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If you’ve ever considered getting into the field of education, but feel that you lack the necessary training or experience, you might actually be at an advantage. Every state has some form of an alternative certification program they allow to those without a traditional education degree.
Before getting into the benefits of an alternative teaching certificate, I must clarify that I am not trying to be adversarial to those who received their training through a traditional education degree. There is much to be learned from such a path and I would be remiss not to acknowledge this fact. I would just like to highlight my experiences as having gone another route in hopes of expanding the teacher base in size and diversity.
I received my teaching certificate through Oklahoma’s Alternative Certification Program in 2011, and it was easily the best career decision I have ever made. The idea wasn’t mine, though. I was returning to college to finish my degree with my eye on a traditional social studies education degree. It had long been my dream to teach a US history course, as I am doing these days. My adviser and soon-to-be favorite history professor suggested that I get a degree in History instead, and then pursue my certificate through the state’s alternative route.
Was he telling me this so he could graduate more students with history majors? Possibly.
Was it the best advice I have received from a college professor? Absolutely.
The alternative route allowed me to develop my own unique approach to how I learn and operate as a teacher. To satisfy my relevant work hours for the state, I was a substitute teacher taking on full classes for weeks or months at a time. Whereas traditional substitutes were assigned shorter jobs with fewer responsibilities, my degree and temporary certificate meant that I was assigned to various longer-term courses with actual lecture and some administrative responsibilities. I was accountable to school administration for classroom progress and lesson preparation. This was a head-first dive into the classroom experience without some of the professional baggage that naturally comes along with my current position as a full-time teacher.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my current job for anything else; I was just very fortunate to experience a mode of student teaching with a great amount of variety. I had colleagues that would offer advice and critiques, which helped shape my outlook on the classroom from within the same school system, and not in a distant university classroom. Plus, it was nice to be paid for the learning experience.
In addition, I worked part-time as the programs coordinator for a local nonprofit organization, working with students on the “wrong side of the tracks” (where I also lived). I had to take the training received in the classroom and apply it in an outside context, trying to get the best results I could out of students who weren’t always thrilled about their public school experience. Between my time those two simultaneous jobs, I was more than prepared to take on my own classes when I was hired in July of 2012.
As a lifelong reader and hands-on learner, this process gave me ample training that I use every day in my own classroom. I read as much as I could about teaching methods, listened to lectures and podcasts about education, and even took a college course on classroom management. A library card and an internet connection made this process much cheaper than a traditional education degree.
Furthermore, alternative certification programs offer the possibility of diversifying the demographics of our teacher pool. The National Education Association commissioned a study on how such programs impact schools and student learning, and they concluded that “what does seem apparent is that alternative certification programs have the potential to recruit more minority, male, and older teachers into urban and rural areas.” (NEA)
This diversity is critical to accommodate the needs of students seeking role models from similar backgrounds and similar experiences. It also helps schools in economically struggling areas hire qualified staff that are familiar with the needs of their immediate communities.
The NEA does note that any alternative certification programs should mirror the same rigorous standards as a traditional route. You’ll find no disagreement from me there. I had to take the same qualification exams as every other candidate, paying for each of them with my own money. I still have to attend the same professional development training and renew my certificate, just like all of my colleagues.
It requires a great amount of discipline to pursue a certificate no matter how you choose to do so. If going through the alternative route, you must make the effort to educate yourself on pedagogy and shifting trends in education. Take the time to read Bloom, Piaget, Esquith, and Wong. Save up a little scratch and attend workshops that will help you craft your own unique voice in the classroom. Give yourself a free education by watching education-related lectures on YouTube. And more importantly, put that knowledge to work!
I understand that my story is chock full of very unique, very specific experiences that you may not have had. However, if you tap into your curiosity and creativity, you are sure to find a path that works for you. If this process interests you, a basic Google search should give you an idea of how to get started with your state’s alternative certification program. We’d love to have you join our ranks.