My youngest son recently announced he was thinking about becoming a teacher. “What are all the steps you have to go through?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “First you need to get into college. Then you’ll spend your first two years taking general courses designed to give you a rounded education. After that you’ll apply to the college of education at your university. They’ll want you to have pretty good grades and they’ll make you take a basic skills test to make sure you have a decent foundation of knowledge and skills.”
“That sounds reasonable,” he said.
“And once you get into the program you’ll focus on classes that train you how to teach. You’ll learn about child development, lesson planning, classroom management and how to sequence instruction. You’ll also spend a lot of time out in classrooms observing and teaching small groups and short lessons. You’ll write a lot of reports on your observations and reflections. During your last semester you’ll take over someone’s classroom and teach full time. During all of this you’ll get lots of feedback and help from the teachers you work with as well as the faculty from your college.”
“Is that it?”
“When you finish your student teaching you’ll have to turn in an EdTPA. It’s an electronic portfolio that showcases your accomplishments and competence. If your score is high enough you’ll get a teaching certificate and you’ll get to go out and look for a job.”
“That seems like a lot.”
“But that’s not all. In fact, that’s only your initial, or first-tier certification. After you get a job you’ll still be learning. In fact you’ll need to log 500 hours of professional development every five years. Then after about your fifth year you’ll need to provide evidence that you’ve grown as a teacher. That’s when you get your second-tier license. You can either earn a ProTeach Certificate or National Board Certificate. But you’ve got plenty of time before you need to worry about that.”
“Why is it so complicated?”
“Basically because education is really important, and we don’t want bad teachers in classrooms. So we’ve built in a lot of assessments, or gateways, to make sure we’ve got good teachers teaching. And other than the EdTPA, the first tier of the system hasn’t changed much since I was in college.
“But the second tier seems to have changed at least every ten years.
“And it might be changing again. First of all, there’s a growing impression that ProTeach lacks value. Virtually every teacher I know who’s gone through it finds the process complicated and time-consuming, but not professionally beneficial. It’s gotten to the point that last spring the WEA Representative Assembly voted to ‘Create a plan to work on elimination of the ProTeach Certification requirement for educators in Washington State.’
“Not only that, but the other part of our second tier, National Board Certification, also faces challenges. Hopefully this is the year the Legislature finally tackles equity in funding, so they’ll be going over every budget item with a fine-toothed comb. And it won’t take too fine a comb to find the money spent on National Board bonuses. We’re currently spending $54 million on base and high-need schools bonuses for over 8,000 teachers. Recently the National Board revamped its certification process, so no new teachers have certified during the three-year rollout period. In Washington we have around 3,000 teachers in the process of certifying, which means the $54 million in bonuses might jump up to $70 million or more. That’s a lot of money, and it certainly won’t go unnoticed.”
I don’t think I scared my son away from teaching, in fact I think he actually came away from the conversation with a greater appreciation of the profession.
But this will be a year of reckoning for second-tier certification in Washington. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds, and many of us will be extremely engaged in the topic. I’ll try to keep you updated on this blog and hopefully by the end of the year we’ll still have a two-tiered system that ensures quality teachers in every classroom who are committed to a career of continuous improvement.
And if we’re lucky, my son will be one of them.