New Mexico Highlands University is starting an online program that could fast-track the way students earn an alternative teaching license.

Leaders of the Las Vegas school hope the certificate program will help draw more teacher candidates, helping to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage.

“Not only will this program help with preparing teachers to teach, but it will address the [educator] vacancy numbers and retain them in the long run,” said Virginia Padilla-Vigil, dean of Highlands’ School of Education.

New Mexico State University’s College of Education this year released a report saying that there are at least 740 unfilled teaching jobs in the state, meaning long-term substitute teachers likely are filling those roles. That report also said enrollment is declining in educator-preparation programs around the state, which is lowering the potential pool for newly trained teachers.

The Highlands program, which may go into effect as soon as March, allows nontraditional students who have earned bachelor’s degrees and have worked in certain careers to earn a teaching certificate.

For example, Padilla-Vigil said, a historian could use the Highlands program to get a job teaching social studies and a visual artist could do the same to teach art in the schools, assuming they have a bachelor’s degree in those fields.

The program also would give students the option of working in the schools under a mentor teacher as quickly as possible or waiting to complete it before doing so. State mandates regarding alternative licensure programs allow those students to apply for an intern license to teach while enrolled in a certificate program.

If those students choose to wait to complete the course before entering the classroom, they must then complete a 16-week student teaching process.

“They will get rigorous support and work with mentor teachers and virtual instructional coaches,” Padilla-Vigil said. “They won’t be out there on their own; they won’t be thrown out there without any preparation.”

She said based on queries of interest, the college expects somewhere between 30 and 40 participants by the spring.

Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association-New Mexico, said Highlands has a “strong education and teaching program, so we are confident they would implement this improvement on the basic alternative licensure system.” She said putting those student teachers in classrooms to work is a must.

New Mexico statutes offer several options to earn an alternative teacher certificate, including submitting an online portfolio for review and taking at least three hours of reading courses and three New Mexico Teacher Assessment exams, among other measures.

But another union president said that increasing the number of teachers with alternative licenses will not provide a long-term solution to the teacher vacancy problem.

“History shows us alternatively licensed educators require more intensive and longer-term supports, do not remain in the classroom for as long as traditionally-certified educators and do not achieve the level of knowledge, practice, and pedagogy a four-year program can achieve,” said Stephanie Ly, president of the state’s American Federation of Teachers union.


Education Reporter

Robert Nott covers education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican