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How Certification Requirements Are Hobbling Teacher Recruitment

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The school system in America is by all indications in deep crisis. The problem is not in the net expenditure that the US government incurs for elementary and secondary education, which is comparable to other OECD countries at about 3.8% of the GDP. As for post-secondary education, US expenditure is well ahead of the curve and yet American students are lagging behind in not only science and math but also English and history.

The problem is multi-faceted but it appears that easy answers have been forsaken for ones that merely introduce further bureaucratization into a system already hobbled by red tape. In particular, the “No Child Left Behind” Act is mandating that all teachers be certified, leading to hemorrhaging of talented teachers from schools and creating new hurdles for people who want to teach. Let me preface the argument with my own story so as to provide context to the argument.

I graduated from college very idealistic about the kind of jobs I was interested in doing. Teaching seemed like a wonderful career choice; being able to share knowledge and, more importantly, share my enthusiasm about learning seemed like a wonderful idea. So I started applying for jobs in teaching, including Teach for America, for which I was rejected outright as I was not a citizen, for New York Teaching Fellows, from which I was also rejected. Still determined, I tried to apply to local schools. I found out that for teaching I would need to take more coursework in education and sit for state certification exams. This new information acted as a death knell for my plans to apply for a teaching position and I resigned myself to look for a private sector job and that’s where I have been since then.

The moral of the above story, if there is one, is that the education system needs to be more open to young graduates who are idealistic and may make wonderful teachers if pursued energetically. Instead the school system specializes in creating more hurdles, including archaic certification exams and requirements for courses in education. These requirements seem even more archaic given that a lot of private schools recruit teachers who are not certified and hence technically not ‘qualified’ to teach.

The certification process was instituted to guarantee a certain level of quality in teachers and to some extent one can argue that it has been effective, but as Alison Lobron, who teaches English at the elite private Concord Academy in Massachusetts, points out in her article for The Boston Globe:

When the certification process itself becomes a barrier for people wanting to go into a profession, it is time to review the guidelines. There are other cheaper ways of assuring quality including relying initially on surveys by parents and students. As it now stands, we may lose public school teachers beloved by principals, parents, and students, and we risk driving talented potential teachers into private schools or other careers entirely.

But the vagaries of the school system don’t end there. Lobron points out that her teaching experience in private schools didn’t count towards “the education course work required for a professional license.” So teachers like her who may want to transition to public schools would have to pass state tests and then finish an education program.

If we want to draw in a more talented and energetic pool of people towards the relatively low paying teaching jobs, we have to simplify rules for allowing people to teach rather than institute further arduous requirements like those being mandated by the “No Child Left Behind” Act. This is not to say that the quality of the teachers should not be tested but better ways must be devised to make it easier for people who want to teach to come forward and teach our next generation.

About Spincycle

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    So let me get this straight… in order to get more qualified teachers, we need to lower the qualifications?

    Exactly how is that going to help schools where 8th graders read at 2nd grade level?

  • http://www.myspace.com/russvr Russ Van Rooy

    I don’t think that is the point. I’m a professional in high tech tired of the business. I’ve always had a n interest in teaching and I have a Master’s Degree in hitory. I found out today that I would have to attend another two plus years of unversity if I want to get certified to teach high school history in Michigan. This definitely is discouraging. I can understand a years coursework, but two years ?

  • Jonathan Scanlan

    The bare minimum standard for teachers where I live (Queensland) is a B. Ed for primary, and a B. Ed plus another degree (in prefered field of teaching) for secondardy.

    You can swing it with a post-graduate diploma in some cases though, and those are usually 1 year full time or 2 years part time.

    It’s one thing to complain about red tape, but it’s quite another to call it a crisis.

  • http://lit.fictionary.ca Bonnie

    I’m not sure I agree that a desire to be a teacher is enough qualification. What they are asking for is that you have some training in education, right? It seems to me that having some education in teaching methods and the like should be a minimum requirement for teachers. Just knowing a subject doesn’t necessarily make someone a good teacher, equipped to convey material that they take for granted to others….

