State of Our Schools – Prospective teachers have different ways into classrooms

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

It’s a natural fact that people change their minds, and the Mississippi Department of Education is ready for them.
Plenty of students get through college without stepping into an education school building. Years later, some realize that might have been a mistake.
“We hear from those who have some experience working with students, and they see that as an area they may have a passion about,” said Daphne Buckley, deputy superintendent for the office of quality professionals and special schools for MDE.
The state endorses four so-called alternate routes that allow non-education majors the chance to get into classrooms without having to go back to undergraduate school.
“When we initially started all of these alternate routes it was because at that time there was a shortage of teachers in certain subject areas,” Buckley said. “There were critical shortages in subject areas, such as special education, mathematics, science and foreign language.”
Anyone wanting to take an alternate path needs to pass the Praxis I, which tests general knowledge of reading, writing and math.
That’s followed by Praxis II, and it tests someone’s specific knowledge in their chosen subject area. Subjects include art, English, biology, business, chemistry, physics, music, social studies and physical education.
Praxis II study guides and practice tests are available, so prospective teachers who haven’t been to school in years can find out what they’re expected to know.
The subjects were chosen based on what schools needed. Thought also was given to the types of subjects people could teach effectively without an education background.
There are limits. For instance, there’s no alternate route to teach children from kindergarten to third grade.
“The thought was you really need to understand early childhood and early education,” Buckley said. “You would have to go back and get a degree in early education.”

FLEXIBILITY
The first alternate route was Master of Arts in Teaching, which requires six hours at an approved graduate school in the state.
It was followed by the Mississippi Alternate Path to Quality Teachers, which was specifically designed for working people who wanted to make career changes. It’s a 90-hour, intensive program taught at community colleges.
“It was set up to be a fast-track, compact, compressed program so individuals could still work and take off a small amount of time from work to get that license,” Buckley said.
The Teach Mississippi Institute path requires eight or more weeks of training, and that can be online or on campus, depending on the school.
The American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence is an online, independent study program that serves Mississippi and 10 other states.
All alternate path programs focus on teaching strategies, classroom management and state curriculum. New teachers also need to spend time observing experienced teachers in classrooms.
After getting a one-year, provisional license, it’s up to a teacher to apply for jobs. Training continues on-the-job with weekend classes and mentoring programs.
All four alternate routes in Mississippi have steps a new teacher can take during or after the first year of teaching to earn a five-year renewable license.
The MDE sends representatives to career fairs to spread the word about alternate route. In addition, the department’s website, www.mde.k12.ms.us/educator-licensure/alternate-route-programs, is packed with information for anyone looking to make a career change.
“During the last couple of years, we’ve had a high number of people interested in the profession,” Buckley said.
She said there are about 34,000 teachers in the state. More than 4,000 have found their way into classrooms without bachelor’s degrees in education, according to figures from the MDE.
And the skills prospective teachers learned before making their switch still come in handy.
“Those individuals have come from years of work outside of education,” Buckley said, “and they do bring that positive experience into the classroom.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com

Learn More
TO LEARN MORE about the Mississippi Department of Education’s
approved alternate route programs, visit www.mde.k12.ms.us/
educator-licensure/alternateroute-programs.