Alternative Certification Programs

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If you have decided to bring your expertise and career experience to the realm of teaching, an alternative teaching certificate can satisfy your teaching credentials and grant you a license to teach. Traditionally, those who did not study education as a major could not be licensed in teaching for state, governmental and private institutions of learning. However, since educational leaders have come to recognize the value of those who have experience and knowledge in real-world situations, an alternative path to a teaching certification has become the equivalency of a major in education.

Below is a directory (broken down by state) of all the "Alternative Certification" and pre-licensure "Post-Baccalaureate" programs we could find. These are, basically, programs intended to take people with Bachelors degrees in non-teaching fields, and turn them into teachers, through a short, intensive program of study that typically includes getting them into the classroom as quickly as possible. A number are offered by universities, but many others are offered by local school districts / school boards.

If you don’t have a Bachelors degree yet, then the best way for you to get certified as a teacher is by completing a Bachelors in Education program.

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Advice from the Experts

Below, we speak with C. Emily Feistritzer, PhD, President and CEO of the National Center for Alternative Certification (NCAC). Dr. Feistritzer discusses how alternative certification programs can differ from traditional education programs and offers advice for people interested in becoming teachers. We also speak with Dan Brown, author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle, about his alternative certification experience and how to prepare.



Are There Any Online Alternative Certification Programs?

Online alternative certification programs - some of which culminate in a degree such as a Master of Arts in teaching - are relatively rare, when compared with online master's degrees in Education for people who are already certified to teach. This is likely because alternative teacher certification programs typically include some sort of student teaching experience in a brick-and-mortar school. That can be difficult to arrange, considering that the placement school may be hundreds of miles away from the degree-granting institution.

If you're interested in an online-only alternative teacher certification program, one of your first questions should be how the student teaching process will work. In some cases, a university will arrange the student teaching experience, and in other cases this will be left up to you. That's a detail you'll want to have pinned down before committing to a program.

Different states can be idiosyncratic in their requirements for new teachers, so make sure any program you're considering will qualify you to work where you eventually want to teach. If you're unable to find an online program that meets your state's criteria, or if you think you'll have trouble arranging a student teaching experience, then an on-campus certification program in your geographic area may be a better fit for you.

Program structures vary, but an online alternative certification program typically takes two years or less. Online alternative certification programs can range in cost depending on a variety of factors, but if you determine that an online-only degree fits your schedule best and will help you to make headway in a new career, then the investment may be worth it.

What About Teach for America?

Teach for America is one of the best known programs that focuses on introducing people to the teaching profession. However, in most locations, it’s not actually an alternative certification program in and of itself. In most parts of the country where it operates, Teach for America partners with local colleges and universities so that its Corps members can take the classes required to get their teacher certification in that state. We’ve researched all the locations in which they place Corps members, and in the list below, we’ve included a handful of locations where you can get certified through participation in Teach for America without having to enroll in an alternative certification program from a third party.

Tell Me More About Alternative Certification Programs

There’s actually a long and really interesting history to these programs. If you have time to do some reading, this is a great backgrounder: Alternative Certification Isn’t Alternative. The Haberman Foundation website is another great source of information.

The short story is that they were first created some 25 years ago to help address the shortage of teachers, by providing a way for people who had NOT been through a teaching-focused degree program to enter the teaching workforce.

In theory, these programs get you into the classroom faster than a traditional Bachelors in Education program, and they focus more on practical knowledge than the education theory courses you’d be required to take in a more traditional program. Students enrolled in these programs frequently receive mentoring from more experienced teachers - another element of the program that is geared towards teaching practice rather than teaching theory.

For many people, it’s important to be able to work while they go back to school - they can’t just quit their job for a couple of years. In this scenario, alternative certification programs can be a very good choice.

