When a cat and a dog start howling at the moon together, something is terribly wrong.
With Randi Weingarten and Arne Duncan howling in unison over the need to overhaul teacher training, I get immediately suspicious. These two never seem to howl together for anything, and when they do…it is usually more self-serving than selfless.
Recently, Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been touting the need for a streamlining of teacher certification, so that all teachers are held to the same standard. This new system is meant to replace the multiple certification systems in place in all fifty states, geared toward making sure that “an individual teacher walking into her classroom the first day is confident and competent.”
(Name one person who’s “confident and competent” on their first day on the job, and I’ll show you someone who’s neither.)
Part of this would be a teacher “bar” exam similar to a bar exam for lawyers or a medical board exam for doctors. According to Weingarten (a trained lawyer, not a teacher), a combination of clinical experience in the field, academic preparedness for the subject(s) in his/her license, and training in child cognitive development would culminate in a national board exam that would create a teacher ready for the first day.
Everyone seems to be on board, from Arne to Andrew Cuomo…and that really scares me. They see another silver bullet, but I know otherwise. How is a national exam going to fix—or even try to fix—a system that suffers due to its participants.
With all due respect to my colleagues, the problem still lies at the very beginning: entry into the field of education is too easy.
Years ago, I got a slew of feedback both positive and negative from my previous diatribe on teacher education. Many of you cheered my call for an admission process just as stringent as law and medical schools.
Others took me to mean education itself was an “easy” profession and took me to task—which further proves my point about ease of entry into this profession.
We all know that education is among the toughest jobs to do. I, for one, work long hours above and beyond my workday to research, plan, grade, analyze and organize for my students—work that usually gets foisted off to nurses, paralegals and first-year associates in other professions.
Yet even those in education itself agree that the law and medicine have barriers to entry that education lacks. Unfortunately, prestige and especially pay are determined largely by these barriers, whether you like it or not.
Sandra Stotsky, who oversaw teacher certification in Massachusetts, stated that “You have more problems today with ineffective teachers because we’ve had virtually open admissions into the profession.” Since the bar is set so low (no pun intended) many teachers with an education degree and a teacher’s license still lack the stills to become effective in the classroom.
Medicine and law both started as apprenticed crafts that developed professional institutions. Due to prejudices about teaching, education never reached the level of “official” professionalism of the other schools. For teachers to garner the respect we richly deserve, education programs need to catch up and develop a rigorous framework that includes high admissions standards.
Of course, the raising of admission standards is no silver bullet. Certification requirements vary widely, from state to state and even from college to college. Some colleges focus too much on academic theory, some too little. Some spend countless hours analyzing fieldwork and classroom routines at the expense of theory and concepts. Even in a field with few barriers of entry, the quality of preparation is a complete crapshoot.
The need for a new way to train teachers is important at many levels. Education programs, certification programs and school districts need to realign and synch their resources to create a useful, rigorous, and productive teacher training program.
Yet as long as anyone can be a teacher, then our schools will still be flooded with those who have no business being teachers.
Much of the god-awful education reform agenda—the data collection, the constant forced collaboration, the constant assessment to collect data—is designed with a simple premise: that most in the teaching profession are stupid. Even the collaboration, the common planning and “inquiry analysis”, is built around the supposition that in any group of idiot teachers there must be at least one person who’s competent.
Teachers in the past were never subject to such scrutiny because their word was law, in every way. Now, because of a veritable free-for-all system of hiring and licensing, competent teachers must suffer the yoke of the grossly incompetent.
It’s insulting to any hardworking teacher, and wouldn’t be necessary if the idiots weren’t allowed in the classroom in the first place.