Fast Track To Becoming a Teacher

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written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

The nation is in desperate need of teachers, especially in urban areas, because an entire generation of teachers is poised to retire. In response, nearly every state now offers so called “fast track,” or alternative teacher certification. As of 2004, out of every five teachers in New York, New Jersey and Texas entered the profession through this track.

If you have a bachelor’s degree – in any field – you qualify for an alternative teacher preparation program that enables you to begin teaching, with salary and benefits, within a short time.
Trial Balloon: Is Teaching for You?

Before you leap headlong into the educational field, however, it’s smart to test the waters—and yourself. Experts say that if you’re going to shift into full-time K-12 teaching mid-career, you have a better chance of making a successful transition if you get a solid preview of the job first. It’s sensible advice, especially if you’re thinking of spending time and money enrolling in school to get a teaching credential. Try to learn more about classroom management, local curricula requirements, and evaluation of student progress.

Here are some ways to see if teaching is right for you:

* Contact your local school district to learn how to apply for a position as a substitute teacher, and try it out.
* Volunteer for an after-school program or tutoring service.
* Learn as much as you can about the school community where you’d like to work – the culture, the students’ backgrounds and academic profiles, what kinds of formal and informal supports exist for both students and faculty; ask how much support and supervision a mid-career new teacher is likely to receive.

If you are not yet ready to take on a classroom job full time, you may be able to find work in two other areas where labor shortage are widely anticipated: as a daycare provider or teaching assistant working with special education students.

For unpaid volunteer work as a tutor or mentor for elementary school students, check out Experience Corps, a non-profit program in about twenty cities nationwide that trains, places, and supports teams of Americans over 55 to work in hard-hit schools, helping kids learn to read.

And, many colleges and universities will hire experts and seasoned practitioners as adjunct professors to teach a whole range of continuing education classes, from photography to business management. You don’t need a PhD in most cases, either. While these positions usually do not include benefits, and the salary is quite modest, it’s an opportunity to work with young adults and back-to-schoolers, and often provides both a great credential and chance for professional networking.

For details on fast track credentialing, check out Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification, a free booklet from the U.S. Department of Education.