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February 22, 2000

Alternative Certification Programs to Entice Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians to Teach in K-12:

How and Does It Work?

by Edmund Tsang

Four years ago Glenn Mutchnick was a mechanical engineer and vice-president of a company. Today, Glenn still holds his Professional Engineer (PE) registration license but teaches science at St. Paul's School. According to Jane Meyer, Ed.D., of the Alabama State Department of Education, the Alternative Masters Program and the Alternative Baccalaureate- Level Certificate Program are designed to attract professionals, especially professional such as Glen Mutchnick from the engineering, science, and mathematics disciplines, to become K-12 teachers in Alabama. These programs, however, have still a long way to go towards meeting the critical shortage of mathematics and science teachers in Alabama's public schools. While thousands have received certification from the Alternative Masters program since its inception in 1986, Dr. Meyer said only a small percent are in the math and science disciplines. William Gilley, Ed.D., assistant dean of the College of Education at the University of South Alabama, said several hundred teachers have gone through the Alternative Masters Program offered at USA but only "eight to ten" are in the mathematics and science subjects.

Under the Alternative Baccalaureate-Level Approach, a public-school superintendent or, in the case of non-public schools, a principal, can meet the shortage of mathematics and science teachers by employing highly qualified individuals who have earned at least a bachelor's degree and applying for a one-year certificate for them from the State Department of Education. After completing three consecutive years of full-time, satisfactory service and twelve semester or eighteen quarter hours of course work, individuals with the Alternative Baccalaureate-level certificates may then apply for professional certification. Course work includes classroom management, evaluation of teaching and learning, special education, methods of teaching at the grade level for which certification is targeted, and the use of technology for instruction.

Dr. Meyer said the alternative baccalaureate program to certification is quite popular in the state, because it allows individuals to teach while they are working on the alternative masters degree. Dr. Meyer said there are close to 75 to 100 math and science teachers who hold either the first, second, or third year of alternative baccalaureate-level certificate. When they complete their masters degree, these teachers will be entitled to higher pay. According to Dr. Meyer, that represents a pay raise of about $4,000.

Glenn Mutchnick said he is glad to have taken advantage of Alternative Masters program to make a career change. "When I was practicing engineering I would volunteer to teach in the public school, and discovered that I just loved it," Mutchnick said. "I enjoyed it so much that I thought, I didn't want to be a ninety-year-old man and say, 'I could have been a teacher' or 'what would that have been like.' My wife and my two children were very supportive, and it was a major plunge. I told my family that we had to just put everything on hold -- no credit card use, no new car or clothes. Everything stopped for two years."

Mutchnick said he went the extra mile in completing the Alternative Masters Program by enrolling full-time for two years, taking extra courses. "I wanted to become as marketable as possible when I finished," Mutchnick explained. "I already had plenty of physics and chemistry, but I took more biology courses, including some graduate courses, and courses in geology and aerospace. So I am now teaching AP [advanced placement] biology at my school, which is college-level biology. By the time I completed, my certification was from fourth grade to twelfth grade."

Mutchnick said "without the Alternative Masters Program, I couldn't have done it. It would have been so logistically difficult." Mutchnick said there are three other teachers at St. Paul's who have taken the alternative masters approach to receive the teaching certificate. "We have an accountant and two lawyers who have practiced law for eighteen years," Mutchnick said. "It really brings a different insight and different perspective to teaching and interacting with the kids."

"The only problem with it [Alternative Masters Program], and it has nothing to do with the curriculum or the way it was set up," Mutchnick added, "[is that] it just wasn't marketed enough It's not promoted like we want to bring engineers and scientists in. At that time, I thought my engineering friends would think I was crazy because I would never make that much money again. Yet the opposite has occurred. Many engineers have come up to me and said they have always wanted to teach."

Mutchnick said he appreciates the courses he has taken on teaching and learning methods and assessment in preparing him to teach. "Some people say, 'Do you need the training because you are a good teacher and love to teach?' If you had asked me before I started the program, I'd have said, I am ready to teach now. But I wasn't really ready."

"Having been in both worlds now, I can say [that] you absolutely need both content knowledge and methods of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, there are many teachers and professors who have one or the other. I have gone through the graduate program, and I bring with me fifteen years of experience in engineering and science. I feel like I have the best of both worlds."

There is a third route, though not the preferred one, for professionals to obtain the teaching certificates, Dr. Meyer of the State Department of Education said, and that is to complete an undergraduate program in education. LaFlore High School mathematics teacher Phillip Herring took that route. Herring said he owned and worked in his auto-repair business before entering college, first as a computer science major before completing a bachelor's degree in education. "So a lot of the classes I took I couldn't transfer when I changed major to education, and it took me over four years to complete my bachelor's degree." While admitting "some classes they could do without," Herring said it did "prepare me to teach." Herring also said more emphasis in the curriculum should be placed on classroom management. "In general," he says, "I'm satisfied."


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