I want to be a teacher. What's my plan?
November 10, 2016 4:23 PM   Subscribe

I have a BA in Not Teaching. I don't reeeaallly want to go through a whole Master's program. I live in a state with ZERO Alternative Teaching Certification programs or placement opportunities (the one through my local university and alma mater just shut it's doors). I don't know what to do. More below the fold.

Like I said, there are no alternative certification programs in my area. A program like this (think TNTP or TFA, but not nation-wide) is appealing because it's faster and more affordable, and I don't really want to go to grad school. (School and I have a bad relationship) However, I would have to move to find one.

A university near me (not my alma mater) has a Master's program in education with built in licensure. Pros: wouldn't have to move, get licensure, be a better teacher(?). Cons: More time, more $$, more homework.

I'm pretty opposed to Teach for America for the oft-stated reasons, and they don't offer certification.

The New Teacher Project offers certification, seems to do a slightly better job than TFA (correct me if I'm wrong), BUT isn't looking for teachers in my Area of Expertise anywhere but Indianapolis (I'm a mountain-loving liberal, I'm not sure it's my dream city.)

I like where I live well enough: good house, job that I don't hate and pays the bills, good friends. But I'm definitely not wedded to staying here forever, and this could be a great opportunity to move somewhere cool, although I don't have any particular destinations in mind.

I have a jumble of closely-related questions:

Should I move for a good Alternative Certification Program in some other state? If so, are there any stand-out programs that could provide me with more relocation guidance besides "Huh, I guess that town seems kinda cool"

Is TNTP actually any good? Good enough to move to Indiana?

Are there any reputable online alternative certification programs through real universities? I'm getting bogged down weeding through questionable online "schools".

Is a masters Really Worth It? Will I be missing a lot of Very Valuable Information and be a worse teacher for it if I take the shorter route?

Is there anything else I haven't considered?

Any thoughts, advice, experience, etc yall have would be appreciated.
posted by Grandysaur to Education (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would get a substitute license first. It can get you in the classroom, sometimes for long-term substituting.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:31 PM on November 10, 2016

Before you take this step make sure you have deep conversations with teachers in your area about the profession, it's a changing field and the coming years will not be favorable for education or teachers.
posted by HuronBob at 4:37 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Teaching... in what field? What experience do you have? WHY do you want to be a teacher?

It is relatively easy to get certified here in MA (pass our state licensure test, have a BA, apply), but you would need a Master's eventually (5 years). We do have mountains and liberals. Feel free to memail me if you want more specifics about our licensure requirements. In some fields (science, some foreign language, ELL), it would be relatively easy to get hired as a teacher at a public school here, in others not at all (ELA, social studies, elementary ed).

But I wouldn't recommend someone moving here without a really good reason to be a teacher, and a really good idea of what it entails.

You can also teach at many schools without licensure (independent schools, charter schools). I wouldn't personally recommend that either, especially non-union charter schools, for work condition reasons.

In MA, you don't need a license for long-term or day subbing, but day subbing is nothing like being a teacher, it's its own (awful) job. Long-term subbing can be a way to find out if it is a job you'd like permanently.
posted by lysimache at 4:44 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Is there anything else I haven't considered?
School and I have a bad relationship


More seriously, unless you purposely left it out, there's nothing in your question about why you want to be a teacher. And everything in your question seems to be looking for a shortcut around the established system that caters to your specific desires. That combination doesn't feel like it would mesh well with the political/bureaucratic nature of teaching.

If you're just looking for a new gig that's easy to fall into and offers summers off, you're barking up the wrong tree.
posted by paulcole at 4:46 PM on November 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

To clarify for a few folks:

I have a BA in American History.

I 110% want to be a teacher. I've wanted to be a high school social studies teacher for years, but have been giving myself time to be a irresponsible kid, working as a kid and skiing as much as possible. I strongly believe that a solid foundation in history and civics is vital for the next generations of voters and citizens. I love history. I love teaching anything I can (training in the kitchen? ski instructing? mentoring in local schools? SIGN ME UP). I think I can do the most good for the world as a teacher.

