Will your student have a prepared, qualified teacher leading her classroom when she goes back to school this fall?
At one time, you could be assured that most anyone with a teaching license had graduated from a rigorous university program where he or she received subject-specific instruction as well as extensive coursework in child development, learning theory and teaching methods. A teaching license required student teaching experience, working in a classroom under the tutelage of a practiced educator. Licensed teachers were then selected and hired from a field of qualified candidates who all participated in this laborious process before finally being given the responsibility of leading a classroom of students. This process helped assure our teachers were qualified and prepared.
Jump forward to 2018. Utah is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. Schools face a very real challenge in staffing each classroom. Primarily in response to this shortage, the Utah State Board of Education has proposed significant changes to teacher licensing. These changes will enable schools to hire more teachers more quickly, but at what cost?
While an alternately prepared teacher may develop into an excellent teacher, the concern is timing. University-prepared teachers enter the classroom with a certain level of knowledge, training and experience. Some alternately prepared teachers gain that knowledge and experience on the job ... after they are in the classroom instructing students. This puts student learning at risk.
Inadequate and inconsistent standards of teacher preparation and licensing create an issue of equity for students. Utah licensing data show too many underprepared teachers already working in charter schools, in schools serving communities of color and in rural and low-income schools. It’s just not possible that two such different preparation pathways will ensure every student has equitable access to highly effective teachers.
Ironically, lowering the standards of teacher preparation and licensing will actually exacerbate the teacher shortage, according to research by the Learning Policy Institute. LPI finds comprehensive teacher preparation that includes “observing others teaching, student teaching at least a full semester, receiving feedback, taking courses in teaching methods, learning theory and selecting instructional materials” dramatically increases the likelihood teachers will remain in the profession. “Teachers who enter the profession without these elements of preparation have been found to be two to three times more likely to leave the profession than those who are comprehensively prepared,” according to the study.
To be clear, the alternate preparation and licensure pathways proposed by the board do not provide any of the elements described by LPI as best practice. And we know that underprepared teachers place greater demands on their veteran colleagues who often work as informal and unpaid mentors to support new teachers as they learn on the job.3 comments on this story
Some of the best teachers I know have entered the profession through non-traditional routes. Utah's students are so fortunate to have people stepping up and into classrooms, especially now. The teacher licensing discussion isn't about the individual, it's about the integrity of a professional teaching license and how we can promote quality, prepared teachers for every single student in our state, regardless of where they live or their unique learning needs.
Rather than focus on short-term solutions by lowering licensing standards, Utah policymakers should seek long-term solutions to our teacher shortage while maintaining high standards of excellence for those entrusted with teaching our students.