Alternative certification is a term used to describe a relatively new way to obtain state-granted teaching certificates. It began in the 1980’s, when states first started predicting widespread teaching shortages. It has grown into a well-regarded way for non-certified college graduates to become certified.
Alternative certification, just like traditional certification, is a route that leads to a teaching certificate/license, which is granted by a particular state’s department of education. This is an area of confusion: remember that certification is a process; it involves coursework, teaching experiences, standardized testing, and governmental review; certificates are documents granted by a state agency.
In general, alternative certification programs simultaneously combine accelerated coursework with classroom experiences and mentoring, and are offered by universities, educational service centers and other organizations. Further, alternative certification programs are designed for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, traditional certification programs are offered by universities and colleges to both undergraduate degree holders and seekers; they include more conventional curriculum, program length, and student teaching requirements. Bachelors or masters of arts in education degrees offered by colleges and universities often include a traditional certification program as part of their overall program.
In order to become certified in any state, no matter what alternative certification program the student enrolls in, it is necessary for a student pursuing an alternate route to pass the requisite state teacher certification tests for the area in which they wish to teach. Also, if a student does not meet the state coursework requirements for the subject they wish to teach, the alternative certification program will mandate that they take additional subject area coursework. When all other requirements are completed, an alternative certification candidate must apply for a certificate and be approved by their state’s certification agency.
Alternative certification programs often enable the candidate to hold a paid position as a teacher while pursuing certification. Thus, alternative certification can be an attractive option for prospective teachers who do not possess a bachelor’s degree in education and/or a traditional teacher certification, and who want to save money by working in their field and studying at the same time. However, traditional programs also offer options to those who wish to work while obtaining a teaching certificate. For example, online Masters of Teaching programs (which include a certification component), such as our partner USC Rossier Online, allow students to study at their own pace, and give them the flexibility they need to maintain a steady job while completing their coursework.
It is worth mentioning that holding one of the available state teacher certifications/licenses is a necessary requirement for an individual to teach public school in that state. However, private schools have varying requirements, and often allow individuals who don’t have a state-granted teaching certificate to teach at their institutions. Private schools generally have smaller class sizes and fewer disciplinary problems, but offer lower teacher salaries.
Every state accepts at least one alternative route to teacher certification. For more information, click on the states you are interested in on our interactive map. Our information on alternative certification is still in development for some states, but if this is the case, you can find a helpful link to the relevant government website at the bottom of each state’s page. Please note that many different entities of varying quality run alternative teacher certification programs. So, to find the most suitable program, it is important for a prospective student to visit the websites of many different programs.