What is an Alternative Teaching Certificate?

K. Testa
K. Testa
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

An alternative teaching certificate is a license to teach that is earned by some means other than the traditional path of a college degree in education. In the U.S., each state usually licenses its own teachers and defines the relevant requirements for teacher certification. Most states now accept a variety of types of proof that one is licensed as an educator. There are several perceived benefits to alternative teacher certification programs, for the teachers themselves and for the communities that they ultimately serve.

Many public education experts state that alternative teaching certificate programs began as a way to address teacher shortages in certain areas. Rather than deny applicants without the traditional educational background the opportunity to offer their services to schools that needed them, many states instead altered their policies to create a way for the most talented individuals to obtain teaching jobs. In addition, the varied backgrounds and professional experiences of the applicants usually made them attractive candidates for the positions.

The standard route to teacher licensure usually involves obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s degree, in education. Many states have legislated changes in their teacher certification requirements, however, and have issued specific definitions and standards for what constitutes an alternative teaching certificate. Most candidates already have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, as well as professional experience in another job. Usually, they must meet certain standards to be considered for teaching positions, though these standards can vary greatly by location.

Characteristics of alternative teaching certificate programs also vary by state. Many colleges and universities have modified their teaching programs to reflect their state’s legislative changes regarding teaching certification. Doing so has made it easier for people with diverse backgrounds to enter the teaching profession. Studies have found that many students in these teaching programs are more diverse in terms of factors such as age, ethnicity, and past work experience. Local school boards can assess where the needs are, either geographically or in particular areas of education, and use their programs to recruit teachers in these areas.

A typical alternative teaching certificate program has several potential benefits. One is that it can address the specific needs of a certain geographic area, such as the inner-city. In addition, many teachers have mentors while in their programs. They learn while they are teaching, meaning that they do not necessarily have to take time off from work to go back to school full-time to get an education degree. Such full-time schooling, furthermore, would normally have been followed by having to meet additional state requirements for certification. Program participants also can be paid for teaching while they are still in school. Some people consider alternative teaching certificate programs more practical, especially since many teachers specialize in specific academic subjects. In general, the programs teach people the actual skills needed for specific jobs, not just the general teaching philosophies normally taught to young students who might still be undecided on a career path.

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