When Abby Schuette’s three children all attended the same elementary school in Silverdale, she spent so much time there she applied for a job in the lunchroom, and later as a special-education paraeducator. She got both.

After eight years of working as a paraeducator with special education students, she yearned to teach. But she had a million excuses why she couldn’t go to college and get her teaching degree. Money would be needed for her own children’s advanced education; her parents or in-laws might need physical help and she didn’t want to quit her job.

All those issues were resolved when she discovered that certain Washington State institutes of higher learning offered alternative routes to becoming a teacher. She kept her job as a paraeducator, took classes online and did her cohort (a group of students working through the same program) portion in the summer.

Schuette received her teacher certification and master’s degree at the same time and it only took her two years. Four months before she finished the program, she was hired as a special ed teacher at a different school and now oversees three paraeducators.

Earning a teaching certificate can be done quickly and easily by enrolling in one of the alternative routes offered in Washington State. These programs let students continue working while attending classes online and on Saturdays, and can be completed in one or two years depending on the individual track.

Need for educators continues

Washington state faces a critical teacher shortage. In 2019, the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) released a 75-page report titled “The Data and the Story: Educator Shortage in Washington State.” That report investigated the shortages and existing strategies to help resolve them. Alternative routes was one of those approaches.

“The purpose of our alternative routes to becoming a teacher is to streamline teachers into the classroom sooner,” says Sofia Saltwick-Zucca, an instructor at City University of Seattle, one of the Washington universities that offers an alternative route. “By taking courses during the summer, they can finish the program in one year.”

Qualified individuals

Four different populations are eligible to enroll in one of the alternative routes to becoming a teacher according to the PESB.

They include:

  1. Those with an associate degree who work in a school in a classified position like a paraeducator.
  2. Those with a bachelor’s degree who work in a school.
  3. Those with a baccalaureate degree who aren’t employed at a school, but who want to attain a teaching degree.
  4. Those with a baccalaureate degree who work in a school as a teacher with a limited certificate.

If you already work in a school district, Saltwick-Zucca says alternative route students can test what they’ve learned in their own classrooms. Relevant coursework that’s updated often yields results.

“Not only did I get to keep my job,” says Schuette, “but I worked hand-in-hand with my job. My papers and research all had to do with my daily work.”

Like Schuette, who will be 48 years old soon, most students who enroll in an alternative route program are career changers, says Saltwick-Zucca. Most are older students, who are impassioned and determined. She says they already have real-world experience, which helps with their studies.

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Graduating in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree, Schuette set her career target on a position in sports radio. Life had other plans for her, but now as a special education teacher, she says she’s found her purpose.

Outlook for teachers

Projected job development in Washington State skyrockets to 17.8% though 2028, according to Long Term Occupational Projections data gathered by Projections Central. The U.S. Department of Education, Washington, says students specializing in teaching English Language Learners, language arts, science, special education, elementary education, physical fitness and health, technology education and math will find the most openings.

“If it hadn’t been for the Alternative Route program, I wouldn’t have stopped my life to get a teaching degree,” says Schuette. “My schooling provided the least amount of disruption to my current trajectory.”

City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for eight consecutive years.