Teaching…Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Mar 29, 2010 by

As I drive home from my internship at Metz Elementary I am confronted with a billboard advertising alternative teacher certification that reads: “Want to Teach? When can you start?” What a constant reminder that I am in a career field that is desperate for qualified candidates. I pass the billboard and make a mental note to visit the website to check out this alternative teacher certification program: TexasTeachers.org.

 

The website seems quite encouraging. “Become a Certified Teacher. It’s fast, affordable, and easy.” This sounds great; my college education is definitely not fast, affordable, or easy. I click on “How it works”. Applicants need a four year bachelors degree and a 2.5 GPA. The program consists of face-to-face interaction and online instruction. Applicants 1) start training today, 2) get hired as teachers, and 3) receive certification in a year. This sounds like a great opportunity doesn’t it? Then why do I feel so shortchanged?

 

One of the biggest problems facing education in the United States is teacher preparation. The teaching field does not attract highly qualified applicants. Bright students graduate from college and many are recruited into high paying, prestigious jobs. Many successful high school graduates prefer to pursue more lucrative majors. Why is this? Could it because teachers work too hard and are paid too little? Could it be because the teaching field is not considered prestigious? Is teaching not considered prestigious because it doesn’t take much to become a teacher? Do years of investment in education equate to prestige?  Regardless of the reason, what we see then is a low supply of teachers and the same number of kids who need an education. According to basic economics, when the supply of a service is low but the demand is still high, the price of the service should increase until the economy for that service reaches an equilibrium. So if the supply of qualified teachers is low and demand for education is high, why isn’t teacher pay increasing? Instead I see a different approach: lower barriers to entry in the field of education. Anyone can be a teacher.

 

First of all, as the supply of teachers decreased alternative teacher certification programs created new opportunities for almost anyone to become a teacher “quickly” and “easily”. Furthermore, I see my peers choose the teaching field as their “backup plan” in case they don’t get into medical school, law school, or dental school. The mere fact that people see teaching as a safety net should alert us to the deteriorating status of the teaching profession. In addition, I’ve heard countless students express that their reason for choosing the education major was to guarantee themselves a high GPA. Could such ideas about teaching cause people to enter the profession with the wrong motives, thus leading to higher teacher turnover rates?

 

Writers such as Nicholas Kristof (http://select.nytimes.com/2006/04/30/opinion/30kristof.html?_r=1), claim that barriers to entry in the teaching field should be even lower to allow people to smoothly transition into teaching from other careers. He commends schools such as Phillips Exeter Academy that hire teachers without certification. First of all, Phillips Exeter’s highly selective and rigorous admission process (I know all about it, my cousin attends Phillips Exeter) allows for only the most intelligent students to attend the academy. Therefore, these kids have already shown great potential to learn on their own. Teachers without certification cannot take all credit for this success. In all, schools like Phillips Exeter should not be compared to public school. Public school can’t turn kids away. Kristof also claims that “The other problem is that the quality of teachers is deteriorating, mostly because — fortunately! — women have more career options.” Therefore, the problem is that people choose other careers over teaching. So the solution is to allow these people to try out teaching without really making any long term investments in it? Let’s hand out teaching jobs for people to dabble in. If they don’t like it, no big deal, transfer the turnover costs to the taxpayer.

 

We don’t see billboards that say “Want to cure? Be a doctor. Certification in a year.” Such a laid-back and casual view of the M.D. devalues and weakens its importance. The truth is, teaching is not easy, simple, or effortless.  Why, then, should teacher preparation be so? Of course, there are many qualified people who decide to transition to teaching from other careers. In fact, one of the best calculus teachers I ever had was a former engineer. Furthermore, in saying all this I do not suggest that only unintelligent people choose teaching as a career. I also agree that, given the opportunity, many people can discover in themselves a talent and passion for teaching. However, simply making it easier for people to enter a field that everyone already thinks is easy will not attract more qualified candidates. Society’s attitude about teaching needs to drastically change.

 

 

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