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Alternative routes to public school teaching

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Do you head to the office every day secretly wishing you had the chance to do something more meaningful, something that could change young people's lives for the better? Do you have a passion for teaching that you've never pursued?

If you're thinking about switching careers and becoming a public school teacher, you're in good company. Growing numbers of recent college graduates and mid-career professionals are making that choice, aided by alternative teacher certification programs that get them into the classroom without having to go back to school for a second bachelor's degree.

Many of these programs aim to recruit professionals skilled in high-need areas such as math, science, foreign languages or special education. Each program varies in its specifics, but many of them put applicants through a thorough screening process that includes subject-area testing (making sure some one who wants to teach math actually knows a lot about math, for example). Programs also often include some combination of coursework in educational methods and classroom training.

Some half a million teachers have received public school certifications through alternative routes since the mid 1980s, according to the National Center for Alternative Certification, or NCAC, a nonprofit funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Their numbers have soared in the last decade. For example, 6,028 teachers became certified through alternative routes during the 1997-1998 school year. That figure climbed steadily, and by the 2007-2008 school year it reached 62,000. It dropped to 59,000 in the 2008-2009 school year, which NCAC notes is not surprising given the recession and its effects on teacher hiring.

You can find a program almost anywhere in the country; only Alaska and Oregon do not have alternative teacher certification programs, according to NCAC. Alternative certification is growing especially fast in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. While some programs are national, most work at the state or local level. A few examples:

Teach for America, which operates nationwide in 43 communities, recruits recent college graduates and places them in high-need classrooms for two years. The idea is to bring a cadre of the best and brightest college grads into schools beset by poverty and other social ills. When the two-year term is up, the students will bring their commitment to quality education with them into whatever career path they ultimately choose. In the 2011-2012 school year, upwards of 9,300 "corps members," as Teach for America calls them, will teach 600,000 students.

California is a state with numerous alternative certification programs for teachers. The Early Completion Intern Option, signed into law in 2001, aims to provide a fast track for private school teachers or others who are well qualified to teach but don't have a certificate. The program can take as little as one semester for candidates who pass all required exams.

The city of Chicago has a wide array of programs, including the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a partnership between National Louis University and the Chicago Public Schools. It includes classes at National Louis that lead to a master's degree, as well as a year of paid training in a public school classroom under the guidance of an experienced mentor teacher.

Last Updated: 18/10/2011 - 4:24 PM

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