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Should Teachers Be Licensed?

Since teachers in private and religious schools do not have to be licensed, then why should teachers in public schools?  The argument has seen a revival in light of the teacher shortage. I was reminded once again about the issue after reading about mandatory licenses in other fields ("Braids of Liberty," The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 27).

I realize there is no comparison between braiding hair and teaching young people, but I think there is a lesson here.  Just as some knowledge and skills can be acquired by observing others braiding hair, so too can some knowledge and skills be acquired by observing others teaching a class. The difference is that teaching involves far more than subject matter expertise. The ability to connect with students is indispensable. I doubt that plays a role in the ability to braid hair.

But more to the point is the comparison between teachers in public schools and those in private and religious schools. Students in the latter two have chosen to be there.  Their parents are paying tuition and related costs for their education.  As a result, teachers inherit students far more likely to be motivated to learn than students in public schools.  In other words, public schools remain the schools of last resort.  By law, they must enroll everyone who shows up at their doors, regardless of interest or ability.

I'm not saying that all students in private and religious schools are Talmudic scholars who revere learning and respect teachers.  But I maintain that they are far easier to teach than students in public schools. That's why it's hard to make a case for abolishing licensing for public school teachers.  They need strategies to engage students that private and religious school teachers do not. 

Despite the need for licensing, some states are attempting to make licensing a mere formality. That's a big mistake.  It takes time and effort to develop the wherewithal to be effective in public school classrooms.  Anything that shortcuts the process shortchanges students.


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