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Voices: Proposing a unified teacher and administrator certification process

Teacher Mark Sass argues that teachers and administrators should be licensed through the same certification process.

Plenty of education reform these days relies on the idea of disruptive innovation or thinking outside of the box; after all, the status quo doesn’t work anymore (so we are told). So, we see ideas that range from dropping residency requirements for prospective teachers, to hiring superintendents who have had no K-12 educational experience.

Successful or not, these ideas were unthinkable a decade ago. Disruptive innovation is an idea borrowed from the business world, and more specifically the tech world.

Unlike some in education, I do not have a negative knee-jerk reaction to anything that even smells like a business idea. After all, it can be very difficult to assign originality to many ideas.

In other words, the business realm does not own ideas. That said, I have a disruptive idea. One that challenges the status quo: get rid of administrator certification and have only one certification process for both teachers and administrators.

A few years ago, when I was on my local teacher association executive committee, we researched and presented the idea of a peer assistance and review (PAR) program to our district. PAR relies on master teachers mentoring and evaluating other teachers. Research shows that done right, PAR helps to retain more novice teachers and to dismiss underperforming teacher. All at a savings to districts!

I knew we would get some pushback from the district on the program’s cost — it is expensive to give release time to teachers — but I was amazed at the resistance to the idea from fellow teachers. “That’s not our job to evaluate or judge other teachers! That’s the administrator’s job,” said some teachers. These teachers felt that there was a clear line between teachers and administrators, an “us versus them” line that clearly delineated responsibility. But why is this so?

What is it that an administrator knows that a teacher shouldn’t? Is it educational law and policy? Shouldn’t I as a professional know what legal requirements exist for my profession and institution?

Should only administrators know how to manage school budgets? Imagine if a teacher understood the ins and outs of the school and district budgeting process. It would de-escalate tensions around budget decisions, especially during master agreement negotiations.

What about leadership and communication qualities? Why shouldn’t a teacher know how to lead and communicate with their school communities? After all, teachers are constantly communicating with parents and the community.

Even though all of these qualities have to do more with the management aspect of administration and not with instruction, I would argue that these qualities should be known and practiced by all educators in the school.

The original idea of a school principal was to be a master teacher, to mentor and work with teachers in the building. That idea, of a master teacher as principal, gave way to principal as manager, at least in large schools, a long time ago.

But administrators are still responsible for evaluating teachers in their buildings. They need to know what effective learning looks like in the classroom and mentor struggling teachers to reach those standards. Isn’t this the same requirements we should have of teachers? Shouldn’t they know what strong practice looks like? Shouldn’t they know how to mentor their colleagues? Imagine the collaboration and professional behavior that would take place in schools if everyone held each other accountable and had the capacity to assist their colleagues.

I am not saying that every teacher can be an administrator, although some might say this already happens. I have a hard time finding other professions that require managers, or supervisors of fellow professionals to obtain a knowledge base that is distinct from others. Some specialized training in leadership may be necessary, but in general what you need to know is the same for all levels of the work.

One difference in most professions is that supervisors are still practicing while assuming supervisory roles.

I would love to see this same idea within the profession of teaching, but the first step is to break down institution barriers. My proposal, my disruption if you will, is to do just that. No more “us versus them,” no more “it’s not my job.” Instead it would be all of us taking responsibility for what happens in schools. It would be teachers taking responsibility of their profession.

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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