Traditionally those who wanted to become teachers enrolled in teacher education programs at a college or university to receive a degree that would allow them to apply for a teaching license in their state. University and college based teacher education programs are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) which is authorized by the Department of Education to determine if schools have developed rigorous teacher preparation programs that meet national standards. This process of accreditation ensured that new teachers would be prepared to educate children and assume the role as a teaching professional.
Today, there are a plethora of alternative certification programs that provide different pathways for those who want to work as a teacher. In Washington, DC the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) lists 13 organizations that are state-approved educator preparation programs, of those only 8 are colleges and or universities. The other five are non-profit organizations or Local Education Agency’s. In an effort to recruit more teachers, especially in areas where there are national shortages such as special education, math and science, many states are advocating for alternative programs that offer certification to prospective teachers, without requiring a degree in education. In New York, the Department of Education is now asking for the ability to license teachers without having to go through college or universities. What does this mean for traditional teacher education programs?
One of the well known alternative programs is Teach for America (TFA). TFA recruits recent college graduates to teach in high poverty, inner city schools. They receive five weeks of training before receiving their own class of students. Teachers from traditional programs take a variety of courses to gain knowledge about child development, teaching, and learning that typically take 4 to 6 semesters, and spend 12 weeks or more as a student teacher working full time alongside a qualified teacher before they are expected to take on their own classroom. The latter is more time consuming, but it also offers more opportunity to become highly qualified.
Teacher shortages are real and we must do something to recruit more highly qualified young people into the field of education. But we must remember that teaching is a profession. It requires skills and knowledge and opportunities to learn from those who have more experience. When we reduce teaching to something that can be learned in a few short weeks, we devalue and de-professionalize the field of teaching.
Traditional teacher education programs must now compete for students that might be swayed by these new programs offering a paying job as a teacher much sooner than what it takes to complete an undergraduate program. But is teaching a job or a career? Are we professionals or are we low-skilled workers? Do you want the person educating your child to have the knowledge, skills, and preparation needed to be a great teacher, or would you prefer someone who had five weeks of training?
Dr. Denisha Jones is an assistant professor and coordinator of Early Childhood Education at Howard University