  • http://www.richardbrodie.com/ Richard Brodie

    What is needed is to eliminate public education. Teaching, like everything else in America is being destroyed by legislators run amok, in their desire to have government breaucracies CONTROL every last detail of EVERYTHING, as they chase after the liberal chimera of an existence 100 percent sanitized of risk.

    Let all education be private, with school owners free to set thieir own standards for hiring teachers, and free to fire them without worrying about “tenure” (again a notion designed to try and eliminate the risk of unemployment for teachers). The free choices of parents in deciding where (and whether) to send their children to schools, will soon enough weed out those schools whose policies do not produce the results that PARENTS (not the fucking GOVERNMENT) desire. In other words de-socialize education and watch it flourish the way a de-socialized economy did in the first century and a half of this nation’s existence …

    … or, sit back and watch the United States continue to destroy itself.

  • Gaurav

    Some of the top perfoming students come from robust public education systems like ones in Denmark and Finland. So to simply assume that public education is a problem is sort of simple-minded. Private schooling will help in only lightening the burden of the best perfoming schools in our nation – the ones in rich suburban districts and hence it would end up solving a non-problem. Free choice of parents is severely curtailed due to money. Now one may argue that why not give all the money that government spends per student in public schools to parents who can then choose a private school. The trouble is that government spends only a maximum of about $9,000/yr while private schools typically cost upwards of $30,000. So that solution is a non-starter too.

    As for people who have commented that the getting rid of certification system would lead to a drop in the ability of the teachers… I just would like to point to what the private school teacher in the Globe article points out: most private school teachers aren’t certified and most have not taken courses in education but education in private schools is widely considered top-notch. The argument here is not to dismantle the certification or evaluation process – get teachers training but rationalize the process so that the few people who want to teach are not spurned. This won’t be a panacea for all troubles but it is certain to make an improvement in the shortfall we face in science and math teachers. And that would be good for the kids.

  • Concerned citizen

    The “No Child Left Behind” act is one of the most confused act that has ever been created. For those of you who will ask why, let me explain. According to the new rules of the game, when someone from any other bacground wants to enter the teaching profession, all he/she has to do is take all the tests required by the state he/she wishes to teach and become certified. By passing those tests, this said person becomes in some instances a top notch teacher, and don’t be surprise if you even find this person teaching an advanced placement classe just because he /she passed those tests. My questions are: what happen to the teacher who went to school and studied to become a teacher? What happened to field works, student teaching, classroom presentations, special assignments, mandated workshops, some for in-service credits? What happened to many years in teaching before the “NCLB’ was instituted. If you ask me, that so call certification is just another processus of elimination. Passing one of some tests to obtain a piece of paper that declares you a certified teacher does not make you one. Teaching is a call not just a job. You can only excell at it,through experience and the only way to acquire experience is to be in a classroom applying your skills and perfecting them “Practice makes perfect”. Every year in some of the states in this country, real teachers are kicked out of the classrooms, and replace by other people with no teaching experience or a background in education, just because they couldn’t pass one part if not all those tests that will finalized their certification process. In some cases, the tests are to be taken in a specific order. Tell me how can you study and pass those tests when you have been deprived of your income, and can’t provide for yourself or your family? You take the tests without ever set a foot in a classroom before, you passed them then Alleluia! You are now a certified teacher you are qualified to teach. Don’t our children deserve better? Let the real teachers teach them, those who went to school because they wanted to be teachers, not because they couldn’t find someting else to do. Let the real teachers gather with the administrators, the law makers, the parents and come up with a plan to make the certification process a much better process, one that will truly help not hurt anyone and let stop shooting ourselves on the foot. When a teacher is unemployed and cannot provide for his/her family, guess what his/her children have been left behind.

  • JustOneMan

    hmmm…shouldnt all you teachers who are posting comments be teaching the children?

    The Teachers Union has run amok as evidence by these postings…without accountability ouyr education will continue to be a bloated over rated and under utilized resource….

    Teachers as all public servants must provide a rerturn on investment to the tax payer!

