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Voices: Issuing teacher licenses should connect to good teaching

A member of PACE’s Teacher Licensing Committee, Shawn Bailey, argues that the state should’t lower barriers to entering teaching, but rather focus on making its standards better.

The debate about the future of licensing teachers appears to be split into two groups. The first believes in lowering the hurdles for receiving a license in order to open the profession up to a larger group of teaching candidates. The second believes we should raise the bar and make it more difficult for potential teachers. I think we should do both — make it less complicated on the front end to attract more potential, but more rigorous on the back end to protect our students from low-quality teachers.

I am proud to be a part of the Teacher Licensing Committee for my association, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE). Our committee is a group of diverse educators that are delving into the details and discussing our various belief systems about the profession. We hope to reach some consensus on recommendations for improving the way that Colorado licenses teachers.

I believe that if we truly want teaching to be a valued and respected profession, then we should raise the bar for entry. However, too often the mandate to “raise the bar” translates into “make the list of requirements longer.” We don’t need more meaningless requirements, we simply need better ones.

I graduated with honors from one of the top teacher colleges in the state of Texas. During my student teaching, my mentor had a reputation for being demanding and often didn’t pass students unless she believed they would be successful. I received high marks on all of my evaluations. I have completed my master’s degree in education, and am currently working on my doctorate.

However, I recently took the licensure exam for Colorado and did not score high enough to become licensed.

I don’t want this article to be viewed as sour grapes. I understand that I have to continue preparing and take the exam again. However, for me it begs the question, “How is this possible?” How is there such a disconnect between my course work, my evaluations in the classroom, and my scores on the Colorado licensing exam?

To meet the goals of creating a system of licensure that is neither complicated nor exclusive, yet is more rigorous, I support:

  1. Creating an apprenticeship or residency at the beginning of one’s teaching career;
  2. Ensuring that our mentor teachers are carefully selected, held to high standards, and given the time necessary to be effective trainers; and
  3. Requiring teachers to prove their effectiveness before they are able to teach on their own.

To attract a large pool of talent, the residency should not require any box-checking or mandatory course work to be accepted. We need to attract the best and brightest from all backgrounds. However, it must require demonstrated and proven success to finish with a professional license in hand. This achieves the goal of being less complicated, less paperwork, and more inclusive initially; yet it adds more rigor before awarding a full license.

I mentioned my student teaching experience was challenging and my mentor was a tough critic. My story is not typical as I have heard stories from other teachers who felt unprepared. Many say their student teaching experience was easy, their mentor teacher viewed it as a break from teaching, and that it didn’t prepare them at all for managing a classroom and teaching students on their own.

Would we go into surgery if we knew the surgeon only had simulated experiences performing the surgery, unless there was a proven surgeon by his or her side? Would we drop our cars off with a mechanic that had limited experience under the hood and no accomplished mentor looking over his or her shoulder?

Mentor teachers should be the most dedicated, proven teachers that we have available. While mentoring others, they should not have other class loads detracting from their duty to train the next generation of great teachers. Furthermore, they should be better compensated to ensure we attract the best to be mentors.

Before awarding licenses we should give new teachers authentic experiences, over prolonged periods of time, and base licensure awards not on box-checking or how well they take an exam, but on their proven abilities in front of students.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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