Alternative Teaching Certification

alternative teacher certification

For those wanting to enter the teaching profession but lacking an education degree or specific education classes, the alternative certification process accelerates their route to the classroom.

After all, sometimes it’s only after graduating from college, and even working for a time, that many individuals find what it is they want to do with their lives. And the intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction of teaching appeals to many who have worked for a short time or even after many years in other fields.

Fortunately there is a path for those with degrees in specific subject areas, enabling them to start teaching immediately, and that path is called alternative teaching certification.

As of 2010, 48 states and the District of Columbia have some alternate route to teacher certification. These alternative routes to teacher certification allow individuals with at least bachelor’s degrees to teach without necessarily going through a college’s campus-based teacher education program.

Alternative Teaching Certification Requirements by State

Alabama Louisiana Ohio
Alaska Maine Oklahoma
Arizona Maryland Oregon
Arkansas Massachusetts Pennsylvania
California Michigan Rhode Island
Colorado Minnesota South Carolina
Connecticut Mississippi South Dakota
Delaware Missouri Tennessee
Florida Montana Texas
Georgia Nebraska Utah
Hawaii Nevada Vermont
Idaho New Hampshire Virginia
Illinois New Jersey Washington
Indiana New Mexico Washington DC
Iowa New York West Virginia
Kansas North Carolina Wisconsin
Kentucky North Dakota Wyoming

The National Center for Education Information (NCEI) estimates that more than 250,000 have become certified to teach through alternative routes since the mid-1980s -when the alternative programs started.

NCEI states that alternative routes to certification have had a major impact on the teaching profession. More men, more non-whites, more mature, life-experienced, educated professionals have become K-12 teachers as a result of alternative programs designed to certify nontraditional students.

This nontraditional process places individuals immediately in the classroom, getting them working with students and teaching while working on certification requirements.

Requirements for Alternative Certification

Numerous alternative certification routes are available, and each state sets its own requirements for these routes. However, many states share some or all of the following characteristics for alternative certification:

  • Targeting talented individuals who have bachelor’s degrees and often careers in fields other than education.
  • Rigorous screening procedures regarding acceptance, including interviews and demonstrated mastery of subject content. In some states, tests over subject matter are required to prove competence.
  • High performance standards while in the program, as well as for final completion of the program and certification.
  • Field-based programs, meaning working directly with students in the classroom.
  • Prospective teachers working with mentors, such as other teachers and educational support staff.
  • Prospective teachers taking courses or equivalent workshops and experiences in educational studies before and while teaching.

Becoming a teacher through an alternative route often goes by many names. Some call it an emergency or temporary route, others call it a nontraditional route, and still others simply call it an alternative teaching route. All of these names basically denote the same thing - alternative pathways for certifying individuals to teach.

Shortage areas or high demand for certain teachers

One route to alternative teaching certification resulted from a high demand for teachers qualified to teach certain subjects during the 1980s. While many other alternative certification routes now exist, emergency certification still exists in some states and for certain subject areas.

Alternative Teaching Certification Statistics and Facts
  • On average, 97% of those entering teaching through alternate routes state they feel highly competent in several areas of teaching.
  • 70% of those entering teaching through alternate routes are older than 30 years of age, 38% are male, and 30% are non-white.
  • 46% of those teaching through alternate routes are teaching in a large city.
  • Nearly half of those who enter teaching through alternate routes were working in a non-education occupation the year prior to entering an alternative route program.
  • Nearly half of those who became teachers through alternate routes state that if these alternate routes had not been available, they would not have entered the teaching field.
  • "Being able to teach while getting certified” and “receiving a teacher’s salary and benefits” were the most important variables in choosing alternate routes to teaching.
  • "Teaching full time as a teacher of record during the program” far outranked any other variable as the most beneficial aspect of the alternate route program in developing their teaching competence.

This information was cited from the National Center for Education Information (NCEI) website.  

For example, there is still a high demand for teachers in inner cities and rural areas in mathematics, the sciences, and special education. Programs for teaching positions in these areas are job-specific, meaning that they recruit individuals for specific teaching positions and place individuals in these positions – in the classroom - early in their training programs.

For individuals wanting to teach math and science, states usually require content-area expertise, and might test individuals to ensure they have this knowledge. Some states also require that those wanting to teach special education have an understanding of how to work with people with disabilities.

In situations where a true “emergency” exists, the prospective teacher receives an emergency certificate or waiver allowing the individual to teach, usually without any on-site support or supervision. But they must simultaneously take traditional teacher education courses required for full, standard certification.

In other situations where there’s a high demand, but it’s not classified as an immediate emergency, prospective teachers will work with mentors, and many go through alternative certification programs in groups or cohorts with other prospects so they’re not isolated or feel alone. And many of these programs integrate classes, workshops, and professional development efforts from the state’s department of education, colleges and universities, and the hiring school districts.

However, many states are now renaming these “emergency” or “temporary” certification routes to simply alternative certification routes. Because the need to fill these positions is ongoing, most are now considered permanent approaches to fill these in-demand teaching positions.

Residency programs

Many states have started alternative certifications they call “teaching residencies.” Again, the elements and requirements of these programs are driven by a state’s teaching needs, and so many varieties of these routes exist.

School districts, states, and nonprofit organizations based the development of these programs on the medical residency programs that train future doctors. Residents learn the essentials of great teaching under the guidance of an experienced teacher. In addition, many residencies require that these individuals work toward a master’s degree in education.

Additionally, states and school districts often partner with nonprofit organizations and universities to develop innovative residency programs.

For example, the Urban Teacher Residency United, or UTRU started with schools in Chicago, Boston, and Denver in 2007, promoting a concept called a residency-based teacher preparation program for schools in high-poverty, chronically failing schools.

UTRU recruits diverse, talented individuals, including recent college graduates, those wanting to change careers, or those who are community members. Each participating school district partners with UTRU to find candidates that fill their specific needs, but special attention is paid to individuals of color, and individuals desiring to teach science, math, or special education.

In many cases, residency programs require a commitment of staying with the school district for a number of stated years after receiving the degree and certification.

Wanted: individuals with passion for helping others learn

Some individuals don’t live in states or areas with high-needs schools. In other words, there are no teacher shortages. Failing schools are not a driving factor for alternative teaching routes, nor are there critical openings in science, math, or special education.

Yet there still is a need to recruit talented, committed individuals who want to teach.

And there are many individuals with degrees in subject areas other than education, or who have valuable work experience from other professional careers, who have a desire to make a difference in other children’s or adolescents’ lives.

Many states have alternative routes for these individuals, for positions in both elementary and secondary grade levels.

These alternative teacher certification routes involve teaching with a trained mentor, and classes taken while teaching. This instruction focuses on the theory and practice of teaching. Some states permit prospective teachers to take these classes in the summer before and/or after the teaching experience.

And in recent years, some private organizations have dedicated themselves to increasing awareness on the need to recruit more energetic, devoted individuals to the teaching profession. They have also opened up alternative routes for teaching certification.

These organizations include Teach for America, Troops to Teachers, and various routes for college professors who want to teach in K-12 schools. Individual states decide whether or not to permit these alternative routes to certification.

The NCEI estimates that over 59,000 individuals were issued certificates to teach through alternative routes in 2008-09, the last years for which data is available. However, the organization states that the numbers continue to grow, and will continue to increase in the years ahead. Alternative routes to teaching are now important ways for states to attract the best to this dynamic profession.

If you are interested in pursuing alternative teaching certification, explore your state's particular requirements.