The state should ensure that its alternate routes provide efficient preparation that is relevant to the immediate needs of new teachers, as well as intensive induction support. The bar for this goal was raised in 2017.
Virginia offers three alternate routes to initial licensure: the Experiential Learning program, the Career Switcher program, and Teach For America (TFA).
Coursework requirements: Virginia's Career Switcher program is structured in a way that offers both streamlined and relevant coursework to its candidates. During the first year of the program, candidates must complete 180 clock hours of instruction, including field experience. Coursework includes curriculum and instruction methods, standards of learning, differentiation of instruction, classroom/behavior management, and human growth and development. During the second year of the program, which takes place during candidates' first year in the classroom, candidates attend at least five seminars for a minimum of 20 cumulative instructional hours. If it is deemed necessary, candidates may participate in a third year of preparation to address areas of improvement identified in their professional improvement plans.
Virginia also provides requirements for its Experiential Learning programs, although these requirements are less structured than the Career Switcher program requirements. The Experiential Learning program requires Pre-K-3, elementary Pre-K-6, and middle school candidates to complete 18 semester hours of coursework; secondary candidates must complete 15 semester hours of coursework; and special education candidates must complete 18 semester hours of coursework. For all candidates, preparation coursework must include human growth and development, curriculum and instructional procedures, classroom and behavior management and foundations of education. In addition, early childhood, elementary, and special education candidates must also complete six semester hours of language acquisition and reading; middle school candidates must complete six semester hours of reading in the content area and language acquisition; and secondary candidates must complete three semester hours of reading in the content area.
TFA candidates must complete an intensive five week summer-training program, but the program does not list specific coursework requirements.
Induction support: Virginia requires Experiential Learning programs to ensure that their candidates have a fully licensed, experienced teacher available to them to assist as needed. Career Switcher candidates must be assigned a mentor during their first year of employment. Mentors assist in implementing a professional development plan; observe, assist and coach new teachers; share resources and materials; and provide support regarding school procedures. TFA candidates receive classroom support throughout the course of the program.
Supervised practice teaching requirements: Virginia does not require candidates of either Experiential Learning or Career Switcher programs to participate in a supervised practice teaching opportunity. While Career Switcher program candidates must participate in a field experience, the state allows field experiences to include classroom observations, tutoring, assisting teachers and school administrators, student teaching, and internships, so a supervised practice teaching opportunity is not guaranteed.
TFA candidates must complete a practice teaching opportunity.
Virginia Administrative Code, Title 8, 20-22-90, 20-542-10, 20-22-50 Virginia Department of Education, Routes to Licensure in Virginia: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/licensure/multiple_licensure_routes.pdf Virginia Department of Education, Career Switcher Program: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/educator_preparation/career_switcher/index.shtml TFA training and support: https://www.teachforamerica.org/join-tfa/leading-classroom/training-support TFA Summer Training: https://www.teachforamerica.org/join-tfa/leading-classroom/training-support/summer-training-experience
Establish coursework guidelines for all alternate route preparation programs.
Virginia should articulate guidelines regarding the nature and amount of coursework required of candidates. Requirements should be manageable given the time constraints of a novice teacher and contribute to the immediate needs of new teachers. Appropriate coursework should include grade-level or subject-level seminars, methodology in the content area, classroom management, and scientifically based early reading instruction. However well-intentioned, any course that is not fundamentally practical and immediately necessary should be eliminated as a requirement.
Strengthen the induction experience for new teachers.
Although all alternate route pathways in Virginia offer opportunities for new teachers to work with mentors, it is unclear that the mentoring program is structured for new teacher success. The state should strengthen its induction experience by providing for: intensive mentoring with full classroom support in the first few weeks of school, a reduced teaching load, and release time to allow new teachers to observe experienced teachers during the school day.
Require opportunities for candidates to practice teach.
In addition to intensive induction support, Virginia should provide all alternate route candidates with a practice teaching opportunity prior to their placement in the classroom.
Virginia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.
5B: Preparation for the Classroom
Alternate route programs must provide practical, meaningful preparation that is sensitive to a new teacher's workload and stress level. Too many states have policies requiring alternate route programs to "backload" large amounts of traditional education coursework, thereby preventing the emergence of real alternatives to traditional preparation. This issue is especially important given the large proportion of alternate route teachers who complete this coursework while teaching. Alternate route teachers often have to deal with the stresses of beginning to teach while also completing required coursework in the evenings and on weekends. States need to be careful to require participants only to meet standards or complete coursework that is practical and immediately helpful to a new teacher. That is, while advanced pedagogy coursework may be meaningful for veteran teachers, alternate route coursework should build on more fundamental teaching competencies such as classroom management techniques, reading instruction, or curriculum delivery.
Most new teachers—regardless of their preparation—find themselves overwhelmed by taking on their own classrooms. This is especially true for alternate route teachers, who may have had considerably less classroom exposure or pedagogy training than traditionally prepared teachers. States must ensure that alternate route programs do not leave new teachers to "sink or swim" on their own when they begin teaching. It is critical that all alternate route programs provide at least a brief student teaching or other supervised practice experience for candidates before they enter the classroom, as well as ongoing induction support during those first critical months as a new teacher.