher at all levels from kindergarten thru college and also qualified to be a administrator at any level too I went back to work in my career without every spening one day in the classroom. You ask why. Well it was one thing and that is money. As someone else here said you have to suffer to finish the internship time. I was all set to start my internship after four years of coursework when someone offered me a salary I could not refuse. So I don't know if I would have been able to be a teacher or not. I do know that a friend of mine however did change careers and became a teacher then a vice principal before he too got the call with a job offer he could not turn down. So am I for the fast track yes and no. It's like any job you need to both do classroom training and then hands on training. I think just like all learning different people learn in different ways. So what works for one person will not work for another. But the only way you are going to change people's attitude about teacher pay is too show them what it is that you bring to the table. People still see teachers in many cases as someone else said anyone can teach. I first learned to teach classes in the military at the age of 18. I have been teaching adults for the last 30+ years. I know how hard it is to get someone to learn something that they are not the least interested in learning. But you have to try every technique that you have in your tool kit to get them to learn. That is my thoughts.

I am a non-traditional student who returned to school in 2004 at the age of 52. I am now 55 years old and am completing the music education (piano concentration) and Bible degree program.

Having been away from college math and other subjects for almost 30 years I believe that the fast track to teaching certification would be ideal for me. I'm doing well in all of my subjects and have passed the PRAXIS I except for the math portion. I plan to take it again, but I will be graduating soon with two degrees; one in music ed. and one in Bible. I will immediately be certified to teach in a Christian Academy without having to retake the PRAXIS, but I would like the opportunity to become certified for the public school system.

Would you please send me some information on how to become certified through the fast track certification program?
Thank you

Doreen F. Poole

I have been working with children for 25 years. 10 years as a preschool teacher in a private setting working with 4/5 years olds under the supevision of a certified teacher. She encouraged me to get my degree in education, so enter a 4 year education program. I have been a classroom teacher for 15 years, currently working on a master's degree.

I have been a mentor to new teachers from an education program and those with alternative certification. Those with alternative certificates come to the classroom with no experience or knowledge of what really goes on in a classroom. It is not easy to be a mentor to these teachers.

Those with alternative certification, while having knowledge, do not have the experience that comes from internships. It has been very challenging to help those 'teachers' through their first year. They are not familiar with behavior management, diversity, ESOL, and ESE inclusion students. It would be easier if they have sub expereince or even class time observing what really goes on in a classroom.

I have also had the opportunity to sit in on interviews with those holding alternative certification. I am lucky that I have this opportunity with new hires. Some make it and most don't. Those that do have had extensive time as a sub or volunteering in the grade level that they are interested in teaching. The subbing experience makes a big impact on those taking the alternative route.

As previously stated, this alternative track gives truth to the statement that 'anyone can teach'. Accepting these people does not help the moral of current teachers. I could not be a nurse by taking test and having a mentor for 10 months. Why is it acceptable for others to be able to teach this way?

Teachers are professional and need to be viewed as professional. This trend in education is just another way to give teachers a bad name.

Not all canidates for these programs are out of their league, but students deserve more than someone passing a test. Students are the future and teaching is not something just anyone can decided to do.

With this process schools gain teacher with certification, but not teachers with knowledge of the vast world of education.

I am starting my second year as a teacher who "fast tracked". Do I think it is the perfect solution to filling the gap in teacher shortages? No,it isn't. However, because I am teaching Sp.ED in a state that uses the fast track approach to filling positions in critical needs areas I think it can be a successful program for the right people. We have a program here in SC that is rigorous and the expectations high. There could be more differentiated instruction for us in special ed but they are revamping that part of the program now that the intitial grant peroid is over. Don't knock the "fast track" if you came from a four year program, instead, be supportive of those of us that really want to teach now and are just as ready to give of ourselves as you are. We could all use a good friend in the school that is an experienced teacher and will share the years of wisdom you have already gained. Many of us would stay longer if we knew we had the genuine support and acceptance of the other teachers. Be kind, be helpful and most of all be respectful. We are teachers too.

Well said, Kathleen (8/10/2007).
The program I am in requires a lot of work,too. And yes, I also will be mentored for a year.

If the various state career switcher programs are a waste of time, why in the world do states promote them?

I am troubled by the attitude in some of the above comments made by educators. They come off as arrogant and condescending (perhaps you didn't mean to). Are you saying you have a better four year education than people like me who have a four year degree in another field?

Frankly, there are a lot of terrible teachers who have taken the traditional route. Just because one takes Ed. classes and spends a semester student teaching doesn't guarantee that they are more capable than those of us who take another route later in life.

There is a lot to be said about real life on-the-job training experiences that are being brought into the classroom by some career switchers.

Let's see...a young person comes out of college, with all the "teacher training & observation, etc.," goes straight into the classroom - and that makes them more qualified than a career switcher who has proven skills in the market place? The kid can teach a subject - great! But are they able to explain HOW their education is translated/transferred to a job?

Here's something to consider:

Have you been a human resource manager for a plant of 500 people? And what working knowledge do you have regarding health insurance,lay-offs,hiring/firing,and dealing with difficult adult employees? Have you ever been a manager?
Can you drive a forklift? Drive a truck? Have you worked in shipping? Have you any real construction experince? Can you lay brick? Hammer a nail? Use a tape measure? How many customer service clients have you been assigned? Have you been in full-time sales? Can you pour and finish concrete? Have you worked in a federal government agency? Worked and spent time with kids who live in city projects? Have you taken construction teams to another country to help the poor? How many countries have you traveled to? Have you counseled battered women? Done any marriage counseling? How about receiving suicide calls at 2 am? Have you performed funerals? Are you a professional public speaker? Written any books lately?

You get the point. BTW, I also have 3 advanced degrees. So, you think I can't learned be a good teacher - because I don't have time to go through the traditional teacher route?
Be nice. I want to teach because I love kids and I love my subject area.
They say that those who can't do - teach. I hope that's not true.

Shortcut to Certification and alternative certification are both good means to becoming an effective teacher. It's not the shortcut or the alteranative route, it's ETS PRAXIS making money off the tests. Check out the test for P-4, the math, reading and writing has nothing to do with P-4 level it more on 1st year college. I felt the same way most of you did until I took the test. Those test are a joke. Those test are not meant for test takers to pass on the first or second try. ETS is making money off students. Most alternative people are students who had to change their major because of those silly ETS tests.
It is time ALL States pull away from ETS PRAXIS tests. What do they measure? If the students complete college then that should be enough. Yes! Yes! Yes! Shortcut to Certification and alternative certification are both good means to becoming an EFFECTIVE teacher.

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  • Dr. K. Nash: Shortcut to Certification and alternative certification are both good means read more
  • Jeff - career switcher student: Well said, Kathleen (8/10/2007). The program I am in requires read more
  • jennifer: I am starting my second year as a teacher who read more
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  • Doreen F. Poole (student at Philadelphia Biblical University): I am a non-traditional student who returned to school read more

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