Education in America

REPA II: Teachers Without Training

“You should be a teacher!”


I hear this a lot, usually from students. As it turns out, elementary school kids think that twenty-five year olds have an inherent level of cool. Also, I’m pretty laid back when it comes to kids. First of all, I don’t have any children, so I don’t really have a “talking to a child” voice. Second, I’m a mere substitute teacher, so in the end, being there only one day, I have very little impact on their moral, social, or educational well-being, so I don’t want to act as if I am the high priestess of educational importance.

But don’t think, being a substitute, I am looking for a job as a fully licensed educational professional. It is to have a laugh. I’m just in this for the piles of money and extraordinary glamour the position provides. (Okay, I just want to pay my car insurance and keep my gym membership alive. Driving and working out are the only times I get to be really alone anymore, what with living in my parents’ basement.)

As some of you know, I am actually a fully licensed, utterly unemployed attorney. (I am not, however, your attorney.) I did consider becoming a teacher for a while, but I am so glad I decided that road was not for me. I think if I were a teacher, I would have yearly nervous breakdowns. Here in my home state of Indiana, things have gotten particularly strange for teachers.

Recently, the State Board of Education passed REPA II, a major set of changes to the educational licensing guidelines in Indiana. This requires that teachers have more training in content and less training in teaching methodology. It would also allow someone who wanted to teach middle or high school to secure an adjunct teacher permit if she has a bachelor’s degree, passes a content test and agrees to take a class in teaching methods. In other words, a degree in Education is no longer required.

The Powers That Be are thrilled with this. (The Powers That Be in this case, having pushed this reform through just before they have to turn over said Power to the newly elected.) They see it as a way to make Indiana better. After all, Indiana is not one of the best states in the nation for education, and this reform would bring in more talented individuals to teach in our schools. State officials argue that no matter how good your pedagogy, you can’t teach if you don’t know the content.

But, of course, if you don’t have that Education degree, you probably haven’t taken the classes in child psychology and teaching that you need. You have not had a “practice run” at teaching in a classroom by doing long term seminars and student teaching positions that teach you about running a classroom and managing student behavior and parent expectations. And isn’t it fair to say that a teacher who has taken college-level chemistry courses can probably teach high school chemistry? That someone who has written major thesis-level papers in English can probably teach Huckleberry Finn?

Let me tell you, as someone who jumps into a classroom three times a week, the content area is easy. With a law degree, I could probably teach some serious high school government classes. Content would be no problem. Teaching would be the problem. Learning how to control a classroom is hard. Figuring out how to grade papers is far from the easy task you think it would be. Lesson planning at a pace that children (and yes, fifteen-year-olds are still children in many ways) can understand and handle is HARD.

Do I think REPA II is a terrible decision? No. I have no doubt that a talented individual who wanted to be a doctor, but then decided she’d rather teach biology instead could be a great teacher. And REPA II is a smart provision when it comes to more technical subjects. Who would be better to teach about electrical engineering than an electrical engineer? And how many current teachers really handle a subject like that?

But all in all, I think REPA II misses the mark. Learning how to be around and teach children is just as important as knowing the subject they have to learn. It might even be more important. After all, you can always read up on something, but helping someone else learn the information? Now that’s a real skill.

So do I want to be a teacher? No. And I don’t find it entirely comforting that I could be.

 Does this give you the feels the way it does me? I know this is only in Indiana, but how would you feel if it were in your state/country? Are you wondering why I even care about this? Thoughts are, as always, welcome.

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

6 replies on “REPA II: Teachers Without Training”

I have worked as office staff in schools for years. I’ve spent the last 17 split between preschoolers and the last half with Adults who didn’t complete High School. All I can say is that classroom management is so important. I’ve seen plenty of teachers who knew their subject matter but couldn’t manage a classroom so all of the kids lost out. When I say “manage a class” that doesn’t involve demanding that the students follow the teacher either out of fear or with bribes. I mean a teacher who knows kids, knows how to motivate them into appropriate behavior and a love of learning. That takes a greater skill set than simply knowing a subject.

I want to mention unions too. It’s a really mixed bag. Sometimes teachers (and support staff) are protected from administrative abuse of one kind or another. But some teachers (and support staff) hide behind the union and should not be.

I don’t know how to make it better. But I do know that teachers need the educational support of class management, practicums, etc. It doesn’t resolve every problem or ensure that every teacher is perfect, but it does give everyone a better chance of being able to teach within the classroom.

My brother-in-law got a job in Texas teaching high school biology with a Master’s degree but no teaching certificate. He’s taking one class at night through the regional education service center, and then I believe he’ll be officially certified. He at least taught some classes while in grad school, but high school is a whole different world, and he’s apparently in a really shitty district (which is why they couldn’t find a certified teacher willing to work for them). The other teachers told him not to bother giving homework because the students wouldn’t do it anyway, so none of his students are learning much of anything and no one at the school cares. It sucks.

Yup. The state is so hard up(or was, as of a few years ago. Can’t imagine much has changed though) that almost anyone with a STEM undergrad can become a teacher in Texas. I know a fellow who taught high school math with a comp sci major/math minor. Greatest state in the union, y’all.

All of the content knowledge in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the skill set to teach it to folks.

Honestly, I don’t see how this legislation is anything but another move from the Republican-controlled state legislature to justify busting teacher’s unions, driving down salaries, and defunding public schools. Students deserve to have qualified and well-trained teachers, and there is a lot more to teaching than expertise in a subject.

I’m a high school English teacher and my year of teacher training was a mixed bag. I am learning much more on the job than I did in that year.

That said, the practicum was so important in terms of putting theories into practice and having feedback and enforced self reflection.

I think, perhaps, my concern stems from the all too common assumption that anyone can do my job without training. That, while teachers learn so much on the job, from other teachers informally, from students, from reflection and from P.D., there needs to be a common base of knowledge to draw on.

If 40% of graduate teachers leave the profession in the first 4 years after graduating a degree in Education (having had a taste of the demands of teaching), what will the attrition rates be for teachers coming straight from industry? Who will be responsible for mentoring these teachers? Many teacher mentoring programs provide little or no monetary remuneration or time allowance to the mentor teachers. In a time poor profession, how will this work?

I think it may be worth thinking about, but should we not looking to make it easier for the dedicated individuals interested in the profession to afford teacher training and development rather than offering a putatively “easy” route to teaching for those who don’t want to go back to school?

Here it Florida this would be a wonderful thing. My local school district is notorious for firing teachers who make too much money (cos Florida is a right to work state, yay!!) and replacing them with teachers who don’t know shit about math or English. When the students know more about a subject than the person “teaching” them, there’s a big problem.

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