What’s the best way to train and certify teachers?

With education schools under attack and growing numbers of teachers entering the profession through alternative certification programs, New York State may be poised to allow programs like Teach for America and others to create their own master’s degree programs.   The New York State Board of Regents would award the degree.

Newly minted teachers who have entered alternative certification programs like the New York City Teaching Fellows from other professions (some with law, medical and other advanced degrees)  will likely cheer this development, reported today by The New York Times in a front-page story. Some have complained about having to go back to an education school for a master’s degree while learning the ropes of becoming a teacher on the job.

The proposed changes come at a time when just a handful of states allow alternative programs to certify their own teachers.  They also come as education schools have been criticized for not doing enough to prepare teachers for the realities of classroom life.  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last fall that most education schools do “a mediocre job.”

New teachers trained in other ways, though, also don’t always get the tools they need to succeed. A national survey released in February by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found shortfalls in both preparation and support of those who changed careers to become new teachers.

And there are still career-changers and others who believe in the value of traditional education school programs.  The story quoted a 26-year-old systems analyst who chose Teachers College over Teach for America because she wanted more training — and she got it in the form of mentoring that will help her to become “the teacher I want to be.”

Liz Willen