Did Socrates Have a Teaching License?

Did Socrates Have a Teaching License?
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The other day as I was looking at the website of an international school, I noticed an interesting statistic listed on its school profile–100% of its teachers are certified.  Now that may not seem very interesting since it’s expected or assumed that anyone who wants to be taken seriously in the teaching profession will get a teaching license.  After all, don’t we expect the same from many other professions in the world.  However, the longer I’ve been in education the less convinced I am that having a license is good indicator of the strength of a teacher.  In fact I think it can be argued that a license is only a minimum indication of a teacher’s ability.

For example, I know an amazing teacher who for a few years taught MS and HS ESL (including math and science), before being moved to the lower school to teach mainstream grade 4 and 5.  She originally went to school for business, but has spent the majority of her career in a classroom.  Even though she has no teaching license, she is an excellent teacher (much better than I ever was).  She’s become so good because of a combination of mentorship, professional development, and an amazing desire to improve.  She’s talked about working towards a license, but has concluded that the time and resources (tuition) required could be better spent on other things.

Again, this is not say that a license isn’t valuable, but maybe instead of tying it so closely to university classes, it could alternatively be tied to experience?  The military has figured this out giving battlefield commissions to solders who demonstrate all the qualities of an officer, but didn’t go through the same training as normal officers before war.

So why do we put such a large emphasis on a teaching license if it doesn’t indicate effectiveness?  I suppose as a minimum it creates a filter for schools as they wade through all the applications that come during recruitment season, but that hardly seems justifiable for requiring a license.  Obviously the big feature of a license is that it indicates that a person has spend years studying education theory at a university, which sounds good, but as I reflect on my post-university years I’m certain that what I learned in university is just a drop in the bucket from what I learned while student teaching, at my first teaching position, and through my own pursuit of knowledge.  In fact I think some of my best learning experiences have come from having the freedom and challenge of working at schools that have thrown me the keys to a classroom and said ‘they’re all yours.’  When placed in this situation I can’t remember a time that I scoured through my old Ed Psych book, instead I worked closely with mentor teachers and researched ideas on the internet.

What I love most about education today is that it’s changing constantly, and to see when schools and teachers adapt to the demands of what our students will need to be successful.  As schools begin to figure this out and see the value of tailoring their teachers and curriculums to the immediate needs of their community they’ll see less value in a broad teaching license and more value in teachers who understand the community’s vision for education.  This will require schools to reprogram their teachers to fit its school’s beliefs.

Now I realize that I’m not the only one who thinks a teaching license isn’t a great indicator of effectiveness.  In fact most leaders in education probably figured that out a long time ago.  So why do school’s celebrate the percentage of licensed teachers?  Who cares? You guessed it…


Which isn’t a bad thing, hey I want my kid’s teachers to be certified too, but not at the cost of turning away a handful of amazing “battlefield commissioned” teachers who aren’t willing to give up 6 weeks of the summer at university reviewing what they already know (plus classes during the year).  Instead lets challenge our communities to identify what results we value and keep our focus there.  Instead of valuing the # of licensed teachers let’s celebrate how many professional development opportunities teachers have participated in, workshops our teachers host, and students that go on to do big amazing and innovative things.  Let’s not celebrate a minimum for teaching, instead let’s celebrate and create a license for excellence within our own schools.

So what do you think, am I totally off base?  Does a teaching license matter?


Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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  1. Your not off base, the same is true in a lot of professions. Degrees and certifications take priority over experience and results. Most hiring processes flter out candidates lacking the proper certifications without considering experience. At 23, you have to stand on education, at 43 you probably can’t remember much of what you learned in school and tend to stand more on experience. As a career progresses the bulk of a person’s education takes place outside of a formal classroom. Degrees and certifictions are overvalued and education/experience are undervalued.

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  2. What’s up, Andy — Nice post, man

    I think it goes one step further than just parents…it’s the parents’ money. For-profit schools, no matter where they are, what kind of school they are, or how enthusiastic they are about educating youngsters, have a bottom line. They either need to mantain (as close to) full enrollment (as possible) at reasonable tuition rates or better yet wait-listed enrollment at much higher rates.

    These teaching qualifications can and do enhance the perception of the school as ‘worth-it’ for parents and the tuition rates they pay. Perhaps there is also some positive effect on the accreditation of the school.

    If I were a school administrator or shareholder, I would definitely gun for 100% licensure, assuming that goal was attainable financially and logistically.

    As for finding ‘hidden treasure’ teachers without the qualifications, (also as an admin) I would probably throw up my hands and conclude it wasn’t worth the trouble of sorting through the applicants if I did signal a willingness to take a chance on them publicly.

    But, must say that in my experience time can make up for a lack of educational background, both with motivated and talented people I have come across, myself too. I shudder when I think of how unintuitive and unremarkable I was when I started teaching.

    In the last 1.5 years, I have busted my ass to achieve a Thailand teaching license, exactly the same privileges as a Thai teacher (several years into their career), and got. Nobody made me do it, it was just one of few chances I had to distinguish myself without returning home to return to school, which I now regard as out of the question.

    The esteem people give me now is pronounced. I am a rarity. Did it make me a better teacher though? In observers’ eyes, yes–I showed high dedication. But to myself–I know I’m the same progressing teacher but with a fancy new certificate.

    Anyhow, great blog man dude. Props from Chiang Rai to you and the family!

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    • John,

      It’s great to hear that life is going well for you in Thailand. I think you have some great points in your comment and I would add that although it is easier for admin to cut through a pile of applications by making licensure a requirement, I think that gets to the heart of the problem in someways. In international schools the recruitment season is limited to only a few months a year, but I think a head of school should always be hunting for a good recruit, during any time of the year. In fact I know a few schools out there that from the outside seems difficult to get a job and there are never any opening, but what’s really happening is that the head is finding/networking those great teacher licensed or not right as the job opens. Bottom line a license is a great thing, but if we use 100% licensure as a major indicator to celebrate we’re bound to run into the perfect candidate one day without a license and will have to decide whether to break that record or miss out on a good addition to the school


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