An Alternate Route to Alternate Route

Posted on by Dodge

Ross Danis, Program Director, Education


If there is a silver thread in this dark economic cloud, it is the potential to raise the number and the quality of teachers working in high need disciplines such as math and science, in high need districts such as Newark and Camden.

One has to imagine that there are some of the “downsized” engineers and scientists who worked in New Jersey’s high tech businesses who would make fine teachers if properly trained and mentored. One can also imagine a new group of young people currently seriously considering teaching as opposed to, let’s say, banking, as a career choice. In both scenarios, I think motives are relevant, and that in addition to shifting economic realities, I sense a shift in values. A life defined by service, contribution, and meaning, as well as having a career that is relatively secure, makes teaching very attractive.

What if it were possible to develop an instrument that could help people decide if they have potential as a teacher? Then this group could have their skills assessed and each would be given an individual education plan tailored to their specific needs. Some might need training for classroom management while others might need more content-based instruction. Once clear performance standards are developed, each potential teacher could become certified based upon their performance as measured against the standards (this would include an observation of them teaching a class). Certification would be granted based on performance, not accumulated hours in a program. Teachers would then be placed in setting with highly-trained mentors and regular sessions would be held with other new placements so that they can learn from and support each other during those critical first couple of years.

It does seem expensive, doesn’t it? It probably is, but I don’t think screening, training, placing, and supporting new teachers properly is any more expensive than remediating underperforming teachers, or worse, going through the legal process of removing them from the classroom if they are not effective.

What do you think?

photo: Steve Woods

5 Responses to An Alternate Route to Alternate Route

  1. Michele Russo says:

    This is teacher training I could get behind. New teachers need to be treated as learners, each coming in with their own talents and needs. And each new teacher has a different arc in terms of their growth along the way. We know this about kids but somehow we forget it about adults. Instead the alternate route shoves everyone through the same chute–if you survive the first year, voila! Instant teacher!

  2. There is one worse outcome of permitting poor teachers to continue to practice. Those teachers actually suppress student achievement.

    When we factor in the cost of supporting undereducated people over the remainder of their lifetimes [charity health care, emergency food, job training and incarceration], properly screening, training and supporting teachers is a bargain.

  3. Ada Beth Cutler says:

    At Montclair State University, we have an exciting “alternate route to the alternate route” just underway. In partnership with the NJ Department of Labor and the NJ Department of Education, we have developed a program we are calling “Traders to Teachers” to enable mathematically talented individuals who are displaced workers from the financial services industry to become certified math teachers, in a fast track fashion, even if they didn’t have a major in mathematics. These are people who have used math extensively in their work and are eager to share their real world knowledge and experience with students. The admissions process will be very selective. School district officials will participate in these interviews and select candidates they will hire at the conclusion of the program. The NJ Department of Labor will pay $4000 to cover the full cost of the program for each candidate who is certified as a displaced worker. Successful applicants will participate in an intensive, full-time, three month program that includes spending four days a week on campus learning math and how to teach it and one day a week in high school mathematics classrooms observing, tutoring and teaching lessons. They will receive probationary certification from the NJ Dept. of Education and they will benefit from intensive mentoring during their first two years of teaching. At the end of two years of teaching, they must have passed the required Praxis II test and be recommended for standard certification by their principals.
    In less than one month, we have received over 200 inquiries about the program and over 100 individuals came to an Information Session about the program last night. One typical applicant wrote, “I have been on Wall Street for 17 years, but I’ve always dreamed of being a math teacher.” The excitement and enthusiasm for teaching were palpable in the room. This program is tapping a new pool of sorely needed potential math teachers and at the same time, it’s providing new careers for displaced workers.
    For more information, see our website

    And, while I’m at it, folks should know about our Prudential Teaching Scholars Program that recruits, prepares, and helps retain new math and science teachers for the Newark Public Schools. Our current Pru Scholars are an amazing group of individuals, some of whom have Ph.D. degrees. For more information about that program see

    So, I agree with Ross that there are talented, energetic, enthusiastic people out there who have always felt a calling to teaching, but have never answered that call. Now that they are faced with unemployment, they are seizing the opportunity to realize their dreams. It is indeed the silver lining to this economic cloud and our entire society can benefit.

    Ada Beth Cutler
    Dean, College of Education and Human Services
    Montclair State University
    Montclair, NJ 07043

  4. Ross Danis says:

    I recall reading about the Montclair State program and thinking how creative it is and how much of a win it is for everyone involved. It is good for the economy, for schools, for children, and for individuals whose quality of life be improved along with their capacity to earn a living. I suppose it is both good and bad news that so many people attended the information session. I am happy that so many are interested in a life in the classroom, but remain concerned that the economy continues to displace so many professionals. Montclair State University and the State Department of Education deserve credit for having the vision and the courage to step outside of the traditional means of certifying teachers in order to address multiple social needs. Ross Danis

  5. Chinamatt says:

    If I could figure out the bureaucratic process that the state has for alternate route teachers, I’d try to apply for it. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any information of the length of the application process to determine if it’s possible for me to get into the program AND still have time to apply for a teaching position. I know I have the ability to teach, as I’ve managed to teach before (in another country), but I’m still lacking that piece of paper that the government says I need.

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