by Remona Jenkins

That teacher over there…Yes, that’s the one.

The one demonstrating strong teacher-student relationships with her students. The one with twelve years in the industry. She understands the skills needed for the workforce. 

She’s also the one whose mother is in the hospital. The one who showed up every day during the pandemic. 

Her? Yes, her. She’s not certified. She’s facing a barrier. She needs to pass Praxis, a national teacher assessment for certification.

Alternative certification works, but how do we remove barriers to traditional certification?

I am an alternatively certified teacher. 

I know and understand the barriers to certification in South Carolina for people who would like to enter the profession and actualize their dream of becoming a teacher. These include: limited access to entrance into educational programs, insufficient funds to complete a degree program, student teaching full time without a source of income, a low college GPA, and passing Praxis. Passing Praxis stands as a hurdle for many. Specifically, licensing exams have a disproportionate impact on minority teacher candidates: 62% of Black and 43% of Hispanic candidates fail the elementary Praxis test even after multiple attempts.

Some time ago, states tightened up requirements for teacher licensing. Along with numerous experts, they contend tighter regulation of teacher training programs and even more hurdles to clear on the way to certification is the only solution. Although well meaning, such submissions are not based on sound research or factual data. 

Now, faced with the impact those efforts are having on teacher diversity, and with evidence that black students benefit from having teachers who look like them, some are moving to loosen or even dispense with those requirements. 

Too often, energy, time, and money are put into ‘hoop jumping’ with nothing to show for their efforts. South Carolina policymakers have a responsibility and duty to increase, diversify, and qualify South Carolina’s educator workforce for our children. Qualifications for certification should align with proof of meaningful research-based practices for improving the educational welfare of all students.  

We are planners. 

We are proactive. 

We are problem solvers. 

We are professionals. 

But our spirit, our tenacity, our drive, our ability to overcome all things, our vision to be there and be in the moment, can be stifled, muffled, dimmed, altered, and diminished by consistent barriers.

Today’s college graduates have numerous career options and opportunities. If the path into teaching is too burdensome or costly, graduates will abandon it for other professional pathways (Finn, 2001). As with traditional certification, we must streamline the process to alternative certification so future educators can begin making a difference for students, parents, the community, and the profession.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, and Colorado rank as the top states for education. These states provide professional preparation and education for would-be teachers by allowing them to work and learn simultaneously, putting into daily application what they are learning in theory (Department of Education, n.d.). The support of mentors, apprenticeships, and instructional coaching helps alternative certification-seeking candidates to be successful, ensuring program quality and constructs which align with student outcomes. The single approach of teaching while earning certification helps to mitigate economic barriers for many.

South Carolina also has strong examples of alternative certification pathways which work. CarolinaCAP, a collaborative effort among South Carolina school districts, the University of South Carolina, and the Center for Teaching Quality, provides the opportunity for paraprofessionals and industry-knowledgeable candidates to become certified through graduate level coursework, microcredentials, coaching, and collaborative inquiry. After passing Praxis, candidates may become the Teacher of Record and take the lead in their own classroom through employment. 

CarolinaCAP attracts diverse candidates who mirror the student populations they serve. Representation is critical for students (our state’s future teacher pipeline).Eighty-one percent of candidates who participated in CarolinaCAP identify as Black, ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old. Eighteen percent of candidates are male (CarolinaCAP Year Two Annual Report, 2021). CarolinaCAP candidates bring a wealth of both life and professional experiences to their classroom. The program’s structure addresses the economic barrier as well. Once candidates pass Praxis and secure teacher employment, they may begin receiving a teacher salary.  

How does this translate to the person? The educators trained under alternatively certified programs, such as CarolinaCAP,  might provide some insight. Anisha is a second year teacher working in a rural district. She’s producing students who will leave second grade reading and writing with confidence. She’s also a teacher who is having challenges passing the Praxis certification exam. 

This is Anisha’s barrier.

She has attempted the exam on occasions. She has noticed, the longer she teaches, the more she feels Praxis is assessing her instructional classroom practices. Her score has increased each time.

I see myself in her, once a new teacher facing a barrier to becoming fully certified. How do I support her by removing barriers which do not align with student outcomes? Barriers which initially decreased the number of teachers in the profession? Barriers which marginalize people who have limited economic, social, or political resources?

I am connected to this work as an alternatively certified educator. The path to certification gave me the opportunity to be able to live out a dream and weave a connection with students and families for years to come. Certification gave me the final piece of being confident in growing the educational development of students. The process has led to an increase in my commitment to support new teachers, curate and create resources for educators looking to certify, and has volumized my voice and efforts in dismantling local barriers which limit access to a talent pool of other educators who are leaders, servers, community, and world changers.

