The Pros and Cons of Alternative Teacher Certification

If you feel passionate about the knowledge you have gained through studying or working in an area other than education, and you would like to share that knowledge with the next generation, alternative certification could be your route to the classroom.

Alternative teacher certification programs began to proliferate in the 1980s as a response to critical shortages of teachers in subject areas like math and science in rural and inner-city schools. By combining education coursework with classroom experience, alternative certification allows new teachers to learn the fundamentals of the profession while also earning a salary. Specifics vary from state to state and program to program, but most provide a high level of mentoring, training and support to college-educated applicants who already have thorough knowledge of their subject area and exceptional leadership qualities.

Critics of alternative teacher certification have argued that placing brand-new teachers with little training in particularly challenging classroom situations is a disservice to students. And it is true that some candidates for alternative certification find that they are not up to the challenge and fail to complete their programs. However, as early as 1986 a study External link by Nancy E. Adelman showed that: “Alternative certification programs produce subject area-proficient teachers who are also rated highly on instructional skills (when compared to traditionally prepared beginning teachers)”. More recently, a comprehensive 800 page review External link of all available research on the question of alternative certification by the American Education Research Association found “very little difference between alternatively and traditionally certified teachers.”

Over the last two decades, alternative teacher certification has grown rapidly in popularity. According to the National Center for Alternative Certification External link , 48 states now offer alternative routes to certification, and alternative certification programs produce more than 50,000 teachers a year. This challenging path to the classroom attracts a more diverse group than the traditional route, including teachers of all ages, ethnicities and professional backgrounds. A 2005 study has shown that Florida’s alternative teacher certification programs have attracted many qualified individuals to the profession who would not have chosen it otherwise, and a study External link by Leo Klagholz showed that New Jersey’s alternative certification program accomplished its goal of increasing the overall quality of the teaching certificate candidate pool in that state.

Alternative teacher certification has contributed to the quality of the American education system, but what makes it so attractive to potential teachers, many of whom have already been successful in other fields? Alternative certification provides a way to enter the field of education without taking time off to go back to school, which would involve a significant opportunity cost in terms of lost income. Alternative certification programs also use a hands-on approach to learning, allowing candidates to immediately apply what they learn in their own coursework to the classroom where they teach. Finally, perhaps the most attractive thing about alternative certification programs is that they provide an opportunity for people to share the passion that has motivated their studies or professional work with the next generation.

What are the downsides of alternative certification? As mentioned above, the largest argument against alternative certification is that it places the least prepared teachers in the most challenging classroom situations. While multiple studies have shown that alternative certification ultimately produces teachers at least as proficient as traditional certification, the training process undeniably involves a learning curve. Some have argued that using classrooms full of the nation’s most under-served children as training grounds for teachers is the wrong way to address teacher-shortages. This scenario also presents candidates for alternative certification with an extremely strenuous training process. Traditionally certified teachers often have greater agency in choosing where they begin working, and have already completed years of coursework and assistant teaching.

While alternative certification programs in general have clearly proven their efficacy, not all alternative certification programs are created equal. According to the National Education Association External link , certain characteristics make for successful alternative certification programs. Look for a program that meets these criteria:

Strong partnership between preparation program and school districts
Good participant screening and selection process
Strong supervision and mentoring for participants during their teaching
Solid curriculum that includes coursework in classroom basics and teaching methods
Sufficient and relevant training and coursework prior to the assignment of participants to full-time teaching

How to Become a Music Teacher

Many people want to be music teachers because it allows them not only to pursue their own passion for music, but also to share this passion with others. However, it is also a profession that involves many years of training, often starting in childhood.

Make sure you have the necessary musical chops. You probably would not be interested in becoming a music teacher if you did not already enjoy and play music. If not, now is the time to start! Join your school’s chorus or band to see if you enjoy and excel at the serious study of music.

Determine if teaching is right for you. In addition to a music background, this career requires that you enjoy working with children, which is not for everyone. Do you have the patience, enthusiasm, and positive attitude to inspire the next generation of musicians?

  • Look into teaching music at a summer camp or in an after-school program. If you continue to pursue this kind of work during and after college, it can also count as teaching experience when it comes time to apply for jobs.
  • Ask the music teacher at the elementary, middle, or high school you attended if you can interview them and/or shadow them for the day. Be sure to ask them what the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of the job are.

Tailor your high school classes to your desired future. If your school offers them, take classes in music history and theory, including AP Music Theory. Child psychology is also a natural fit for people interested in becoming music teachers.

Try subjects like computers and math. You might be surprised at the others kinds of classes that may be helpful. Since so much of music is now technology-driven, make sure you take the necessary classes to become computer literate. Aspiring composers in particular may find that they enjoy advanced math classes and that these classes help them think about music in new ways.

Consider taking private music lessons. It’s great to play in your school’s band or sing in the chorus, but if you want to attend a good program, you will need to do more than that. Private lessons can be pricey, but the right teacher can help take your skills to the next level.

  • Your teacher can also be a useful resource in identifying the best schools for you and preparing for auditions, which most music programs will require.

