2009-10-29 / Features

PA Adults Ponder Going Back To School As Teachers


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – They shot eager arms into the air when they had questions and came with pens and pencils ready.

The 35 people who recently packed the meeting room at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg were ready to go back to school – as teachers.

Adults of various ages and backgrounds answered radio ads for an information session given by the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that offers alternative teaching certifications in nine states.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education started accepting teacher certification through the organization in 2005. Since then, 51 teachers in the state have been certified through that program.

Recently, over 200 Pennsylvanians attended the organization’s information sessions held across the state, including one in Harrisburg.

In the last three years, more than 900 teachers in the state’s public schools had nontraditional, post-baccalaureate teacher certification. In addition to accepting the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence’s program, Pennsylvania has its older Teacher Intern Certification program.

Nationwide, alternative certification is on the rise. In the 2007-08 school year, 62,000 teachers in the U.S. took the road less traveled to the classroom, according to the National Center for Education Information.

The certificate offered through the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence is one of many ways that anyone with a bachelor’s degree, the desire to teach and preferably some subject-matter expertise can become a teacher nationwide and in Pennsylvania.

With more teachers reaching retirement age, dwindling numbers of people going into math and science education, and more professions earning the reputation as non-recession-proof in a down economy, lawmakers and nonprofits are ramping up efforts to fast-track educated midcareer professionals to the front of classrooms.

The programs differ in cost and requirements, but all aim to offer professionals who are either out of work or who want to switch careers a less costly way to earn teacher certification.

In June, Gov. Ed Rendell asked the Legislature to create a fast-track “residency’’ program for mid-career, skilled professionals in math- and science-related fields, citing a state shortage of math and science teachers.

If such legislation were to come to fruition, it would help struggling urban districts such as Harrisburg, Superintendent Gerald Kohn said.

“We’d be helped out quite a bit if there were more people going into education,’’ he said.

The state began heavily promoting its Teacher Intern Program in 1983, which opens the teaching profession to people with a bachelor’s degree who take up to 40 credits of education courses through graduate programs or post-baccalaureate classes. Thirty-seven Pennsylvania colleges and universities offer that program.

The National Center for Alternative Education, a clearinghouse for alternative certification programs in the U.S., calls Pennsylvania an interesting state when it comes to alternative routes for teachers. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the center, said that although the state has gone through periods of heavily promoting certain programs, it isn’t considered a big player in the field.

Pennsylvania “has so many colleges producing teachers, there are far more people being trained in this state than there are jobs available for them,’’ she said.

Amber Canidy, a representative of the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence, cautioned attendees that just because alternative certification was cheaper and potentially less time-consuming than the traditional way of earning a teaching certification – a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education – it wasn’t to be taken lightly. Only 40 percent of test- takers pass on their first try, she said.

Though representatives from the organization said the numbers attending informational sessions had increased thanks to the recession, many of the attendees had steady jobs elsewhere but a nagging desire to teach.

Megan Resser, 26, is content with her job at a state association but said she’s always had a desire to work with kids. After a recent session, she said she’d look further into getting certified in elementary education – but ac- knowledged that alternative certification was still a time and money investment.

The American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence program literature quotes statistics about the large number of teachers retiring across the country, and company representatives tell prospective students that while teaching might not always be a recession-proof career, “there will always be a need for teachers.’’

Still, Resser was wary: “I don’t know if there will be jobs. It sounds good, but you have to wonder about demand and supply of teachers,’’ she said.

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