Speeding Certification for Encore Teachers

John Kostibas, a former engineer, now teaches high school math.

Community colleges are creating new and more flexible pathways to becoming second-career teachers. That's good news for prospective encore teachers who balk at the requirements of traditional teaching colleges, many of which require four years of full-time study even for those who already have a college degree.

Four-year teaching institutions are still the norm for most, but more alternative pathways to teacher certification are popping up around the country. Many are run by community colleges. These alternative programs often move candidates into their own classrooms after a shorter period of training while continuing studies on nights and weekends. Many pack other benefits as well, such as increased flexibility.

Although there are more than 120 alternative routes to teacher certification in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, few reach out directly to boomers, retirees and those interested in second careers. But there are a few notable exceptions.

EducateVA, part of the Virginia Community College System’s Career Switcher Program, assists professionals from engineering, medical, manufacturing and sales industries to begin a second career in teaching. By combining online and on-site instruction in a 16-week program, EducateVA allows students to maintain their current jobs while becoming licensed teachers.

Rebecca Waters, Career Switcher program manager, explains why this program can create effective second-career teachers in a nontraditional way: “The key is building a program that doesn’t cut corners, eliminates the fluff, isn’t theoretically-based and is a program for practitioners who have the passion and desire to give back.” EducateVA is a 2007 BreakThrough Award winner.

Rio Salado College’s 50+ Encore Program in Teacher Education, based in Maricopa County, Ariz., provides online teacher certification targeted at adults over 50. Depending on eligibility, candidates are able to enroll in one of four online programs. One of the programs is Troops to Teachers, an initiative designed for military personnel transitioning from the military to second careers in teaching. Rio Salado College is a grant awardee under the Community College Encore Career Initiative sponsored by Encore.org and MetLife Foundation.

The fast-track program at Collin College near Dallas structures its program with daytime courses three days per week over one semester followed by a choice of one semester of student teaching or one year of teaching as an intern. This program, which is geared toward laid-off or retired tech workers with backgrounds in math and engineering, enforces that knowing a subject and teaching the subject don’t necessarily go hand in hand. For instance, it requires these math-savvy students to take a session on how to teach math.

Julie Greene, a former marketing professional who earned her teacher certification at Collin College, says, “Knowing math and teaching math are not the same. The content session on how to teach math was really helpful.” Collin College is also a grant awardee under the Community College Encore Career Initiative.

Although these alternative pathways are attractive to sector switchers, many states do not yet allow community colleges to be teacher preparers. But times are changing. For example, Rio Salado College’s program started in 2001 after Arizona changed a rule that barred community colleges from providing teacher training. A number of other alternative routes to teacher certification can be found on Teach-Now.org.

California, a leader in creating alternative pathways to teacher certification, has two notable programs that directly recruit potential second-career teachers and match them to teacher training programs: California Teacher Corps, which links interested individuals to the more than 70 alternative certification programs throughout the state, and EnCorps, a program developed under the guidance from the Governor’s Committee on Educational Excellence that leads prospective teachers through volunteer and substitute guest teaching roles before teaching full time and earning the credential along the way.

Read more about teaching as a second career: