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Improving teacher quality through licensing

As Colorado considers policy improvements that will better ensure a quality teacher in every classroom, a necessary part of the conversation is determining how paths will be created into the classroom and rethinking teacher licensing.

As members of the Professional Association of Colorado Educator’s (PACE) Teacher Licensure Committee, we spent the last six months meeting with a diverse group of educators to explore possible recommendations to improve teacher quality through the licensure process in Colorado.

In addition, PACE surveyed classroom teachers and published a report that included both the recommendations of our committee, as well as the survey data from other experienced teachers. As stakeholders on the front lines, we believe that classroom teachers are uniquely equipped to provide invaluable input in education policy conversations. We want to see our profession advanced more than any outside stakeholders.

Currently, the dialogue about changing teacher licensure is usually focused on two seemingly opposite points of view. One side believes that the process for receiving a license should be loosened, allowing for a larger and more diverse pool of potential teachers. The other side argues that the bar should be raised, restricting access to the teaching profession by making it more difficult to gain a teaching license.

We know we all want an excellent teacher in front of every student in Colorado, but how do we ensure a process that both increases the talent in the teacher application pool and raises the bar for the teaching profession?

The unanimous response from the teachers on our committee was that doing both is possible. We must reduce any artificial, “box-checking” barriers for entry into the profession on the front end. This would open the teacher applicant pool to more potentially talented teachers who might be mid-career changers, retirees from other professions, or those that are new college graduates who majored in subjects other than education.

Currently, too many gifted professionals are discouraged from teaching because they can’t check the boxes needed for an initial teaching license.

This is not to say that anyone and everyone should simply be allowed to become a teacher without any accountability. You cannot identify teacher quality based on a teacher’s licensing application alone. Teaching quality can only be identified once that individual enters a class room and starts to teach.

Therefore, we recommend that every teaching candidate should be required to satisfactorily complete a paid apprenticeship or residency under the daily mentorship of a proven educator before they are granted a professional license to teach a classroom on their own. There is much more to teaching than a demonstration of content knowledge, or even a knowledge of pedagogy. Teacher quality must be demonstrated in a room full of students.

We wouldn’t drop our car off with a brand new mechanic, unless we knew there was someone more experienced working by his side, and we certainly wouldn’t agree to a surgery performed by a doctor who’d never done the operation before without guidance. Unless there is a proven mentor working closely with a new teacher, we should not expect Colorado’s parents to leave their kids in that new teacher’s classroom.

In addition to these recommendations for improving the way we license teachers on the front end, our committee also recommended developing a more automated process for great teachers to have their license renewed. The survey results showed that 88% of teachers support making it easier for effective teachers to renew their license. Renewing a license should not be cumbersome or considered a regulatory nightmare by teachers.

The final recommendation is to create a tiered system of licenses in which a teacher can attain different roles. There are many roles for a teacher to consider in the profession. Such licenses would allow teachers to develop in their profession and give them goals for which they could strive, including the role a mentor teacher for new teachers entering the field.

While there is much debate about finding ways to retain good teachers and remove bad teachers from classrooms, we encourage policymakers to consider a better system for attracting talented teachers and screening out poor-performing teachers before they are allowed to teach a class on their own. We can work together to create a system that balances the needs of our schools with advancing the professionalism of our educators.

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.