How We’re Getting Teacher Licenses

In the last blog we talked about why alternative programs exist and how they work. Now we’ll talk about what we are doing.

We are obviously getting our licenses through the alternative route. We would be thrilled to get masters degrees but with the debt and extra time need it’s not a good time.

Where are we going to teach?

We really considered going to Arizona, Texas or Hawaii to get licensed but quickly stopped because they would take too long (3-5 years) or were too expensive. Also they needed far more requirements like extra tests, state history tests or to know the Hawaiian language. This would be fun and interesting but we didn’t want even more on our plates. First year teaching during a pandemic is already going to be stressful enough. So we decided to stay in Colorado. Interestingly, Colorado doesn’t require a state history portion on the test unlike the other three.

How to get an alternative license in Colorado

Assuming you have your bachelor’s degree…

  1. Get a full-time teaching job for a full academic year
    • you cannot do substituting, half time teaching, student teaching or anything else.
    • you must be a full-time classroom teacher in the endorsement you want to peruse. For example, Chris wants to be licensed as a a secondary school (grades 7-12) social studies teacher so he has to work as a social studies teacher in a middle or high school. He can’t just get a job in an elementary school or as a math teacher or something. Teach what you want to be licensed in.
  2. Get accepted to an official program (some kind of program that works with the state to license teachers, it can be a BOCES, for-profit school, or a university)
  3. Prove you’re capable of teaching your endorsement either:
    • through your major (major in history = endorsement in history. This can be tricky if your major is “international relations” as that isn’t one of the official types of endorsements)
    • through university classes (fill out a worksheet to show which classes you have taken then the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) can decide to approve it or not). Chris has over 70 credit hours in social studies but is missing 1 class (3 credits) in American history, so he will not be approved. Thus he must use the other route:
    • take (and pass, obviously) a knowledge exam for your endorsement. This is the PRAXIS test in Colorado (and 39 other states, but not every state uses the PRAXIS), it’s a nationwide (ish) test for teachers to prove they know what they’re teaching.
    • keep in mind you cannot get endorsed in every subject there are some endorsements that require a university degree/pathway)
  4. often you will need to find a mentor at the school we’ll be working at (to ask questions, get extra help and to monitor you)
  5. Get an alternative license  – once you have a job and a program you have to pass around a sheet of paper to show everyone is in agreement with you teaching alternatively. You sign it, your school signs it, then the program sign it. Then it’s passed back to you to submit to the CDE where they will issue the license itself.

The process is confusing because technically

  • you need the full-time job to be accepted to the alternative program
  • but for a school to hire you you need to be accepted to the program

And meanwhile both of them want to know your PRAXIS scores. So its a balancing act of figuring out which one to do first. Throw COVID into the mix and we didn’t know what we were doing. T o  b e  f a i r  n o o n e  k n o w s w h a t s  g o i n g  o n.

What program are you using if you’re not going through a university?

We looking into all 23 options available in Colorado but really liked the BOCES programs. BOCES band together multiple districts to offer more benefits to teachers/parents/students. One of their perks is often having an alternative license program. You teach full-time in one of their districts – don’t forget alternative licenses are symbiotic relationships to help schools fill teacher shortages and people change jobs.

We ended up picking the Colorado River BOCES program because

  • it was reasonably priced
  • they make individualized learning plans so if you know a lot about ESL or math you will take fewer classes in those subjects.
  • they didn’t require you to teach in their jurisdiction. We could teach in their districts for a $1,000 discount, or anywhere in Colorado for $1,000 more.
  • ordinarily you would finish your first year with a standard license but we will exit our first year teaching with a bigger, better professional license (which expires in 5 years instead). This was obviously important. We’re interested in staying for a few years but honestly we want get back abroad.

The Colorado River BOCES includes the districts of DeBeque, Garfield-16, Garfield re-12, and Roaring Forks. The map below shows it including Plateau Valley 16 but this is out of date.

