Arizona's kindergarten teachers have less than a year to complete an early childhood education training requirement under current state law.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne plans to present a policy change that would help those working on the endorsement - a part of teacher certification - but haven't finished the coursework by the July 2009 deadline.
"What we are going to do is present a proposal for an internship certificate where they can teach as long as they're taking the courses and headed toward the endorsement," Horne said last month. "First we need to present it to the advisory board and then to the state board for approval."
East Valley school districts report that most of their kindergarten teachers are already in compliance, with many veteran teachers taking advantage of an earlier policy that allowed them to receive the endorsement based on experience, or experience and test completion.
The endorsement requirement for kindergarten teachers was passed in 2004, with the 2009 deadline put in place then. The hope is to help kindergarten teachers - and other certified teachers of young learners - better understand child development.
"It's crucial that teachers in preschool and kindergarten are aware of the special characteristics of young children - their needs to develop emotionally and socially as well as academically," Horne said.
"The benefit is better early childhood training, which is one of the keys to long-term academic success."
The state surveyed school districts in the spring and 49 percent of teachers were already in compliance, with many others expecting to comply by the existing deadline.
Some districts have assisted their kindergarten teachers, and their preschool teachers, to get up to date. In Mesa, officials helped 500 preschool through third-grade teachers receive their endorsements, said Kevin Mendivil, director of certificated personnel. Rio Salado Community College reports a number of teachers are taking its new online program to meet the requirement.
At least 40 of the Scottsdale Unified School District's 75 kindergarten teachers already have early childhood endorsements. The school district is waiting on coursework records to be turned in from over the summer to get a better count, said Andi Fourlis, director of recruitment and professional development.
Meanwhile, Scottsdale is working with Arizona State University to offer courses needed for the endorsement online or at two Scottsdale sites this fall to make it easier for teachers to get their class work done by the deadline, Fourlis said.
The endorsement is required for preschool and kindergarten teachers and recommended for first- through third-grade teachers.
Jolene Gallup, a veteran teacher at Chandler's San Marcos Elementary School, was one of those who took advantage of the early policy to apply for the endorsement based on experience. She is in her 11th year of teaching.
Gallup said the biggest difference she's seen in teaching are the demands on the early learners.
"Some of those standards that were first-grade standards are now kindergarten standards. The biggest change I've seen ... is kindergarten is very, very academic," she said.
Her experience in early childhood education - her minor in college - helps her understand the stages children go through in learning.
"You do, as a teacher, have to have a good background in this. There's such a wide variety of abilities that walk through the door," she said.
When classes in Chandler began July 28, she saw some of those differences.
"Today being the first day, I had students who could write their first and last name and I had children who had difficulty holding a pencil," she said.
Gallup said training in early childhood development allows teachers to "pull out of your hat of knowledge to help those kids catch up."
A few years ago a student came in and didn't know what hand to hold a pencil in.
"He would hold it in one and then hold it in another. I thought, 'How do I figure this out?'" she said. Thinking back to some previous training she found the answer.
"I took him outside and we played catch. That's something that came from a P.E. class I had in college. We found out which hand was his dominant hand by doing something totally unrelated to writing," she said.
Scottsdale teacher Samantha Hodar is embarking on her first year as a kindergarten teacher this month. Thursday, she was prepping her room at Yavapai Elementary School. She is completing a master's degree in early childhood education.
"With the little ones you have concepts and phonetic awareness. If you have that knowledge of cognitive development and physiological development, there are different approaches you can take in order to teach the primary concepts in reading and writing," she said. "From infancy when a child is born, they're sponges. The sooner you start teaching them, the easier it will be for them to acquire language, reading, writing, math."
Amy Corriveau, deputy associate superintendent for early education at the Arizona Department of Education, said universities are now graduating students - like Hodar - with elementary education degrees that meet the early childhood education requirement.
"It's really important for our elementary school teachers to understand about early childhood, especially with the brain research that's come out in the last 12 years," Horne said. "As we look to build an early childhood focus in our state, that's what we want for our teachers."