If I had known how complicated my path to teaching would be when I decided to change careers 25 years ago, I might not be a teacher today.
Instead, I could have become Commissioner for Connecticut’s Department of Education. At least there are far fewer requirements.
One bachelor’s degree earned, a thesis shy of a master’s degree in business, and six years into a career in public relations, I decided I wanted to teach high school English.
I had worked with kids as a camp counselor and volunteer coach. I also mentored college students serving internships in the PR office where I worked. I simply enjoyed the “teaching” role. But becoming a public school teacher in Connecticut was no easy task.
I needed the appropriate certification — a process that included earning additional college credits, passing standardized tests, and completing my student-teaching. Plus, like all Connecticut teachers, I would eventually need a master’s degree to maintain my certification.
In addition, I had observations, evaluations, reports, and continuing-education units to complete once I began teaching in order to progress through three levels of certification.
In short, there’s no “fast track” to teaching. And that’s as it should be. Teaching is a privilege that includes enormous responsibilities — you wouldn’t want any old “schmo” teaching your child to read and write.
So, I very willingly went back to school and earned my Master of Arts in Teaching. I student-taught. I worked my way through the three levels of certification.
In 2005, No Child Left Behind required all teachers to be “highly qualified,” something I was not, according to the federal government, because neither of my degrees was in my content area. I have a bachelor’s in mass communications with minors in English and history and a master’s in teaching with concentrations in English and social studies — not to mention 15 years of classroom experience at the time — but that was not good enough.
I had to apply for a waiver and send my professional evaluations to Hartford for review and approval. So I did that, too.
Again, I am not complaining. I think it’s essential that all teachers demonstrate the skill and training required of their jobs.
So why does Gov. Dannel P. Malloy refuse to require the state’s Commissioner of Education to meet basic requirements? What’s so bad about demanding that the top education official have “at least five years’ experience as a teacher and three years as an administrator”?
A bill outlining those very requirements received overwhelming support in the state legislature, passing the House, 138-5, and receiving unanimous approval in the Senate.
Moreover, Malloy’s choice for the new state commissioner, Dianna Wentzell, fulfilled the proposed bill’s requirements. Yet, the governor vetoed it, saying the legislation “encroaches on [his] purview” and prevents him from choosing “the best candidate to lead the department.”
Really? Maybe superintendents would similarly prefer to eliminate requirements for teachers so they can enjoy a broader “purview” when hiring staff. After all, anyone can teach, right? In fact, who cares if a commissioner of education has any actual experience in public schools?
Welcome to the “death of expertise,” described by professor Tom Nichols as a “Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers — in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.”
In our haste to allow anyone and everyone to participate in our Internet-fueled world, we somehow forgot that, well, some people actually do know more about certain topics than other people.
“Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us,” adds Nichols. “But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen: doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.”
Education is not exempt from this reality. The best teachers require training and experience in schools. So should education commissioners.
Then again, maybe I should change my career once more to something I can do right away. How does Commissioner of Public Health sound?
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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