Coauthors: Gentzke, Scott; Kartheiser, Geo; Keith, Cara; Riddle, Wanda; Sonnier, Andrea; Stone, Adam; Tibbitt, Julie; Zimmerman, Heather; Yuknis, Christina
Background: We are doctoral students and a professor at Gallaudet University learning together in a course called Education Policy and Politics. This class incorporates technology and social media using avenues such as Google Drive, Twitter (follow #EDU860), and blogging to discuss course topics in and out of class. In addition, all of our class sessions are organized via a web-based videoconferencing software allowing both distance learners and on-campus students to participate in class together. This blog was typed live via Google Drive as an in-class project and the work below is a collective and collaborative effort between all members. It is still a little muddled, but then again, so is most discourse in education.
The Question: What should teacher credentialing look like? How can we leverage the political system to make this a reality?
We realize that there are multiple aspects to consider when discussing teacher credentials. First, each state has a different set of teacher certification requirements. For example, Illinois has a 44 page documentelaborating the process of obtaining a teaching license. Maryland has their own complex set of requirements. In fact, states can’t even seem to agree on what to call this: a license? A credential? A certificate? These diverse, yet convoluted processes for applying for a teaching license do not make it easy to navigate the system in any state, let alone help us understand how the United States educational system determines what is a highly qualified teacher. What follows is our proposal for what should be required in order to become a credentialed teacher as well as our suggestions for how to make this happen in a highly contentious and labyrinthine political landscape.
There are many issues with the current credentialing system. Below we raise some issues with the current system then propose some requirements. We have already established that there is a lack of interstate agreement on what constitutes a qualified teacher. Moreover, states have wildly differing rules for recognizing and honoring credentials that were earned out of state. There should be a consensus on credentialing across the nation. This requires a broad multi-state agreement on credentials; such an agreement will undoubtedly enhance the profession as a whole.
Within this issue there are two primary considerations: earning a credential, and maintaining it.
Earning a Credential: Teacher Preparation Programs should be nationally accredited along with a balance of “theory” and “practical” courses. The whole process should be primarily qualitative in nature, while incorporating, yet de-emphasizing certain quantitative elements (e.g., a Praxis score). By that, we mean a teacher’s portfolio should be the gateway to employment – and that should include an assortment of multiple measures demonstrating experience, skills, and qualifications.
We propose that credentials should be based not only on education background, license, certifications, qualifications, etc. but also on effectiveness. By effectiveness, we are referring to teachers’ performance and impact on students’ learning. So, while a teacher may need to obtain some form of license to begin practicing, licensure alone is not enough to determine whether a teacher is highly qualified. A study has shown that obtaining advanced degrees does not ensure greater effectiveness in the classroom. Regardless of how many degrees, how many years of experience, and how many certifications obtained by an educator, these altogether are insufficient to determine the quality of his/her teaching. Rather, it is all three factors in addition to teacher effectiveness that should be taken into consideration when measuring whether a teacher is highly qualified or is in need of support (i.e. professional development, additional schooling, etc.).
Keeping a Credential: We propose a residency program for new teachers. In this system, certification is “initial” for a few years. Resident teachers focus on gaining in-classroom experience with the guidance of veteran teachers. Official measures of teacher quality should not begin until after a teacher has experienced at least 3-5 years in the classroom. Exit from a residency program requires permanent certification through evaluations and observations by a team of professionals (not only the teacher’s supervisor who may not be qualified to evaluate a specific subject area). This team should include master teachers of the same subject area and perhaps even evaluators from the state department of education. Teachers should have some type of portfolio they need to complete so that their evaluation is not just based on student achievement, especially for those who are teaching in impoverished areas or work with students who have disabilities.
If we suggest these modifications, we also need to consider the possibility that teachers may have less direct contact with students in order to have more time for preparation and professional development. We recently read a story about Finnish teachers having far less hours of student contact so they could focus on developing quality instruction; this seems to have supported their high rates of student achievement.
Beyond Academics. While it is important to ensure that certified teachers know the content material and how to provide instruction, credentialing should also look at how the teacher addresses social-emotional needs of the students.
Teachers must possess the knowledge, skills, and critical consciousness to help students’ critical thinking skills. With critical thinking skills, students have the ability to question authority and evoke personal and social change for the betterment of their community. Teachers also need to know how to help students develop critical thinking skills so students are prepared to become critical thinkers who can question authority and become change agents. As Henry Giroux, a critical theorist, has noted, people who are able to deconstruct and critically analyze are those in the best position to disrupt the status quo.
Content Mastery. However, in speaking of content material, there should be requirements for the different subject areas that teachers need to demonstrate mastery over. For example, a teacher hired to provide art instruction needs to be able to create art, interpret art, analyze art, and critique art (at least according to NYS Learning Standards for Art).
Praxis scores are a part of the overall picture, but they do not accurately reflect the pedagogical skills of potential new teachers. Part of our concern with the Praxis exams, beyond the concept of how well a standardized test can measure teaching skill, is that each state has their own cut off scores of what is acceptable in order to earn a license. One state may have a significantly lower cut score than another for the same test!
Internships and Mentoring. Enhancing teacher preparation requires a two pronged approach, such as intentional mentorship and robust internship. Mentorship is a key aspect of teacher preparation. Teachers should be required to work with a Teacher-Mentor (a veteran with at least five years of experience) not only during teacher preparation but also after earning their credentials for a specified time. Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit educational organization, claimed in Waiting for Superman that he was a terrible teacher the first few years before finally mastering the art of teaching in his fifth year. It is critical to have a system in place that will permit teachers to master their craft without hindering children’s optimal learning opportunities.
Another important component of teacher preparation is internship or practicum. Internship can be improved by extending the duration to at least two years. During this two years, the interns will take courses to learn pedagogical concepts that they can then apply in their instruction. It is important to observe other teachers in classroom teaching to gain better understanding of what good teaching looks like.
Additionally, candidates will have long-term mentoring and a potential job offer post-graduation and post-licensing. This is particularly important in marginalized populations like the d/Deaf community. For example, if teachers of the Deaf intend to serve in a Deaf Residential school or program, teachers must have extended internship or practicum in order to be able to serve the said population better.
Emergency/TFA Credentials: In order for the teaching profession to be valued and respected there is a need to lessen the amount of emergency credentials or Teach for America-type programs, which are sending the message that anyone can become a teacher after a summer boot camp and/or minimal preparation. Also, while permitting persons who are qualified to teach but need some more time in earning their credential, we need to ensure that they are provided with close supervision as they work in our schools.
How can we make these changes happen? First, we recognize that changes to an institution, particularly one as fragmented as teacher credentialism, do not come quickly or easily. We understand that this process will take several years to complete. However, the issue is already part of the political agenda and is being discussed in several forums and arenas. Thus, the timing is apt for this proposal.