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Certification Of Teachers as Painful Farce

I was flooded with e-mails after my Aug. 24 column on high school teacher Jonathan Keiler. Prince George's County officials said he was going to lose his certification because he had not taken enough education school courses, even though he had a law degree and was the only person at his school with the highly regarded National Board Certification. Shortly after I told county and state officials that I was going to write about Keiler's situation, he was told that he had enough courses after all.

That change of tune was maddening to the teachers who wrote me. So were what they considered the uselessness of many education courses they were required to take and the faulty information they often received about the advanced training they did or didn't need. I learned much from them. Here is a sampling:

"I'm a 17-year science teacher in Montgomery County. I was actually fired two years ago for not having the 'right' Advanced Professional Certificate (APC) credits. The online credits I was told would be accepted were denied. I later managed to complete the required credits online from the University of Phoenix -- which was extremely lame but easy to do and is recognized by Montgomery County -- in less than three weeks. By then the deadline had run out and I was fired from my job but rehired as a long-term substitute. Demoralizing to say the least. Financially I took a very big hit."

-- Clint Sandford

"I have a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown for 152 credits, an MA in teaching English as a Second Language from the American University in Cairo (33 credits), an MA in Islamic Studies plus two years of course work in that subject at the University of Toronto (33 credits), a BEd. from Toronto (30 credits), an MBA from the University of West Ontario (69 credits) and 21 credits from Montgomery College. When I came to the U.S., I got certified in Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware and West Virginia. I was not worthy to be certified in Maryland or Pennsylvania because of their very specific requirements (for example, things like Black literature)."

-- Robert Cavanaugh

"I am a lawyer turned teacher, initially certified through the Resident Teacher program. Last year an Education Program Specialist from the Maryland state education department told me that my law degree would count as a master's for the purpose of the APC, and that all I needed was the six semester credits that teachers have to take every five years to keep their certificate up to date. I took my courses at Bowie State (useless time and money waster), sent in my requests and got a letter from a different EPS stating that, despite the representations of the previous EPS, I would only receive credit for two of Georgetown Law's constitutional law classes, and I needed 15 more credits to get my APC. At least I will have your piece to comfort me as I trudge my way back and forth to Bowie State for my 15 credits and look at my bank statement for the missing $15,000."

-- Jeanne Jones

"To get a middle school endorsement in Iowa, I needed six credit hours in algebra and geometry on the college level, among other courses. Since I had eight credit hours in college calculus I assumed that would be accepted, but to be certain, I called the department of education. Nope. Since I didn't take algebra and geometry in college (silly me -- I was bright and was able to take them in high school), I would have to take them at the college level for them to count toward my middle school endorsement. I explained that I had eight credits of HIGHER-level math in college. They agreed that was unfortunate."

-- L.L. Hamel

"Having always wanted to be a teacher, I took early retirement from the aerospace industry to pursue a career in education. I was deemed unqualified to teach eighth grade math in any school in my state. Happily, I was welcomed to the faculty at Princeton University, where the student newspaper ranked my course as one of 10 that every Princetonian should take before graduating."

-- Former Lockheed Martin chairman Norman Augustine, writing in Aviation Week; item sent in by Sue Ferrara.

"I spent many hours this summer attempting in vain to get an extremely gifted Fairfax County theater teacher, Reed Meschefske, rehired after he was terminated due to licensure issues aggravated by bad advice from his supervisors. He is adored by students, parents and the community and in a brief three years completely revitalized the theater department at Falls Church High School. He is now packing to return to his home town in Wisconsin while another teacher is preparing to take his place."

-- Nancy O. Ryan

* * *

Such complaints are rife throughout the country. They might seem technical and trivial to non-teachers, but I think they affect all of us by corroding interest our most promising young people might have in teaching. The many journalists in my family have not had to endure such nonsense. I don't think doctors, lawyers or most other professionals do, either. The graduate credits they acquire seem better aligned with their jobs.

I will discuss solutions in a future online column. If you have ideas, send them here.


By Washington Post editors  | September 7, 2009; 9:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Why I Don't Want the Obama Speech Shown in Other Schools
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Have you applied for a Federal job lately?

Different professions have different barriers to entry. If you want to be a teacher the certification process gives you a hint about what it will be like to be a teacher.

Posted by: RedBird27 | September 8, 2009 6:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm a math teacher in PG now, but the reason I'm not a math teacher in North Carolina is because I didn't take Geometry in college.

I have a BS in Electrical Engineering, and took through Differential Equations in college, but nope.

This rule is especially silly because most of the best colleges in the country don't even OFFER a college level geometry class.

Posted by: someguy100 | September 8, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm a 14 year veteran of teaching science. I was "non-renewed" last year after 1 year in an urban system where I received no support. I had 3 different courses to teach, 2 of which were new to me, and no one to help. No other teachers in the building teaching the same subject, and I was told I should be OK because I am "experienced".

My husband has a technical teaching license to teach technology courses. He's allowed to teach upper level electives like Computer Repair, Computer Networking, etc., but to teach the introductory computer courses, he MUST have a college degree. What?!?! He has industry certification, but that isn't good enough to teach 9th graders what a keyboard is, how to safely surf the web, etc.... Yeah, right..

Posted by: SnakePuncess | September 8, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I taught English as a second language overseas. Previously, I had majored in the foreign language of the country where I was teaching. When I came back to the States, I also wanted to teach ESL in a public school district. I was hired under so-called emergency certification and given several years to take a ton of courses. BTW, I hear that they don't give emergency certification anymore. I must have taken at least 18 credits. I took evening courses, classes in the summer and went to UDC, Trinity, CUA and UMD. I just did it. I wanted the job so I jumped through their hoops.

Posted by: chelita | September 8, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

At the university I attended, Algebra and Geometry were only offered as remedial courses. I don't understand how anyone who needed remedial math in college could ever be considered qualified to teach mathematics at any grade level.

If you didn't finish algebra and geometry by 8th grade, you might want to consider a different line of work.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | September 8, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

In what other professional field would people walking in off the street assume that they could work without credentials? Having been a student in no way qualifies someone to be a teacher. If you want to teach, get certified. If you don't, then don't. It's really not any more complicated than that.

Posted by: margaret6 | September 8, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I earned 9 hrs of Calculus credit from AP, but could not teach Math, even with an alternate license.

In college, I completed the Great Books program (24 hrs) and my required English courses (8 hrs) and also majored in Religion (30+ hrs). All my classes were student-led in seminar formats. All I ever did was read, interpret, discuss, and write papers. Yet, I was not qualified to teach English because my degree didn't read "English."

So, after a Masters in Religion, I am now teaching Special Education with an alternative license. And the best part of it is that I teach two Math classes and two English classes in inclusion settings, although I wasn't "qualified" to teach either.

Posted by: dylanpickle | September 8, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

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