Conventional certification classes are unnecessary obstacles
The current and traditional system for teacher certification offers little in the way of quality training for education students, waters down relevant subject matter and chases highly talented people away from the teaching profession.
Based on my love of English, I decided in college to become a high school teacher. The education development classes, however, almost changed my mind. I detested every minute of "child and adolescent development." During the class, I learned what Rousseau and Piaget wrote about children and their development — none of which I have used during my nine years of teaching high school students.
After completing the class, I decided not to become a teacher. I still loved English, but I refused to endure another class that insulted my intelligence as much as these development classes had. Over summers and through the last two years of school, I talked to a lot of teachers and told them that I thought I wanted to become a teacher before I had to sit through ED classes. A number of those teachers already in the profession would convey a disdain for the classes, and indicate that ED classes do nothing to help prepare one for teaching. They said, "It’s just something you have to sit through."
At the time, I wished there was a program like the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. As Robert Holland noted in "Teach for America Shows Its Mettle," ABCTE is a program that streamlines the teacher certification process (School Reform News, Oct. 1st, 2004). The program is aimed at recent college graduates, individuals changing careers and current teachers. Future teachers can earn their certification by holding a bachelor’s degree, passing a criminal background check and meeting American Board standards in their subject area, while also showing a "grasp of teaching methods."
I earned my bachelor’s degree in English and was headed for the business world. Fortunately, I decided to take a teaching job at a Catholic high school in Florida when I found that I could start as an uncertified teacher, provided that I taught only part-time. I found that I loved teaching and working with young people. And while none of my students’ parents ever asked if I was certified, many of them wanted to know from which school I had graduated. When I told them that I graduated with an English degree from Auburn University, that fact was good enough for them.
To become certified to continue teaching, I had to take a graduate-level "curriculum development" class. I learned trendy and fancy names given by theorists to simple, everyday things. It was a waste of time. The class demeaned my intelligence and did nothing to make me a more effective classroom teacher. In fact, it risked making me a worse teacher given the time it took away from lesson planning and sleep.
After moving to the Midwest, I learned that I would have to take numerous education classes and student-teach for four months. After a year in classes, a transcript audit revealed that I lacked one physical education class. After 13 years of playing soccer and captaining my college soccer team, I had to have one final P.E. class in order to teach English! My advisor was able to recommend a very nice jazzercise-dance class that would start at mid-semester, so I would not fall behind. I took the class and cursed educational bureaucracy with every step on the little plastic stepper. Finally, I moved to western Michigan and transferred my teaching certificate.
As I was writing this article, a colleague was interviewing another student teacher. I rushed to her for an opinion of teacher certification. "Well, they say the program is the best around," she said with a smile. I said, "But what do you think about it?" She winced. "Well, all education classes are just busy work," she said. "All?" I said playing devil’s advocate, "How can you know about others?"
The young lady told me that she had started her freshman year at another school. She wanted very much to be a teacher, but she took an education class, and it changed her mind. "It was not very challenging. It was almost like you had to lose intelligence to stay interested," the student noted. I had to agree. I have taken education classes at five different colleges and universities in four different states, and I have seen very little in any of the programs that would make students better teachers.
The textbook theory and methodology of how to work with young people will not help a young teacher anywhere near as much as a sense of conviction and an ability to deal well with people. In an article titled, "Does Teacher Certification Matter?" Author Andrew Coulson comments, "Verbal ability and having a college degree in the subject being taught" are key factors in successful teaching. Coulson further notes that seven studies of the effects of teacher certification on student achievement have concluded, "New teachers who are certified do not produce greater student gains than new teachers who are not certified."
Across the hall from my classroom is a math teacher who spent 10 years with a big accounting firm before starting to teach. He knows his math; he is humorous and articulate; and he brings a lot of practical mathematics applications to the classroom. When he first went back to school for his teaching certificate, he was told he had to take more classes because he needed a "teachable major."
In our building of nine teachers, four of them were in the business world before becoming teachers, and I believe our students benefit tremendously from their experience.
I am very thankful that each of them had the resources to leave their careers and become teachers. It also reminds me that not many people with potential to be great teachers can spend the time and money to go back to school so that they might learn the theories and methods of teaching the subjects they already know. Michigan’s kids lose out for that.
Robert Genetski teaches language arts, and he has worked with At-Risk kids for five years at Orion Alternative High School in Grandville, Mich. He holds a master’s degree in education from Grand Valley State University.