CHARLESTON, W.Va. _ With about a quarter of West Virginia’s 24,000 educators eligible for retirement within the next year, the West Virginia Department of Education is working to streamline alternative routes to certification to attract new teachers to the classroom.
Instead of enrolling in a four-year undergraduate teacher education program, alternative certification provides a non-traditional route to licensure by allowing individuals to become classroom teachers in a shorter time frame. Proponents of alternative certification programs say such programs increase diversity and attract candidates with work experience in the subject areas they ultimately will teach.
“Educators and policymakers are continually searching for new ways to recruit and retain excellent public school teachers,” said state Superintendent Steve Paine. “Alternative teacher certification is but one way to address the growing teacher shortage across the state.”
Alternative certification is attractive to those who have a college degree and have been successful in their careers but want to change jobs or their lifestyle. In West Virginia, prospective teachers have several alternative avenues to becoming a licensed teacher.
The Transition to Teaching program, funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is a collaborative effort between the West Virginia Department of Education and Marshall and West Virginia universities. The goal is to prepare 30 teachers a year for the next five years in critical shortage areas, such as math or science. Participants must already have a bachelor’s degree in critical shortage area. A significant number of participants were engineers, chemists or physicists when they enrolled in the program.
Resolve to Educate Aspiring Chemistry Teachers with 21st Century Tools, also called Project REACT, is another joint project between the West Virginia Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education, Marshall and Marathon Petroleum. This three-year program uses state and federal dollars to train existing science teachers in Regional Education Service Areas II and III to teach chemistry. The area includes Boone, Cabell, Clay, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo and Wayne counties.
Connecting Mathematics through Innovation and Integration or Project CMii, partners Davis and Elkins College math and science faculty to add about 30 highly qualified chemistry and middle school science teachers to Clay, Hampshire, Monongalia, Preston and Randolph counties. The program offers existing teachers the opportunity to add a math and science certification.
Another example on both the state and national level is the Troops to Teachers program, which strives to help military personnel make a successful transition to a second career. This program is managed by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support. It includes up to $5,000 to pay for coursework and certification testing. Participants also are eligible for up to $10,000 if they serve in high-need schools, especially those serving low-income families.
The West Virginia Department of Education also has formed the Teacher Shortage Task Force Committee to develop a plan to address the problem.
Developing streamlined alternative routes to certification was one of several recommendations presented to the Board of Education in December. Other recommendations include increasing teacher salaries; launching a coordinated recruitment and retention campaign to attract and retain a qualified teacher work force; expanding certification of K-6 and K-8 elementary teachers; allow all currently certified teachers to use the Praxis II exam to expand certification to other subject areas; allow retirees to work as substitutes without losing their retirement benefits; provide financial incentives, such as loan forgiveness and signing bonuses, to teachers in critical shortage areas; improve working conditions; and develop content institutes to prepare currently certified teachers in subject areas, such as math and science.
“West Virginia has a highly experienced teaching corps that will be difficult to replace as more and more teachers retire,” Paine said. “We are addressing this issue and many others in our 21st Century Learning initiative. Increasing accessibility of alternative routes to certification is but one viable option for expanding our teacher ranks.”