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Emergency certification: New teachers learn the ropes

Dr. Joanna Lein teaching teachers techniques for more effective teaching. (KTUL)

"Back to school" is the phrase most often heard this time of year, but for scores of teachers across the state their phrase is "welcome to school."

"This is my first time to actually teach," said 50-year-old Steve Smith, changing gears to become a math teacher. "I was in full-time ministry in a church setting and so it's a pretty big shift."

Also new to the classroom is 26-year-old Bradley Johnson.

"I originally went to school for teaching, got talked out of it," he said.

Instead, Johnson went into the news industry but has now decided to follow his true calling.

"You know, I wanted to share my passion for history," "he said.

Both men are emergency certified and well aware of the baggage that comes with that label, but they're ready to help dispel preconceived notions.

"It may be scary to say, 'oh he's an emergency certified social studies teacher'," Johnson said. "That doesn't mean he knows nothing about it. It means I love history, I'm just working on getting that added to my alternative certification."

"You know, hopefully it doesn't mean, 'well I'm just grabbing somebody off the street and they're going to teach'," Smith said. "It means, 'well this is a person who has lots of real work experience and has these qualities, they just don't have the formal education'."

But there are people in place to help them bridge the gap.

"I think our state overall has just a gigantic human capital crisis," said Dr. Joanna Lein, creator of the brand new Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma. "Our program will actually help our emergency and alternatively certified teachers get on the path to getting their standard certificate and be able to be an Oklahoma educator."

The kickoff was at OU-Tulsa where professor and former Tulsa Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard is excited about filling a void in basic training that many emergency certified teachers face.

"You gotta learn how to teach," he said. "You haven't been trained, you haven't done your intern teaching, you haven't done the things you do in a traditional university."

Without those skills, emergency-certified teachers can easily find themselves struggling in the deep end of the pool when you consider the attrition rate for a regular, traditionally-trained teacher.

"About 50 percent will leave the profession within five years," said Lein.

That number drops to about 25 percent if new teachers get mentoring and assistance early on, no matter how they came upon the job.

"I feel like I'm getting a teaching degree in two weeks," Smith said. "That's not the case, but it feels like it."

Both Smith and Johnson feel confident about their subject matter. It's tricks of the trade and class management skills that they're absorbing like sponges.

"All the procedures and the ways to make the class run efficiently, so that I'm able to teach what I need to teach without chaos happening in the class, having control of the class so it's a good learning environment," said Smith.

"And then we're learning how to create our unit plans, so what the students need to learn," said Johnson.

Their progress will be monitored throughout the year, and more than that, the progress of their students.

"'Cause it's not enough to just do some work with adults, you've got to actually see that translate at the kids' level," said Lein.

The goal is to make sure the new teachers are set up for success.

"That's what this is about is ensuring that teachers are well prepared," said Ballard, giving the new kids on the block the tools they need to make sure their kids do well.

"In the end, you have to go with what you heart says," Johnson said. "You know, it's one of those things, is it really for the money? No, it's for the kids."

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