The Case for Certification

Probably no other issue concerning the public schools provokes such controversial extremes as the requirements governing the certification of teachers. Having published in April a criticism by Lydia Stout of these requirements in the Florida schools, the ATLANTIC presents the reactions of educators in other parts of the United States in response to her article.

Assistant Professor of Education San Francisco State College

Among the many attacks levied at American public education in recent months, perhaps none has been more vociferous than those which strike at teacher preparation and certification practices. Spokesmen who condemn the current practices in professional teacher education point out that programs for preparing teachers are top-heavy with how-to courses which emphasize theory or method as opposed to subject-matter content. Also deprecated by these spokesmen is the practice of granting salary increments for teachers who pursue graduate study and degree programs. It is contended that the teacher has little choice but to take his advanced work in pedagogy. It is argued, moreover, that the teacher shortage is to be blamed on the closed shop operated under the control of the colleges of education in cooperation with the teacher certification offices in the state departments of education.

While any professional group must welcome constructive criticism, these pernicious attacks can do only harm to our teachers, schools, and national welfare. In these critical times it is important that our society demand the establishment and enforcement of the highest possible standards for the governing of teacher education and certification. Our teachers must be rewarded with prestige and status commensurate with the great magnitude of their task. For many years, the individual states have recognized the need for accrediting professional programs and certifying professional personnel in veterinary medicine, chiropody, dentistry, library science, and many other fields. Can we honestly say that the man who treats our dumb animals must undergo a more careful program of preparation and certification than the man who is responsible for educating our children?

The answer is obvious. If anything, the current requirements in professional teacher preparation and certification are far too weak. Every one of our states authorizes emergency or provisional credentials for thousands of unqualified teachers each year. A good portion of our teaching force is comprised of married women who are working to supplement their family income. Teaching, to them, is not a professional career. The high school English teacher whose daily schedule consists of six classes, each with thirty-five pupils, works with more than two hundred individual pupils each day. A single daily written assignment means correcting more than a thousand papers each week. Youngsters need and crave individual attention and guidance. Indeed, these demands on the teacher are far more taxing than those made on members of other professions.

The critics of professional education programs for teachers allege that the emphasis is on theory or method as opposed to content. A critical examination of the facts does not support their view. At the secondary school level, the trend is for certification programs based upon five years of preparation. In California, for example, high school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree before they are admitted to the professional teacher education program.

The post-baccalaureate program in teacher education is concise and functional. At San Francisco State College, for example, the so-called fifth year of professional teacher education covers the equivalent of one and a half semesters of work. The candidate, during his junior or senior year, takes a course in educational psychology and sociology, combined with active participation in various community youth groups and agencies. During the first semester of the fifth year, the candidate devotes half of his academic load to the professional sequence. The other half of his program is kept open for the purpose of enabling the candidate to develop greater depth and breadth in his subject specialties. The teacher candidate must observe and assist master teachers in the public schools. During this semester, in addition to the observation-participation program and advanced graduate study in the candidate’s chosen subject areas, the student enrolls in a special methods course in each of his major and minor areas. The special methods work is under the jurisdiction of the various subject departments at the college. Concurrently, the student is given experience in the preparation and use of audio-visual aids.

The second semester is devoted to a student teaching internship in two subject specialties under the supervision of public school teachers and college instructors. Upon the satisfactory completion of the student teaching internship, the candidate is granted his certificate. Thus, with the equivalent of only one and a half semesters of professional preparation, built on a solid foundation of liberal arts courses, the candidate earns full certification as a teacher in our secondary schools. No one can accuse us of operating a teacher education program that is top-heavy in pedagogical courses. We are interested only in the development of the most effective program for creating the highest caliber teacher in the shortest possible time.

When a candidate does receive his teaching credential, his preparation does not come to an end but rather, enters a new phase. The many school districts in our state, as in most other states, provide extra salary increments for teachers who pursue graduate courses and degrees. No pressure or inducement is applied to attract these teachers to education courses. A high school teacher can qualify for such salary raises by securing his master’s degree in chemistry, physics, zoology, history, mathematics, English, or in any subject field which has a bearing on the subject areas taught in the high schools. The teacher who wants to become a school psychologist is free to take his graduate degree in psychology, rather than in his subject area.

Every reputable organization for the preparation and certification of teachers is fighting for higher standards of subject preparation and general education for teacher candidates. The literature of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, along with that of the National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards, constantly stresses the importance of building the professional teacher education work on a solid foundation of liberal education and subject specialization.

As in the case of other professional groups, each state assumes the legal responsibility for the certification of its teachers. Since the standards for each state differ, a teacher from a state that has comparatively low licensing requirements cannot expect automatic certification for teaching in a state with stringent requirements. There is a need for more uniform accreditation and certification standards. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards of the NEA are now in the process of sharing this responsibility. Where standards in teacher education and certification are uniformly high among several states, teacher certification reciprocity is functioning.

Teacher educators are the first to recognize that it would be a naive and serious mistake to conceive of teaching methods as being opposed to teaching content. Yet, many persons who attack our programs in professional teacher preparation tend to view content and method as antithetical. Does the nuclear physicist ignore the scientific method in his research work? Of course not. Teaching is a science and an art. It must be far more than drillwork in facts and skills. The teacher must be concerned with both content and process.

It would be dangerous for society to license a medical doctor as a brain surgeon simply because he gave evidence of knowing the theory of brain surgery, without any preparation and demonstrated proficiency in actual surgery practice. Yet some people advocate that any person who manages to secure a bachelor’s degree be given the privilege of walking into the classrooms of our nation and taking control of the minds of our children.

Admiral Hyinan G. Rickover has attacked the teacher certification regulations of the state departments of education. Admiral Rickover maintains that Albert Einstein could not have been certified for teaching in our public schools without first having completed a battery of courses in pedagogy. Obviously, Admiral Rickover has not examined carefully the teacher certification codes of the various states. The truth of the matter is that any superintendent of schools in any state could have hired Dr. Einstein immediately under the provisional certification structure of that state.

Our society must see to it that the rewards of teaching are such that the teaching profession will attract the best minds in the nation. Teachers must work together for higher salaries, more reasonable teaching loads, better facilities and equipment, improved tenure conditions, and other benefits which they rightfully deserve. Teachers must see to it that only the highest caliber young men and women be permitted to join their ranks. If we are satisfied with less, then our society will have to be satisfied with a lower caliber of performance in the education of its future generations.