The alternative route connected me with research-based practices to increase teaching knowledge. I developed a professional repertoire of resources; I watched and connected with other phenomenal practitioners. My daily practice became supporting others, clarifying processes, building guides, and removing barriers which inhibited growth and efficacy.

But this success was not without barriers. Upon moving to South Carolina, there was no reciprocity. I went against a bureaucratic process- taking the National Teacher Exam and passing it, to recommending I return to my previous state to take four additional courses, to meeting with the head of the State Department of Education and being told I could only teach in the critical needs area of kindergarten. Even after exhausting the resources made available to me, 10 years later, I prevailed. But this is not so with many others.

A South Carolina Solution

South Carolina has made strides in opening the door to alternative certification. 

But it’s not enough.

Statewide Programs like Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) and Centers for the Re-Education and Advancement of Teachers in Special Education and Related Services Personnel (SC Create) allow candidates from anywhere in the state to seek certification. Locally based programs, such as Alternative Pathways to Educator Certification (APEC), Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP), and Educator Preparation & Innovation Pathways (EPI) focus their efforts in certain geographical areas of the state. Additionally, some programs, such as Teach for America (TFA) seek to bring top candidates to rural areas in South Carolina. 

Despite these efforts, there are still barriers to certification. 

Some programs only serve secondary candidates, or those looking to pursue special education, or those who live in the Midlands, or those residing in rural counties. 

South Carolina can do better. What if we create a solution that works in every district, home town, and classroom, whether candidates are in the Upstate, seeking to become certified in elementary, or residing in rural Jasper county? What if the model pulled together resources versus requiring school districts to compete for them? What if the model could be adapted to fit individual district needs without feeling cookie cutter, but promoting quality, research, rigor, and best practices? What if the model incorporated local ownership or even allowed smaller districts to collaborate to ensure candidates were exposed to full scale opportunities? What if we grew our own?

The Tennessee Department of Education has developed a Grow Your Own  teacher pipeline program as a partnership between the Clarksville-Montgomery school system and the Austin Peay State University’s Teacher Residency program. The program paves the way for teaching and educator workforce development nationwide. The state approved Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship programs between school districts and Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs), is among many Grow Your Own in the state of Tennessee which offers free opportunities to become a teacher, and clears the path for any other state or territory to launch similar programs with federal approval.  

The program allows participants to earn a wage while learning to become a teacher. Applicants have the opportunity to participate in an alternative route to certification by working directly under the guidance of a skilled certified teacher. The partnership model includes two and four year colleges and has developed three different pathways for Educational Assistants to earn their degree or certification in teaching. 

The model provides other states the opportunity to structure programming to their specific needs. States can target high school seniors, paraprofessionals, or those who already have degrees and need a pathway to strengthen their knowledge in pedagogy and research based practices.

Will you advocate for this solution? Will you support the policymakers who pledge to adopt this? Will you hold our department of education and educational systems responsible for making this a reality? A statewide approach, which requires federal approval and involves the state’s educational entities, is an approach which can serve every school in every district, every student in every classroom, and aligns local resources with community support and community ownership. South Carolina is ready to do better. Will you support a teacher residency model across the state of South Carolina?


Policy maker.  

Concerned citizen.  


District office staff. 

School board member.





Yes, YOU, racing your eyes across the page, coming to grips with your responsibility as a reader in this story. Which barrier will you remove today? How will you ensure South Carolina has numerous educators with diversified backgrounds who represent the landscape of future members of our society and workforce? How will you ensure inclusive pathways are created which capture the exquisite talent South Carolina has to offer? Encourage your senator to further explore Tennessee’s national model for a teacher residency program. This same Grow Your Own approach can be successful in South Carolina.

According to the February 2022 Supply and Demand Update report, there were a total of 7,870 teacher departures (resignations) and a total of 2,154 teacher vacancies/positions in South Carolina schools up to February 2022 during the 2021-2022 school year. If we do nothing else, or remain reactive, we are certain those numbers will increase. If we take the Call to Action, we begin building South Carolina’s workforce, increasing future teacher’s capacities, and filling South Carolina’s classrooms. We further awaken the senses and the ability of others to demand a solution for our children, our families, our homes, our communities, our state. 

And, we successfully dismantle barriers. For you, for me, and for Anisha. 


Finn, C. (2001). Removing the barriers for Teacher Candidates. Retrieved from

Department of Education (n.d.). Recruitment, Preparation and Induction. Retrieved from