The alternative licensure program could help ease a critical shortage of classroom teachers.
AKRON -- After a 27-year career in industry, Dan Spak now shares his scientific expertise with high school students.
He is one of 10 University of Akron scholars who recently completed an alternative licensure program designed to help working professionals move into the teaching field.
The UA College of Education is piloting the program as one way to address the continuing teacher shortage.
Program coordinator Dr. Robert Eley said Ohio lawmakers passed the alternative educator license to provide individuals who hold bachelor's degrees a more direct route to being licensed as teachers.
Limited areas: The nonrenewable two-year license is limited to specific teaching areas in art, business, English, health education, home economics, languages, library, math, music, physical education and sciences for grades seven to 12. The license is issued only through the request of a school superintendent or equivalent. Candidates who meet program requirements must first complete six semester hours of teacher preparation course work and 30 hours of field experience.
Spak, who teaches ninth-grade physical science and 12th-grade earth systems at Firestone High School, is grateful for the opportunity to join the teaching ranks.
"I always wanted to make the transition from industry to education, and alternative licensure made it possible," he said. "I'm doing what I love, using my science background to teach students."
Dr. Elizabeth Stroble, dean of UA's education school, said alternative licensure is probably the most controversial trend in education.
"Right now we have two competing forces," she said. "We are working to increase the quality of teacher education programs and setting higher standards. On the other hand, we need to address quickly the teacher shortages in math, science, foreign languages and special education.
"At UA, we decided to continue to strive for the highest standards and at the same time expand the paths in which to obtain them. We are making the most of the alternative licensure pathway and designing a quality program that best uses this nontraditional route to the classroom to attract talented individuals, who are interested in career changes."
Stroble also said the university has a proposal under review at the National Science Foundation to obtain funding to establish another structure for an accelerated route to enter the teaching profession in the fields of mathematics and science.
Although UA officials say it will take a few years to completely measure the program's success, Firestone Principal Kenneth Jones said he sees immediate results.
"Dan Spak is above and beyond what we expected," Jones says. "We are pleased with the job he is doing. I think he missed his calling by 30 years. If this is what we get from alternative licensing, then send me some more."
Only a handful: Leonard Crawford, administrator of the Ohio Department of Education's certification-licensure, said there are only a handful of Ohio schools that have alternative licensure programs.
During the two-year alternative licensure period, teachers are mentored and must complete an additional 12 semester hours of specialized professional education coursework. After completing the usual state board of education examination for a teacher's license, the alternatively licensed teacher can receive a two-year provisional license and then is eligible to transfer to a professional license.
Eley said there is sufficient interest in alternative licensure to continue to offer the course work this spring.
"We surveyed Summit County superintendents before we began the program, and we continue to work closely with them to identify their needs and input on alternative licensure," she said.