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Voices: Listening to teachers on licensure reform, part two

As part of an ongoing series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins interviews teacher Sarah Casaletto about her work with the LEAD Compact.

Earlier this week, I shared excerpts of my conversation with Mark Sass, one of the teacher members of the LEAD Compact, a group taking on the behemoth task of reforming teacher licensure, including elements of recruitment, training, induction, professional development, and retention. Today, I am pleased to share pieces of my conversation with Sarah Casaletto, another teacher participating in the LEAD Compact.

Casaletto is in her third year as a teacher in Colorado, focusing on Secondary Special Education and Literacy Development at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle County. Before entering the classroom formally, Casaletto worked in the experiential education field, most recently directing an environmental education program in Seattle.

Why did you want to be part of the LEAD Compact?

It was posted on a district website, and it sounded interesting to be part of the policy side because I hadn’t done that before. I’m dual certified as a special education and general education teacher, so I was intentionally trained and educated to be an inclusive educator and to work with a variety of populations in my classroom, but some kids get overlooked in policy creation, given the diversity in our classrooms. I got into the LEAD Compact with that lens and as an opportunity to learn more.

As a teacher, what are your core values that guide your participation in the LEAD Compact? How is your perspective unique during licensure conversations?

My core value is protecting the integrity of the profession and ensuring what we do on the policy side is meaningful for those in the classroom. How do we look at ourselves as professionals, how do we maintain and grow that, and should that have a role in policy? Whatever ends up coming out of this should make sense for teachers, not just on paper. It should translate into real, honest, meaningful change for teachers. I also understand the student perspective, especially the students who struggle and the students who have disabilities. I do believe all students can learn, but we also have to face the realities of the students who are cognitively delayed and take a bit longer to learn. How do we honor that and protect those students in the policies that we make?

What were your main concerns around licensure before joining the LEAD Compact?

I disagreed with the fact that any teacher who has a license can just take a test and be able to work as a special education teacher. There are a lot of skills that get missed: teachers struggle with paperwork, legality issues, and collaboration. Another concern is that that there are not very many specializations within special education or other content areas like science.

How has your perspective changed since participating?

It’s evolving. For example, getting people into a classroom through an alternative certification route allows for diversity of candidates and allows for on-the-job training in context. Yet, there are a lot of issues that go along with that, the most important (being) the impact on the students. Also, the idea of opening up the floodgates to allow lower standards for getting a license and putting inexperienced people into the classroom right away could be a dangerous one. If we’re trying to elevate the profession and make it professional, then we should not lower the standards for licensure. I like the idea that access should be rigorous; you have to work hard to be a teacher because it’s a challenging profession. I’m really wrestling between the two, the idea that we can train up teachers in the classroom while they’re teaching versus really going through and putting in what needs to be put in.

Thinking three years into the future, if you could choose one thing that would be different about licensure, what would that be?

Licenses would actually mean something. I have an initial license, and I could have my professional license here in Colorado, but I don’t see the point in applying until my initial license expires. Currently, the only difference between an initial license and a professional license is an induction certificate. Since induction programs are state mandated, yet left to individual districts to design, each program is different. Our program was not differentiated based on teacher experience or even specialty area, meaning teachers could be in a class with a school psychologist learning about classroom management. For me, I felt it was a review of what I learned in graduate school. This model doesn’t seem to be an adequate way to support teachers, as it requires them to be out of the classroom for multiple days per school year, nor does is differentiate based on educator strengths and weaknesses. I feel my certificate allows me to teach, and it’s just a paperwork thing. They need to make licenses mean something, either by distinction or compensation.

Thank you, Sarah for sharing the unique perspective that you are bringing to the licensure conversation in Colorado. Mark and Sarah are examples of the type of collaboration and respectful dialogue between the policy and teaching world that will create lasting reforms that will have a real impact in classrooms across Colorado.

**The Donnell-Kay Foundation is among several funders supporting the work of the LEAD Compact.

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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