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Sandy Garrett's Column

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Fifty-six years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day at the suggestion of Arkansas teacher Mattye Whyte Woodridge. Then, in 1985, the National PTA and others declared the first full week in May as Teacher Appreciation Week.

This year, May 3-9 is the special week we will honor the hardworking men and women leading our classrooms, with observance of National Teacher Day on Wednesday, May 5.If you would like more information about becoming a teacher in Oklahoma, please visit the State Department of Education’s Web site.

Because we agree that “Great Teachers Make Great Public Schools,” we always want to recognize our teachers for the hard work they do each day to help boys and girls reach their full potential.

Being a teacher is a calling. To do it well, requires long hours for modest pay. Yet, speaking from experience, the rewards are numerous!

A person decides to become a teacher for various reasons. Some are practically born into teaching, following in the footsteps of family members. Others are inspired by a favorite teacher they had in class.

For example, the 2008 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, Heather Sparks, was inspired by her Jenks High School geometry teacher, Alice Ward. Sparks is now a National Board certified math teacher at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City, and it is her mission to teach students not just to learn math, but actually like it.

While many teachers become teachers the traditional way

by attending college to earn their education degrees, there are several different avenues offered in our state.Oklahoma also has alternative certification available for qualified people with a bachelor’s degree and a variety of work experiences. About one in four teachers are alternatively certified in our state, often helping fill teacher vacancies in critical subject areas and isolated or rural schools.

The process outlined in state law requires: determining eligibility, taking competency tests, fingerprinting for background checks, and applying to the Teacher Competency Review Panel (TCRP) for approval. After the license has been received, some requirements for a standard certificate must also be completed.

Another path to becoming an Oklahoma teacher is through the Troops to Teachers program. This federally funded program of the Department of Defense and the State Department of Education helps active and retired members of the armed forces or reserves obtain teacher certification.

Military men and women must go through the same alternative certification process that other degreed professionals go through if they don’t have an education degree. The program provides help with job placement, a stipend to cover testing fees, and a bonus for those willing to teach in high-poverty schools and/or schools with high percentages of children with disabilities.

Recent Teacher of the Year finalist Nolan Watson became an educator this way after a 20-year career in the U.S. Army. His experience in the military and travels around the world help him bring history to life in his classroom at Cache Middle School near Lawton.

We truly have thousands of remarkable, dedicated and caring teachers in our state. It is an honor to know and work with them.

- Sandy Garrett, state schools superintendent

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