Bush program eases certification for teachers

Posted: Tuesday, June 06, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Teacher aides in rural Alaska will be getting some help toward becoming teachers under new rules approved by the state Board of Education last week.

But the regulations are causing some controversy. The state teachers' union has come out against them. Members of NEA-Alaska contend that the rules will allow Native applicants who don't meet current certification standards to become teachers.

''We believe it is condescending and racist to imply that Native teaching assistants cannot pursue a traditional teaching program. Hundreds of them have,'' John Cyr, NEA-Alaska president, told the board at a meeting in Anchorage last week.

Two board members said they find the rules confusing, and one of them, Fairbanks high school teacher Susan Stitham, said the regulations will be a hollow gesture if the state doesn't provide money to make them work.

However, the board voted 6-0 Friday in favor of the plan.

The regulations are designed to slow the rapid turnover of teachers in the Bush. They would train more hometown teachers who are likely to remain in the villages. Most Bush teachers come from urban Alaska or Outside and many stay for just a couple of years. Rural administrators and state education officials say that kind of turnover makes it harder to improve rural schools.

Many rural teacher aides spend years taking college classes toward teacher certification without ever reaching their goals.

The new rules will allow teacher aides knowledgeable in a Native language and culture and who are enrolled in a teacher training program to get ''limited'' teaching certificates.

Their school districts would have to agree to help the aides get an education degree and pass state tests for teachers within a four-year period.

The certificates would allow the aides to teach Native language and culture on their own and would encourage districts to treat them as student teachers for other subjects, such as English and math. Student teachers prepare and deliver lessons under supervision of a teacher, while aides primarily assist teachers.

The districts would have to agree to provide mentor teachers to supervise and help the aides and to allow the aides time off for studies. A university would have to lay out schedules for each aide to complete coursework required within four years.

The state already offers a limited teaching certificate for people without education degrees to teach Native language and culture, but the current certificate contains no requirement that the person be in a teacher training program.

Two rural superintendents testified in favor of the new regulations, as did Carl Rose, director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

''I see this as a real opportunity,'' Rose said.

Leland Dishman, who recently resigned as North Slope Borough schools superintendent, said some aides are capable of taking over classrooms, and he strongly supports helping them become instructors.

Joe Slats, interim superintendent for the Yupiit School District along the Lower Kuskokwim River, said his district has trouble finding teachers to hire and last year had a teaching couple leave just before classes began.

The district also would like to start an immersion program to teach elementary students in their Native language, Yup'ik, he said. ''We can't do that until our people are certified.''

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