The recent federal mandates influenced by 2001's No Child Left Behind Act have had an impact on staffing schools throughout the nation. One of the requirements of the act is that a "highly qualified teacher" must teach each child. The United States Department of Education predicts that by the 2011-12 school year, between 3.2 and 3.9 million teachers will be needed to fill vacancies in public schools (U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, 2007). Although universities in the United States are producing a large number of education graduates, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future states that nearly one-fourth of new teachers leave the profession within their first three years of teaching. In urban areas, the attrition rate is even greater with about half of the new teachers in urban schools leaving the profession within five years (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future 2002, as cited in Curran & Goldrick, 2002). Furthermore, teachers working in schools in which the minority enrollment is greater than 50% tend to leave at rates more than twice those of teachers in schools with fewer minorities (NCES, 1998 as cited in Haycock, 2000).
Alternative Certification programs have been developed to recruit people to teaching who possess bachelor's degrees or higher in another field. Although the nature of these programs varies by school district, they share the goal of placing qualified teachers in often hard to staff classrooms. These new teachers often earn their teaching certificates by taking certification classes each year while they teach full time. Typically, these teachers who possess the least amount of teaching experience are most often placed with little support in the most challenged classrooms (Carey, 2004), many of which are difficult for an experienced teacher to handle.
Assuming the role as classroom teacher without preparation is difficult at best. First, because these alternative entry teachers have not previously taken child development, planning, methods, or classroom management classes, they often lack important foundational professional knowledge. Second, although research indicates that teachers teach best the subjects they know best, only one-third of teachers in high-poverty schools are certified to teach their subject (Carey, 2004). As they encounter these challenges, alternatively certified teachers typically "learn on the job" and need tremendous support as they learn to create, instruct, and evaluate curricula that maximizes student learning (Haberman, 1991).
For those entering the teaching profession, learning to plan lessons appropriate both for students' needs and grade level requirements is imperative. According to Ornstein (1997), novice teachers need to practice writing plans, and then implement those plans within their field placements. The opportunity to link theory and practice provides the experience needed to bring what is learned in teacher education classes into the elementary classroom. Without this experience, new teachers struggle to bridge theory and practice. John (1991) agrees that practical experiences are the primary influence on how novice teachers learn to plan. Because the importance of practical experience is a common theme in the existing literature, alternative certification elementary teachers, many of whom do not receive a range of methods classes, need support as they learn to plan and implement instruction. By having opportunities to both design and implement instruction, these novice teachers learn to recognize their students' needs which helps them to plan more relevant, appropriate, and effective lessons.
Differentiated Instruction (DI) is an approach that recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of diverse learners and requires the teacher to base instructional accommodations on student strengths and weaknesses (Tomlinson, 2001). Specifically, teachers use DI strategies to adjust the content, process, or product of instruction depending on student needs (Tomlinson, 2001). …