By Janet Stocks, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Education
The recent news that 25% of DCPS teachers lack the required credentials to teach is a serious issue and one that adversely impacts D.C. students. (See Washington Post: About a Quarter of D.C. Public Schools Teachers Lack Required Certification.)
Interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander explains that all of these teachers have a college degree, and have undergone criminal background checks and drug tests. Ok. Is that all a person needs to be a quality teacher?
Teacher certification is not simply a form to fill out, a test to take, and a certificate to frame.
What should one learn to be a teacher? Certainly we want teachers to know something about the subject area that they are teaching. That, supposedly, is covered by having a college degree, hopefully in their teaching discipline. But we know that this is not always the case – particularly with math and science – many who find themselves teaching these subjects in middle- and high schools are talked in to taking these assignments by desperate school leaders who need at least a warm body in the classroom. This is because we have a grave teacher shortage in our country, and especially in our region, right now (more on that later).
But it’s not only about what to teach, but also how to teach effectively. And this is serious stuff. There’s the classroom management aspect of this – techniques for managing behavior, motivating the desire to learn, organizing learning groups, the choice of curriculum, how to interpret a given curriculum so that it works with the particular group of students in front of you. There is also knowing about different learning styles and different learning disabilities. All teachers will work with students who have differences in the ways they learn. There are actually assessments and techniques that one can learn to identify and help the students who face challenges in learning so that their desire to learn does not get thoroughly squeezed out of them before they even leave elementary school.
There is also a growing body of research on the effects of childhood trauma, and information that vast numbers of students who come through the public schools in D.C. are coming having experienced multiple incidents of trauma in their young lives. Many of these children do not come to school ready to learn. A good teacher prep program will address these issues and help aspiring teachers gain the skills they need to work successfully with every child. A good program will instill in a teacher the certainty that every child can learn.
Why is there a teacher shortage? Well, I wonder many times why someone would want to be a teacher these days. Teachers are not respected (case in point – we seem to think that a criminal and drug background check are the only needed qualifications to be hired as a teacher – no sense of teaching as a profession). Teachers are not paid well (case in point – the teachers’ strikes that have been erupting in many locations around the country this spring). Teachers are expected to spend hundreds of dollars of their own money every year just to provide basic supplies to their classrooms. Teaching is hard, exhausting, challenging. We do not see education as a public good in our country any more. We do not seem to realize, as a society, that what “made us great” as a country – innovation, collaboration, research – are all dependent on having an educated population. Heck, we can’t even agree that roads and bridges are a public good. What a mess!
Yet, teaching is also exhilarating, rewarding – and essential for our nation to have well education youth who grow up to contribute to the economy, make a difference in their communities, and support their families.
We must elevate teaching and recognize it as a profession that matters, that improves lives, that is essential to a healthy community and democracy. D.C. must be sure that every teacher has the right preparation and the required certification to be a teacher, and essential to be an effective teacher.