The National Association for Music Education has observed that alternative routes to teacher certification vary significantly from state to state and in quality and rigor. Alternative certification programs that take advantage of the unique strengths of prospective teachers from nontraditional educational backgrounds can be an important path for individuals to gain entry into the teaching profession and for schools to recruit motivated, talented individuals for teaching positions that would otherwise go unfilled.

However, alternative certification programs must prepare prospective teachers to meet the same rigorous standards established for college and university trained music educators. Regardless of the certification that music educators receive, NAfME believes that knowledge and skills in music are absolutely essential and that without them, music teachers will not be successful and the musical education of the students they teach will be impaired.

The rationale behind alternative certification was to provide a short-term and immediate solution to the teacher shortages that are occurring in many states and in many curricular areas. The intent was to make it easier for people without teaching degrees to become teachers and to do it more quickly, without going through a four or five year college or university education program. This “quick-fix” approach, however, has the potential of being detrimental to overall teacher quality, depriving children of the right to be taught by competent, qualified and caring music teachers.

Mentoring programs are often part of an alternative certification program. This is consistent with the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. NAfME believes that for the mentoring experience to be meaningful and of value, the mentor must be an experienced music teacher with proven successes in the same music specialty area, i.e., band, choir, general music, or orchestra, as the teacher being mentored. In small school districts where there is only one music teacher, mentoring programs may require cooperation with a neighboring school district. However, when the quality of students’ education is at stake, no cooperative effort is too great.

Mentoring is a professional obligation and responsibility of experienced music educators, similar to serving as a cooperating teacher in the traditional student-teaching experience. Mentoring is a professional service vital to the success of the prospective teacher receiving the assistance and to the continued growth of the music education profession. Furthermore, NAfME believes mentors should be adequately compensated either in release time or in the form of a supplemental stipend for this service. Release time can be provided by the mentor’s school district.

Supplemental stipends can be provided either by the state’s certification or licensing agency that determines the rules and regulations for alternative certification or by the school or district in which the prospective teacher is being served by the mentor.


The Music Educator’s Role 

The “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act of 2001 mandated that public schools have highly qualified educators teaching every class in core academic subjects by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Because music is identified in NCLB as one of the core academic subjects and there is already a shortage of music teachers, legislators, higher education officials, and local school district officials have expressed an increased interest in, as well as concerns about, alternative certification. This interest is shared by individuals from non-music-education backgrounds, such as people from other careers or the military, liberal arts graduates, and early retirees, who may wish to become music educators. Concerns are shared by practicing music educators and professors in higher education who teach music education courses.

The roles of the established music educator—and the music educator trainee—include those of interested observer and concerned participant. The first role calls for being informed and aware of alternative certification developments in their state. The second role involves a willingness to participate in the preparation of alternatively trained teachers that meets the standards of knowledge, performance, and quality expected of college and university-trained members of the profession. The third role is related to the second in that the established music educator should be willing to serve as a mentor to the alternatively trained music teacher. Serving as a mentor can be challenging and rewarding. It is seen as a professional obligation similar to serving as a cooperating teacher to student teachers.

NCLB regulations require that teachers hired through alternative certification must receive “high quality professional development that is sustained, intensive, and classroom-focused in order to have a positive and lasting impact on classroom instruction, before and while teaching; participate in a program of intensive supervision that consists of structured guidance and regular ongoing support for teachers or a teacher mentoring program; assume functions as a teacher only for a specified period of time not to exceed three years; and demonstrate satisfactory progress toward full certification as prescribed by the state.” The regulations also clarify that the final end of teacher certification should be to “enable all students … to meet the State’s academic standards.”

The tenor of these regulations is that professional development, supervision, and structured guidance should be delivered in a way that is consistent with reaching the teaching goals set out in the states’ standards. This strongly implies, and NAfME strongly recommends, that most of this mentoring must be delivered by individuals with acknowledged expertise in the field of study—most logically by colleagues. For prospective music teachers, this means another music teacher who is experienced and acknowledged by peers as outstanding.

During their first three years those with an alternative certificate should be observed a minimum of three times in the first year and two times in each of the next two years. These observations and the post-observation feedback conferences should be done by an outstanding experienced music educator colleague.


Guidelines for Music Educators:

  • Exemplify for all music students your own respect for teaching and for future teachers.
  • Encourage graduates who are already teaching to continue and encourage those who have left to return.
  • Support your colleagues in their individual professional development activities.
  • Insist upon comprehensive—and comprehensible—standards for alternative certification.
  • Regardless of their certification, volunteer to mentor new music teachers.
  • Hold alternatively certified teachers to the same standards of teaching excellence to which traditionally certified teachers are held.
  • Accept alternatively certified music educators who become competent, quality, caring teachers as fellow professionals and colleagues.
  • If you see flaws or oversights in the music teacher certification process, speak up through your state MEA, to your state’s board of education, and to the state or local legislative body that determines alternative certification regulations.


For Music Supervisors and Administrators:

  • Contribute to the development of regulations for alternative certification using research-based information whenever possible.
  • Endorse quality programs that have been specifically designed to recruit, prepare, and license talented potential teachers.
  • Look for alternative certification candidates who have undergone rigorous screening that includes tests, interviews, demonstrated mastery of content, and actual classroom teaching experiences.
  • Provide individualized support and mentoring by outstanding experienced music educators to alternatively certified candidates in music education positions.
  • Match hiring policies and practices with community expectations and district goals.


For Prospective Music Educators:

  • Look for programs that are field-based. These programs should offer course work or equivalent experiences in professional education studies before and while you are teaching and offer intensive experience with trained mentor music teachers in their classrooms.
  • Look for selective admissions standards, a baccalaureate degree in music, and assessment of your subject matter competency, personal characteristics, and communication skills.
  • Seek a curriculum that provides you with the knowledge and skills you will need to help students reach the state’s music education standards. Of particular importance are comprehensive music pedagogy courses.
  • Expect to learn a wide variety of approaches to student learning and to use a wide variety of instructional strategies that will positively affect student learning, especially in the areas of critical-thinking, problem-solving, and performance skills.
  • Look for a supervised internship under the direction of an experienced, outstanding music educator.
  • Expect that your teaching competency will grow and be assessed using an array of techniques, including observations of you teaching in your classroom.
  • Expect to meet high performance standards for completion of your program.
  • Do not let any “shortcuts” compromise your training experiences and jeopardize the quality and effectiveness of your teaching.
  • Expect to be held to the same competency standards as traditionally certified music educators.
  • Know the difference between alternative certification and emergency certification.
  • Seek the support and assistance of college and university music faculty, experienced music teachers, building administrators, and your peers.


For All:

  • Regardless of your certification, invest in self-evaluation and continuous professional development, growth, and improvement.
  • Regardless of the program followed to obtain music certification, the education and training of prospective music educators should involve the cooperative efforts of the prospective teacher, current music educators and supervisors, school administrators, and music education professors in higher education.
  • Become involved in establishing music teacher preparation and evaluation standards, designing and delivering preparation programs, recruiting and selecting music teachers, and developing criteria for assessing music teacher qualifications, content area knowledge, and teaching effectiveness.
  • Focus on student learning and achievement. Regardless of how a person has qualified to become a music educator, his or her role is to help students achieve the knowledge and skills included in the national, state, and local standards for music education.
April 2024 Teaching Music


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