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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Black Sheep of Teaching

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Every family has at least one member who is considered the "black sheep." The one person who refuses to conform and dances to his or her own beat. Professions are no different. Teaching is no different.
When the public hears "teacher," they think about well-trained professionals who have spent a minimum of four years living, breathing, and dreaming of what it will be like once they are in their own classrooms. But, what about those who come to the profession by way of alternative certification? Those are the dreaded black sheep of the teaching profession.
They come to teaching with business degrees, communication degrees, psychology degrees, and countless others. Does this mean they will be inadequate teachers? That they will not be able to keep up and fail to do their students justice? From personal experiences, I have come to the conclusion that there are many who would agree. Without words, they show their utter disgust with the sneering looks. Some simply state, "I can't believe they let you teach!"
Judging the way a person comes to teaching could be compared to judging a book by its cover. It does not mean we have not been well-trained or that we do not possess the knowledge and skill set required to assist in the shaping of young minds. While those who do not agree with alternative certification have their own reasons to have such thoughts, I choose to believe they are simply uneducated on the subject, and if they would only take the time to listen to those who have gone through the process or conduct research, their thoughts could be persuaded otherwise.
While there are several options one could take to gain their alternative certification, my information will stem from the iTeach Texas program because I believe it to be the most creditable. iTeach Texas is currently the only alternative certification program to be given national accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Applicants must hold a Bachelor's degree and maintain a GPA of 2.50 in the last 60 course hours in order to apply. Once applicants are accepted, they will have to take seven different courses that include pedagogy and stages of learning, planning instruction and assessments, special education, and literacy among others. Applicants are given a six-month window to complete the coursework and only be allowed to progress every ten days with an instructor's approval. Each course requires content specific reading, assignments to be completed, and an exam that must show mastery. With the completion of the courses, applicants are allowed to seek permission to take a specific certification test. Once the permission has been granted, the applicants may register and take the test.
Applicants are then required to complete field experience that can be done one of two ways. The first option is to participate in a clinical teaching that takes 12 weeks to complete and is done without pay. This is the equivalent to traditional student teaching. Option two is to be the teacher of record for a school year, with a mentor teacher to turn to for advice. This option allows for first year teacher pay. Both options grant the applicants the ability to work under probationary certifications, provided that certification tests have been passed. Observations and evaluations are completed, by field instructors, throughout the entire process, and applicants must receive consistently high marks to be able to remain in the program. During the field experience stage, self reflections are required on the evaluations that are completed. Towards the end of the program, applicants must submit a research paper to their field instructor to demonstrate their learning and how student learning was impacted.
Permission for applicants to take the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities will also be given towards the end of the field experience. This must also be passed for completion of the program. With the completion of all requirements, applicants are then approved for a standard teaching certification.
Despite the belief of many, obtaining an alternative certification is not something done on a whim, but rather with dedication and hard work. For me, the choice was more of a calling to teaching. A job at a local pre-school that was simply meant to help support me while I was in college, sparked a love of teaching and created a desire to make a change. Teaching became my passion and my career. The National Education Association states that teacher turnover rate for first year teachers is generally between 17% to 20% and almost 50% of teachers leave in the first five years of teaching (NEA, 2008). I worked as a special education paraprofessional for three years, and just finished my third year of teaching in my own classroom at a public school. I am still here. Still reaching my students and making a difference in their educational career. Despite the sneering looks. Despite the arrogant comments. Despite the lack of confidence some had in me. I am still here. My students speak to my success in their testing scores and with the knowledge they take to their future classes. They speak for me.
So you see, regardless of how teachers come to the profession, each and everyone one made the decision to come to teaching. We all have our reasons, and they differ from teacher to teacher. One thing that does not vary is that teaching relies on the person who is doing the teaching and their passion to inspire others. That is not something that is taught in the four walls of a traditional classroom setting, but is an internal factor that is carried within each teacher you meet. Maybe the black sheep of the family are just as misunderstood as those of the teaching profession.

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Some of my favorite teachers that I know have gone into teaching through Alternative Certification routes. I'm way more interested in what they can do than how they get there.

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