The Deprofessionalization of Teachers – Thanks to the Wisconsin Legislature

I would like to begin by stating that teaching is a profession. It is career that is difficult and it takes years of training to become a great educator. Most teachers that I know and work with are professionals and have spent time, energy, and money to become an educator. By the way, when I say professional, I mean a person engaged or qualified in a profession. But it seems to me that many people are attempting to treat teachers as amateurs or de-professionalize the career. Case in point, the Wisconsin State Legislature and specifically the Joint Finance Committee.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a teacher certification provision as part of a package of K-12 budget items. The provision would allow anyone with a bachelor’s degree to be hired and licensed to teach sixth- through 12th-grade English, mathematics, social studies or science. It goes on to add any person with relevant experience — even a high school dropout — could be licensed to teach in any other non-core academic subject in those grades. Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma) proposed the provision. She said she pursued the measure to help rural schools find and retain qualified teachers in hard-to-fill subjects.

Not only do I find this provision absurd, but also a slap in the face to me and any other professional educator who attained a college degree specifically for education. I earned a Bachelors of Science degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, a Masters of Arts degree in science education from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University, but I guess according to the Wisconsin Legislature it was a waste of time and unneeded.

I must disagree with this provision and the politicians who are backing it. From my continued work in education I have come to understand that teachers need to be educated and trained to become good professional educators. The profession of teaching is an art, combined with the science of understanding of how people learn. This is not information that is commonplace or knowledge that comes from life experiences. What is even more shocking to me is that the Wisconsin State Legislature has the same access to information and research that I do when it comes to education and teacher training, but I thought I would take some time now to help those politicians out. Hey, I know politicians are busy, so I pulled some information about what educational experts say about teacher certification and the history of that process.

Mohr (2006) stated that “for almost all of the last century, teacher preparation has been located within higher educational institutions; this is not the case anymore.” (p.1). Shortages of teachers and the forecasts that there will be more shortages in the future have produced a staggering number of initiatives which are producing classroom teachers on a fast track (Hart, 2004). These alternative programs have also caused some universities to disband their teacher education programs or to modify the programs to compete with these shorter duration alternative programs (Mohr, 2006). Sometimes these shortened time frames for obtaining certification come with less time spent in classrooms observing professional educators allowing for little reflection time. Now just imagine that there are no “fast track” certification routes needed, because any person can become a teacher without any training at all.

Imre and Akkoc (2012) found that “observing real classroom settings and reflections on these observations helped prospective teachers to develop their PCK [pedagogical content knowledge]” (p. 224). In the mid 1980’s Lee Shulman was credited with introducing the term for the knowledge that teachers needed to be successful in the classroom. “Pedagogical content knowledge,” referred to the knowledge of the specific nature of the subject matter needed for teaching (Shulman, 1986). Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) blends together the teachers’ understanding of common student errors, how to deal with these errors, what topics students usually find difficult, how to represent information in ways that are most successful and useful for teaching specific information (Hill et al., 2003). The use of this term, pedagogical content knowledge, also suggested that what an educated adult would know about a certain subject is not enough to be able to effectively teach that subject to students. To extrapolate this point, Hill et al. showed results providing evidence that content knowledge for teaching mathematics was much more than just the mathematics knowledge an average educated adult would use in day-to-day events. Imre and Akkoc (2012) also suggested adding extra time to certification programs for prospective teachers to discuss lessons and observe multiple teaching approaches to better understand the underlying procedures occurring in the classroom.

Wang, Lin, Spalding, Klecka, and Odell (2011) stated that “quality teaching from a cognitive resource perspective is related to the knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions teachers bring into the profession” (p. 331). Hollins (2011) went even further by citing six essential knowledge and skills necessary for quality teaching. They include

(1) knowledge of human growth; (2) deep understanding of the learning process; (3) deep understanding of the organizing ideas for a discipline; (4) an understanding of pedagogy; (5) an understanding of how to identify and develop appropriate classroom assessment approaches; and (6) an ability to maintain a strong professional identity. (p. 397)

If schools expect to employ high quality teachers, is it realistic to think that alternative certification programs should include all of these skills in fast-track platforms? Wiseman (2012) did not believe this was accurate. Alternative routes to teacher certification “allowed new teachers to enter the classroom with degrees in their teaching field with precious little, if any, pedagogical preparation” (p. 88).

Now just imagine if teachers enter the classroom with NO professional teacher training or educational background because of the way that the Wisconsin Legislature is attempting to change the certification process. Would you want your students to attend a class taught by a person who has had no formal training in the area of education, where the person in charge of educating your child has no understanding of pedagogy? Let me as this in another way. Would you want your child’s teeth cleaned by a person without any training, but they do have a bachelor’s degree in communications? It seems like an odd question, but dental hygienists must be certified and have attended classes to earn certification to clean people’s teeth. So what the Wisconsin Legislature is saying is that people who work on your children’s teeth must be certified, but those people who work with your child’s mind do not. THAT IS FRIGHTNING!

After saying all of this, I only have one question for the Wisconsin State Legislature, Rep. Mary Czaja, and Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, and that question is simple: Why? Why do you want to do this? Also, I don’t want a political answer; I want a truthful answer that is backed up with some sort of research or data that would explain this line of thinking, because I cannot think of a rational answer. If we are to believe Rep. Mary Czaja, that she is proposing this change to allow rural school districts to retain and find teachers, this makes me even more afraid. This is basically stating that we just want a warm body in the classroom, because a teacher is not a professional who is specifically trained to do a job and do it well, but any adult can do this. Tell that to the students who might have these adults in their classroom and how things could have gone differently if a fully trained educator was leading the class. Are we as a society OK with just finding someone to watch over students and not truly excite, engage, and educate them? All students deserve better than what Rep. Czaja seemed to state with her words.

I have an open invitation to any member of the Wisconsin Legislature supporting this provision, Rep. Czaja, and Governor Walker: let’s talk about this. I would be happy to meet you any place, any time, any date to discuss this provision and at that time, maybe you could answer my simple question: Why?

This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

Hart, L. (2004). Beliefs and perspectives of first-year, alternative preparation, elementary teachers in urban classrooms. School Science and Mathematics, 104, 79-88.

Hill, H., Ball, D., & Schilling, S. (2003). Developing measures of teachers’ mathematics knowledge for teaching. The Elementary School Journal, 105, 11-30. doi: 10.1086/428763

Hollins, E. R. (2011). Teacher preparation for quality teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 62, 395-407.

Hsieh, F. J., Law, C. K., Shy, H. Y., Want, T. Y., Hsieh, C. J., & Tang, S. J. (2011). Mathematics teacher education quality in TEDS-M: Globalizing the views of future teachers and teacher educators. Journal of Teacher Education, 62, 172-187.

Imre, S. Y., & Akkoc, H. (2012). Investigating the development of prospective mathematics teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge of generalizing number patterns through school practicum. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 15, 207-226.

Maccini, P., & Gagnon, J. C. (2000). Best practices for teaching mathematics to secondary students with special needs. Focus on Exceptional Children. 32(5), 1–21.

Mohr, M. J., (2006). An assessment of preservice teachers’ mathematics knowledge for teaching: middle grades mathematics. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University-College Station.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Research, 15(2), 4-14.

Wang, J., Lin, E., Spalding, E., Klecka, C. L., & Odell, S. J. (2011). Quality teaching and teacher education: A kaleidoscope of notions. Journal of Teacher Education, 62, 331-338.

Wiseman, D. L. (2012). The intersection of policy, reform, and teacher education. The Journal of Teacher Education, 63, 87-91.