  • sandy

    And what will you know? Are you among the victims of the NCLB law? It is a shame that people cannot see some of the damaging effects resulting from the NCLB. Qualified teachers are left out due to the exigences implemented by the act. Nothing is perfect, no one is perfect too however like Ms. Lebron, English teacher at an elite school in Massachusset states, we must question the certification process when it becomes a barrier for people who want to get in the profession; or for people who have been kicked out of the classroom loosing their job in the process, because of it. Decisions about schools are made everyday by people who are neither teachers or educators, and that is costing us. One cannot be a good teacher without the love, care, dedication, passion that encompass teaching. Teaching is a vocation not an alternative to unemployment. This is what’s happening all around the country, when teachers are not allowed to work in their own fields. Taking creativity out of the classroom to replace it by politics is not helping our children in any way or form. I am so glad that I had the privilege to attend school when teachers where teaching just for the love of the profession. Teachers are the very base of the social pyramid, and shame on us for treating them the way that we have been lately. You are talking about accountability as if they were criminals, and it just shows the lack of respect and appreciation for teachers that most decent people are talking about. There isn’t a “one size fit all” technique in teaching. Every child is different, every class is different, every school is different, and every year is different. The real teacher will know how to deal with each situation. Because that teacher had learned through experience acquired over the years,how to create an environment conducive to learning sucessfully. Getting a teaching position because one happens to have passed some tests, and being declared certified, or qualified, does not include experience, or knowledge of the subject at hand. Teachers’ qualification should not be based solely on a piece of paper, based on tests results after the teacher have graduated college. What needs to be done is to create more efficient postgraduate studies, seminars, workshops,financed by the government, that will allow teachers to share their experience and ideas among them, to help them perfect their crafts. I can assure you that it will be a much more efficient process. Try to replace an emergency room doctor with someone who just happened to have taken and past the tests the doctors are required to take to obtain their license. I bet, you can even start to imagine the repercussion of that right. Well this is done everyday in clasroom around the country. Try to be the judge of that. Go ahead ask a florist or anyone else with no medical knowledge or background, for that matter to perform surgery on a diying patient.Can you live with that?

  • Struggling Student

    I am responding to this from a firsthand experience. I will be graudating with my Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in May 2007 and trying to find a postition teaching has been more than a nightmare. All throughout my education here, they push down your throat, “Teach! Teach! We need teachers!” yet they make it so difficult for those of us passionate about teaching to do so. I know that if I pursued a teaching degree and wanted to teach a science class, the children would know more than I would. If I hadn’t taken 120 credit hours of biology classes, and instead 120 credit hours of how to convey information from one person to another, what information would I have to convey? I do not agree that lowering teaching qualifications will lower the quality of the teacher. As difficult as it is today to find a teaching position, those passionate enough to fight through the red tape and make it into a classroom should be consisdered more than qualified to teach the suject they love. I also feel that if I am determined enough to share what I have learned in this field with others, then I will have the ability to do whatever it takes to ensure that they learn, or I have not only wasted four years of my life learning about conservation, given up the opportunity to pursue conservation in another field, but failed to ensure a child the realization of his/her potential in this world. If America needs teachers, then why are they turning the most qualified away?

  • John Reeske

    The way that I see it, teaching has become a huge crisis. I was once a student teacher in a mathematics high school in California, and it is a constant battle to keep students under control. Mind you, to get certified, you have to pay a school to get you through to state certification, and then you have to teach for about one year. Most teachers get horrible wages and working conditions in their public schools, and putting up barriers to teaching is just going to drive more people away. Why? Because you could get a job easily going through any trade school after graduation from high school that pays equal or better in much less time. It’s sad to see that schools put up so many barriers to accept students into their teaching credential programs, and it’s weven more sad that if you get kicked out of one, you have to start over from the beginning and cannot transfer your credits to any other credential program. What’s so hard about teaching? I’ll tell you one thing: It’s NOT the subject matter at all, it’s learning how to manage the classroom and keep students behaving and on-task. It’s sad to think that you could waste 6 years of your life to just learn how to do that, and get little pay, and have no support if you mess up at all. I had to do 16 things at once, and if I messed up on any, they wrote a check in the concerns column. Enough of those and you got a statement of concern, and then enough of those, then you get kicked out, sometimes without the possibility of appeal. Once you get kicked out, you have to start over from scratch, and pay another college to take you. It’s sad to think that the way students behave is what determines a new career in teaching.

