SPidge Tales

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Let's End Pointless Teacher Certification Requirements

“I wish I could tell you that Andy fought the good fight, and the Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that - but prison is no fairy-tale world. He never said who did it, but we all knew. Things went on like that for awhile - prison life consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, Andy would show up with fresh bruises. The Sisters kept at him - sometimes he was able to fight 'em off, sometimes not. And that's how it went for Andy - that was his routine. I do believe those first two years were the worst for him, and I also believe that if things had gone on that way, this place would have got the best of him.” Red (Morgan Freeman), The Shawshank Redemption

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) gets sent to prison for a murder he did not commit and spends twenty years in hell, surviving a corrupt warden and gang rapes by the Sisters, finding meaning in life only from the secret escape tunnel he spent every night digging with a spoon and his friendship with wise old prisoner Red. The tunnel finally dug, “Andy crawled to freedom through five-hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine.” Andy never should have had to go through this, but he did what was needed to reach his happy ending in Mexico and reunion with Red. Fortunately, I’ve never had a run in with any modern day versions of the Sisters, but I think I can relate to Andy’s personal hell. I have to go through my own personal Shawshank—teaching certification—to reach my light at the end of the tunnel: a decent paying job.

I am not “qualified” to teach in public schools. I have a Bachelors degree in Philosophy with a double minor in History and Religious Studies. I have a Masters degree in Theology. I have 125 some undergraduate credits and over 40 grad school credits. I have a year of real teaching experience. I taught 5th through 8th grade religion and 5th grade social studies for an entire school year at a private school where almost every student eventually goes to a private four year college and many go on to Ivy League schools. I have proven capable of doing the job. Yet, I am not allowed to teach social studies in public schools, the majority of which are lesser schools than the place I taught at.

I am no education snob. I do not feel I deserve a teaching position because of my Curriculum Vitae (my Masters degree in Theology from Catholic U is far and away a superior degree than the M.A.’s in Education being doled out by the State of New York, but that is another topic). I believe that public schools should be allowed to hire me based on my merits and abilities.

As someone with a lot of higher education, it is frustrating not being able to find gainful employment; not because I think my degrees should guarantee me work, but because too many jobs require certain degrees or certifications just for the sake of making the company look better. Allow me to explain.

My maternal grandfather spent some time teaching a college class. He never even completed a Bachelors degree. He was hired to teach because—get this!—he could do the job. A generation ago, employees got hired based on their ability to do the job. Now, employees are hired based on how nice their resumes will make the company look. Yes, a person should show some evidence she can perform the required tasks before being hired, but unfortunately companies stick in de facto job requirements for applicants that don’t test whether applicants can do the job but just whether they have the right piece of educational certification paper.

Am I saying a college education is worthless? No. Again, look at my resume. I have two degrees. But college education should not be a modern form of trade school. College, in its traditional sense, is for a broad based education in the liberal arts and humanities. It exists to make you cultured. Trade school in the past was a separate place where people went to train for particular jobs. Today, the two have been merged, forcing college students to choose between narrow parochial degree programs (business, teaching, accounting, etc.) aimed at certain job fields or a broad based education in a humanities field (literature, philosophy, religion, classics) that will get them laughed at for studying something that renders them unemployable.

Of course certain jobs do need specialized training. I want that doctor operating on me to have studied medical textbook after medical textbook. But a job like teaching does not need specialized training. If you can teach, you can teach. If you can’t, you can’t. There are PhD’s who can’t handle managing a classroom, and there are magnificent teachers who struggled to graduate college. The only requirement to be a middle school or high school teacher is mastery of your subject matter. If you are a math teacher, you should know at least all the math that high schoolers will learn. If you are an English teacher, you should know grammar and have a broad based knowledge of literature. Same with the other subjects. The only other “requirement” should be ability to do the job. With this knowledge in your subject matter, either you have the ability to teach and motivate students or you don’t. All those pointless classes and seminars in childhood development and child psychology are not going to help. Either you can relate to kids or you can’t. As a teacher, the only area I need improvement on is classroom discipline, and that will come with experience, not with some inane classes in childhood development that will be outdated in ten years when a new fashionable theory on children is created by the psychologists.

New York State (and many other states) issues these teacher certification requirements not out of a real desire to help kids learn but out of a desire to “show” how much they care about education by making teachers go through a million loopholes in order to teach. New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof said in “Opening Classroom Doors” on April 30, 2006:

“The idea behind teacher certification is that there are special skills that are picked up in teacher training courses — secret snake-charming skills to keep the little vipers calm. But there's no evidence this is so. On the contrary, several new programs have brought outstanding young people into teaching without putting them through conventional training programs, and those teachers have been widely hailed as first-rate.”

The only thing teacher certification does do, says Kristof, is discourage professionals considering a career change from actually becoming teachers due to the loopholes required. The way the system is currently in place, a 35 year old business manager who feels a calling to teach may choose not to because of the requirement for reeducation in the ways of teaching. The real loser? The students, who miss out on learning business math from someone with real world experience.

What am I going to do? I am going to sign up for classes and get those pointless certification requirements out of the way (even knowing that they will do nothing to make me a better teacher; I already know my subject matter and I’ve worked with kids for five summers at camps, one full year as a teacher, and a half year as a substitute teacher). If Andy Dufresne can go through 20 years at Shawshank prison, I can go through my own form of unjust punishment in a world that cares more about image than ability in hiring employees.


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