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Teachers with Experience

Should it be easier to become a teacher?  An simplified alternative licensing procedure for Minnesota has been outlined by SF40, a bill introduced to our newly Republican State Senate.  The core of the proposal is that school districts must have in place a system for bringing in anyone who has a four-year degree, make their way through at least 200 hours of intensive training, and can pass a test.  It’s something that caught my attention because I’ve often thought about becoming a High School teacher – but the current system is arduous and very expensive for those of us who want to change mid-career.  Is this a good idea?

The driving force behind this proposal is the chronic shortage of teachers in key subject areas, particularly science and math.  There is also a belief, which I share, that High School students in particular would benefit from “real world” experience brought by teachers who have switched mid-career and know what the students will encounter when they graduate.  Bringing in people from the outside appears to be a big win in many ways.

I have thought about this in the past, but I chose not to go this route.  The current requirements include a degree in teaching which requires at least two years of intensive study that are not exactly cheap.  There is also the opportunity cost of going to school rather than finding more consulting and writing work that would keep my mortgage paid and my kids fed.  At the end of this process I would not even be sure of finding work, the final kicker.

Teaching in Minnesota is set up to be a life-long commitment.  You have to really want to do it.

Personally, there is a strong driving force behind my considering teaching.  Most people see me as an excellent teacher, a compliment that makes me blush.  I know it’s true, even if I’m not the kind of person that learns sitting in a chair in a classroom.  But that’s part of the point, after all, as I would almost certainly be that enthusiastic kind of teacher that brought active learning to every lesson.  In addition, the best teacher I ever had, Dr. Gary Powers at Carnegie-Mellon, was someone who came to teaching late in life and infused everything he taught us with his experience and deep wisdom.  He loved teaching and it showed.

I could do this. I simply have never been sure that I wanted to make the commitment necessary in the current system, especially without a clear path to work at the end.

There is another consideration behind this bill.  The teacher shortage is, according to many studies, driven by the attrition rate by which teachers leave the field due to dissatisfaction.  This proposed new system would not change that, but by making it easier to become a teacher what is now a one-way door marked “exit” would be replaced by a two-way system where teachers can come and go.  Removing the barrier to entry that is in place would alleviate the shortages in the short term and make it easier to insure we have the very best teachers.  It might even change the nature of teaching in the long term, improving the attrition.

Does this mean that I support SF40 as written?  I see this as an opening proposal in a debate that is very healthy.  The fact that it is more than just a test and includes some time to evaluate candidates in a real teaching environment that is not a classroom is excellent, although 200 hours seems a bit thin.  There is still some coursework that is necessary so that candidates understand how to kids learn, how to organize a lesson, and other things.  Other states apparently allow for alternative programs, some of which are on-line and much cheaper – how has that been working out for them?  It also remains to be seen if there is any money behind this proposal so that those who take advantage of it have at least a part-time job demonstrating that they know what they are doing in some kind of after-school additional instruction and/or tutoring role.

But the debate is what matters right now.  Can we make it easier to become a teacher, bringing in quality talent, while still assuring that the candidates know what they are doing?  That’s why Eric Austin and I are posting on this topic at the same time.  Eric is a teacher in St. Cloud and someone I’ve come to rely on to deliver thoughtful comments on all things outstate and teaching straight-up.  Check out what he has to say and join in the debate on both blogs.

Perhaps we can get something going here – either in support of the proposal, against it, or along the lines of some very important modifications that will make it a good one.  Consider this a test of the power of the internet to influence public policy for the better!

12 thoughts on “Teachers with Experience

  1. An excellent post from an excellent teacher. I have no idea how strict the current requirements are but if they are keeping good teachers out of the classroom I say we change them.

  2. Jack, I just don’t want to go there right now. 🙂

    I have to say as a footnote that I was surprised how the bill SF40 didn’t seem that awful to me when I read it. It may be a bit too loose, and now that I’ve read Eric Austin’s post I can see his point very clearly. But I do think there’s a way to do this and open up new opportunities for everyone.

  3. Erik – I believe there is always room for a common ground proposal that both sides can live with. Is this particular piece of legislation it? I don’t think so but there has to be a way to alleviate what seems to be the financial barrier in order to get the full benefit of content and pedagogy.

