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How Licensing Rules Kept One Teacher of the Year Out of Public Schools

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I used to be a public school teacher.

Now, I’m not.

So, what led me out of the classroom?

A state reciprocity barrier.

Five years ago, I was teaching in a 5th grade classroom in Tampa, Fla. I was a proud Shaw Bulldog, working in a hybrid role in which I would teach half the day, then work in a teacher-leadership role for the Center for Teaching Quality, a national nonprofit that promotes teacher voice.

I almost had more certificates and endorsements than I could count on one hand. They included my Florida elementary and exceptional student teaching certificates, my endorsement for teaching English-language learners, and my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification.

I had also taught for 10 years, mentored new teachers, and taught at the University of Central Florida for a year, preparing teacher-candidates and supporting preservice teachers in their practicum-teaching semesters. If you want to really get metacognitive with instructional moves and pedagogy, try coaching and facilitating soon-to-be-teachers.

I had completed almost all the classes for my educational doctorate in administration for teaching and leadership (about 50 credits in administration leadership), and I had racked up more professional-development points than I could keep track of. (My district, Hillsborough County, had the most amazing PD opportunities!) In 2010, I had been named the Florida teacher of the year.

I was feeling confident about my expertise and experience, because I had jumped through so many hurdles to prove I knew my craft to the “powers-that-be” in my state. I thought I had worked hard enough to appease the mysterious man or woman behind the teacher-qualifications curtain. But that wasn’t the case.

I was moving to Massachusetts, so I eagerly looked into certificate reciprocity, thinking that some or all my certificates would be honored in my new state. What I found was confusing and disheartening.

This was the gist. I could apply for a temporary license that was good for one year, but then I would have to take the appropriate Massachusetts tests for educator license—two of them, in fact: general curriculum and foundations of reading.

My initial reaction was one of frustration. I didn’t feel like I was valued for any of the expertise that I had earned, worked hard for, and proved.

And I was confused. Web-surfing became my life, through hard-to-navigate state department of education websites and portals that looked like something I had created back in my college sophomore computer science class in 1998.

I looked elsewhere, quickly finding a job outside public education, at Mount Holyoke College, preparing teacher-candidates for their first classrooms.

I’m thankful for my current career path and the winding road of a leadership journey I’ve been on, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I hadn’t hit this barrier.

This leads me to a few large, simmering questions:

1. How do our complicated certificate and license issues affect educator retention?

2. How does the patchwork of certification and licensure systems affect or even add to education shortages as a nation?

3. Why is National-Board certification, the gold standard for teaching, not the natural answer to licensure and certification issues?

4. How can we not lower the bar but simplify the system?

I alone don’t have the answers to those questions. But I’m hopeful for recent states’ and organizations’ efforts to streamline and clarify the process for teachers. (I thank you and see your efforts, new home state!)

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification has drafted an interstate agreement that helps teachers navigate the map of reciprocal states, and—I hope—will encourage states to move toward measures that make it easier for teachers to move across state lines.

Also, the Education Commission of the States recently released a map and research, which shines some light on state reciprocity, and found that more states are making it easier for teachers to transfer their licenses.

We have taken some steps in the right direction. But we must continue to engage in dialogue about our licensure system as a profession and as a nation, digging into the hard work to press out the wrinkles so it makes more sense.

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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