7 Things Music Education Majors Can Do When Facing the Job Market

1. Be an outstanding musician. “As a music educator, you have to be a great musician. Music teaching is about guiding inexperienced musicians in developing their musicianship and a big part of that process is always demonstrating high levels of personal musicianship,” states Kerry Filsinger, University Fellow and PhD candidate in Music Education at Temple University Boyer College of Music & Dance. “I am constantly striving to become a better musician, so that I can be the best possible music model for my future students.”

2. Learn how to improvise. A teacher who can walk into the classroom and perform on their instrument without music is a great asset, says Edward Smaldone, professor of composition and director of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. “Music is about communication, not just about playing what is on the page.  If the music does not live in your imagination it can’t be communicated effectively. You need to practice both: reading and improvising.” Smaldone stresses that improvisation is a valuable skill to learn and hone, and not just on your instrument. “Knowing how to improvise means you can adapt,” he says. “Lesson plans provide great ideas, but as a teacher, you can’t script every word for every situation.” This translates to myriad situations music educators will find themselves in, from needing to transpose to figuring out how to make a wind ensemble work with too many of one instrument and not enough of others. And it’s a life skill that can be passed on to your own students.

3. Acquire entrepreneurial skills. According to Russ Sperling, president of the California Music Educators Association and instrumental music specialist for San Diego City Schools in the Visual and Performing Arts Department: “It’s no surprise that, as a music educator, you must be a fine musician. At the same time you have to be skilled in marketing because you’ll have to be recruiting students into your program. You’ll also have to deal with all of the administrative work it takes to run that program.” Susan Wharton Conkling, professor and chair of Music Education at Boston University School of Music, adds, “Music teachers must stop limiting their thinking to music education as a K-12, public school enterprise. They must also stop limiting their thinking to music education as band, chorus, and orchestra.” She points to other areas where music educators can create employment for themselves: working with very young children, partnering with local YMCA or youth-based clubs; working with senior centers and retirement or assisted living facilities. Conkling goes on to say, “Music educators who have developed high-quality, broad-based musicianship are ready to be entrepreneurial. They can already think ‘outside the box.’ These music teachers will always have employment because they’ll create their own employment.”

4. Become as broad-based and well-trained as possible. “Employers will look for candidates who can do a lot!” says Dr. Deborah Sheldon, professor and chair of Music Education at Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance. “They will be more drawn to those who are skilled and capable in a number of areas, from instrumental to choral to general music. They will look for candidates who bring something unique to the school such as ideas for how to connect the school experience with the greater community, the use of new technologies to advance music and arts, and entrepreneurial ventures that will bring greater visibility to the arts. They will have their pick of many candidates so the one who is well-prepared, a polished musician, a creative thinker, an artful teacher, a good communicator,and a team player will have the advantage over others.”

5. Combine advocacy with exchange to create better programs. Lauren Kapalka Richerme, a doctoral student in music education at Arizona State University, published an important piece, “Apparently, We Disappeared,” in the September 2011 Music Educators Journal. She emphasizes the value of sharing ideas within the broader community that lead to action. Richerme states: “Music educators must alter their practices by implementing the ideas generated from their dialogue with various constituencies. Words are not enough; we must change our actions as a result of these exchanges. Combining advocacy with exchanges allows music educators to promote and improve their programs and build a better relationship with their communities.”

6. Learn all you can about relevant technology. Technology plays a significant role in music education. From apps and programs for everything from teaching chording and music theory to recording, tuning, and improvisation, music educators and music education majors have a wealth of options at their fingertips. But the technology changes quickly and sometimes dramatically, so it’s essential to continually stay on top of what’s current, assess its value, and learn how to use what’s relevant.

7. Keep an updated list of your skills, relevant experiences, and training.When you’re ready to enter the job market, having a running list of your experiences will come in handy. You’ll want to memorize some of it so you can succinctly respond to interview questions in a way that demonstrates why you’re the right candidate for the job. Take advantage of opportunities where you can teach or assist in teaching music to a variety of ages. Gain experience speaking in front of groups. Find performance venues and get your music out there. Participate in relevant workshops. Explore the music of other cultures. And remember to add all of it to your list of skills and experiences.

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Understanding music

Music is one of the most effective aspects of any culture. Almost anyone you know will most likely express a great interest in music and a particular style to which they are partial.

But to more fully appreciate music, it is important to understand its inner workings at least to some extent. Music is extraordinarily complex, but some formula and knowledge can help you understand it more easily. In using the word “understand”, we need to clarify the meaning of music theory. The ‘theory’ of music is a way of talking and relating similar techniques and design processes; it does always remain just music ‘theory’ because the final basis for assessment is always based on subjectivity, personal opinion, and can be argued definitively from any imaginable angle. There is no final music ‘truth’ in any of our appraisal of harmony, melody, rhythmic form, nor any other designated parameter that we use to describe foundations for creating music.

Because, as an artist, I strive to seek appreciation for all creative art expressions, beyond my own personal tastes, and preferences, my opinion must come after my interpretation, appreciation, and willingness to be open minded and influenced by the artist more than by my own prejudices and biases. I cannot claim perfect adherence to any such policy of fairness, and friendly fellow encouragement through openness and willingness, but I think that it remains a much more productive mind frame, an artist’s tool for further development. Through learning from our conscious efforts in adhering to such humility, sincerity, and anti-egotistical type attitudes and reactions, we will in fact surprise ourselves in what we may one day uncover, if we remember to place people and personalities before principles.


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