Voc. Ed. Administrators Troubled by Lack of Certified Teachers
Virginia Beach, Va.
Facing a shortage of certified vocational education teachers, schools are increasingly hiring people who haven't had any instruction in how to teach.
And that has many vocational education administrators who gathered here for a conference this month worried about the possible consequences.
"We're having so many people come from industry without the teaching pedagogy," said Kenneth W. Smith, the head of business and marketing education in North Carolina's department of education.
"They don't know how to organize the material. They don't know how to manage the classroom. They don't understand different learning styles," he said about some of the new hires.
The conference, held Sept. 16-19, was sponsored by the Washington-based National Association of State Directors of Vocational Technical Education Consortium. After a daylong strategy session, the group's teacher education committee held brainstorming sessions on how to alleviate the problem.
Conference attendees attributed the escalating shortage to two factors: a drop in the number of programs that prepare vocational education teachers at universities, and a growing demand in the marketplace for people with vocational skills. Shortages are particularly severe in the area of technology education, they said.
"The university system has collapsed in vocational and technical education," Richard L. Lynch, a consultant for the office of vocational and adult education for the U.S. Department of Education, said at one of the brainstorming sessions.
The administrators said the lack of qualified teachers has increasingly caused them to circumvent traditional teacher preparation programs and formal certification processes.
Schools are using provisional-certification options to hire people right out of industry. With a provisional teaching license, a person who has a college degree and workplace experience may start teaching with an understanding that he or she will eventually acquire some education credits to become fully certified.
Requirements for provisional certification vary. In Kentucky, legislation passed in April makes it possible for schools to hire people with 10 years of industry experience for any area of teaching, as long as they participate in a mentoring program the first year. The teachers may teach for three years without extra coursework but are required eventually to complete a master's degree in education.
In Utah, on the other hand, schools may hire people with only six years of industry experience as vocational educators; the teachers have a grace period of four years to acquire 12 semester credit hours in education.
States are experimenting with how to help vocational educators get those extra education hours. Teachers in Pennsylvania can earn them by taking courses at regional professional-development centers instead of universities. Vermont has brought in a Waco, Texas-based firm, the Center for Occupational Research and Development Inc., to provide workshops for vocational educators in how to weave academics into the teaching of vocational skills.
Alaska and North Carolina, meanwhile, are looking into how to train vocational educators on-line.
Some administrators view provisional certifications as a positive move for vocational education.
Robert O. Brems, an associate state superintendent and the director of applied-technology education in Utah, said hiring people directly from industry is working well in his state.
"The problem with trying to adapt the teacher education institutions is that technology is changing so rapidly," he said in an interview. The universities, he said, have "too much lag time."
Even administrators who expressed concern that vocational educators are being hired without teaching credentials said their field is little understood by people who set requirements for teacher certification.
"Our field is so different," said Roy V. Peters Jr., the state director of vocational education for Oklahoma. He said the requirements for formal teacher certification in his state are "ridiculous" when applied to vocational educators.
Policymakers seem more interested that a construction teacher take language arts or foreign-language courses than that he or she take more relevant courses on integrating academics into the classroom, Mr. Peters added.
To get around Oklahoma's formal requirements, vocational educators are opting instead for the state's provisional-certification process, which doesn't place enough emphasis on teaching methods, Ann Benson, the assistant state director of vocational education, added in an interview. Under the provisional requirements, candidates must merely pass a test in the content area for which they have a degree. The teachers are then given two years to acquire six credit hours in education.
--MARY ANN ZEHR
Vol. 18, Issue 4, Page 8