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Alternative Teacher Certification: Become a Teacher, No Matter What

Aug 20, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

The Federal NCLB laws, enacted in 2001, stated that by the end of 2005-2006, all teachers were required to be “highly qualified”—meaning they had to meet a set of uniform standards demonstrating their knowledge of each subject they taught.

While states were allowed to adjust the qualifications slightly, in most states demonstrating competency requires a Bachelor’s degree in education or in the subject you plan to teach in, a two-year certification process (and sometimes a Master’s degree) in education, plus passing grades in standardized tests in all subjects you plan to teach in—before you enter the classroom.

However, these strict requirements—without corresponding rises in teacher pay—have served to limit the stream of new teachers. They also make it particularly difficult for experienced teachers and those transferring from full-time employment in other professions to qualify for teaching positions. As a result, many states have provided alternative means of certification since NCLB law was passed—and change has also been introduced at the Federal level.

Here are a few alternative pathways you can use to earn your teacher certification:

Teacher with students

There are many different ways you can become a teacher in addition to going through the traditional certification process.



Emergency teacher certifications

In the 1980’s, this term was widely used to refer to what’s now called “alternative” teacher certification. All states have emergency certification provisions, although sometimes the certification is only available in high-needs school districts and subjects. 

With an emergency certification, you can start teaching right away even if you haven’t passed through a teaching certification program. First, take the first part of the PRAXIS test. When you pass, you’ll be placed in a classroom with the expectation that you will attend a certification program while you work.


This is an alternative method of assessing teacher competency in the subject they plan to teach in, permitted to all states under NCLB law. The acronym stands for High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation.  This assessment method allows teachers to show their highly qualified status in other ways besides earning a major in education or the subject you plan to teach and passing certification programs and tests. While the standards used vary by states, typical examples include an assessment of hands-on teaching competency, a record of teaching at a higher learning institute, a long work history in the subject where you plan to teach, peer mentoring experience, State teaching award recognition, and so on.

Exceptions for rural teachers

Recent changes to the No Child Left Behind Act allow special exceptions for teachers who live in high-needs rural areas.  In these areas, teacher shortages often require teachers to teach several different subjects at a time. Under these exceptions, teachers don’t have to earn certification for each subject they teach right away—they have three years to become certified.  Under this provision, they are required to be provided opportunities for professional development, hands-on supervision, structured mentoring and other training in the subjects they are not certified in.

Exceptions for science teachers

Science teachers are in high demand in most areas of the country.  In previous years, No Child Left Behind regulations required science teachers to be certified in individual science subjects such as Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Under new Federal No Child Left Behind law, states are allowed to require science teachers to prove their highly qualified status in a broad “science” category instead of individual science fields, to make it easier for science teachers to teach more than one category within individual schools.

Teach for America

Teach for America is a prestigious teaching program that puts incoming members through a five-week summer training institute that prepares them to teach in high-needs areas throughout the United States. Teach for America members student-teach in local summer school programs as well as going through intense courses on classroom instruction, teaching leadership, instructional planning, classroom management and more. After the five-week program, students are placed in classrooms throughout the United States.  While the program tries to accommodate location preferences, members may have little or no control over where they’re ultimately placed.

Teach for America fosters diversity, and while many of its applicants are recent college graduates, the program also accepts applications from professionals who worked full-time before applying.

There are many different ways you can become a teacher in addition to going through the traditional certification process. Requirements vary by state, but most states need teachers—and are willing to make exceptions to bring new talent into the classroom.



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