The case for alt certified teachers


A friend and colleague recently showed me this article in last Sunday’s Oklahoman newspaper. The article quotes an educator with some pretty derogatory and fallacious things to say about teachers with emergency and alternative certification. For instance:

“Emergency certified personnel may have had zero experience with children, may have achieved a 1.0 grade-point average or lower with a major in physical education at University of Phoenix, may be alcoholics with pornography addictions, but they have been hired by the state to teach English at the local middle school,” said Lawrence Baines, associate dean for graduate studies and research at the University of Oklahoma’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.

Seriously? Look at this quote from the American Psychological Association:
Various international studies have put porn consumption rates at 50 percent to 99 percent among men, and 30 percent to 86 percent among women, according to Gert Martin Hald, PhD, and colleagues in The APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology (Vol. 2).
Here’s a bit from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
About 1.5 million adults received treatment for an AUD at a specialized facility in 2014 (8.9 percent of adults who needed treatment)5. This included 1.1 million men (9.8 percent of men in need) and 431,000 women (7.4 percent of women who needed treatment)5

The point I would make to Mr. Baines is that it’s very likely he has colleagues at the great University of Oklahoma who are alcoholic porn-watchers. Does he know they fall into this category?

The thing is, if a person has no history of getting in trouble for being an alcoholic or looking at pornography, it won’t come up in the mandatory background check done for anyone who works with students. That includes teachers with traditional certifications.

Mr. Baines goes on to say that alternative and emergency certified teachers have a higher rate of misconduct. He provides no statistics to prove this, and the reporter didn’t bother to fact check him. So, if anecdotal evidence is good enough, how’s this: The high school where I work has been notorious for misconduct by coach-teachers. All of those people had traditional certifications. Hmm.

Why am I defensive about this? There are several reasons. The most obvious is because I am alternatively certified. After 10 years in machine shops, I finally went to college. I started as an English education major, but a series of hyper-liberal closed-minded English professors at the University of Central Oklahoma and the adrenaline rush of journalism diverted me. I earned a BA in journalism in 1999 and spent the next seven years working for newspapers or doing public relations work. I’d been doing PR for a while when I looked at my life and decided I wasn’t making a positive impact in the world, so I got my teaching certificate. I worked as a substitute for one semester, then got hired full time with my current employer.

I’ve now been at my job for over 10 years. In that time I’ve been named Teacher of the Year once and consistently score Highly Effective on my evaluations. My former students routinely thank me for preparing them for college after their freshman years. But if one only goes by what Baines says, non-traditional teachers “are not just under trained, but may be a risk to students.” Nowhere is he quoted to say anything positive about non-traditionally certified teachers, so one can infer that the above quote is his attitude toward the entire group.

I currently have and have had many colleagues who are very good teachers who are also non-traditionally certified. I have had colleagues with traditional education degrees tell me that they didn’t learn anything in college that was actually useful in the classroom.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to have teachers who did not follow the traditional path of high school to college back to public education. What do they know about the world outside of academia? Not much.

We have a teacher shortage in Oklahoma. This shortage is caused by legislators who reduce education funding, who refuse to pay teachers a salary comparable to surrounding states, and who continually fault teachers for students who don’t learn, ignoring more dominant and negative factors in the lives of those children. When people are willing to leave private sector jobs that typically pay more and step into the classroom they face the scorn of snobs like Mr. Baines. Is it any wonder Oklahoma can’t keep teachers?

Finally, my last problem is with this article itself and the reporter, Ben Felder. I contacted him and complained about the tone of his article. His response was that he didn’t personally say bad things about non-traditionally certified teachers. True, Mr. Felder, true. But it’s your article and you had access to sources that would have shown you a different perspective. You chose to only give voice to Baines’ point of view. From a former journalist and a current teacher who isn’t an alcoholic or porn addict, I say that’s just bad reporting.

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