Elevating great teaching and leadership starts with attracting and preparing talented people who believe in all children. But when we talk about who should teach—and how they should be prepared—I worry that, too often, we have the wrong conversation. This conversation leads to all sorts of different places, none of which involves ensuring all kids get a quality education.
One piece of this conversation I find particularly frustrating is the debate over teacher preparation and certification. People often see alternatively certified teachers as “unqualified” and teachers who are traditionally certified as “qualified.”
Having gone through both a traditional certification program in college and, later, Teach For America, I believe that one program doesn’t necessarily make you more qualified than the other.
Take my traditional program, for example, where I met some fantastic people who went on to become fantastic teachers. However, I also met people who showed up to class drunk. They’re teaching our kids. I met people who openly admitted they had no interest in teaching but needed to teach in order to coach. I met a girl who complained that she needed to get a tutor to calculate the averages of student test scores, from 0-100. She’s teaching our kids.
I met people who left our night class to go to the bar and came back to class, drunk. They’re teaching our kids. I met a girl who honestly believed that “President Osama” was using money from the stimulus package for secret “overseas abortions” (Alright, I’m cheating, that was the same girl who needed the tutor). I’ve spent years trying to figure out what that could even mean. I still don’t know, and she’s still teaching our kids.
In my time with Teach For America, I met some people who were not a good fit for the program, learned that they probably shouldn’t be teaching and did not continue. But, I also met teachers whose students grew two or more years in their first years of teaching, teachers who were named department heads in their second year of teaching, all teachers that genuinely loved their students. They’re not teaching our kids. I met teachers that taught kids as young as pre-K or first grade and had them reading, writing, and analyzing poetry in ways I have seen middle schoolers struggle to do. They’re not teaching our kids.
Whether it’s because of stigma around alternative certification programs, a lack of support for new teachers, antiquated barriers for out-of-state educators hoping to gain licensure in Minnesota, all of the above, or other reasons altogether, we’re losing great teachers that we ought to be aggressively recruiting and retaining.
When we automatically see some teachers as qualified or unqualified, simply based on where or how they were trained, we have a problem. When our policies prevent high-quality people that want to teach from doing so, and also let some of my traditionally licensed classmates described above into the classroom, we need to rethink the conversation. When we demonize one kind of teacher prep program and not another, when we know that every program has people who should and should not be teachers, we have a problem. Actually, when we’re demonizing any program or teacher, we need to rethink the conversation.
Who should we attract to teaching? How can we make sure they get in front of a classroom? How can we support them once they’re there to make sure they stay? These are the questions we need to be asking. This is the conversation that will help educators and kids succeed.
Ben Bauer is currently a site director for Breakthrough Twin Cities and a part-time law school student at William Mitchell. He studied education at St. John's University and spent two summers teaching St. Paul Public Schools middle school students with Breakthrough before joining Teach For America, through which he taught seventh-grade English at a KIPP school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Having gone through both traditional and alternative licensure programs, Ben is particularly interested in how we attract, train and retain teachers.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.