  • a teacher

    This article is ridiculous. If you want to be a teacher that bad, then two extra years of education shouldn’t be an excuse. I have my B.S. Ed in art education, through which I am certified to teach K-12 art. I’m looking to become certified as a science or special ed. teacher to increase my marketability as an educator and guess what? Even though my degree is in education, I would still have to go back for my M.Ed or even worse, another B.S.Ed to teach science. So stop complaining when your degree isn’t even in education to begin with. I have had countless college professors, grade school teachers, and university-level professors who have a great understanding of their subject, but who are horrible, unhelpful, boring teachers who have no idea about how to run a classroom, even with certification. So, if you really care about education in this country and you really want to make a difference, then dedicate yourself to this profession by taking the required courses to prove your capable of being a teacher. I had a lot of delusions about what being a teacher is like until my B.S.Ed opened my eyes. It isn’t as easy as many think and until you’ve been immersed in it you have no idea! Lastly, teachers have a huge responsibility on their shoulders and you shouldn’t expect schools to just let someone try out teaching with students whose lives and brains are in their hands as some sort of “lets-see-what-teaching-is-like” experiment. The LAST thing we need is to lower the standards for our teachers, if anything, they aren’t strict enough. NCLB is a joke, but higher standards for our teachers and our students is not.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I cannot but disagree. A degree in education is a waste of time – it has always been at the bottom of the totem pole, desirable only by those who couldn’t succeed in any other discipline – almost like going to a vocational school.

    If you love teaching, you will learn it by practice; and if you don’t, don’t even bother trying.

    You shouldn’t be valorizing the teaching profession in light of the miserable performance of our K-12 educational system.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    desirable only by those who couldn’t succeed in any other discipline

    oh really? you want to say that to my wife? who works at teaching troubled teen girls every day. girls who have been drug-addicted, sexually abused and generally handed a big, complex load of problems?

    you think you can learn to do that job “by practice”?

    sorry, that’s just complete b.s.

    and the miserable ‘performance’ of k-12 is an incredibly complicated situation, with responsibility being shouldered as much by society as teachers.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    All this is moot. The crisis that is Capitalism has seen to it that no more teachers will be needed for the foreseeable future. Budgets are being cut countrywide. Teachers will be warehousing students at a ratio of 50:1. Teachers are in an uproar.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    What’s a difference, Cindy, how many there are? They all bent on programming the children into little robots.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Yes, Roger. They are. But I wasn’t speaking about that (though I usually do, as you know). I decided to focus on the crisis. Because the article is entitled ‘teacher recruitment’ with an aim at how best to do this. Well, it’s passe to talk about teacher recruitment–even if you are a believer in the status quo (schools and such).

    It is simply a different angle of the same problem.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I was responding to Saleski’s comment, not yours.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    You usually appreciate a foot in the door approach.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    And give a quick read to my recent piece, OK?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Roger,

    “What’s [the] difference, Cindy, how many there are? They all bent on programming the children into little robots.”

    You shouldn’t call him Cindy, then. :-)

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Okay, I will look for it now.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    OMG. I only thought I was responding to him indirectly by addressing you. Isn’t that kosher?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Back in an hour.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I only thought I was responding to him indirectly by addressing you. Isn’t that kosher?

    Sure it is, Mark. I happen to agree with you: spandex is a privilege, not a right.

    See? Anyone can be indirect.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Great Roger, I got it. I want to listen to the program The Crisis in Greece which starts in 3 minutes first. Then I will read that before I head back to work.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    (I see now that you were being ironical, Roger. And doubly ironically, your comment worked as a straight comment as well, there. Sure that’s Kosher. Or as an uncle of mine used to say: “knock yourself out”, which, when I was little, struck me as a hilarious thing for someone to say.)

  • http://takeitorleaveit,typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    BTW, prepare yourself for a big surprise on the big thread.

    I ain’t telling, but you surely must know what I’m talking about.