Deseret News writers try their hand at teaching, B2.
Teachers have traditionally traveled the same path to the classroom, but in the past few years, changes in how Utah certifies its teachers have opened new routes to the profession.The newest option, alternative teaching preparation, is designed to encourage individuals with special talents and experience who want to become teachers.
Most education officials like the plan, but at least one powerful state legislator thinks it has too many twists and turns to attract many prospective teachers.
Under the plan, an individual with abilities and experience in a particular field must apply to a local school district. He is then evaluated by a committee consisting of a mentor teacher, school district representative, State Office of Education representative and a College of Education representative.
The consortium designs a program to help the candidate compensate for his weak areas - most likely in teaching methodology. The teacher-in-training then must work for two years under the supervision of a certified teacher in the participating district, as well as taking the classes designated by the consortium. During that time, participants hold a temporary teaching certificate.
Information about the recently adopted plan is available by calling the State Office of Education or a local school district.
Other "routes" to the classroom that have been in effect for some time and do not require standard teacher preparation are:
- Eminence Certification. A non-certified person may teach up to two periods a day if approved by district officials. Ten to 20 people per year teach in Utah schools under this plan, usually in specialized academic areas.
- Vocational instructors. Six years of experience in a vocational field are required for consideration as a public school teacher in that field. Two-year, renewable certificates are granted based on performance. With 18 hours of approved in-service or other educational training, individuals can be certified as vocational teachers.
The new alternative preparation process is not likely to attract great crowds of prospective teachers, said a group of Utah school superintendents attending a state board meeting recently. They predicted its most likely use will be in rural districts where teachers in some subjects are hard to find.
Attracting large numbers of prospective teachers wasn't the purpose of alternative programs, said Cecelia Foxley, associate commissioner of higher education and co-chairwoman of the committee that drafted the proposal. Its aim was to clear a path to the classroom for individuals with particular talents or abilities needed by a school district.
"It's not meant to be a primary means for preparing teachers at all," added Dean Colleen Blankenship of the University of Utah Graduate College of Education.
To Blankenship, an example of the ideal candidate for alternative preparation would be the private music teacher who already has earned a bachelor's degree but who needs some teaching-methodology classes.
Roger Mouritsen, who heads the state's teacher certification program, said a specific set of standards for teacher preparation is necessary. His office is responsible for seeing that those who preside in Utah's classrooms are qualified.
"Our goal is to safeguard our students and see that they get the best possible teachers," he said.
The trend toward alternative teacher preparation originated in states with different educational problems. They were states with chronic teacher shortages, particularly in inner-city schools.
Trish Stoddart, U. of U. assistant professor of educational studies, researched alternative preparation in Los Angeles, which must hire 1,200 new teachers annually. That equals the total number of teachers in the Salt Lake School District.
"It's an inner-city urban district with all the problems they have," Stoddart said of L.A. "It's very, very difficult to recruit teachers for schools where there are drive-by shootings, where drug dealing goes on in the neighborhood."
L.A. recruits individuals with what Stoddart called a "Peace Corps mentality." They then have a three-week training before entering the classroom.
Utah's new policy is more restrictive than some legislators had envisioned, said Rep. Richard J. Bradford, R-Sandy, one of the Legislature's education-reform leaders.
"Certainly I'm the first to agree that we need competently trained people in our classrooms, but I am not convinced that having a baccalaureate degree in education necessarily makes a person a better-qualified teacher than someone who has comparable training in a subject area, but who lacks formal teaching training classes," said Bradford. "Teaching is as much an art as a science. Some people have inherent abilities to teach."
He would have been inclined, Bradford said, to "lean on the side of greater flexibility to give access to qualified, knowledgeable people."
Bradford, in fact, has reservations about current training processes and would prefer to see people with a background in some subject area receive their "methodology" skills through actual classroom experience under the guidance of a mentor.
"I still sense an elitism attitude in some college education people that unless they continue to do it the way it's been done, somehow teachers won't be qualified."
Stoddart counters that teaching is not as simple as it seems, even if the individual is an expert in his or her subject.
"There is a lot of evidence that just knowing your subject is not sufficient preparation for teaching," Stoddart said.
"What you have to do when you teach is unpack the expert knowledge you have. You have to present it in a way that children and novices can understand. One of the things that we know about expertise is that experts tend to develop shortcuts. They tend to develop technical jargon. When you are learning something, you need to go the long way around,"
She believes that the best math teacher isn't necessarily the engineer who turns to teaching but the person who struggled with math and then became good at it.
Stoddart says the big drawback to alternative teacher preparation is that it fosters basically a "show-and-tell" approach. The teacher learns one way of teaching on the job but lacks the flexibility that comes with a wide repertoire of instructional methods learned in teacher preparation courses, the university professor said.
From Bradford's standpoint, the new policy isn't set in concrete.
"Nothing is forever. We (the Legislature) are going to continue to look at the issue and see if we are, in fact, providing the best teachers possible in subject areas where we have shortages."
The Utah Education Association, which represents the majority of Utah's teachers, feels the safeguards built into the policy are appropriate to screen "those who are doing the most important work in the world - teaching our children."
UEA executive Lowell Baum said the organization was concerned with the first legislative proposals and worked closely with the State Office of Education and the committee to develop a policy that assures teacher quality.
"We feel that with the guidelines that have been projected, districts will be assisted in finding some possible alternative certificates that are appropriate to good classroom teaching," said Baum.