Is An Alternate-Route Teacher Preparation Program For You?
Not everyone follows the most straightforward path to becoming a teacher. Diverse students need diverse teachers. Maybe you figured out halfway through undergraduate – or several years afterwards – that you want to be a teacher, and there is no formal training program available to you now. You know you want to be a teacher; you just don’t have the resources. What do you do now?
An alternate-route program provides the opportunity for individuals to become teachers without a formal background in education. These routes may be of value to individuals who have not completed a formal teacher-training program at an accredited university or college but would like to be trained as a teacher. They are particularly well suited for those who have already received other qualifications.
Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia offer an alternate route to teacher certification. Nearly 600 alternate-route programs are in place across the country. An estimated 59,000 teachers were issued certificates to teach. Up to a third of all teachers acquire certification through alternate routes in the United States. The necessary steps to the alternate route to teacher certification vary significantly from state to state. They may include the following: A B-grade college average, passing a basic skills test, passing a test in an area of specialization, and a period of mentoring or internship.
Teach for America
One of the most popular alternate-route programs is Teach for America (TFA). Conceived by Princeton senior Wendy Kopp, TFA was created to place elite college students as a “teacher corps” in teaching positions in rural and urban districts across the United States. These positions were located in some of the neediest neighborhoods in these districts. The idea was to attract undergraduate students from selected colleges and universities to teach in rural or urban areas facing a teacher shortage problem, for a period of 2 years. The TFA program has been phenomenally successful. Consider these figures: TFA was raising over $100 million annually by 2008, and had over 6,000 corps members teaching over 400,000 students across America. In 2009, TFA received 35,000 applications for just 4,000 positions.
TFA has received its share of brickbats as well as bouquets. While some policy makers and educators laud TFA’s efforts addressing the crisis of teacher shortage, some critics argue that it produces substandard teachers who bring down the quality of education in America.
One of the major attractions of the TFA program is that it has an aura of exclusivity, as not everyone can easily gain admission into this program. About 10% of its applications are from Ivy League seniors, and only one out of five gains acceptance. The TFA program is only for a period of 2 years, after which the candidates can return to their regular field of work, often receiving higher pay and greater prestige. Members who complete their 2-year stint show their TFA experience in their résumés as a display of their willingness to serve society, helping them obtain better jobs and a higher status. When compared with traditional teacher education programs, TFA members do not have to invest substantial amounts of time and money to become certified.
Are undergraduate students serving in TFA effective as teachers? There is a strong correlation between teacher preparation and teaching effectiveness. Overall, uncertified TFA recruits perform less effectively than matched certified teachers. TFA recruits who become certified after 2 or 3 years (through alternative certification routes) have higher levels of effectiveness.
Don’t let the word “alternative” deter you from pursuing a pathway like TFA. Alternative routes are full of people who have decided not to let untraditional circumstances deter them from their dream. They are creative thinkers and hard workers. They are people who, like all teachers, are willing to do what it takes to bring their knowledge and skills into service in a classroom. Do you want to join them?
If your answer is a resounding yes, check into what opportunities are available with TFA or similar organizations in your area!