Now more than ever (after the recent election) it's time for me to get off my ass and Do Good.

This question is "How do I take the first steps into the Professional World of my Dream Job?"
posted by Grandysaur at 5:00 PM on November 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there anything else I haven't considered?

Yes. Is there a consistent market for teachers in your subject in the part of the country you want to teach? What is the placement rate like for the programs you are considering?

There are barriers to the profession for a reason. Teachers who graduate straight out of standard licensure programs often find themselves especially ill-prepared for the realities of the classroom. I am currently mentoring a new teacher with a master's degree and student teaching under her belt who is COMPLETELY unprepared to manage a classroom of kids- and she at least practiced doing it! Teachers who come out of alternative programs, if they are even hired (I am often on hiring committees- said committees, when picking between two equal candidates with and without traditional preparation and student teaching experience, will always pick the one who has it) are even more likely to burn out and leave the profession; many have not even completed student teaching before they are wide-eyed and terrified in front of a bunch of middle schoolers. I am not sure I would be rejecting an actual teacher prep program without considering if it might make you a better/more prepared teacher. If so, it would be worth it, right?
posted by charmedimsure at 5:05 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Many (most? all?) private schools do not require licensure. Maybe look into those kind of jobs. Downsides include (usually) not paying as well as public school jobs and often being harder to get.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:22 PM on November 10, 2016

This may not be what you want to hear, but I second HuronBob's comment that you really need to connect with teachers who currently are working in the field, in the kind of teaching position that you want to have, and you need to do some serious informational interviews. See if you can shadow some teachers. If possible, try to experience what complete days are like, from start to finish. I completely understand the idealism of wanting to teach, but the reality of what you really have to do day-to-day can be different in ways that you would never expect or be able to anticipate until you're actually in it. These differences are almost always negative.

There are many ways that you can teach people and make a difference in the world that do not entail actually being a teacher as a job. Personally, I would not recommend pursuing teaching as a career at this time. Becoming a teacher carries with it a significant probability of burnout; I think you would be more effective at helping young people over the long term if you teach or mentor in volunteer capacity, or do something that supports teachers or educational organizations. Become a community youth organizer or activist. Volunteer to teach in juvenile detention facilities. Become a docent at a museum. Become a park ranger at a historical site. Teach English as a second language. Help immigrants pass the citizenship test. There are ways you can use your history background for sure!

However, if you are committed to becoming a classroom teacher, I would highly recommend getting a master's degree. Many states will require you to get one later anyway, so that will be one thing that's out of the way. Having an MA will also bump you up on the pay scale when you're hired. If you stick with teaching, you'll have to do significant continuing professional development, and once you accrue 30 more credits you can get another pay bump for having a Masters + 30. The pay bumps will probably not be big, but it's something. An MA is also something that may help differentiate you from all of the young folks fresh out of undergrad or alternative licensure programs when you are applying for jobs. It will show that you are serious. It will provide the theoretical background you need, although most programs won't adequately prepare you to function in the classroom. That's where making connections to mentor teachers, and gaining experience teaching in other venues will come in to play. Your MA program may also have a classroom teaching internship component that will be valuable in terms of gaining practical experience.

I would not move to enroll in a shorter, alt licensure program. I would not do one of those programs at all. Don't cut corners. Do the local master's program, if you want to become a high school teacher. Pay the in-state tuition. Work as a sub, get other teaching jobs, work in an extended day program, tutor or volunteer while you go back to school. Network. Do everything you can do get a firm grasp on classroom management. Figure out where you want to teach and research the hell out of the situation, especially how the pay scale and benefits work. I can't recommend specific online programs to you, but I have taken online ed courses before and they have mostly been at least okay. I wouldn't automatically rule out an online program just because it's online, although there is something to be said for a traditional format where you can interact with other people in person. My advice is, choose whatever format you can afford that you will actually stick with.
posted by the thought-fox at 5:50 PM on November 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

I highly recommend doing a teacher residency program. Some of them include a master's, but also in depth classroom teaching experience before you are the teacher of record. The stories I've heard from people who went through a TNTP program were not much better than TFA. Residencies offer much more training and long term support.

