Some Words on Teacher Certification

I came across this article on the Planet Money blog last week: “Why Einstein Was Not Qualified to Teach High-School Physics.” (The answer: because he didn’t hold the required teacher certifications.)

My initial reaction is, “Careful, now. Einstein was a legendary physicist, but I can’t say whether he would have made an effective high school physics teacher.” Then again, can I say that all those carrying secondary teaching certificates now make effective high school teachers? A perplexing issue, right?  Do teaching certification requirements ensure quality classroom instruction, or prevent great teachers from entering the profession?

Here’s where I stand. Education about education is essential for those who teach, but school systems should be in the business of maximizing the ways that talented people can enter the field.

Here’s my bias: I’m one of those people benefiting from a non-traditional entrance into teaching. I’m not yet certified but have plans to change that, and am an enthusiastic advocate of replicating in public schools the apprenticeship style of entry I experienced at a private school. If schools want to gain access to a large demographic of ambitious adults seeking employment and eager to learn a profession, they need to create entry level positions that can be filled by young college grads looking for work, who are potentially interested in teaching but not ed majors. (For me this was the “support teacher” position.) Let them learn some of the tricks of the trade, work with teachers and students, and find out whether their interest is more than fleeting before they have to fully commit to the profession. Schools would benefit from the chance to observe some of their aptitudes on the job before making a full commitment as well.

As these employees acquired experience and skill, they would be promoted to increasingly responsible positions on the condition that they seek any necessary certifications. This would be a more organic entry into the profession and would better match much of the rest of the workforce, where you climb the ranks by showing that you’re good at your job.

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