Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, understands that teachers must be better prepared in the future. At present, the standards for entry into teaching are a hodgepodge, are set by every state and district at varying levels, and many new teachers arrive with an online degree or with only a few weeks of “training.” This is not good enough.
In Finland, which has an excellent school system, all teachers are prepared over the course of a five-year program that includes subject matter knowledge and pedagogical skill. No one is allowed to teach without that deep and well-planned preparation for the classroom. Finland has eight universities. All of them follow the same protocol. Entry into teaching is highly selective because there are so few entry points. Only one of every ten people who apply are accepted into the teacher education program.
By contrast, we let everyone in and then allow huge numbers to fail after they enter the classroom. Some survive, many don’t.
We don’t have eight universities like Finland, we have thousands. How then to raise the standard for entry into teaching?
Randi Weingarten has proposed a rigorous examination for entry into the teaching profession. She would have it developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Schools and colleges of education may keep their own entry standards, but their graduates must be prepared for the examination, which would include subject matter knowledge and pedagogical ability.
In her explanation of the proposal in the Wall Street Journal, Weingarten wrote:
“Setting a bar for entry into the teaching profession requires strengthening and aligning many components. Standards for admission to and completion of teacher-preparation programs should be appropriately high. Curricula should address the specific knowledge and skills that competent beginning teachers need. Preparation must include extensive experience in actual classrooms working with accomplished teachers. Mastery should be demonstrated not just through a written exam but also through demonstrations of a candidate’s ability to teach. High standards for entry into the profession should apply to all prospective teachers, whether they pursue traditional or alternative certification.”
“The teaching profession is full of dedicated, talented teachers, but much of their expertise is developed only once they’re on the job. Better preparing teachers for entry into the profession will dramatically reduce the loss of new teachers—nearly half of whom leave after fewer than five years—and the loss of knowledge that goes with it. As widespread teacher retirements sweep across the nation’s schools (1.6 million in the next decade alone), our proposal will help create a constant supply of well-prepared educators ready from day one to help children achieve at high levels.”
Randi is right. We can’t just say, “Let’s improve recruitment into the profession” and leave the free market to work its magic. Nothing will change.
Real change does not come about because of hope and expectation.
It comes about when there are real plans, based on facts and attainable goals, with a strategy in hand.
Imagine: a national exam developed by educators for educators, to identify those who are well prepared to teach.
And then, once in the classroom, teachers should be evaluated as professionals by professionals, not by cockeyed metrics dreamed up by statisticians.
Teaching must be recognized as a profession that requires well prepared professionals. Teachers must have the autonomy in the classroom to do what they know is best for their students.
This is a great beginning. It should change the conversation from blaming teachers for conditions beyond their control to taking concrete steps to ensure that those who enter the classroom are well qualified. It puts us on a path towards the day when teaching is as prestigious as other professions.