Districts should ‘grow’ their own teachers

Should school districts “grow” their own teachers?

When I received my teaching certificate from the OSPI, with an endorsement for history, I had never taught even a single lesson.

When I did get hired, my principal advised me to “forget everything you learned at your teacher college. This here is the real thing.”

Brett Preiser, a USA TODAY columnist and a former history teacher, complained that “current training programs fail to provide the practical classroom skills educators need…I was woefully unprepared,” he wrote.

Woefully unprepared. Yes, so was I, woefully unprepared and yet, fully certified.

Already in 1983, the A Nation At Risk report on education concluded: “Teacher preparation programs need substantial improvements…the teacher preparation curriculum is weighted too heavily with courses in educational methods.”

Former Seattle school board member Donald Nielsen proposed in his book Every School to “eliminate” or “substantially modify” certification laws. So what is the Achilles’ heel of certification?

Electricians, plumbers, car mechanics all go through a three-year on-the-job paid apprenticeship. Teachers are expected to learn during three months “effective teaching that is evidence-based, measurable, meaningful…and documents improved student learning” (Professional Educator Standards Board). Making a teacher in three months? Future German teachers, e.g., do 18-to-24 months paid in-class practicum.

The road to becoming a teacher in Washington is confusing, arbitrary and expensive. Hundreds of in-state and out-of-state teacher-training institutions offer “in-person” classes, “hybrid” courses, “100% online” training or “alternative” courses. Each one with a different price tag and number of credits required. The duration of the programs vary with no standards to measure the efficacy of their programs.

Also, some colleges award a Master’s in Education for a one-year course, while others award only a bachelor’s for the same one-year course. And, for some reason, during my three months practicum, I was assigned to teach German grammar. I never taught a single history lesson but I was a certified history teacher.

The cost of becoming a teacher is another big problem. My niece has an MS in Education, teaches biology during the day and waitresses in the evening to pay off student loans.

Early in November of 2021 the North Kitsap School District superintendent sent out an e-mail and warned that due to staff shortages classes may be canceled and “entire school buildings may be closed.”

While COVID-19 created unusual teaching/learning conditions, schools have frequently experienced staff shortages for a variety of reasons. While private industry regulates supply and demand through targeted paid apprenticeship programs within its own industry, school districts do not train and regulate supply and demand for future educators.

Could they actually train future teachers?

Yes, since I had no history teaching experience, I convinced a master history teacher at NKHS to accept me for one year as a student-teacher.

I was extremely lucky in my choice of mentor. After only a few days I knew I was on the road to Damascus. No college could have given me a better “apprenticeship” experience. I also ended up with a year’s worth of great lesson plans and avoided years of rookie trials and errors.

Curiously, school districts farm out teacher training while they have all the tools to “grow” future teachers.

Mia Tuan, the dean of the University of Washington School of Education promoted the idea of a paid internship. She wrote: “Establishing paid internships for all teacher candidates would be a way to expand the pool of people considering a teaching career.”

The Washington superintendent also favors a one-year paid practicum for future teachers.

The present hodge-podge of teacher training needs to be overhauled. It is too heavy on theories, too expensive and is too far removed from what my former principal called “the real thing.”

How about a traditional, on-the-job, paid practicum, in a real classroom, with real-life students, under the tutelage of a real-life master teacher?

James U. Behrend is a retired teacher from North Kitsap High School.