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Do Schools Need Certified Teachers? Do Children?

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empty classroom pixabay.jpg

Schools, their students, teachers and leaders, hold the future of this country in their hands.  Yes, it sounds like hyperbolic, but it is not.  The fiscal environment of education combined with changing demographics over the last decade or so coexisting with expanding career options and economic shifts has led to declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs. As a response, we hear emerging discussions about reducing the requirements for teacher certification and a growing charter system that in some cases, does not require teachers to be certified at all. This past week New York leaned into creating an alternative path to certification for teacher sin high achieving charter schools. The inevitable back lash is unleashed and the hostility between public and charter public schools continues. Should the rules for these two "competing systems" be the same. We say " yes".

Presently, we have schools with certified practitioners who have been formally trained in subject matter, child development, and a variety of teaching and learning methods. That environment has a long history and has been instrumental in developing highly prepared professionals to enter classrooms. Yet, with that as our standard, we still find ourselves in the midst of a reality in which numbers of high school and college graduates are underprepared prepared to enter the workforce, to determine truth from fiction, and whose ability to communicate fails to meet the mark.  Data reveal graduates still fall short of where we might like them to be in academics as well.

So, we wonder...is relaxing teacher certification requirements, the answer to the shortage or to the problems and challenges we have as educators? Is it the fast track intervention needed to fill vacancies now or a response to how to best educate children? Is the problem really too big to fix or too complex to tackle?

We have both been school leaders and felt the pressures and frustrations of not finding certified teachers. We have also been faculty in teacher preparation programs and experienced the rigor of accrediting programs and the efforts of scholars to stay abreast with changes in student populations and technologies. In both environments, state educational agencies have imposed regulations upon the world of teacher preparation and development and, more recently, testing and evaluation. Yet, we have seen the surprised higher ed leaders who watch enrollment s decline after years of the K-12 system laying off teachers and developing recall lists that impeded the access to jobs for new graduates. And, truth be told, many of those new graduates did not want to go to the urban centers where jobs might exist. Enticing salaries lagged behind other fields. So, here we are fixing a problem that has been visibly developing for two decades.

We believe in certified professionals as teachers just like we believe in licenses for medical professionals. Are some people natural teachers? We have seen a few but most become great teachers through a process of preparation and ongoing development and practice. Because this is our belief system, we have actually been advocates of renewable certification for teachers and leaders and accredited professional development. How can those who create safe learning environments for children and help them grow into responsible and productive citizens be less than the most qualified?  

Our own thinking has led us to this conclusion. Teachers must be certified and meet requirements of advanced degrees, content knowledge and educational theory and practice. They also must be evaluated after live interactions with students in classrooms. The rules applying to charters and public schools should be the same. And, yes, alternative paths should be explored in all settings. No lower standard serves anyone well even though it might fill vacancies quickly. But, as educators and leaders we ought to be able to design options. We ought to be able to experiment with new models of teacher preparation and evaluate and choose which ones might be viable 21st century options.

Student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, communication, collaboration, and self-management are required and essential.  We believe it is in these skills that the crux of the work of trained educators lives. New teachers might bring these skills but they might have learned them in life experience or by being professionals in other fields.

We must protest not certifying teachers, or lowering the standards for certification for those who become responsible for the education of our children.  With hope, we encourage both the serious revision of the teaching of critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and self-management from K through 12 and the civil action of those in education to become engaged in the certification conversation going on in states across the country. The current shortage ought to inspire our creativity and our collaborative propensities as well as our resistance.

 Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools.  Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay 

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