House bill creates pathway for nontraditional teachers

by Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

The House of Delegates on Tuesday cleared the way for so-called second-career professionals to fill teaching vacancies in the state’s classrooms.

House Bill 2005, providing for alternative teacher certification, passed 60-35 and will take effect July 1. County school districts will decide how to establish and institute the program, which would allow for someone with a degree outside the teaching field, such as engineering, to use his or her work or life experience in place of teacher training and teach at the high school level. Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she’s heard of examples where highly trained, highly sought after professionals can’t teach in West Virginia’s high school classrooms because standards are too high.

But some delegates argued against the bill, saying trained educators learn things like classroom management that isn’t taught in other fields of study.

“I would hate to set someone up in the classroom who is not able to protect students who have an issue with that,” said Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph.

Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming, is a retired teacher and school counselor. She recalled a troublesome student who she wouldn’t have known how to deal with and reach had it not been for her background in classroom management.

“Had I not had those education classes that taught me classroom management and taught me some psychology along the way, I would not have been able to get this high school freshman to be quiet in the class, to listen in the class, to behave long enough for me to teach him something,” she said.

But Pasdon pointed out county-level school boards would have the authority to determine how alternatively certified teachers would receive training. They could use a variety of methods, she said.

“A lot of times, hands-on learning, in-the-classroom learning, is the best way to learn,” Pasdon said. “You can sit in a classroom for hours on end and not necessarily learn classroom training.”

Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, said he supports the idea behind the bill, but voted no because of what he sees as a lack of training. Kids have too much on their plates, such as problems at home or abuse, that sometimes carry over into the classroom. Educators should be prepared to deal with that.

“I think teachers need to be trained before going into the classroom,” he said. “I’d probably vote for this if they had to have 20-some hours of training.

“I think we’re treading on thin ice with our kids, our children.”

The legislation seeks to help fill about 700 teacher vacancies statewide. In addition, about 300 teachers are teaching out of field, meaning those trained to teach science may be teaching math or English. Some delegates, including Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, suggested increasing teacher pay may be the best way to fill those vacancies.

Guthrie said lawmakers should focus on prioritizing the budget “So we give teachers the pay raise they need so we reduce the shortages we have.”

“Lets focus on the priorities,” she said.

Although many delegates spoke against the legislation, those in support said it gives counties greater flexibility in hiring teachers and filling those vacancies.

“One size does not fit all,” said Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. “If anything, we’ve demonstrated trying to dictate from Charleston what to do in their school districts just doesn’t work.”

The House also passed House Bill 2011, which changes the way workers’ compensation disburses funds when an injury is self-inflicted or caused by deliberate intent of the employer.

This legislation has gotten a lot of attention because many believe it would roll back mine safety standards. Dozens of family members of Upper Big Branch victims, and victims of other workplace injuries, testified Jan. 20 before the House Judiciary Committee. But Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer and chairman of the committee, said the intent of the legislation has been “exaggerated.”

“I’m pretty upset about the way this has been portrayed,” he said.

Democrats attacked the legislation, saying it is a regression of safety standards and would have meant Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, which owned Upper Big Branch, wouldn’t have been held liable for the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. However, Shott said Upper Big Branch and the Sago mine, the site of a 2006 disaster that killed 12, both had long histories of safety violations. All evidence gathered in those instances would have been considered under this bill.

But Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, cautioned lawmakers to think before casting their votes how they would explain their decision to constituents.

“This bill will define us as a Legislature,” Rowe said. “This bill will be remembered.”

The legislation passed 59-38.

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-5149 or Follow her at