I originally got into teaching through a nationwide alternative certification program. My experience was mixed, so I want to share with you some of the pros and cons of alternative certification. Hopefully this can help you in your decision-making process if you are considering alternative certification.
What is Alternative Certification?
Basically, alternative certification programs allow you to earn your teaching license while teaching. The most well-known and wide-spread program in the United States is Teach for America. Other areas have regional programs. Part of the deal for most of these programs is that you will teach in a “high-need” school. Typically, poverty levels are above average and students may have fewer educational opportunities.
Pros of Alternative Certification
Alternative Certification allows you to be a teacher if you made the decision too late to pursue an undergraduate teacher training program.
For me, I decided I wanted to be a teacher in about my junior year of college. My school didn’t have a teacher training program, so I would have had to transfer and start all over on a new degree. I didn’t want to do that, so I pursued alternative certification in order to become a teacher. Later, I returned to school for my Master’s degree in a more traditional setting.
If there is a teacher shortage, alternative certification teachers help fill needed positions.
Teach for America was founded during a nation-wide teacher shortage. Now, there are shortages in certain positions (e.g., special education) and/or in certain regions of the country. Those schools are desperate to find teachers to fill jobs. Other regions now have a teacher surplus (that is, more teachers than teaching jobs).
Cons of Alternative Certification
You have far less training on day 1 than traditionally trained teachers.
Since alternative certification teachers have not yet gone through teacher training, when you actually start teaching, you have far less training. Makes sense, right? You do get a little bit of training from your alternative certification program beforehand, but you don’t get the same multi-year experience that includes student teaching as you would in a traditional program. My total time actually teaching students before I got my own classroom totaled 6 hours.
This has a LOT to do with the level of support you receive, especially from your school. This support level varies pretty widely from school to school, at least in my program. All new teachers have a hard job (there is a lot to learn!), but it is harder when you are playing “catch-up” on training and grappling with the huge issue of poverty in your classroom.
If there is a teacher surplus, you may be taking the position of a more experienced teacher from the community.
In some communities, teachers from alternative certification programs are not made to feel especially welcome. This is the reason why. It all depends on whether your region and position have a shortage (as discussed above) or a surplus. If there is a surplus, it’s possible that you will be hired because new teachers cost less money than veteran teachers. That takes knowledge and community experience out of the school.