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Teaching Licenses Don't Reflect Teachers' Expertise. Here's How to Change That


Jessica Keigan

The last week of the semester in a high school is a very revealing time of the school year. It reveals which students have been actively engaged in learning throughout the past 18 weeks and are able to demonstrate authentic learning. It also reveals which students feel like sitting in a chair entitles them to a passing grade, regardless of what learning occurred.

I think about this often when I am faced with the process of renewing my teaching certification. In the state of Colorado, teachers are required to provide proof of 85 hours of professional-development contact time for certificate renewal. These hours can be from attending district professional development, taking courses, or through documentation of professional activities, such as serving on district committees. Regardless, the process requires a calculation of seat time, not a reflection of what was actually learned.

I have had no problem meeting and oftentimes exceeding these expectations. Moreover, I work hard to take courses or attend workshops that have a direct correlation to my classroom instruction and practice. Certificate renewal is not at the forefront of my mind when I seek professional development. Because of this, I don't believe that my teaching certificate reflects the skills and expertise I have achieved over the course of my career.

This past summer, I had the unique experience of working with a team of teachers from across the country to revise some of the National Education Association professional-development curricula. Over the course of a week in Washington, D.C., teams worked on updating traditional face-to-face materials into blended learning modules. The most exciting part of this work, though, was the development of microcredentials, or independently guided learning tasks that allow teachers to earn badges through a portfolio of evidence of expertise in various professional practices.

Microcredentials are still a relatively new phenomenon in the educational world, with only some states acknowledging them as evidence of professional growth. But research has shown its potential.

Just as I hope that my students see their grades as a record of their authentic learning successes in my classroom, I want my teaching certificate to reflect my strengths as a teacher. With organizations like the Center for Teaching Quality providing microcredentials for teacher leadership and the NEA working to develop them for classroom practices, it seems as though this hope may become a reality.

Ultimately, the first step needs to be a shift in thinking about what a teaching certificate should reflect. If the focus is placed solely on seat time in the recertification process, the vast array of learning that teachers undertake every day will never truly be valued as it should.

Jessica Keigan teaches English/language arts at Horizon High School in Thornton, Colo. As a teacher leader and educational blogger with the Center for Teaching Quality, she is passionate about exploring, creating, and promoting teacher leadership models to improve Colorado's schools. She is also a member of the Adams 12 Five Star school district's union, which has allowed her to create curriculum and supports for teachers to improve their instructional practices through various NEA partnerships and the Better Lesson Master Teacher Project

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