Why am I not good enough to teach in Md.'s schools?

August 02, 1999|By Crispin Sartwell

TWO YEARS ago, I had to move abruptly for family reasons and was out of work.

With a doctorate in philosophy and seven years of teaching college under my belt, I figured I could rather easily get a job teaching high school English or history in Baltimore or Harford counties.

So I called the Maryland State Department of Education, where I essentially was told "thanks, but no thanks." Despite all of my education and experience, I was a nonstarter as far as teaching was concerned: I wasn't certified, I hadn't taken a single education course that teaches you how to teach, I had never taught in a school classroom (my college-level teaching experience didn't count) and I hadn't taken the Praxis test, an exam for entry-level teachers.

I think my experience is instructive for public officials scrambling to fill teaching vacancies, with the growing teacher shortage and the push to improve the quality of instruction in public schools.

To recruit a sufficient number of qualified new teachers, officials must make it easier to enter the field by changing the rigid tradition of teacher education and certification. Just as standardized test scores give an incomplete picture of a student's potential, the ways we certify teachers ignore the human element.

More routes

There could easily be a variety of routes to certification, not just one.

When I was looking for a teaching job in June 1997, it soon became clear to me that it would take at least a year before I had a chance to talk to someone who would be in a position to hire me.

Before then, I would have to take a standardized test and complete a slew of education courses.

One source of new teachers are nontenured college professors like myself. The glut of people with doctorate degrees in such subjects as English literature and American history has resulted in many folks who had hoped to get jobs as full-time professors looking for other work.

Personal observation

Watching a prospective teacher in front of a classroom of students would show a principal whether that person knew his subject and had the skills to handle students.

That's more important than a transcript brimming with education courses. Experience teaching college is relevant and should be counted, too.

Also, for those with little or no teaching experience, classroom skills can be taught under the supervision of a master teacher.

Already, many experts are calling for more teachers to be trained in a specific field, not just in education courses. About one-third of all teachers today teach subjects in which they have no formal training, especially in science and math. Recruiting adjunct college professors is one way to fill this void.

As for me, after a couple weeks of trying to break into the public schools, I gave up and started applying for college teaching positions. Thankfully, I landed such a job.

A few months later, the results of my Praxis test arrived: 678 out of 695 on the "professional knowledge" section.

To get more and better teachers, all we need to do is decentralize and re-humanize the process.

Crispin Sartwell is an associate professor of humanities at Penn State University in Harrisburg, Pa.

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