We need something better for alternative teaching licenses

I’m a second-career teacher. I’ve never regretted my decision, but I remember quite well one particular day. Day one.

I walked into a classroom for the very first time.

I’d done enough research to know what I needed to do those first couple of days. Also, through teaching judo for years, I wasn’t exactly a noob when it came to preparing a lesson. I knew the content (U.S. Government and Civics) like the back of my hand.

But there was a huge problem

I had no educational training whatsoever. Not one second of classroom time. Not one education class to prepare me for what I was to face.

Heck, due to waiting on my background check, I missed all the preschool in service. I mean, honestly, I did not even know where to make copies or how to get into the locked-up building, much less my room.

Alternative licensure

Like many states, Tennessee offers an alternative program to licensure.

You have to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. You have to pass the content knowledge Praxis exam (I passed Government, History, and English). You have to have applied to a teacher prep program; in my case the Middle Tennessee State University job embed program. And you needed an “intent to hire” letter from a school district.

With all those things, you can get what’s called a Practitioner license, which is good for three years.

During the three years, you need to do a few things. First, you need to complete a teacher licensure program. I did mine at MTSU and it involved 18 graduate hours of education classes.

Additionally, you need three years teaching your subject and you need to have overall acceptable evaluations/observations and complete 30 PDPs, or Professional Development Points. You get 10 a year for having an acceptable overall evaluation score of 3 or higher, and you can earn PDPs through various professional development courses.

Do all that, and you can advance your license to a professional license. So that’s what I did.

Why I chose alternative licensure and am not sure I’d do so again

A lot of people who choose alternative licensure were in the same boat I was in.

Older and with three children to support, I was not in a position to go back to school in a traditional teacher training program including student teaching. Every program I looked at explicitly stated that I was not allowed to work during student teaching. That is undoable.

A friend had completed the alternative licensure program, so it seemed a viable alternative. And it worked. I decided in the Spring to really pursue teaching after nearly a year of soul-searching and by August, with no training whatsoever, I had a full-time teaching job.

The problem was simple. I knew my content like no tomorrow. However, I had no training as a teacher. I didn’t even really understand why you’d give a formative assessment when it doesn’t count toward the grade.

My first observation was an unmitigated disaster. It was unannounced. I was doing a test review on a day all my technology in the classroom had failed. Three real issues:

  1. I didn’t really know what an observation was about, much less what the assistant principal observing me was looking for.
  2. I didn’t know what the TEAM Rubric (state standards for evaluating teachers) was. That is developed by the state and provides measures for how teachers are to be measured in various categories.
  3. Did I mention I had no clue? Certainly, I did not have the experience to deal with the failed technology with an effective fallback plan.

My scores were all “1s,” the lowest you can get – a 3 is considered competent. It was an absolute kick in the gut, and while I’m not one to cry “no fair,” it was decidedly unfair!

Fortunately, the AP did a very strong “post-conference.” We sat for an hour and a half discussing ideas and instructional strategies. It was the first time anyone helped me in any way, shape, or form in terms of teaching. And it was good. All the subsequent evaluations/observations were positive and showed growth.

The simple fact is that certainly in the first year, students did not get the very best teacher possible. And that’s what they deserve. Good content knowledge, yes I had that, but weak educational skills.

The solution

With half of new teachers leaving the profession within five years, something is seriously wrong, and I think it starts on the front end.

There are two aspects to the solution.

First and foremost, I did not find my teacher education program to be overly challenging. Two classes were about as irrelevant as they could be. One class was exceptional. Another class was very interesting and potentially useful but was focused on a younger age group than I teach.

We need these programs to be more reality driven. In truth, only one class was practical and gave me real, usable classroom tips and strategies.

Second, I think all first-year teachers need to co-teach with an experienced teacher. This isn’t the same as student teaching, which I think also is necessary. A year of co-teaching will give a new, first-year teacher experience in everything from lesson planning to IEPs, grading papers to dealing with discipline, fire drills and changing mandates, and just about everything in between. I view it as a true apprenticeship for the profession of teaching.

And it makes both the traditional approach and the alternative approach much more doable. And it is fair, especially to those in alternative programs.

Of course, two teachers in the classroom is pricey. Will taxpayers go for it?

In the end

Things have worked out for me. I love teaching. I’ve now earned my master’s degree in education and have about 45 graduate hours beyond that. I’m a professionally licensed teacher and hold an occupational teaching license and an administrator’s (principal’s) license.

My observation/evaluation scores are high. I’m active with the students, coaching and sponsoring various student activities.

I don’t succumb to many of the issues teachers get waylaid by. But the challenges in education, especially hiring and retention, are hitting me hard.

I’ve lost my planning period to teach an extra class. I very much appreciate the variety the class offers, and I certainly like the extra money. But it impacts my ability to prepare properly for my other classes and causes me to eat into the little bit of personal time that I have.

The worst part is it is due to not enough teachers. And we’re not just talking math or science. Even subjects that have traditionally plenty of teachers – English and history for example – are running short.

I wonder if better teacher preparation programs might keep teachers in the classroom for longer, and perhaps improve recruiting efforts.