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Becoming a Teacher: Is Alternative Certification for You?

Alisha Hipwell is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer with over a decade of journalism experience. A former English and Reading teacher, she specializes in education-related articles.

Most teachers enter the education field via a four-year bachelor's degree in education. But, what if you want to be a teacher and you earned a bachelor's or even a master's in a different field? Can you still become a teacher? Yes. The answer for you may be an alternative teacher certification program.

New Jersey became the first state to offer an alternative certification program for prospective teachers in 1984. Today, there are over 125 programs from a variety of schools. There are options in nearly every state, and this avenue into teaching remains popular year-to-year. In 2009 for example, the National Center for Education Information (NCEI) estimated that 59,000 individuals entered the profession through alternative certification.

Below we outline the positive and negative aspects of these programs.

Benefits of Alternative Teacher Certification Programs

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  • For those who already have a bachelor's, these programs offer a quicker route into the classroom than completing another four-year degree.
  • Alternative certification is less expensive than a traditional teacher education program.
  • Programs are typically field-based, offering hands-on training.
  • Students in these programs work with a mentor.
  • Students in these programs can work and earn a salary while fulfilling certification requirements.
  • Alternative certification may make job placement easier since programs are usually a collaborative effort between universities and school districts.

Potential Drawbacks to Alternative Certification Teacher Programs

  • According to the NCEI, alternative certification programs were developed initially to meet critical teacher shortages in certain subjects and geographic areas. Consequently, most of these programs are in urban or outlying rural areas where teacher demand is greatest.
  • A 2009 Education Week article, the Impact of Alternate Routes to Teaching, reflects that not everyone in the education profession views alternative certification on the same level as more traditional teacher training programs.
  • Students in alternative certification may be teaching in a classroom before they've had a chance to learn valuable methodology like classroom management and lesson planning, both of which are taught in traditional education programs.

Ultimately, if you want to become a teacher, there are many paths you can take. The decision of whether or not to enter an alternative certification program should be based on careful consideration of past education, work experience, finances, and career goals.