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Back To The Blackboard | Riney, Amber Riney, Education,

Texas Business reports:  Good teachers may be costly, but bad teachers cost much more. Isn’t that what the government should be thinking?

Texas exemplifies that principle well. The Lone Star State has always valued good teachers and administrators (not that it pays them particularly well), but the state hasn’t always treated certified teachers the same. Fortunately – and despite the economic downfall - standards for hiring teachers have taken a step up.

“Going through alternative certification and becoming a teacher changed my life,” 2010-2011 Midway ISD Teacher of the Year Brad Cook said.

Cook worked in the corporate world before he moved to the classroom. Teaching college students in China made him reconsider his career. After careful research, he decided alternative certification was his best bet. 

Alternative methods to receiving a state-licensed teaching certificate in Texas are actually embraced with smiling faces now. The need for teachers may fluctuate from time to time, but it will always be there. While the teaching profession may not be the most sought after career, it’s a steady and often rewarding one, and people are taking a hint.

Texas offers one of the most prestigious certifications in the nation, whether it’s through a four-year degree or alternative certification.

“Seeing what teachers do and becoming more involved in their [children’s] lives were some positive things I saw about teaching,” Cook said. “The job security of the career is also beneficial.”

In recent years, careers in the education field are becoming more popular and more competitive – so are alternative certification programs. And Texas knows how to work it. According to the Texas Education Agency, some out-of-state teachers can gain certification in Texas based on the tests they took in another state, but the exams must be at least as rigorous as Texas tests. The state began reviewing other states’ tests in the fall of 2001. To date, selected exams from Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico and Oklahoma are the only ones applicable to transfer teacher certifications.

The state also requires a teacher to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, teacher training through an approved program, and the completion of appropriate certification tests for the subject and grade level. Alternative certification meets all of these requirements.

One popular location to obtain educator training and certifications is Education Service Center (ESC) Region 12. The center offers principal, teacher, superintendent, paraprofessional and substitute teacher certification programs. Certifications also include more specific specializations such as math and science, reading, English as a Second Language (ESL) and special education.

Recently, these programs have been filling up fast. About 150-160 people go through the program each year, with the biggest group coming in the spring of 2011. Out of the 20 service centers in Texas, 16 offer alternative certification programs. Most people travel to the closest center, and these applicants come from all different ethnicities and ages. The enrollment for the 2009-2010 Teacher Preparation and Certification Program (TPCP) included 100 females and 43 males. Some will be hired in January, and others who need to take more tests will be hired in the fall.

ESC Region 12 staff realizes the importance of teachers to society and works to make them better at what they do.

“Many people come into teaching because they like to work with people and want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Dr. Wynn Rolf, the Director of Educator Preparation and Certification at ESC Region 12, said. He said teaching is not an easy job and encourages his staff to do all they can in preparing adults to be exemplary teachers.

When accepting applications for the programs, a long series of questions is used to determine what kind of teacher the students will be, Rolf said. Each certification program involves a training program, including a pedagogy class, where participants learn how to teach effectively by seeing through the students’ eyes, as well as a hands-on approach. Once all tests have been successfully completed, the students seek out a job with a probationary certificate that allows them to complete a full year’s internship before they can receive a standard certificate.

“ESC Region 12 has a 98 percent passing rate and a majority are with very high scores.,” Rolf said. “There’s no difference between those who get a certificate from us and those who go through the four year-program.”

The programs encourage these teachers-in-training to market themselves. A less experienced teacher may be easier to hire, but wages go up with each year of experience, he said. The current economy motivates some of those who have certificates but aren’t using them to return to the classroom. It also makes those who have a less rewarding and unstable job think about joining the education movement as well. 

“Essentially, schools have a bigger pool of teachers to choose from,” Rolf said. “Texas is in a good position to be a leader in public school education and the educators they present in the classrooms and at conventions.”

Texas has made efforts to be accountable in providing quality teachers and education resources for years, he said. In the future, we can expect to see the students’ performances tracked more in regards to the teacher. This process is overseen by the appraisers, who are the only people who have the legal responsibility and authority to go into every teacher’s classroom in the state and make sure things are happening the way they should. The appraiser’s decisions are important because they determine whether or not education progresses.

“Some appraisers may just slap an ‘APPROVED’ on the file with their rubber stamp, but they should do everything they can to improve the teacher’s skills,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, you have to help them be better or let them go, whether they’re new or old.”

