Alternative teacher certification offers opportunities for aspiring educators with backgrounds outside of education. If you're taking a non-traditional path to your classroom career, consider these suggestions for a successful transition.
Map Out the Road Ahead
The first step in your journey is research. It will be one of the keys to your success - and skipping this fundamental step would create an enormous roadblock.
Start by learning about the criteria for teaching in your state. This will help you determine which type of alternative certification you can pursue. When you're ready to choose a certification program, you'll need to make sure that it meets your state's specific requirements.
Find the Formula that Works for You
Once you know which programs meet your state's requirements, you'll find a variety of options among them. Consider these interrelated factors when choosing your certification path:
Alternative certification programs vary greatly in length. Your schedule will be impacted for weeks, months or even years from the time you start your chosen program. Will you be working while getting your certification? How much time can you afford to spend on your studies? Are there potential conflicts with your family life?
Before you enter into a program, think about how you will manage the stress of the additional workload. How can you nurture yourself when you are short on time? Plan your stress management techniques now so that you are prepared if your new schedule gets overwhelming.
Tuition is the expense most commonly associated with coursework. But there are other financial concerns. For example: Some programs offer accelerated certification with unpaid clinical teaching or internships. In the Texas Teachers clinical teaching option, for instance, you could earn full certification within fourteen weeks - about half the time you would normally spend in the classroom to earn a probationary certificate.
Before you choose such an option, examine all the expenses: You will face income loss from the unpaid time in the classroom while still being charged for the program fees. However, there are usually ways to defer and even defray the costs. Look for financing options, such as no-interest monthly installments and reduced enrollment fees. If you are a recent graduate, a military spouse or a veteran, you could enjoy discounted rates.
Convenience and Flexibility
You may not live close to a college or university which offers the classes you need. Commuting to classes several times a week may not be sustainable - especially if you're still holding down your regular job.
Distance learning is an increasingly popular option that eliminates the need for travel. Most online classes are self-paced, letting you complete your coursework and assignments at any time of the day or night you wish. If your schedule is especially unpredictable, look for virtual courses that waive deadlines.
A Customized Program
You may like the logistics of online classes, but still want to experience the classroom environment firsthand before you start your new career. Blended programs, available in some states, combine the flexibility and convenience of distance learning with the hands-on experience of a classroom internship.
Some certification programs, such as ECAP in Texas, offer possibilities such as training while teaching. You may find yourself in a special situation not covered by any existing program options. Work with program administrators to create a custom solution that will enable you to fulfill the program requirements, and still comply with state regulations.
Connect with Other Educators
There is much more to your career transformation than the logistics of your formal training. Don't forget to make the human connections that are so vital to enjoying your new career.
Seek out an educational organization in your subject area. Attend lectures and presentations - maybe even invite some of your new coworkers along. Network and make professional connections; connect with your new professional colleagues on LinkedIn. Join online forums and social media groups devoted to educators.
Publications for Educators
Keep up with the latest news and trends in education. Online publications such as Education Week, Education Next and The Chronicle of Higher Education can keep you current on the news affecting educators - and give you plenty of good conversation-starters with your new coworkers.
The relationships you forge with your workmates can be one of the most rewarding parts of your new career. It's natural to feel like a bit of an outsider when you're new, particularly when your background is different than your peers'.
Don't be bashful about asking for explanations and advice from your fellow teachers. Although you may have come to teaching through a different path, you have a lot of experience and expertise from your previous career. You can certainly learn a lot from other educators. And you have a lot to offer in return.
Bring Your Uniqueness into the Classroom
As someone who came to teaching through an alternative certification route, you have something special to give your students: You can enliven classroom discussions with real life anecdotes about your subject area. You can help your students see real world applications for the information they're learning. Your past career experience can help your students see more possibilities for their futures.