posted by raspberrE at 6:24 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think subbing would be a wonderful point of entry. It would be a way to try out the field and you wouldn't have the pressure of something so commital as full-time though you could make it so. It'd also be a good chance to get some reccs towards a master's program should you choose to go down that path later.
posted by wilywabbit at 6:32 PM on November 10, 2016

Utah just made where anyone with a bachelors can teach.
posted by Oyéah at 7:43 PM on November 10, 2016

One other thing to be aware of:

If there is even the remotest chance that you will want to teach overseas, get proper accreditation from an University (the Masters, or any other option affiliated with a Uni if they exist in the States).

I initially trained via an alt pathway and taught for three years in the U.K., only to find when I emigrated to Australia that I had to retrain. So I now have a Masters too, and at a much higher price than it would have cost me had I gone the uni route in my early 20s.

I didn't know I'd be emigrating back then...but had I known it would cause problems, I probably would have done it differently, just in case.
posted by man down under at 11:18 PM on November 10, 2016

I think the main question for you is, do you want to be a teacher, or do you want to teach social studies?

The problem is that there's no great, low-risk, low-cost, direct path to being a social studies teacher right now, especially not to being a social studies teacher in a school that supports your work, with students who are motivated to learn, in a geographic location that suits your lifestyle, in a district with decent wages and benefits.

If you want to BE a teacher... the alternate certification programs are great. I'm doing an alternate certification program - the New York City Teaching Fellows. Two+ years (next August!!) gets me a Masters and initial certification that is transferable to almost any state, and four years, B"H, tenure in the NYC school system if I want to stay here.

Since I lived here already and wasn't giving up a great job, it was a very low opportunity cost, low risk way for me to get into this new career. You can leave at any time without owing money back (though you would be permanently ineligible for the program and other similar ones). But if you have to give up your life and job and move somewhere new, the opportunity cost goes way up, plus it takes a lot more up front financial investment.

Also, currently (knock on wood) teaching conditions in NYC are relatively good. They extended the time for tenure, the paperwork is crazy, even decent schools are way out of compliance on things like class size and special needs ratios, BUT we have a functioning union, relatively good pay, solid health and retirement benefits, some job security after 4 years, and some flexibility as being part of such an enormous school district.

That said, the closest I think you could get to your desired work would be a dual license in special education and social studies, and then it's up to your hard work and luck whether you can get a job in a school where you would actually a) have social studies classes b)have the autonomy you want to make the teaching meaningful for you.

NYC has been crazy needy for teachers, so there are jobs. BUT many of them are in certain subject areas, and in certain neighborhoods (the ones that most teachers don't seem to want to move to/work in) and in certain schools (that have problematic administrations that lead to super high turn over). I wouldn't assume that things are much different in other settings that have a high enough need for teachers that they're running alternate certification programs.

NYCTF has a lot of pluses - you get a highly subsidized degree, there's a ton of alumni in the system, and you have the largest school district in the country to job search in (parts of the Bronx aren't so far from mountains...) (and you can take any job you find that your university program can support). But they definitely do not hold your hand at any part of the process.

Teaching is HARD - it is demanding in a complex emotional/intellectual/physical way I have not experienced in other jobs - and if you have a crazy commute, or have to live in a neighborhood you don't like, or have to deal with toxic admin or toxic colleagues, it's much harder.

Looking back on my decision, which seemed kind of spur of the moment at the time, I see that the single strongest thing in my background that suggested that teaching could be a good career for me was the fact that I loved working in summer camps with teenagers. If you don't enjoy being around kids/teenagers all day - including kids who are not at all motivated academically - I think any amount of passion about the field of social studies won't be enough. On the other hand, if you would enjoy it, then it would make it a lot easier to weather the rough parts, including when you can't teach what you want to be teaching.

I don't know what to tell you about moving. I think that if you found a place where you think you'd be happy living, where you think you'd be able to come up with a good plan B if the teaching didn't work out, and where you think you'd look back and say, 'even though teaching didn't work out, I don't mind that I gave up my old town and my old job, I'm living the life I want,' then go for it. Could you do your local MA part time and keep your job? That would be pretty valuable for me.