There are 14 middle and high schools under Colorado River BOCES (needless to say we don’t want to teach elementary). Pretty limited choice compared to somewhere like Denver which has 78 middle and high schools. But it was overwhelming to start applying to every middle/high school in the state (for those who love numbers that’s 805 middle/high schools). So it was nice to focus on one general area of the state and start applying from there.

What are we going to teach?

The subject you teach is known as your endorsement.

You can divide it by elementary and secondary. If you want to be an elementary teacher you get endorsed in elementary teaching. If you want to teach secondary (middle/high schools) you have to specialize in a specific thing (English, math, science, etc). You prove you know enough to teach your endorsement by taking a test (PRAXIS) or taking the right classes in college.

This sounds straightforward – just get your endorsement in the same subject as your major. Chris majored in international relations so that doesn’t directly translate to any endorsement. So we have been trying to contact the CDE but it sounds like he’s going to have to take the PRAXIS. He could prove he has enough knowledge through the classes he took but he is missing 1 measly class in US history.

My bachelors degree is in modern languages (how fancy) aka German.  I really don’t want to teach German. So I considered other options.

I was one class shy of a double-major in English – around 33 credits (11 classes -but it depends on how you’re counting them). But I don’t qualify for an English endorsement because I’m missing a 3-credit class in speech.

So we both knew we would (probably) have to take the PRAXIS test. This opened things up. If we were going to be studying for a test anyway we would pick whatever we wanted. We tried to balance

  1. where are there shortages?
  2. what are we confident teaching?
  3. what do we have some background with from college?

We’re pretty balanced with credits- we took the same amount of science and art classes. But when you looked at it it should be obvious – Chris gets endorsed in social studies and I get endorsed in English:

Chris considered Spanish and ESL but ultimately decided to just stay with social studies.

I figured I would do English Language Arts (ELA) since I love to read and write. The more I studied for the ELA Praxis test the more I realized I didn’t want to teach this. I hate Shakespeare and detest finding meaning in stuff. Just because a person likes reading and writing doesn’t mean they would be a good/enthusiastic teacher.

What I really want to do is teach social studies (like my husband). Social studies classes were always my favorite throughout K-12 and uni. I fought with high school advisors to be allowed to take more history classes in lieu of “normal” electives like art or music. But when I’m married to a dude who carries 70 university credits of social studies my love and knowledge of social studies pales in comparison to him. Plus,  good luck hiring two social studies teachers in one family. We would always be competing with each other for jobs (or doubling our chances, I guess, if you want to be optimistic). So I figured it was a bad idea to get the same endorsement as my husband.

But.

It’s what I want. So the both of us began this hellish journey of studying for the test. We both know we could pass the test. We’ve taken practice tests and with what we already know we could get Bs/Cs on it. But we want to be knowledgeable teachers, so we’re studying the very fine details of social studies.The website we’re using (study.com) involves a horrifying 79 chapters of intensive units – over 646 lessons. Taking us each around 300 hours.

Hey, so, I didn’t want to ask but what is social studies?

There are 5 fields of social studies.

  1. History – further divided into US History and world history (and often state history)
  2. Geography – again divided. Not just where countries are (and their capitals/government) but human geography, how humans work with and interact with their geography (population, agriculture, cities)
  3. Culture – beliefs, customs of people, religions
  4. Economics – market equilibrium, supply and demand, gift economy , inflation, etc.
  5. Government/politics – how US politics works but also different types of governments around the world/historically

We have to be pretty well versed in all of these. If we were ever to teach high school we may just teach 1 class about 1 of the fields – for example teach a class that is only about politics, or only teach economics. If you think we’re going to be teaching US history/World history all the time this is not correct. We could be teaching anything within these 5 things.

We’ll talk even more about how we’ve been doing with all this alternative license stuff in the next blog. Spoiler – Chris: great, me: not great.


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