DALLAS -- After five years of teaching in Mansfield, followed by six more as an assistant principal at North Crowley High School, Kimberly Buckhalton landed a principal job at a middle school in Keller before taking the helm as principal of H.F. Stevens Middle School in Crowley this school year.
A long career road that did not even begin in a classroom.
“Before education, I was in finance and insurance,” said Buckhalton about her early career. “I never had a great time working in finance and I had some friends who were teachers who told me about this program named ECAP.”
ECAP is the Education Career Alternatives Program and Executive Director Sharon Fikes said they get plenty of people like Buckhalton who are making a career change and want to get certified to teach.
“These are people a little older, they have life experience, and now they want to teach,” said Fikes.
ECAP is one of 70 such alternative certification programs in the state of Texas. They began back in the 1980s as an avenue for people to get their teaching certificate, even though they did not go the traditional college undergrad route to become a teacher.
In 2015, teachers employed in the state were split roughly 50/50 between those with traditional certifications and alternative certifications.
But a vote on Oct. 7 could significantly impact the ability for alternatively certified teachers to get into a classroom.
The proposed change before the State Board of Educator Certification would require alternatively certified teachers to pass the necessary pedagogy tests and content tests, regardless of their degree, before they ever enter the classroom.
Currently, teachers who hold a degree in the subject they teach are allowed to work in classrooms prior to passing the required pedagogy tests. Pedagogy is the method of teaching, creating lesson plans, and effectively communicating curriculum to students.
With a shortage of bilingual, math, and science teachers already, Fikes thinks the proposed changes will put districts further in a bind and fill a lot of classrooms with equally uncertified substitutes.
“It’s very misguided,” she said. “Why are we adding this hurdle to get them into the classroom?”
The Texas Education Agency believes the proposed changes will produce better prepared, better qualified, and more effective teachers on their first day in the classroom. The TEA’s Director of Educator Preparation Tim Miller said the new rules will raise the standard for teachers.
“In the long run, we are going to have better teachers in the classroom because they will have had more coursework and training before they start,” said Miller.
Miller said right now teachers can be certified without demonstrating content knowledge, without classroom observation and without going through coursework on how to teach. Preparing teachers better will also lead to increased retention, according to Miller. He cites TEA numbers that approximately 68 percent of alternatively certified teachers stay in education after five years compared to 73 percent for undergrad certifications.
But Fikes believes the proposed changes will shun potentially good teachers with real-life experience in the subject they teach. She gives the example of a former NASA scientist who became a science teacher through ECAP, but would have to pass a content exam before entering the classroom under the new proposal.
“I have been in education for 48 years and research tells us a GPA or test score does not tell us if you are a good teacher,” said Fikes. “The art of teaching is a motivating kids and reaching those kids with exciting ways to teach.”
LACK OF QUANTITY?
The required tests are only given sporadically throughout the year leading to concerns the new proposal could lead to a teacher shortage and an increased amount of substitutes in classrooms, while the full-time teachers try and make the grades.
Denton ISD Deputy Superintendent Richard Valenta fears the SBEC is pushing the proposal through without considering all the consequences.
“I do not know how much feedback they got,” Valenta said. “I think they need to spend a little more time getting feedback from those of us on the front lines.”
Bilingual teachers are one of the most critical areas of need in Texas. If the changes are enacted, Valenta foresees possible scenarios where bilingual classes are taught by substitutes that are also uncertified and do not know the Spanish language.
“They would be babysitting the classroom,” he said. “We are going to do more harm to our children in the classroom.”
But Miller maintains the new rules would come with enough contingencies to allow districts to avoid possible disasters. Districts will be able to apply for certain temporary and emergency permits to keep full-time teachers in class.
“There are plenty of flexibilities school districts have with the current and proposed rules,” said Miller. “Throughout the process we have been working with the school districts and other stakeholders to avoid any unintended consequences.”