More Doors Opening to Those Who Want to Pursue Teaching

KCTR senior staff and Jaqueline Erickson Russell visit Jefferson City to present KCTR as a certifying agency to the state board of education.

What happens if you want to become a teacher, but you have a degree in history? Or if you’ve been an accountant for the past 10 years and decide your real passion is working with children?

These days there are more options available than ever before for people who want to become educators but didn’t earn a degree in education—whether they’ve just graduated or are established professionals.

Recently, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR) as a teacher certifying agency. This decision makes KCTR the first locally-grown, non-institute of higher education to receive such status in Missouri. (The ABCTE program based out of Washington, D.C. is also approved as a certifying agency in the state of Missouri.)

Why is this important? Well, it means teacher residents in the program can become certified teachers directly through KCTR’s rigorous, job-embedded program as an alternative to traditional degree programs. 

By allowing KCTR to certify teachers using best practices such as mentor teaching and ongoing observations and feedback, the state of Missouri is joining a group of states from across the country that are opening the doors for a diverse group of individuals to join the educator profession. In 2015, the National Council on Teacher Quality reported that 31 states encouraged districts and nonprofit organizations to operate alternate route programs. Six states now have genuine alternate routes to teaching certification.

By no means do I think that alternative certification programs should be the only available route to the profession. In fact, for the long-term sustainability of the teaching profession, I think institutes of higher education are essential. There are a growing number of higher education institutions that are taking a hard look at their programs and challenging the status quo of teacher preparation. They are raising their admittance standards, revising their curriculum to include more clinical training, and working to connect teacher training to student learning and life outcomes in measurable ways.

I am encouraged by organizations like Deans for Impact and #TeachStrong who value the profession of teaching so much that they work to transform the field of educator preparation. I am encouraged by the hardworking universities and state departments of education that are working with the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation. I am encouraged by the partnership between programs like KCTR and institutions like Park University who are working in unison to design new educator training programs.

A report from the Center for American Progress titled “Smart, Skilled, and Striving: Transforming and Elevating the Teaching Profession” suggests a few policy shifts:

  • Ensure teacher preparation programs select candidates carefully and purposefully.
  • Require teacher preparation programs to improve coursework and offer higher-quality clinical training experiences.
  • Invest in new teachers by supporting their professional growth early on.

KCTR is designed to address all three of those suggestions in addition to other objectives such as diversifying the teaching workforce in the urban core. By providing a pathway for KCTR to certify teachers, the state of Missouri is encouraging best practices that will develop strong educators who may have not otherwise entered the field of urban education.

How does your state compare? Do they encourage alternative routes that meet high standards? Do they support institutes of higher education who want to raise the bar for educator preparation? I hope you can say that your state is making strides toward improvement like Missouri. 

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Jacqueline Erickson Russell is a program officer in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where she manages a grant portfolio that supports initiatives that recruit, develop, and retain teachers, leaders, and educators.