East Orange, N.J.
Say you are a young Princeton grad, or a former professional athlete, or a corporate employee tired of the grind, and you want to teach in the public schools because you think it is important. You're just the kind of individual the public schools are falling all over themselves to attract, right?Skip to next paragraph
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Wrong. In many states, you would face an imposing roadblock called ``certification.'' No matter how high your college grades, no matter how much life -- or even teaching -- experience you've had, you still couldn't teach in the public schools without completing a certification drill of teacher-education courses. Certification a roadblock to teaching?
Originally intended to ensure that only qualified people got into the profession, certification has become, in the view of many educators, a device for keeping such people out.
``Certification is one of the reasons many people don't go into teaching,'' observes Dr. Laurence Green, superintendent of the Westfield, N.J., public schools.
Even Paul Blair, for 17 years an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, ran afoul of the certifiers when he became a high school baseball coach in Port Chester, N.Y. After one season, Blair moved on to Fordham University, where they didn't care whether his r'esum'e included teacher training credits.
With teacher shortages looming and with growing concerns over the quality of those in the classroom now, the certification logjam is not a happy state of affairs. Yet teacher organizations are demanding that teaching become more like other ``professions,'' such as law. By this they mean not just better pay and working conditions, but more barriers to people who didn't go to state teachers colleges and get their teacher training credits. States move to cut through red tape
A handful of states -- among them California, New Jersey, Texas, and Virginia -- have been moving in the opposite direction, however, establishing ways for qualified people to cut through the red tape.
Perhaps the most ambitious effort is here in New Jersey, where 221 new teachers entered the classroom this fall through a program called the ``alternate route.'' Individuals who pass a test in their subject matter and who demonstrate exceptional qualifications can go to work as teachers and earn their certification through evening classes during their first year on the job.
``We will move from a system that systematically discourages talented people to a system that will make it possible for them to teach,'' said Saul Cooperman, the state commissioner of education, when the program was first proposed.
Now the so-called ``provisional teachers'' are completing their first semester, and most people associated with the program seem pleased. ``We are delighted,'' says Janice Lehet, an assistant to the superintendent in the Rumson-Fair Haven schools.
``The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages for both the school district and the candidate,'' adds Ken King, assistant superintendent in East Orange, N. J. Dr. King has employed more provisional teachers -- 12 -- than has any other district in the state. Typical `alternate route' teachers
Among the alternate route teachers that King brought to East Orange is Andrea Bobby, who spent a year on the pro tennis circuit after college and is now teaching physical education. Another is Tracy Williams, a Princeton graduate who chose this urban school district over more genteel private school settings because ``there is a greater need in the public schools.'' Without the alternate route, she says, she may well have taught in a private school anyway.
A third new teacher in East Orange is Cynthia Stephens, who is teaching high school dropouts in a special program aimed at getting these teen-agers their high school equivalency diplomas. A dignified young woman with the precise enunciation of the reading teacher that she is, Ms. Stephens speaks with quiet conviction of the need to ``stimulate a love of reading'' in her students and describes how good she feels when her students start reading out of class. Attracting the `cream of the crop'
Stephens is typical of the provisional teachers in that she brings impressive qualifications to the classroom -- in her case, a masters degree in reading and language arts.
But like the others, she didn't take the teacher training courses as an undergraduate that would have made her eligible for a certificate.
``She's probably more qualified than many who [were already] teaching,'' sayszLoretta Onyeani, who is Stephens's supervisor. Before the alternate route, she says, the schools were ``losing the cream of the crop.''