Becoming a Teacher: Is Alternative Certification for You?

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 across 48 states, and this avenue into teaching remains popular year-to-year. In 2018 for example, the National Center for Education Information (NCEI) estimated that 250,000 individuals entered the profession through alternative certification since the mid-80s.

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

Benefits of Alternative Teacher Certification Programs

male teacher in classroom with young students

The job outlook for teachers is growing as more qualified teachers retire or leave the profession each year. While some subjects may have higher recruitment rates than others, the American Institute for Research stated in 2017 that teachers trained through a program from Teach for America or TNTP are on par with traditionally-educated teachers. Here are a few other benefits of earning your alternative teacher certification through an accredited program:

  • 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

Earning your teacher certification through alternate means has been criticized over the years due to the following important reasons:

  • According to the Teacher Education Quarterly, alternative certification programs were developed initially to meet critical teacher shortages in certain subjects and geographic areas during the 1980s. Consequently, most of these programs are offered in urban or outlying rural areas where teacher demand is greatest.
  •  Studies have shown that teaching has a poor retention rate for those who join the profession. According to one study, teachers who earn certification through alternate routes earn limited knowledge in their field, and face poor understanding in motivating students and difficulty driving home the concepts to students, resulting in less effective instruction.
  • 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.