The Fourth in a Series: Why Alternative Teacher Certification Programs and Research-Based Teacher Selection Together are Uniquely Designed to Meet the Needs of at-Risk Students

Synergistic Power: Alternative Teacher Certification Programs and Research-Based Teacher Selection
by Vicky S. Dill, Ph.D. Delia Stafford-Johnson

Paradigm Synergy: Alternative teacher certification processes allow principals and site based hiring teams more latitude to choose the teachers they need because, combined-alternative teacher certification and research-based teacher selection - form the most flexible, effective, and innovative way to meet the personnel needs of the public schools. Ironically, alternative teacher certification programs can afford to be quite selective, whereas traditional programs tend to admit whoever meets minimal requirements and has tuition money. Instead of the traditional, two new models - district-based teacher certification and research-based teacher selection synergistically create a whole new way to screen, recruit, hire, train, and certify teachers. How do alternative teacher certification programs do this?

Increase the Size of the Candidate Pool. By increasing the size of the candidate pool from only those already in possession of a baccalaureate degree + teacher certification to those with degrees who meet specific criteria and who the school can then facilitate certification for, the school district can afford to be more selective. It is an ideal, almost magical combination because now school districts can afford to select only those whose beliefs mirror the beliefs and practices of the "best of the best."

Meeting the Needs of the Most Vulnerable. Because the neediest students tend to receive the least experienced teachers, alternative teacher certification processes bring a breath of fresh air. They do this because highly selective hiring among individuals who have a baccalaureate degree is possible in these programs; many people want to teach! What they don’t want to do or cannot afford to do is return to college and "make up" 60 hours of pedagogy. Expeditious means to certification for individuals who have creditable content knowledge has dramatically enlivened the ranks of new teacher graduates.

In alternative teacher certification programs, these same individuals will line up in lines that curl around whole city blocks outside the Human Resources offices in school districts that advertise for personnel where they demonstrate over and over, they "want to make a difference." They have a belief: they think they can make a difference. What difference does it make what they believe?

Believing is Seeing. Results will not be apparent until school leaders understand and respect the power of beliefs. What does a teacher believe s/he is doing when s/he stands up in front of students to lead them and facilitate their learning? What they believe is what they will do. Well-known author and writer Virginia Richardson notes in "The Role of Attitudes and Beliefs in Learning to Teach" "Anthropologists, social psychologists, and philosophers have contributed to an understanding of the nature of beliefs and their effects on actions. There is considerable congruence of definition among these three disciplines in that beliefs are thought of as psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions about the world which are felt to be true ("The Role of Attitudes and Beliefs in Learning to Teach" by Virginia Richardson in Handbook of Research in Teacher Education. Ed. John Sikula. 1996, pp. 102-105ff).

When hiring officials understand that-immediately or eventually--they will see in the classroom the beliefs they detect in a selection interview, they begin to question how they might access individuals’ belief systems. Beliefs are seismically important- come by over time, they increase in proportion and stability as the individual ages. The older an individual is, generally speaking, the harder it is to get him or her to change basic beliefs. New and indisputable information may be added, but is more likely to be incorporated into old erroneous beliefs than to wholesale replace inaccurate beliefs. In other words, long-held beliefs die hard. Further, context makes a difference. If teachers can test their beliefs in the actual classroom, they are more likely to consider modifying them than if those beliefs are tested in a university setting.

Research seems to bear this out. Notes Richardson, "Nontraditional students appeared to understand the complexities of teaching and learning more than the traditional students (ibid, p. 109)." Seldom are changes attributable to teacher preservice programs, which turn out to be weak influences on beliefs brought into teaching. In many cases, college courses had virtually no effective on students’ beliefs and conceptions. Apparently context is extremely important and hands-on practical experience is more likely to change a belief system than is the relatively brief period of pedagogical examination normally entailed in preservice teacher education. Reflection can promote healthy, gradual change if done on the job, but that change in belief is incremental and is achieved only over long periods of time.

That’s Why Selection is More Important Than Training. In one alternative teacher certification program in Illinois, teacher attrition did not improve until officials running the program understood the power of selection. Records indicate that the program, jointly sponsored by the Golden Apple Foundation and area universities, included six weeks of observing and working in a summer school classroom in a Chicago public school with a Golden Apple award-winning mentor. It also included after hours classes with university faculty. Candidates then became interns for a year and, if they passed all requirements during the year, were certified after the fulltime experience. This contrasts sharply to the five years of work experience and six months of training proposed by the colleges of education for mid-career switcher programs. Initial program reviews are so positive, commentaries report, "education school leaders may also be forced to rethink traditional programs. . ." ( <> 2.21.00). All groups are rethinking the selection process in order to decrease attrition. To date, 23 of the 26 interns in this particular program are still teaching and their beliefs about their potential effectiveness among kids is well expressed by one of the cohort, Gary Sircus, who left a lucrative lawyer firm to become a teacher: "I was a very good lawyer. I achieved the objective measures of success," he said. "But I really had no passion for it. I wanted to do something I could be passionate about" (ibid).

The Fine Art of Teacher Selection. What do we want? How do we know what good is? More important, if I knew, how would I know this candidate is telling me the truth?

Next Tuesday - the latest in research-based teacher selection.

For further information about how your school or university can develop Alternative Teacher Certification programs, please contact The National Center for Alternative Teacher Certification Information at or call 713-667-6185.

For many years Dr. Dill worked at The Texas Education Agency reviewing traditional teacher education programs and building alternative program and has many years of experience in teacher education in colleges and university. Dr. Dill authored A Peaceable School: Creating a Culture of Non-Violence published by Phi Delta Kappa (1999). Dr. Dill is currently Associate Director of Special Programs for Round Rock ISD (Round Rock, TX) and Senior Researcher for The Haberman Foundation/NCATCI. Delia Stafford-Johnson is President and CEO of The Haberman Educational Foundation/National Center for Alternative Teacher Certification Information (NCATCI). For ten years, she was Director of the first alternative teacher certification program in Texas started in the Houston Independent School District and has twice been honored by President Bush at the White House for her work in teacher education.

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