Granddaddy of alternative certification programs quietly turns out new teachers

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The converted classroom in what was once the Sacred Heart School hardly seems the kind of place for innovative work in the field of teacher-training. The floors sag and creak; the bookcases are of metal, not walnut; and Sheila Moran's office space in the corner is defined by just a few strategically placed tables and cupboards. But a severe teacher shortage looms ahead in the United States: The children of baby boomers are moving into the school system at a time when a tremendous number of teachers are reaching retirement age and too few younger teachers are in the pipeline.

This classroom is helping fill the teacher gap. The Upper Valley Teacher Training Program (UVTTP) headquartered here has been quietly training 15 to 20 engineers, homemakers, rock-band drummers, and the like for teaching each year since 1972.

Of course, it's no secret that school systems throughout the nation have been seeking ways to attract qualified individuals to the teaching profession, and legislatures and boards of education in states like New Jersey and California have been opening up alternative routes to teacher certification that sidestep the state teachers college systems.

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But the UVTTP is unique. It is, in a sense, the granddaddy of alternative teacher-training programs, yet few people, in or out of the field of education, know much about it.

Interns join the UVTTP from all walks of life. Among those currently enrolled are Suzanne Sylvester, who, after receiving her BA in English from Amherst College five years ago, went on to work as a goldsmith and as a publicity agent. There's also Judy Williams, who spent the 10 years after her graduation from the University of Vermont, where she majored in botany, working in outdoor education.

These are the kinds of people program director Moran feels should be entering teaching. ``Given my druthers,'' she says, ``I wouldn't train anybody in the profession until they were past the undergraduate level. Today, students have to declare their major by their sophomore year, and they often have no idea of what they want or why they're doing it. They are without a well-rounded academic experience and any real life experience.''

Although the UVTTP internship bears some resemblance to the newer alternative certification programs, Ms. Moran insists that it provides a crucial element others do not currently provide: intensive and systematic supervision. While others such as the New Jersey program allow teachers to engage in full-time teaching at the same time they are taking education courses through night or summer programs, Moran and her staff of master teachers and advisers provide constant oversight throughout the crucial first year of teaching.

Each intern works closely with a master teacher and takes part in biweekly seminars. Advisers observe and meet with the interns at least every other week. During the week preceding Christmas break, the interns receive intensive instruction in curriculum development and computer and computer literacy. Add to these the pre-internship assigned summer readings, a week of preparation before the opening of school, and regular journal-keeping, and you begin to have a picture of the variety of assistance and oversight made available to the intern.

Milton Frye, principal at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., has been acquainted with the UVTTP almost since its inception. In 1973, he served as an outside evaluator to judge the program after its first year in operation. He and his school are now some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Moran's efforts. Mr. Frye accepts as many as five interns a year, and many of his faculty are drawn from the ranks of the UVTTP graduate pool.

Frye agrees with Moran's assessment of the strength that the older intern brings to the classroom. ``This program is a setup for success,'' he says. ``One of the strongest points is its self-selecting element. These people come with maturity, and they know what they want to do. Placed with master teachers and well supervised, they can get right down to work. They've got self-discipline, and they're not too starry-eyed.''

But the interns' maturity is not the only salient feature of the UVTTP. Frye also praises the seminar work in which the students engage -- involving areas such as classroom management and communication skills -- every other week in order to fulfill the requirements for New Hampshire certification.

Blakeney Black had been a computer programmer with a varied undergraduate experience when she enrolled in the program two years ago. ``We got right into the classroom, and an actual situation all day long,'' she says. ``We had the support of our master teachers and our advisers, and we had seminars evenly spaced out to give us the background to work with.''

While the program was classified as experimental by the State of New Hampshire for the first 10 years of its existence, in 1983 it received full accreditation. The intern's year involves placements in two different settings in two different schools. A prospective chemistry teacher might, for example, spend half a year teaching high school chemistry and half a year teaching middle school general science. Some of the schools which take on interns pay part of the $3,000 tuition.

The result: qualification to teach in New Hampshire, which translates into full accreditation in the 31 states with which New Hampshire has reciprocity agreements.

Regarding UVTTP's success in placing its graduates, Frye simply says, ``They get all the jobs they want.''

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