Those Who Can, Do …

I came to teaching in a non-traditional fashion.  I majored in retail marketing (which I tell people when I want to sound impressive), a.k.a. fashion merchandising (which I tell people when I just don’t care).  Nine months in that profession was plenty to show me that it was a total mismatch.

What was a 22-year-old living 400 miles from home to do?  Well, my family had a lot of teachers in it.  Teaching and school were things I was familiar with.  I could understand that lifestyle.  I had done a lot of babysitting, so I liked kids, right?  (Actually, the babysitting had more to do with earning money for college than with my innate love of children, but anyway …).

Alabama, where I lived at the time, had a “fourth year program” wherein graduates with 4-year liberal arts degrees (like me) could be licensed to teach with a master’s degree upon completing a year of coursework.

Wow!  That program sounded great to me, especially when I compared it to Indiana’s.  If I returned home to Indiana, I would need to start over as a college junior and complete two years of classes just to graduate with a bachelor’s in education.  The decision was easy – I stayed in Alabama and after an extremely frugal year, had my master’s degree in hand.

At the risk of tooting my own horn, I was a darn good teacher too, touching hundreds of lives while also earning a Lilly Endowment Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant for summer study, and numerous other smaller yet equally special accolades such as accompanying a student to church on “bring your favorite teacher Sunday.”

So, when I read a few weeks ago that Indiana was considering alternate certification programs, my reaction was It’s about time!

Predictably, not everyone was cheering.  This article in the weekend paper is typical.

Hang on to your seats, because “from the experts who train early childhood educators to the deans of Indiana’s colleges of education, there’s virtually unanimous agreement that the plan to revise education licensing rules is seriously flawed.”

Really?  To me, this is a clear case of education schools fearing that their turf is in danger.  If professionals in other fields can become teachers with only a year in the classroom, that’s obviously not going to feed the coffers of the college wanting to sell 4-year teaching degrees.  Indeed, I found it interesting that 2 of the 3 sidebar quotes in the articles were from education school administrators.

The article says that those who are quite upset! at these potential changes “complained that the limits on teaching methods courses in schools of education would leave new teachers unprepared to help special-needs students and children from poverty, students learning English and the academically gifted.”

Again, really? Of course I’m relying on my own experience only, but I remember frequently thinking during my year of education courses that there was no way I could have stood four years of such courses.  I created many projects (a really big, neat box of dinosaur unit goodies!  Lesson plans about Christmas in France! etc).  It was a perfect course for a high-achievin’ former 4-Her like me, but I really questioned how well it was preparing me for actually teaching.  Take that times 4, and you have students who have created a lot but still may – or may not – have major difficulties in the classroom.  Folks, take it from me – there’s only so much Piaget you can study before your eyes glaze over.

Back to the article:  “Noting the proposal’s emphasis on making it easier for midcareer professionals to become teachers, Calvin Bellamy, a Schererville attorney and former bank chairman, told the hearing officers that there is a profound difference between someone speaking to a class on an occasional basis and what teachers do each day.  ‘We would be very foolish to think there is nothing special about the science of teaching,’ he said.  ‘On a sustained basis, our students deserve better.'”

Wow.  Interesting, because this is basically the total opposite of my belief.  You see, despite the fact that I was a teacher for eight years, I felt – and still feel – that there is not any special “teacher skill” out there to learn in college.  I think that people either have it or don’t in regards to teaching.  If you don’t have it, four years (or six or eight) isn’t going to help you.  If you do, you will learn 99% of what you need to know in the classroom itself.  I sure hope the teachers’ union is listening to Mr. Bellamy, because they ought to offer him a full-time PR job working for them.

During my years of teaching, the vast majority of my colleagues had 4-year education degrees.  And yet, I can’t say it made them all great teachers.  I could name for you several excellent ones, but I could also name several I would never want my own kids to have.  Sure, they may have been schooled in “best practices” and had numerous field experiences with kids.  But, maybe they had a bad temper which was frequently vented on the innocent kids in their classroom … maybe they lacked the intellect to realize that just because it’s November 18, that doesn’t necessarily mean they needed to teach math page 128 that day … maybe they were were well-meaning, well-educated, but just mind-numbingly dull.

What’s essential to being an excellent teacher?  Intellect.  Intellectual curiosity.  Kindness.  Patience.  Compassion.  Instruction in teaching methods?  Eh, a bit couldn’t hurt – but the good teachers will figure it out as needed based on their own experiences and instincts.

How do we find people with these qualities and persuade them to consider teaching as an option?  It’s a challenge, but I contend that opening up teaching to those in other professions, without making them jump through a million bureaucratic hoops, could be a step in the right direction.

Education definitely has its problems in our state (as well as in our nation).  I don’t see alternate certification routes as one of them.

5 thoughts on “Those Who Can, Do …

  1. Well, Susan, one senses that you feel strongly about this issue. Maybe you need to testify at the state house when they discuss this issue!

  2. At the school where I work, this fall, along comes a male teacher in his 30s. He’s taught in Florida and Indianapolis Public Schools. He is FABULOUS! He is a Christian – a politically conservative, and tells the classes Global Warming is so much BUNK! Never give up on life! Something or somebody marvelous may be just around the next corner. Pure serendipity! Pure serendipity!

  3. Amen, Susan!!! I couldn’t agree with you more. You are so right on about how all of those “education” courses for 4 years of college and a Master’s degree on top of that yet do NOT a good teacher make. At the very beginning of my teaching career after I had a year or two under my belt, I was obliged to say that I learned more about students and how to teach successfully in one year in the classroom than I had ever learned or hoped to learn in college. Don’t get me wrong, some higher education is a good thing for teacher preparation, but it would be better use of time and energy to eliminate many of those “how to do it” classes. Spending more time in REAL classrooms instead of endless, time-consuming projects would be my recommendation. And, yes, allowing potential teachers from other fields to switch careers after only one year to convert seems very reasonable to me.

  4. In Indiana, my employer, Indiana Wesleyan, has offered Transition to Teaching program on a much shorter schedule. I am happy that My Man Mitch and the DofE finally, FINALLY recognize the importance of such a program.

  5. Wow, I couldn’t agree more! I homeschooled for 20 years; didn’t go to college until my oldest did. He got all kinds of computer certificates in addition to his degree, tested out of the required math class and graduated with top honors (we both did, actually!). All 3 of my boys are well educated and read, and continue to learn, all the time. I’ve known lots of teachers, including one who was told “Don’t worry about it if they do drug deals in your classroom, that’s not your problem,” and another who went in to Administration because he got paid so very much more for so very little work. (His words). The teacher’s union is extremely powerful and it stopped being about the kids a long time ago. But God bless all the hard-working teachers who ARE doing a great job!

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