Pennsylvania's Alternative Route to Teaching Stirs Interest, Criticism

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Last week, 37-year-old Donald Lamar Givler, who describes himself as having "worked in business or trades since I was 14," began a new career as a teacher.

"I'm not an overly spiritual person, but there are a lot of things that happen in business that I have second thoughts about," he said last week. "I got to the point where I wanted to do something with my life that had value and I didn't see that happening in construction trades or business."

Mr. Givler, who previously worked as a maintenance supervisor in a nursing home and with a friend in construction, said he took about a $5,000 salary cut to teach mathematics to 9th, 10th, and 11th graders in the Eastern Lancaster County (Pa.) School District.

"It was just something I decided I wanted to do with my life," he said.

Unprecedented Interest

Mr. Givler is one of an unprecedented number of people who have expressed an interest or are participating in Pennsylvania's Teaching Intern Program--a program publicly promoted by the governor but strongly criticized by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Under the alternative route to certification offered through the program, a person with a bachelor's degree but no training in a school of education can teach in a school while taking education courses.

When a candidate applies for admission to a state-approved intern-certification program, the college conducts a pre-admission screening to determine what additional coursework he or she needs to receive a regular initial teaching certificate, said Peggy Stank, division chief for teacher education with the state department of education.

When enrolled, she added, the candidate receives a letter of candidacy, which he or she can use to apply for a teaching job. If hired by a school district, the candidate receives a teaching-intern certificate, which is valid for three calendar years and entitles the holder to all the legal rights a beginning teacher has. During that time, Ms. Stank said, the candidate must complete the prescribed coursework.

Program Publicized

Since Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh decided to publicize the program last summer through public-service announcements on television and radio, the statewide hotline set up to handle inquiries has received some 2,000 phone calls, according to Timothy W. Potts, deputy secretary for the board of education.

Fifty-seven letters of candidacy and 69 Teaching Intern certificates have been issued since July 1, he said. In comparison, he added, 53 such certificates were issued in the entire 1981-82 school year.

Participants include lawyers, dentists, homemakers, retirees, and engineers, Ms. Stank said.

The number of colleges and universities that offer the Teaching Intern program has tripled from six in the 1983-84 school year to 18, Mr. Potts said. Another 12, he added, are developing similar programs.

The regulations enabling individuals without education training to teach were passed by the state board in 1972, Mr. Potts said.

To Alleviate Shortages

"The idea at the time," he said, "was to alleviate teacher shortages. But it didn't turn out to be a big deal. It was never really promoted; the shortages that were anticipated never occurred."

But, Mr. Potts added, "as we were looking at educational priorities in preparing the Governor's 'Turning the Tide: An Agenda for Excellence for Pennsylvania Public Schools' [an October 1983 reform proposal], we came across this regulation and we said this was a great opportunity, because it allows us to get people who have succeeded in other careers into teaching and use that practical experience in the classroom.''

Union Reaction Mixed

Union reaction to the program is mixed. Officials of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, say that in general they approve of the program.

"We think the traditional route is preferable, but this has been in place for more than a decade and we have not had terrible difficulties with it," said Patricia Halpin, the union's legislative director. "It has been helpful in a number of areas, particularly where there are shortages."

But Nancy M. Noonan, president of the psea, denounced the program as a "watered down" version of the traditional certification route and a "superficial means of supplying our schools with teachers."

"We are concerned," she said, "that at a time when the department of education is professing a commitment to increased student standards and performance--and when it says it wants to attract quality candidates into the teaching profession--that this intern [program] is opening the back door to individuals who are unprepared to teach and exposing children to less than qualified, certified people."

Ms. Noonan said the union's6house of delegates unanimously voted in December "to pursue the elimination of the intern certificate."

The union, she added, plans to encourage state-board officials to reconsider their promotion of the program and to encourage legislators to pass measures that would outlaw it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Givler, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Millersville State College--where he is also taking courses under the Teaching Intern program--was preparing to teach professionally last week for the first time.

" My biggest concern," he said, "is not letting the kids down. I want to be prepared and I don't want to let them down."

Vol. 04, Issue 20

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