Texas has never had a shortage of certified teachers. They’re just not in the classroom. As the economy changes, people are coming back to the schools to teach, and schools prefer certified teachers versus those with only a probationary certificate. However, passing the tests does not guarantee a job, Rolf noted, and not everyone who passes the exams is a good teacher. Competition is high, and the job is challenging.

But that isn’t stopping people from pursuing what they’re passionate about, even if they’ve discovered it late. Most of the applicants have succeeded at one job and are ready to do what they really want to do, ESC Region 12 Education Specialist II/Team Leader Donna Trigg said. At ESC Region 12, the program administrators look for quality students to uphold their quality programs. 

“Because it’s not a highly paid and respected career, people say they wanted to choose a job that will bring in more money first,” she said. “In my classes, I’ve had people who’ve come right out of college to those who are retired: social workers, lawyers, scientists, journalists, nurses, pharmacists and mixed military.”

The disadvantage of alternative certification is that job-seeking teachers who have worked their way to the top in other industries must start at the bottom of the totem pole, she said. One of the concerns that schools had with alternative certifications was that teachers didn’t have in-class experience, but Texas has since made that a requirement. 

“[ESC Region 12] has always required that,” Betsy King, Educator Preparation and Certification Team Leader, said. “You don’t learn to swim until you get in the pool, and in teaching, you learn every day.” 

The programs at the center in ESC Region 12 require 40 hours in the field at one school in their certification area. Every time an intern enters that school, they’re essentially interviewing for a job. Districts are interested in hiring people who have knowledge of other subjects. Although alternative certification began because there was a shortage of teachers, it’s not the same anymore. It may be quicker and cheaper, but no one’s saying it’s easy.

Brian Riddle, a 34-year-old teacher trainee in the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program (TPCP) at ESC Region 12, can’t wait to be a teacher. He worked in radio for 10 years and now works in marketing. After growing up and observing the stigma placed on teaching as an easy job to obtain, he fought the urge to become a teacher. While he’s aware of his competition, there’s nothing more rewarding than being a teacher, he said. TPCP allowed him to go to class while still drawing an income. It fit his lifestyle.

“I feel like I’m learning more through alternative certification than a traditional four-year plan because we learn the material, and then we use it,” Riddle said. “The more you use it, the more you retain it.”

Academy ISD Superintendent Kevin Sprinkles recognizes the quality of teachers who come out of alternative certification. He should know – he was one of the first. Sprinkles received his teaching certificate from ESC Region 12’s Alternative Certification Program (ACP) the first year that they offered it.

“With life happening around me, it was imperative to begin working right away,” he said. “However, I was confident that I would not be alone during my rookie year. As my training continued at ESC Region 12, I was mentored every step along the way.”

Becoming a teacher was one of the best decisions he’s ever made, he said. An ex-college football player with a degree in Kinesiology and about to be married, Sprinkles needed a job quickly. He didn’t have time to complete the traditional route to teacher certification.

Others may find themselves in a similar situation. After working in another profession for a number of years, they find they want to make a difference in young people’s lives. Other people become teachers because they see education as a steady and solid workforce in comparison to some of the shifting sands of our present economy. Even with those who have already made it in the classroom, administrators fear the strapped economy will result in additional funding cuts for schools.

“As states look to balance their budgets, funding for education will not only be on the table, but it may be the main course,” he said.

School districts are being told they should expect to get an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion less in the next two-year budget as lawmakers begin brawling with a $24 billion revenue loss at the beginning of the year. Despite the economic risks schools are facing, teacher applications are still flooding job openings, and people of all ages are embracing a career in education.

 The exposure to research-based best practices, hands-on experiences, the power of the cohort network, supportive mentorship frameworks and the immediate application of theory to practice sums up the advantages of alternative certification, Sprinkles said. In addition, most people who enter the teaching field are accompanied by real-world experience that they introduce to their students.

 “As an educator, I have learned to become more compassionate, flexible and accountable,” he said. “Today, as superintendent, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work to ensure that 1,100 students and 160 employees have the resources and tools they need to be competitive and successful.”

Becoming a teacher is not the easy way out. In Texas, most people realize the importance of educators. The stories of these teachers testify to the lifelong imprint of this profession and the role it plays in society.

 “Holding on to the passion for seeing kids learn, grow and improve themselves is the most important part of being a teacher,” Cook said. “If you can do that, go for it!”