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Online courses offer new tool for training prospective teachers

The alternative certification method approved by the School Board may help fill teaching vacancies.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 17, 2002


INVERNESS -- Last week, nearly three dozen teaching positions stood open on the school district's job postings, reminding local officials that they have a long way to go before they can breathe easy knowing they have filled every critical teaching slot.

That is a big concern since the teaching shortage statewide and nationwide continues to thwart school districts as they attempt to meet their teaching needs.

Soon the Citrus schools hope to have another pool of applicants from which to choose.

The School Board last week approved an alternative certification method, something that all Florida school districts are required to do by July 1. This alternative method of securing teaching credentials is aimed at potential teachers whose college degrees are not in education.

Instead of requiring such candidates to seek 15 or so course hours in education classes at nearby colleges or universities, they would be allowed to take online courses while working in a local classroom with a temporary teaching certificate. With assistance from both working and retired educators, the student can learn the basics of education both by teaching students and being a student.

School officials say the program will be cheaper and more convenient, since potential teachers can follow their course work online at their own pace and without having to travel. The program is also less expensive, and the district picks up some of the cost.

"Basically what we're doing is adopting the state's program so that it will be easier for them to do," said Steve Richardson, school district personnel director. "From my perspective it's going to be a more friendly program for people coming in from other fields."

Richardson said he is especially hopeful that the program will attract people who have degrees in math or science. But anything that brings more people to the profession will help. While the Citrus schools don't have the hiring challenges of large districts, he said, the district still must hire between 100 and 125 teachers each year.

Requiring the education courses makes sense even for people who have earned other degrees or spent years working in other fields, he said.

"It's pretty hard to jump from a business environment right into the classroom," Richardson said.

Gail Grimm, the district's director of planning, said she expects the alternative certification program to be attractive to as many as 20 people a year. The cost of the program to the participant will be about $1,450, including books. The district is picking up the remaining $1,300.

"There is a lot of classroom support with this program. We're going to hire a model teacher to work with them," Grimm said. For those who have gone through a similar program in other counties, "they say the best part was the support they got and being able to build a relationship with that other teacher," she said.

There are 12 modules included in the Web-based education program, and they can be completed in a year. They range from studies in assessment and critical thinking to learning environment and technology.

"We think it's going to be a good thing," Grimm said. "We will give them survival training prior to going into a classroom . . . and the individual will be able to work at their own pace."

With all the new modes of finding qualified teachers, Richardson said he is hopeful the school district won't have any problems filling most of the available positions by the time school starts in August.

The district's move to post positions on several Web sites has helped provide a larger applicant pool. "The principals have been satisfied with the number of resumes," Richardson said.

School officials plan to attend the annual Teach-In in Orlando that continues through Tuesday. They also have recruited outside the state. But he said the best response has come from the Web page postings, which are more cost effective than traveling out of state to seek employees.

Since concerns were raised two years ago about not having enough applicants to fill jobs, Richardson said the district now also offers jobs at recruiting events such as the Teach-In. The offers are made contingent on applicants passing all the district's screening procedures.

"It seems to be working," Richardson said of the district's recruiting efforts. "They seem to be happy with what we can offer them."

-- Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 564-3621.

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