Sometime today, 50 United States Senators and the Vice-President will approve Betsy Devos as the next US Secretary of Education. Such is the nature of a republic, but this vote will culminate in the selection of someone who is remarkably unqualified to hold a leadership position in education, or any position in education period. Policy disagreements with Mrs. Devos aside, the biggest buzzword in this debate has been "unqualified." Thousands of teachers across the country have spent the past several weeks contacting their Senator, sounding the call for her denial. Several senators have publicly spoken out against her confirmation. And the voice has been the same- Betsy Devos is unqualified for this position. But this public outrage begs the question- how important are qualifications in the field of education?
The realities of teaching are daunting, to say the least. Low pay and increased standards have led to a dramatic dearth in pre-service teachers, percentages at their lowest in 70 years. According to a survey done last year by the Chronicle for Higher Education, only 4.2% of college freshmen expressed an intention to major in education. Combine that with the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation, and one can understand the fear of many school districts across the country in being able to fill its classroom with teachers. Most states require a degree in education, specialization in a content area (particularly at the secondary level), and a valid teaching license. In my home state of Indiana, secondary teachers are expected to hold a degree in the content area and minor in education, at minimum. But, in the face of a teacher shortage, districts across the country have begun to hire non-certified teachers to lead classrooms. At a time when debates are raging over the qualifications of the person who will lead the US Department of Education, are we discussing enough the qualifications of the persons who will lead our individual classrooms?
I take education very seriously, not just as a professional, but as a father of two sons. As a professional, I have found myself, after 12 years of teaching, to be a passionate educator who has never once questioned my chosen field. I am decorated and proud to hold a position of respect at the state and national level. But among the highest sources of pride for me is knowing I have earned every bit of it. I believe in the importance of humility and I think most who know me would agree that I am not a "horn-tooter." But I do appreciate positions of leadership and respect, and believe that I can fill those because I have worked extremely hard to earn those positions, and have a voice that lends experienced and credible insight. Those educators of whom I have the utmost respect are those who bring similar credentials to the table and I have had the good fortune to have learned with, and from, some incredible educators.
It is never lost on me that each day parents send their most precious gift to our school and our classroom, and trust me to provide them with quality teaching and guidance. This is a heady responsibility and it has long been the guiding influence behind my drive to not only pursue further education, but continuous professional growth. I want to be the best teacher possible for my students. I want to be the teacher I want my own sons to have.
I have no misconceptions regarding a belief that every classroom possesses a great teacher. As much as I want this, it is impossible. And I know that simply having the qualifications of being a teacher does not necessarily correlate with good teaching. But I also know that caring about kids or being a good person also does not correlate with good teaching. Passion for teaching is key, perhaps the most important element in effective teaching. But it cannot, repeat CANNOT, be the only qualification. I have no doubt that I am a better teacher for having had the opportunity to reflect on methods and theory, to have had the chance to learn from examples of real teachers, both good and bad, as a pre-service educator. These "hoops" through which I jumped in my preparation were absolutely key in my growth as a teacher. The teachers I remember, the teachers I respect, and the teachers I hope teach my own children are those that possess both qualifications and passion for the kids.
Full disclosure: I am not an administrator and therefore am not directly involved in hiring. With that in mind, I am aware that some might find me naive in my view. I fully understand that, as a nation and as individual states, we face a teacher shortage. But the solution to that problem cannot be to fill those positions with those who are unqualified to hold the position. It insinuates that anyone can walk in off the street and teach a class. The solution seems clear- make the career more enticing. I love what I do and would never leave for another field. But even I recognize that the benefits for teaching are scant. This must be considered or the education system runs the risk of being filled with unqualified employees. In a climate focused on test scores, performance-based pay, AYP, and other like factors, does anyone think that these foci, as misguided as they may be (a subject for another blog) will be met or exceeded by an unqualified teacher?
I am a professional, one who considers teaching to one of the great things I will get to do with my life and as such, I want to teach with other educators who will share that passion and the qualifications and expertise from which to speak and grow.
I am a parent and as such, I want my children to be taught by teachers who are well-qualified in their field every step of the way. I know that the passion for education will not be in every teacher my children have, or each I work with, but I do not believe that it is too much to ask for those teachers to be qualified.
Although, when a national standard is set so low as it just was (as I finished writing this Vice-President Pence cast the deciding vote on Mrs. Devos), perhaps this is too much.