Although people often mix and match "post-baccalaureate" and "alternative teaching certification," the traditional definition of a "post-baccalaureate" program is a little different. What it traditionally referred to was a Masters Degree in Education for non-teachers. These programs combine some of the teaching theory coursework from an undergraduate Education program with some additional coursework and prepared students to become teachers. So in a sense, it was a way for people who never got a Bachelors in Education to go back to school, study the same sorts of things they would have studied in a Bachelors of Education program, get a Masters in Education instead, and become teachers. This is in contrast to true "alternative certification" programs, which are supposedly lighter on "theory" and heavier on actual classroom time.

The bottom line is that there’s so much overlap today between "post-baccalaureate" and "alternative certification" programs that we decided to combine them into one section and let you choose for yourself by talking to the schools that offer them.

The National Association for Alternative Certification is one organization focused on promoting alternative certification pathways to teaching careers. Another excellent resource concerning alternative certification programs is the website of the National Center for Alternative Certification. Their directory may include some programs that ours doesn’t, and vice versa, so to get the most complete picture possible, you should look through both their site and ours. Plus, they’ve got some great background reading on the different types of alternative certification programs available, and things to consider when evaluating those programs.

The Benefits of Earning Your Alternate Teaching Certificate

The non-traditional pathway to acquiring a teaching certification is for those who have a bachelor’s degree in education and have not majored in a formal teaching preparation program. If you wish to teach in your field of study, you can earn a professional teaching certificate in a special program that is recognized by state departments of education. In addition, many educational institutions will allow you to teach while you are completing the requirements for certification.

Alternative avenues to teacher certification can have a significant impact on your professional goals. Teaching can bring personal rewards that are not experienced as much in other professions and you can enjoy an excellent salary. Sophisticated programs that award you with an alternative teaching certificate can prepare you for success in bringing your life experiences and existing knowledge into the classroom.

Alternate Teacher Certification Requirements and Curriculum Information

Since different states dictate their specific requirements for an alternative path to a teaching certification, it is necessary for you to research the precise testing, courses and pre-requisites in your local area. These courses are similar to post-graduate certificate programs and offer flexible scheduling, part time courses and other features that accommodate working adults. Basically, most alternatives to the teaching certification will be divided into the following categories:

  • Teachers who wish to teach in the traditional classroom setting
  • Educational Services such as school psychologist, a specialist in learning disabilities, substance awareness and others
  • School Leaders such as school administrators, principals and other supervisory positions
  • Career and Technical teachers such as automotive technology, plumbing, hairstyling and other professions

Required classes and skills tests will vary from state-defined programs of study. A mentorship component is typically required for completion of the certificate. Course requirements include some of the following courses:

  • Assessment and evaluation of learners to offer teaching programs and assignments that are appropriate for students in the process of learning
  • Designing and evaluating course curriculum that is based in research and grounded in learning theories
  • Learning technologies and multi-media strategies in the classroom that apply to different learning styles
  • An introduction to the assessment of learning disabilities and addressing special needs in challenged learners

The Outlook for Teachers with Alternative Teaching Certificates

For those who desire to work in the classroom, teaching is a rewarding career that will allow you to share your knowledge and experience with your students. The demand for teachers with real-world experience are both valued and desired in all areas of education. Your area of expertise or major may be translated into limitless ways in the classroom. Some of the positions that may be available from private and public educational institutions are the following:

  • Professionals in areas of social work, psychology or public health can teach in special education, sociology and health-related courses
  • Photography, music and arts majors teach students at various levels of the arts
  • Automotive and carpentry teachers provide hands-on learning and safety
  • Veterans translate teaching skills into the private or public sector
  • Retirees may wish to share their knowledge of business, finance or economics
  • Mid-level management and career changes transfer well into many different teaching possibilities
  • Engineers or math majors can provide expertise in teaching mathematics to students

According to the NY Times, educational leaders are beginning to appreciate teachers who have real-world experience and knowledge translate well into the classroom. Many people today are retiring, making career moves or simply choosing a second career as a teacher in their field of expertise.

If you want to use your area of expertise as a way to inspire students through a teaching career, consider earning your teacher certification. Use our free directory of schools and resources to compare programs and request information to make the right decision for your career in education.

Featured Online Alternative Certification Programs

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