“The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” –James Baldwin
In 7th grade we watched Schindler’s list and debated public policy. There were long-awaited speeches and regular recitations. We read The Summer of My German Soldier and Countee Cullen’s The Incident. More than 20 years later, I can still recite the poem word for word.
In 8th grade English we watched the O.J. Simpson verdict, live. We analyzed reactions from both sides and used it as fodder to discuss the power and use of language.
In high school, the business law teacher asked what my parents did for a living. At my reply, he responded: “So how did YOU get to be so smart?”
It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen in time, but upon college graduation I decided to become a teacher. Much too late to complete certification as an undergrad, I did what anyone with limited time and resources would do: I decided to pursue alternative certification.
In the current market, alternative certification is controversial. A significant number of program completers are recent college graduates with no classroom experience, little knowledge of education policy, and no true desire to teach beyond the program’s completion (usually 1-3 years); insufficient to overcome the learning curve and achieve true effectiveness as an educator. Worst-case scenario, these completers also have no desire to become integrated within the communities they teach. They are often used to push-out veteran teachers at lower-costs to high-need schools (*alt. program salaries vary). They are transient.
Protestors argue that alternative certification does little to prepare graduates for the rigors of teaching and offers only philosophy and theory as teacher preparation. It disrespects the field by presuming that recent college graduates can very easily and very effectively master the craft.
Supporters argue that these programs provide cost-effective certification options for recent career-changers, they help diversify the teaching field, and they provide staff resources to schools with little qualified faculty and/or provide staff at hard-to-staff locations.
When I applied for Inner-City Teaching Corps I wanted an opportunity to explore a new city, to teach in underserved communities of color, and to receive training and certification with similar-aged peers. I was idealistic and selfish, but sincere in my desire to be effective. For anyone considering nontraditional routes to certification, I’d only ask that you do what I should’ve done prior to certification:
- Research. Not all certification programs are the same. Choose one that has a solid reputation for high-quality training. Choose one that is intentional about its impact, but whose recruitment and retention practices aren’t antithetical to its mission. Consider its long-term impact on the school culture and climate.
- Reflect on your own cultural and identity development. Understand your social location and work to understand the perceptions and experiences of students and families. Advocate for culturally relevant pedagogy. Don’t make assumptions about students’ backgrounds. Don’t assume certain students can’t learn because of where they live, who their parents are or how they look. Don’t use “urban” as a synonym for black. Don’t say that students are “special ed.”
- Learn educational policy. See #1 and #2.