Alternative Teaching Certificates: How to Become a Teacher without a Teaching Degree
Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent
Alternative teacher certification programs are designed for people with work experience who want to switch to a teaching career or advance their careers in education without returning to school full-time. They allow you to become classroom-eligible with a straightforward certification rather than a post-baccalaureate degree. This means you can usually enter the classroom quickly and less expensively.
Since each state determines its own requirements for an alternative path to teaching, it’s important to research the precise testing, classes, and prerequisites in your chosen state. However, the coursework is similar in many states, and programs often offer flexible scheduling, part-time plans, and other features that accommodate working adults.
Note that if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree yet, the best way for you to get certified to become a teacher is by completing a Bachelor of Education program.
Alternate Teacher Certification Requirements and Curriculum
Most alternative certification programs will be geared toward the following types of professionals:
Other high-need areas may also be eligible, but this will vary by state.
Though there isn’t a step-by-step plan for earning your certification nationwide, there are a few common requirements:
Required classes and exams vary between state-defined programs of study. A mentorship component is typically needed for the completion of the certification. Course requirements likely include some of the following topics:
Be sure to look at the requirements for your location to get a full picture of what steps you need to take.
Alternative Teacher Certification Programs vs. Post-Baccalaureate or Master’s Degrees
When looking for ways to enter the classroom without an education degree, in addition to alternative certification options, you may discover post-baccalaureate and master’s programs. Each of these programs requires different levels of time and financial commitment.
Alternative certifications are a good option if you hope to enter the classroom quickly and at a relatively low cost while maintaining your current employment. Post-baccalaureate degrees are additional bachelor’s programs; you won’t need to retake general education requirements, but it will likely be similar to adding two years of additional coursework and costs to your previous college education. Master’s programs in education may be available, even if your previous degree wasn’t in education, but they can also be pricey and require a considerable time commitment, such as the equivalent of two years of full-time study.
Getting a Job with Alternative Teaching Certification
There’s a common misconception that receiving an alternative certification will make you less desirable to employers or may result in lower pay than your peers with degrees in education. This is generally untrue. It is common for people to enter the classroom with alternative certification: according to federal data, 18% of public school teachers held an alternative certification in the 2015-2016 school year. Teacher pay is usually determined by your degree level and years of experience, not how by how you got certified. So if you have a bachelor’s and alternative certification, you should be paid at the bachelor’s level based on your relevant, district-accepted experience. If you later choose to get a master’s degree—something that can also often be done while working full-time in education—your pay will likely go up.
Salary and career outlook, therefore, are generally the same as for teachers who entered the classroom through more traditional means.
|Career||Median Salary||Average Growth|
|Elementary School Teacher||$57,980||+3%|
|Middle School Teacher||$58,600||+3%|
|High School Teacher||$60,320||+4%|
|Special Education Teacher||$59,780||+3%|
|Career and Technical Education Teacher||$56,750||-1%|
|School and Career Counselor||$56,310||+8%|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018
Are There any Online Alternative Teacher Certification Programs?
Online alternative teacher certification programs are relatively rare compared to 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 the placement school may be hundreds of miles away from the degree-granting institution.
If you’re interested in an online-only program, you should clarify upfront 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.
States vary 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.
An online alternative certification program typically takes two years or less, depending on how the program is structured. These programs can range in cost, but if you determine that an online-only degree fits your schedule best and will help you to make headway in a new career, the investment may be worth it.
Alternative Teacher Certification Organizations and Resources
There are several organizations that may be useful in your efforts to get an alternative teacher certification.
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