(portions published in the Saturday, February 24, 2001 Plain Dealer in response to
Chris Sheridan’s February 18, 2001 editorial “Widen search for good teachers”)
Letters to the Editor
The Plain Dealer
1801 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44114
February 19, 2001
Chris Sheridan’s endorsement of alternative certification programs for teachers published in the February 18 Plain Dealer failed to recognize a few key points in this important debate.
First, the vast majority of these alternative certification programs were created to prepare secondary teachers. However, studies have shown that a child’s preparation in elementary school is crucial to his or her future academic success. Indeed, most states’ testing initiatives and President Bush’s proposed education plans focus largely on early elementary education. While “engineers and legal secretaries” may be lured to teach high school Physics or English, it is ridiculous to think that they can be convinced to teach second or third grade.
Second, the assertion that “researchers repeatedly cite the absence of core understanding [of the classroom teachers, we must assume] for students’ failure to excel” masks the true heart of the issue. There are no elementary math and science teachers. Unlike their secondary counterparts, elementary teachers must teach all subjects for their grade level. A fourth grade teacher must teach fourth grade math, English, science, and history regardless of their undergraduate or graduate university majors. This is a problem that can only be resolved by having state legislatures and school districts massively restructure the organization of our nation’s educational systems.
Finally, while the idea of recruiting “professionals” into fast-track teaching careers may have an attractive emotional resonance among some readers, upon closer rational examination its flaws become apparent. The extremely high dropout rate among participants in these programs cannot be ignored and must be studied to determine if it is the result of shortcomings in the program or unrealistic expectations of the participants themselves. The entire premise of this debate is that teachers are not “professional” and that anyone can step in and do a better job. Many find teaching to be much harder and more demanding than they ever imagined. After discovering that they must work harder than they thought under greater stress for at least one-third less pay than in other professions requiring similar education, many “mid-career professionals” decide that this proposition is no longer very attractive.
Milton Alan Turner