Who Will Be Teaching Your Children?

The state Board of Education has issued 855 emergency teacher certificates in two months. Here are some of the implications.

When school starts in a few weeks, who will be at the front of your child’s class? The Tulsa World reported that the state Board of Education had approved 855 emergency teacher certificates, and more will be needed to fill vacancies in Oklahoma classrooms.

The article states that 120 of those will be in Tulsa, and more are needed here as well.

Difficult times call for difficult decisions. I know. But these are our children. Would we take them to a dentist who majored in accounting, but has an emergency certificate in oral surgery? Would we board an airplane where the pilots and air traffic controllers were doing on-the-job training through emergency certification?

Having been a teacher, I realize that there are those who believe that anyone can teach. It’s not really a profession, anyway, right? It’s just a pleasant side-gig for people who don’t want a real job.

Here’s the problem. Well, there’s actually a giant, multi-layered pile of problems, but to start, Tulsa is an urban school district. Urban districts have many issues, mainly resulting from poverty, that smaller and suburban districts don’t have. So Tulsa is already starting out with a handicap. Experienced teachers are needed everywhere, but urban schools especially need teachers who not only have experience working with children in urban districts, but also with developing curriculum and lesson plans, knowing strategies for helping struggling students, and those who have a real commitment to teaching and to the students. Our children don’t need a teacher who comes in for a year or two and then moves on because it’s too difficult, or because they view their teaching position as community service.

I’m sure there are many well-meaning people who come to teaching through emergency certification, and many of them may become excellent teachers. But the schools (our children) should not be a training ground for people who might turn out to be okay.

Learning is a complicated process. The classes, practicums and experience required in getting a teaching certificate prepare people for the profession. Think about Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing. She couldn’t answer basic questions about public education. She didn’t know that The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was a federal law! She didn’t know the difference between measuring proficiency and measuring growth, and she struggled to find an opinion on whether or not schools that receive tax money should be held accountable. This is a person who leads our public schools.

I was an English major, and I also got a teaching certificate. What did I learn in getting that certification? Even as a college student, I could have answered the questions that DeVos couldn’t answer. I also learned how to individualize instruction for students, and how to engage reluctant learners. I learned how to write a lesson plan and how to implement it.

Beyond that, I had to take classes in child development, adolescent development, and a class on exceptional children (both gifted and those with special needs). I learned something about public school law and the historic place of public schools in America.

By the time I graduated, I had a good idea of my philosophy of education because I had studied John Locke, Jean Piaget, John Dewey, William James, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacque Rousseau, among others. I remember going to an interview for a job in Nebraska public schools and was asked exactly that question: What is your teaching philosophy? Would anyone bother to ask that today?

I also knew that I preferred using an inquiry-based or problem-centered method in teaching, so that teaching was more student-centered than teacher-centered. These methods are more difficult to implement if teachers are teaching to a test, or if teachers are working from a “script.” In my opinion, scripted teaching is one of the most insidious ramifications of hiring non-professional educators. Inexperienced teachers who also don’t have training in curriculum, child development, and pedagogy will naturally need to rely on step-by-step teaching methods because they can’t rely upon their own knowledge or experience. Too often, the children suffer because such scripted teaching doesn’t fit their learning style, and it doesn’t invite critical thinking. An experienced teacher could take a script and incorporate deeper methods into it, but with large class sizes, low pay, low morale, that may never happen.

I know that Oklahoma teachers are leaving the profession because they can’t survive on the low pay, not to mention the lack of respect, poor working conditions, and dearth of materials. I can’t blame them. Unless the Oklahoma Legislature can start addressing our funding problems, it can’t improve. It doesn’t make good sense for our future, but when there’s a perception out there that anyone can teach, and we don’t speak up for our professionals in public schools, then we can continue to be 49th.

Categories: Editor’s Blog