Online teacher certification now available in Missouri

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Barry County teacher benefits from program

An online teacher certification is now available in the state of Missouri, which will allow residents with a bachelor's degree in any subject to become a teacher without returning to a school, via a program offered by the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence.

The non-profit organization, in 11 other states, was founded in 2003 by the Department of Education as an alternative route to teacher licensure, and focuses on training teachers in rural areas to respond to shortages in the education field. It also provides career changers a more feasible option for teacher certification without having to return to school.

The program is recognized by DESE, and has a 96-percent pass rate. Certification may be obtained in biology, chemistry, elementary education, English, general science, history, math and physics.

"We work with DESE to make sure we're up to their standards," said Rachael Nichol, online marketing strategist for the organization.

Purdy High School Science Teacher Clint Dillow obtained his teaching certificate through the program, and recommends it to others.

"It was a challenge, but one that was well worth it," he said. "Financially, it was certainly easier. For a fraction of the cost of going back to school, you can study from home at your own pace while you continue to work."

The only downside, Dillow said, are distractions at home and not having an actual person to explain concepts and bounce thoughts off of.

"You have to be able to push yourself and take responsibility for your studying," Dillow said. "You are most definitely on your own when it comes to a topic that you don't understand and need clarification on. It makes you push yourself to learn and dig around for the answers."

Prerequisites include holding a bachelor's degree and passing a background check. The program utilizes various study tools, allows students to study online at their own pace and can be completed in less than one year.

"Our average student finishes in 8-10 months," Nichol said, adding that the average study time equates to about 5-7 hours per week.

The course cumulates in two exams, conducted at a Pearson Vue testing center. Upon passing both exams, the candidate is certified in his or her chosen area and may begin applying for jobs at public schools.

"I think for some folks, it's probably great," said Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent for Cassville schools. "For others, I think getting a degree from the traditional path might be better. There's a lot of time that goes along with that. So, I think it depends on what you're going to need based on your situation."

LeCompte said an important piece for anyone interested in becoming a teacher to explore before making a commitment is hands-on, in-classroom exposure to ensure teaching is a good fit for them.

"I think most schools want to get the best people they can," she said. "Just because you have a bachelor's degree doesn't mean you'd be a good teacher. Let's say you live in the Cassville area; talk to someone at Crowder or a school official here and just ask them, or someone who knows you pretty well, if they think you'd make a great teacher.

Currently, the program does not require traditional student teaching, but classroom time.

"As far as the student teaching portion, I had been working as a substitute teacher before I started the certification process, and continued to do so while doing the program," Dillow said.

"What the state of Missouri requires is that you spend 60-90 hours in a classroom setting before you can become a teacher," Nichol said. "Most people do this as a substitute teacher or paraprofessional while they're going through the program. They have to have that to get their temporary license. That is another reason for the classroom hours, too, so the first time they're in the classroom isn't their very first day."

Nichol said reasons for teacher shortages vary.

"There are many different reasons for a teacher shortage," she said. "A lot of it has to do with pay, with legislation and with administration. There are not as many people going into education. A lot want to work for a big tech company then realize it's not too fulfilling and change their careers to serve in the classroom. A lot of people have been in other careers 10 or 15 years, and they want to make a difference and become a teacher."

LeCompte said shortages typically occur in more rural areas.

"In Kansas City and St. Louis, and probably Springfield, there are elementary teachers that can't find jobs, but in rural areas where the pay is not as good, that's where you have shortages," she said. "For us, for industrial technology, vocal music, language arts and math teachers are hard to find. We try to pay what we can, and we have a very competitive salary schedule, but these families that move in here, what are their families going to do as far as jobs? There are not as many things here, as far as jobs or entertainment. They have to be willing to live in a small town. Everyone knows each other here, and I love that. I think we build a trust with our community and it's a great place to be.

"There are so many ways to get information online now. You don't have to drive to Missouri State to get your master's anymore. We have cohorts here from other universities, and there are online hybrid classes where you might meet every other week. It's a lot more convenient for teachers, that's for sure."

A free, seven-day trial is offered to allow candidates to see course materials before purchasing. Cost ranges from $2,660 to $2,850, plus a processing fee. A reduced promotional price is available, which changes weekly. Fees are not student loan eligible, but funding may be available through certain Workforce Investment Act centers.

"We do offer the free trial so that if people aren't sure, they can try it out," Nichol said.

The organization also offers a program for veterans called, Troops to Teachers, in which veterans who wish to become teachers can get reimbursed.

For more information, people may call 1-877-669-2228, email contact@abcte.org, or visit the website at www.abcte.org.

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