Alternative teacher education: Something isn’t right


This may be simply a knee-jerk reaction, but there’s something that doesn’t seem right about expanding Minnesota’s alternative teacher licensure.

The House K-12 Education Policy Committee on Thursday approved two bills that will allow more non-teaching professionals to get their licenses as well as allow students to get their licenses without having to go through a traditional college education.

According to the Pioneer Press, committee members cited the need for new teachers who are better prepared to teach under more stringent curriculum standards.

Here’s what I don’t understand. There are thousands of unemployed teachers in Minnesota at this moment, and there will be hundreds if not thousands more after the end of this school year.  These teachers have actual, in-class experience working with curricula, dealing with discipline and standardized tests (and the unfair repercussions thereof) and all the minutia, tangible and intangible, that go along with being a teacher.

I can understand why we need to attract non-teachers to fill gaps in specialized areas such as advanced placement physics or to teach chemistry in a rural area. I also understand that a young teacher will bring an excitement to his new profession and thus to the classroom. That new teacher will perhaps be more willing to teach in an inner-city classroom and be able to relate to students better than an older, more experienced teacher. That new teacher will also be cheap — not an inconsiderable factor in these days of strangulated education spending.

But when did inexperience and low salary trump proven classroom ability? Why is it preferable to put a person with a degree in, say, art history or political science who has several weeks of training in front of a class of inner city third graders? And don’t be misled, that’s all that’s expected of these new classroom leaders. This is from the Pioneer Press (parentheses mine): “Candidates would have to have a bachelor’s degree and a high grade point average before entering an alternative prep program (presumably that means not taking college education classes). They would receive at least 200 hours of training (that’s five weeks at 40 hours per week), as well as mentoring and peer coaching (which nearly everyone agrees all teachers should receive no matter how long they have been in the profession), and would have to pass the required skills exams.”

“Pass the required skills exams” seems to be the acid test. Apparently, all you need to become a teacher is to get a bachelor’s degree in religious history or medieval French literature, go through a program for a little more than a month to learn how to teach, then pass the Praxis tests in, say, elementary education and you’re good to go. You’re now qualified to teach 35 third graders — some who don’t read at grade level, some who are gifted and bored with what you’re teaching them, some who are homeless and will be out of your class within a month to be replaced by four more in a month, some who don’t speak English, and some who have special physical or emotional education needs. You’re newly minted, bright eyed and bushy tailed and really, really cheap.

The bottom line is whether these alternatives will result in better educated students. While colleges and universities turn corners like battleships, it seems counter intuitive to think that a college career reading Flannery O’Connor and Ubu Roi coupled with a crash course in teaching will make someone a quality teacher and thus help provide a quality education.

There’s something here that doesn’t seem quite right.