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Area Adults Pursue ‘Fast Track’
To Teacher Certification
MAILED: Sept. 30, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — When University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate Niki Constantine first looked into getting certified to teach high school biology at her alma mater, she found it would take approximately two and a half years.
“Initially I opted not to get my teaching certification because it was going to take me more time than it took to get my master’s degree,” said Constantine, 26, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from UW-Eau Claire and a master’s degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Georgia.
Then she discovered UW-Eau Claire was starting a pilot program to certify non-traditional students who have bachelor’s degrees in certifiable areas to teach in grades 6-12.
“I immediately jumped on board as I was guaranteed it would only take one year to complete,” said Constantine, who is one of 18 adults currently enrolled in the second semester of a three-semester pilot “fast track” alternative teacher certification program at UW-Eau Claire.
The program addresses a growing need to prepare quality educators within a flexible model that builds on students’ previous academic and life experiences, said Katherine Rhoades, acting associate dean of the School of Education.
“Programs such as this honor the university’s mission to serve the needs of local and regional non-traditional students and the School of Education’s mission to prepare leaders in education,” Rhoades said.
The program was developed to serve people with non-education degrees in certifiable subject areas who can make significant contributions to middle school and high school education, says Professor William Dunlap, who helped design the program and teaches in it.
“The fast track program will attract quality people with exceptional content knowledge and life experiences into the teaching profession where an increasing shortage of teachers is occurring,” he said.
Susan Mc Intyre, chair of the curriculum and instruction department, regularly fields calls from adults who want to become teachers.
“The traffic has increased in recent years. I estimate that I spend at least five hours a week with people who want certification post baccalaureate,” Mc Intyre says. “This pilot is a way to serve these people rather than just putting them in regular classes.”
Supply and demand data for 2001 in Wisconsin show a slight shortage of teachers overall, with significant shortages in special education and the sciences. Shortages also exist in foreign languages and in English for some areas of the state. The areas with high supply ratings were early childhood/kindergarten, elementary education, physical education and social studies.
“It’s no accident that a high percentage of our initial fast trackers have undergraduate degrees in these areas where there are shortages. These students are bright adults, many with families and other responsibilities. Some quit full-time jobs, and some moved to Eau Claire to participate in this program. Some are taking their coursework at the graduate level, which may be included in a master’s degree,” Mc Intyre said. “We want them to be successful and find teaching positions when they finish.”
Chuck Fuller, for example, holds a doctorate in physical chemistry and a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics. Since junior high he “knew” he would get a Ph.D. and become a professor. It wasn’t until he was a post doc that he decided to leave academia. He worked in industry for more than a dozen years, but then his company downsized and he was out of work.
“After several years of not doing much of anything and being bored to death, I started subbing to see if I liked it. I did, and now I’m on my way to my initial plan of teaching. This time it isn’t at the university, though,” said Fuller. “The program is a good way for motivated people to get on with their lives. Also, a great esprit de corps has developed from day one.”
Mc Intyre says a person with an advanced degree and no experience could be at a disadvantage in the hiring process because of pay scale issues. However, some school districts seek teachers with a high level of preparation in their field. “I know these students’ presence has really beefed up our methods courses and elevated the conversation considerably,” she said.
The fast track program merges theory and practice through the careful selection of course content, schedule of classes and experiences in middle and high school classrooms, Dunlap said. The summer session was devoted to compact one- and two-week methods courses in classroom management, lesson planning, instructional methodology, developmental psychology, human relations, special needs students and characteristics of middle and high schools.
This fall students are enrolled in methods courses, which include a special, all-morning teacher assisting experience in 18 local schools. Next spring they will student teach full time at a level different from their current placement. Coursework will be scheduled after school and on weekends.
Steve Wisner, 36, travels to Independence every morning and assists Susan Solli, Independence High School’s only full-time English teacher. The father of two, who quit his job in television to pursue teacher certification, says the name “fast track” may be a misnomer.
“It’s not a free pass to become a teacher. For me it’s an additional 55 credits,” said Wisner, who has a master’s degree in English. “It’s an excellent program. I especially like the emphasis on getting people into the classroom. I know I’m going to be a better teacher and a happier one because of the preparation.”
Finding quality placements within the required 60-mile radius is a difficult resource issue, Mc Intyre said. UW-Eau Claire already places at least 140 traditional education students each semester. “The fast track program has been well received by the cooperating teachers, but it’s still a challenge to find placements for 18 additional students,” Mc Intyre said. “Most are driving 40 or 50 miles one way to get to their field experiences.”
Mc Intyre is keeping a list of adults who have expressed interest in the second alternative certification pilot. If the needed resources are found and a second pilot is approved, the program will get under way next summer.
“My interest is to serve non-traditional students from the region who want to be teachers in a program that they are happy about,” Mc Intyre said. “These students have important work and life experiences that will enrich their teaching in the schools and the education of middle and high school students.”
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: February 4, 2003