Have you noticed the hysterical howling of the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association about the "problem" of having so many uncertified teachers in our nations schools. To hear them tell it, putting an uncertified teacher in front of a classroom of youngsters is tantamount to child abuse. We should only have certified teachers in our schools, they tell us, and Nationally Board Certified one at that. Putting aside the irony that it is the dues dollars of these very same uncertified teachers that finance their leaders attacks on them, does teacher certification as it is presently constituted in most states insure quality in the classroom, or is it often a barrier to the entrance of good people to the profession?
A little personal history will reveal why the arguments of the "certificationists" leave me uneasy. Thirty odd years ago I left full-time graduate study in English at New York University and joined the United States Peace Corps, serving for two years in Ghana, West Africa. I returned from Ghana the way I left - UNCERTIFIED as a teacher in the State of New York. But for a law on the books at the time which waived most of the certification requirements for returning Peace Corps volunteers, I would never have had a career in the public schools. How have the children Ive taught over the last thirty one years been harmed by the unorthodox way in which I was certified? I dont believe they have any more than I believe that uncertified means incompetent.
To anticipate my critics, let me say that I do not believe it is desirable for us to put people in our nations classrooms who have not been university educated in the subject they wish to teach. What I am saying, however, is that with a growing teacher shortage, it is absurd to maintain completely artificial barriers to the entrance of smart, well-motivated people to the ranks of Americas teachers. Why would sane people assume that to be a good teacher requires education courses which are almost universally disparaged for their lack of substance and intellectual rigor. With decent starting salaries, we might get some of those bright graduate students in the arts and sciences to give public school teaching a career look. We wont get the best and brightest, however, if we continue to require people to spend time and money taking education courses that do not interest them and which contribute almost nothing to the making teachers.
Thirty years ago, New York and other states set out to try to coax idealistic young people into careers in teaching. Why arent we doing the same? Surely there are such young people today. Surely they would respond to efforts that made it easier to try a teaching career. Once we got them, if we continued our union efforts to improve the working lives of teachers, most of them would stay, and we would all be better off for it.
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