We need alternative paths to the classroom.
Mind you, we don't need paths that are shortcuts. We don't need an alternative path that is just a five week long truncated training that wouldn't prepare a camp counselor for a summer with jumpy ten year olds. We don't need alternative paths used by charter operators to train people to fill their own charter openings with not-too-qualified bodies. And we definitely don't need the alternative path, favored by more and more states, that is no path at all, but just dumping someone into a classroom when her only qualification is a college degree and a pulse.
Most of the alternative paths in use these days are intended to help businesses fill openings or to help politicians look like they are addressing the teacher "shortage" (a shortage that is really a lack of willingness to do what it takes to make teaching more appealing work).
These alternative paths are bad-- bad for the profession, bad for the people who follow them, bad for the schools where those "teachers" end up working.
But it would also be a mistake to suggest that if you didn't decide to pursue a teaching degree when you were nineteen or twenty, the window has closed and you can never choose teaching as a career.
Nor is it reasonable to expect a later-in-life career switcher to somehow navigate a traditional teacher education program while still supporting herself or her family.
So what would a real alternative certification path for career-changers need to look like?
* Some standard of content knowledge. Yes, even if you're a former astrophycisist who wants to teach first grade. Knowing content well enough to use it in your profession, and knowing it well enough to explain it to young humans are two different things. Maybe more than two.
* Study of developmental psychology. Explaining astrophysics to other astrophysicians is not like explaining anything to small humans. Nor are the behavioral patterns of young humans the same as those of adults. You cannot match your expectations to reality if you don't know anything about reality.
* An understanding of assessment and all the arcane arts of number-crunching involved in assessment.
* Some sort of exposure to the Big Questions of Education. A requirement to reflect and consider what we do, why we do it, and what all that means for how we do it. Look-- you're not leaning how to be a garage mechanic.
* An introduction to the ins and outs of record keeping and ridiculous education regulation. This is one area where the career-changers previous experience with red tape and bureaucratic baloney will be helpful, as there will be no youthful idealism to scrub away.
* Field experience. This is perhaps the hardest thing to work in, because people seeking a career change cannot necessarily afford a five or ten or fifteen week span in which they earn no income. But getting classroom experience with live students is critical-- perhaps even more critical with older candidates for the classroom who can make the mistake of thinking "I can run meetings with thirty employees, so how hard can it be to handle a room full of eighth graders?" A strong field experience is important not just in preparing the neo-teacher, but also in helping that neo-teacher decide if she's made a huge mistake.
I can't find many figures on retention of alternative certificate teachers, and what I do find lumps starter-alt-certs like Teach for America together with later-in-life career changers. I can offer the anecdotal observation that in PA, where we offered guest teacher certificates for any career-changers who want to become substitutes, more than half quit, largely because managing a classroom turned out to be far more difficult than they thought. Students are not paid to be your subordinates.
That's why a long, solid field experience is important-- you have to be in that classroom long enough for the shine of newness to wear off.
That's a broad sketch of the bare minimum, and we could get into more specifics, but the bottom line here is that just because you're a grown-up with a college degree doesn't mean a few quick chats will make you fit for a classroom. There should be a path for career-changers, but not short cuts.