Last night, several members of Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee voted poorly on many issues related to K-12 public education. To me, the most shocking was the decision that “essentially eliminates teacher licensing standards by allowing public and private schools to hire anyone to teach, even those without a bachelor’s degree”.
There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including Governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.
I should know. I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it requires an individual to become very good at teaching at least three years of classroom experience beyond their completed college experience. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and student teaching is only the beginning. It truly is a profession that one learns as they do it, and the learning never ends.
As an example, I recently observed a primary teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.
But they would have no idea why. With a highly-trained eye, here is what I saw:
- The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally, and visually.
- The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically-sound (I doubt the term “pedagogy” could be accurately defined by several members of our Joint Finance Committee).
- She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to ensure all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
- Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to ten minutes of lost instruction.
- Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
- A clear transition between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.
This was not the full extent of all the positive work I saw in her classroom today. At our post-observation conference, I started by asking her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept.” Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?
Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that exists in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something that anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy makers that somehow saw sanity in a decision that had no business being a part of the Joint Finance Committee.
In summary, getting a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly-qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection, and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those that attempt to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set public schools up for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Our students and young families, the future of Wisconsin, are the ones who will suffer. And all because of money. Education is not a market – it is an endeavor to help build better lives.