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Teachers take different paths to the classroom through innovative programs

By Drew Brown. (From Winter 2002)

Erin Jones had accomplished plenty before she even started at PLU. Raised in the Netherlands, she had a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College, fluency in four languages and a tryout with the WNBA. Her experience included two years substitute teaching and three years teaching at a private school in Indiana.

But she didn’t have a teaching degree or certification in Washington. When she was looking to take that step, she found PLU’s Alternative Routes to Certification program a perfect fit. It provides a shorter route for experienced people to become teachers. The program is mostly hands on—more teaching, less coursework.

"I couldn’t afford schooling without a grant, and I didn’t want to start from scratch," Jones said. She got a grant, and didn’t miss a beat in her education.

Jones, like each teacher candidate in the program, spends a majority of her time in the classroom, working alongside a trained mentor. She has been working with seventh-grade teacher Justine Johnson at Tacoma’s Jason Lee Middle School. Jones said Johnson has been an excellent mentor, and their similar teaching styles make for a seamless working relationship.

"I’m not just getting certification, but a wonderful learning experience," Jones said.
She’s one of 44 students enrolled in programs at PLU through a $2 million grant awarded to a consortia of school districts and higher education institutions last year by the Professional Educator Standards Board. The board aims to find new ways to recruit quality teachers, especially for spots that are difficult to fill.

PLU’s School of Education — as part of a partnership with five local school districts and Green River Community College — hopes to help fill that void. The program isn’t simply a "fast track" to certification, but a different route, designed for career changers who bring experience with them into their teacher preparation.

"It really opened the flood gates to people who wanted certification, but didn’t want to start back at square one in the classroom," said Lynn Beck, School of Education dean. "A program that is experience-based rather than course-based is quite unique."

The alternative routes are available to: Instructional aides or other para-educators with associate’s degrees seeking certification in special education or English as a second language; classified school staff with college degrees seeking certification in shortage areas such as math and science; and people with baccalaureate degrees who are not employed in a school district or who hold emergency substitute certificates.

Jones is in Route III, a program designed for individuals with bachelor’s degrees. She was allowed to substitute teach and teach at a private school in Indiana, but Washington has stricter requirements.

Along with their in-school experience, participants meet every Saturday during the semester to both learn new skills and talk about what they learned from their own classrooms. Students vary in age and job experiences.

"The program is very diverse," Jones said. "It all has given me a different perspective on education." Jones has also been pleased with the training given by PLU teachers.

"We’ve learned a lot about multicultural learning, special education, and what it’s like to teach a variety of students."



© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Summer 2004

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