  4. I’m always leery of time defined instruction… the vast majority of folks can cover the material in less than is advocated, and the rest is just make work, and while it makes money for the educational institution, to the student its a waste.

    However, time defined experience is another matter entirely. Ie, in looking at abcte’s offerings, there doesn’t seem to be any mandatory in classroom student teaching time. To set a newly credentialed individual loose in the classroom, without an assigned and paid mentor means that they will likely be learning more that the students… Yes, sometimes it can work out well, as is shown with many university faculty, but the reverse is also true.

  5. Eric, I don’t think we really disagree that much here (do we ever, really? 🙂 ) so as an experiment in sparking a lot of debate this may not be a great one. Or, perhaps, it might be optimal since we are clearly reaching some concensus … we’ll see.

    But I really appreciate what you had to say and think it helps us move something constructive forward to have all the potential downside listed out thoroughly. I especially like how you listed “this is what needs to be done” and, ideally, we can git ‘er done. That’s what good legislation and policy is all about!

    All the readers here should see what Eric has to say (link above).

  6. Ron: I agree with you completely here. If you want to include some defined coursework as part of the certification I could see that – but I like the flexibility of doing that part online. THEN passing a test and THEN starting some kind of paid internship / mentoring / tutoring with a solid evaluation process would make sense to me.

    I’m really thinking through the skills that Eric raised in his post. Is a test enough to demonstrate proficiency? I’ve railed against the “No Child Left Behind” kind of testing for kids, so I don’t think I can support it in isolation for teachers. But required classtime seems a bit silly since we do all learn in different ways at different paces.

    On Eric’s blog one commentor (was it you, Ron?) noted that doing required coursework concurrent with the internship / apprenticeship made it much more effective. That’s a real world experience that’s worth noting, IMHO.

  7. Earlier today I had a little back and forth on Twitter with Erik regarding this idea of streamlining already educated people into a new profession – for the purposes of this discussion, teaching. He asked me to share the ideas in my tweets in the comments section of his blog. Since I am not so rigidly limited to 140 characters I only add to help readability or provide explanation.

    >> Abe Lincoln had many careers, he wouldn’t have been able to go Lschool under today’s format. [By this I meant that “back then” a person could be a surveyor then a lawyer because there was the option of becoming an apprentice and growing into one’s next career.]

    >>The elimination of the journeyman model is an obstacle to employment mobility. [this coincides with the tweet above]

    >>here’s a perfect ex: the ranks of nurses are shrinking, new grads avg 5 yrs at the IP bedside before they move to other areas.
    >>The bulk of current IP RNs are 50+. Many schools have 2yr to 4yr RN program. Almost none have bachelors to 4yr RN program.
    >>Current nurses are retiring or bailing and there will not be enough RN’s to staff hospitals. Nursing education big picture fail. [Nursing is an other example where creative thinking is not being applied to replenish workers. The baccalaureate to RN program exists and is designed for working people to transition into nursing. But the programs are failing, pushing students into traditional programs. This will be insufficient when all of the Baby Boomers hit full peak]

    So some of those topics were not directly related to the legislation that sparked this conversation. But the essence of moving away from apprentice programs and the comparable shortage in nursing education is easily relatable.

  8. Often the barrier to becoming a teacher is not the academic work but who you will be teaching. I was taught by nuns, so discipline was not a problem. From what my friends who are teachers tell me, they want tranquilizer darts to use on their students, and they teach for DoD schools in Europe. Schools would do well to modify the credentialing criteria for subject areas where they need more instructors. Most engineers could do a decent job of teaching math, chemistry, physics, or other “hard science” subjects.

    I was the Pharmacy Club for two years in high school. The man who ran it worked weekends at the local VA hospital as a regstered pharmacist. I’m not quite sure why he preferred to teach, given that he taught the lowest track of science classes. Perhaps he compounded a few too many lots of ointment (one of the messier tasks of the pharmacy tech) or had simply gottten to the point where he could walk through his lectures form memory.

  9. I think some people just like to teach – it invigorates them. That’s part of my thinking at this point, since I’m alone a bit too much as a writer.

  10. Pingback: Saint Paul’s Community School Plan | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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