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Published in Print: February 17, 1999, as A Two-Lane Road Into Teaching

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A Two-Lane Road Into Teaching

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Our nation will need at least 2 million new teachers in the next 10 years. Where will we find them? Although the best route into teaching for young adults is through participation in a standard teacher education program, it is unlikely that our colleges of education will provide enough new teachers. Clearly, we will have to tap a variety of nontraditional sources of teachers.

There are many enthusiastic young college graduates who have not majored in education and many mature individuals in business, government, and the military who have the potential to become good teachers. If they can demonstrate their readiness to begin teaching, we should encourage them to enter the profession.

The danger in using nontraditional sources of teachers is that we could admit into the profession individuals who do not have the potential to become good teachers. Success in business, government, or the military does not guarantee success in teaching. Knowledge of subject matter does not guarantee success as a teacher. We must be reasonably certain that everyone admitted into the profession has the potential to become a good teacher.

It takes several years for someone to become an accomplished teacher. Colleges of education do not produce accomplished teachers. Rather, they produce individuals ready to begin teaching and perhaps become accomplished teachers. Graduation from a college of education does not guarantee ultimate success in a regular classroom.

Any college graduate who can pass the state-mandated written tests and demonstrate at least rudimentary teaching ability should be granted an initial license to teach.

In most states, those who graduate from an approved teacher education program and pass state-mandated written tests of basic skills (math, reading, and writing), general subject-matter knowledge, and basic pedagogical knowledge are granted what amounts to an "initial" license. The initial license allows them to begin teaching with the understanding that they must demonstrate their teaching competence before being granted a more permanent "continuing" license.

In most states, people who have not graduated from a teacher education program can enter the profession through various "alternative" licensing routes or plans. Unfortunately, the requirements of the alternative-licensing routes can be irrelevant to the needs of the teacher, excessively demanding, or, paradoxically, not demanding enough. Some plans require an individual to take many education courses while beginning to teach. The last thing a beginning teacher needs is to be forced to take college courses while trying to cope with the rigors of teaching. Many prospective teachers will not subject themselves to the excessive requirements of some alternative-licensing plans. Those who begin the process often become discouraged and leave the profession.

Some alternative plans permit individuals to begin teaching before they have passed one or more of the required state tests. In other words, they may be allowed to teach a subject without first demonstrating that they have mastered the subject or acquired basic pedagogical skills. This is unfair to their students.

I suggest that any person who can demonstrate his or her readiness to begin teaching, regardless of how he or she acquired the necessary skills and understandings, should be granted an initial license on the same basis as the graduate of a teacher education program. More specifically, I am suggesting that any college graduate who can pass the state-mandated written tests and can demonstrate at least rudimentary teaching ability should be granted an initial license to teach. Although in emergencies local authorities will have to fill some vacancies with nonlicensed personnel, absolutely no one should be granted an official initial license to begin teaching unless he or she has passed the required tests and demonstrated at least rudimentary teaching ability.

Graduates of teacher education programs typically demonstrate their rudimentary teaching skills in "student teaching" experiences. Unfortunately, the amount of actual independent teaching done by student-teachers varies from program to program. Some student-teachers do very little independent teaching. In any case, success in student teaching is not necessarily a valid predictor of ultimate success in a regular classroom.

Potential teachers who have not graduated from teacher education programs can demonstrate their rudimentary teaching skills in a variety of ways. They might, for example, demonstrate their teaching skills in summer schools or in structured assessment centers. They might submit videotapes of their successful teaching in business, industry, or the military. State and local authorities should provide potential teachers with opportunities to demonstrate their skills.

But demonstrating rudimentary teaching skills in a nonpublic school setting is not the same as teaching in a regular public school classroom. Therefore, the evidence provided by potential teachers should be evaluated carefully to ensure that the potential teacher does indeed possess at least rudimentary teaching skills.

In essence, I am proposing a two-lane road into teaching. In one lane, we have graduates of teacher education programs who have passed the required tests and have shown through student teaching their readiness to begin teaching. In the other lane, we have individuals who have not graduated from teacher education programs who have passed the required tests and have, in a variety of ways, also demonstrated their readiness to begin teaching. In other words, both groups have survived a variety of "screening" devices to demonstrate their readiness to begin teaching. They are taking different lanes into teaching, but both groups have essentially met the same standards.

What happens to beginning teachers as they start teaching is usually more important to their ultimate success or failure than their pre-teaching experiences. Regardless of how they entered the profession, it is difficult to predict how successful beginning teachers will be. The only valid way to determine teaching competence is to evaluate carefully the actual teaching performance of the individual over time in the classroom for which he or she is the teacher of record.

The performance of all beginning teachers should be evaluated carefully. If they are struggling, they should receive immediate help. If they need more training, they should receive it as soon as possible. Any beginning teacher, regardless of the route taken into teaching, should not be allowed to continue in the profession if he or she cannot ultimately demonstrate proficiency in the classroom.

If we are going to staff our schools with competent teachers in the years ahead, we must use a variety of nontraditional sources of teachers. As the teacher shortage worsens, alternative-licensing plans are increasing in number. Unfortunately, many of the plans do not attempt to determine if the beginning teacher possesses the skills and knowledge required for success in the classroom. The approach I suggest would allow us to tap a variety of nontraditional sources of teachers while being reasonably assured that all beginning teachers had at least the potential to become good teachers.


Carl O. Olson is a retired public school administrator living in Cary, N.C.

Vol. 18, Issue 23, Pages 53-54

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