Did Socrates Have a Teaching License?
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?