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Teacher Licensing Serves a Purpose

Teacher licensing is often criticized by arguing that "Stephen Hawking would be unqualified to teach physics, Bill Gates to teach computer science and Yo-Yo Ma to teach music" because they don't possess a teaching certificate ("Ah, but What Makes Great Teachers Qualified to Teach?" The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 11).  Although these men are truly geniuses, that does not necessarily mean they would be effective in public school classrooms.

There is no substitute for subject matter expertise.  But that alone does not always translate into sound instruction.  That's because telling is not teaching.  Far too often, those who have been highly successful in their respective fields rely on lecturing in the classroom.  I seriously question if lecturing in K-12 is going to work. Then there's also the matter of bonding with students.  The kind of personality that works outside the classroom is not always suited for the classroom.

Asserting that licensing is merely a way to restrict entry into teaching ignores reality.  Yes, there will always be some "naturals" who can bypass courses in pedagogy and still shine in the classroom. I'm thinking now of Gustavo Dudamel, who is not licensed and yet is personally responsible for turning out countless young musicians using el método.  But he is an outlier. 

The best education courses are designed by those who have taught in public schools and understand the realities of doing so.  These courses eschew theory and focus on practicality.  Despite the deservably poor reputation of some schools of education, there are others that are excellent.  I was fortunate in earning my California teaching credential from the UCLA Graduate School of Education.  It prepared me for the classroom more than any subject matter class alone ever did.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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