Is the MA worth it? I have to tell you, if I were paying full costs for my MA (it's fairly heavily subsidized), I wouldn't be the world's happiest camper. (I do think the coursework is making me a better teacher, but probably not $30k+ helpful). The community is invaluable, the classes are hit and miss. But as a credential, the MA is absolutely worth it. I don't see a good route to being a full time career teacher without an MA. I do have colleagues who started teaching without it and are doing their MA now, and if that's an option for you it could be a good way to make sure you like teaching before you commit to a degree. The downside is that they're not subsidized.

You sound really confident in this vocation, and lord knows we need more good, dedicated teachers. I think the best path for you depends on your appetite for moving, your risk tolerance, and your willingness to work as a teacher in other subjects than social studies (with the goal of getting more fully into social studies later down the line ).

If you know you ONLY want to teach social studies and you don't care where, you should start a job search for private schools, charter schools, and certain public school districts that would hire you without the MA or certification, across as broad a geographic region as you are willing to relocate to. Don't give up your job and move until you find a position (and do be picky because some schools just burn through teachers), but leave the credentialing and MA as concerns for a future day. This can work - I have a friend who, after a long, heartbreaking, and arduous job search, did get a public school social studies job even in a relatively saturated market. (He had a PhD in sociology).

If you know you really just want to BE a teacher, ASAP, as a career, for decades, and you don't mind so much where you start, and you're open to taking a winding path to social studies, then I'd get into an alternate certification as soon as possible. It's the fastest way into the classroom. There are a ton of programs across the country. Stick to the ones that include an MA along the way. Focus on getting into a school where you like your colleagues and your admin, and you'll work your way into social studies eventually.

To be honest, I'm not sure who is the good audience any more, for a traditional full time teaching Masters. (Which is probably part of the reason enrollments are plummeting). It's not that the education isn't good, it's that it's a huge up front investment and risk to get into a line of work that a lot of people don't end up loving once they're in it (due to a big variety of factors). Before I committed to my program, I asked a friend who was a teacher and is now in teacher training, 'how can you tell before you try it whether you'll like being a teacher?' And she said that in her experience, no one really knows without trying it. So I guess it's people who are in a financial/emotional position to afford the risk and are quite confident about the path. So maybe that's you?
posted by Salamandrous at 9:29 AM on November 11, 2016


I have your dream job, but in California. I started teaching on an intern credential (BA+some paperwork=you get a classroom!) and it was incredibly freaking hard. My credential program was ok, and honestly, better than most. In my 13 years in intermediate/secondary education, I haven't found many people who believe their credential program prepared them for teaching.

In Montana, there is a Class 5 teaching licence that allows you to teach for three years while pursuing certification.

I'm not convinced that a Masters will improve your teaching. I know thousands of teachers, and having a grad degree very rarely makes a difference in quality. But there's also the fact that I never finished my MA so I perhaps am biased.

However. Teaching, and especially teaching History is an incredibly difficult proposition. Making it fun, while also making it relevant and meaningful, is really freaking hard. Getting kids to buy in and want to learn is an art, and it's one that's taken me years to figure out. But when I switched to teaching History (I did ELA and science, mostly, for 10 years, and now teach both ELA and History - I have degrees in both) I had to figure out new methods. It's easy to convince a kid that reading and writing are relevant to their lives. But History is a tough sell (maybe less so after this election).

I have seen hundreds of teachers leave the profession, and I know dozens of teachers who moved into non-teaching roles in the hopes that it would be easier.

If you would like to do some virtual observations of my classroom, I'm happy to do that. Seeing what it's like does help. If you want to talk about the soul-killing side of teaching, I'm working with a teacher who is in her first year (intern credential too!) who would be happy to talk to you about her experience. There's no real way to predict if you'll like teaching, but spending time with people doing the job you want helps.

Good luck. It's a hard road, but it's a meaningful road. The first five years are the hardest, and statistically, if you make it that far, you're in for the long-haul.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:56 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

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