TEACHING: A TRADE OR A PROFESSION
Jay Hertzog, D. Ed.
Dean Emeritus and Professor Secondary Education
I recently attended the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) annual conference in Chicago where I am on the Commission for Accrediting Alternative Programs. This was the first meeting of our Commission and needless to say, it proved interesting. As we went around the table introducing ourselves, most of us had similar experiences…we had been certified teachers, had taught several years in public schools and then, upon receiving our doctoral degrees, made the jump to higher education with the express purpose of preparing future generations of teachers.
So we came to this first meeting prepared to look at what it takes to be a teacher for those who decide later in their lives that they want to give up their current careers and really want to be teachers. We were informed that the number of education majors seeking their initial certification through a traditional undergraduate program is declining; making the need for classroom teachers a critical issue. And here we were, trying to determine how to accredit alternative programs. Then, something interesting happened; the person sitting next to me indicated that she was an exception to the rest of us…she entered teaching through an alternative program and was currently advising one of her students, an electrical engineer, on an approach to follow to become a certified teacher in her state.
I asked this individual how she was advising her student…the former electrical engineer. She stated that she was advising her to take several practicum courses, a field experience or two and then do her student teaching while employed in a school district. This approach struck me in such a way that I asked the group…are we a trade or a profession? Isn’t that really the issue of alternative certification?
My next question to the group was this: “If I want to become an electrical engineer, what alternative route do I take; or if I want to become a doctor, what ‘short-cut’ route do I take? How about it I take a six-week course in cutting, would that license me as a surgeon?“ To me, the problem is that the “powers that be” view teaching as a trade, sort of like a plumber or electrician…all you have to do is read a few manuals, serve an apprenticeship with a licensed plumber/electrician, and BINGO, you become licensed in that trade.
In professions, however, there is a certain knowledge base that is required. Let me illustrate: a close friend of mine graduated with me from college and we both began our first year as teachers. However, after that first year of teaching, he decided he wanted to be an optometrist. To realize his goal, he had to quit his teaching job, go back to college and take a ton of undergraduate courses in organic chemistry and biology, and then go to optometry school for three years before he could “sit” for his licensure exam. The same type of approach would hold true if any of us would now decide we wanted to be electrical engineers. How much advanced calculus, physics, etc. would we have to take at the undergraduate level before we could become a licensed engineer? I’m not certain, but I bet it is more than a few workshops or a practicum or two before we can be licensed.
So, here’s the issue…is our field (education) a trade or a profession? My thoughts are that when someone wants to enter our “profession,” we need to evaluate their transcripts, determine which courses they have already taken and can be included (generally the first two years of a college education are spent taking courses in the Liberal Arts which are common to all majors), and then the person should be required to take ALL of the courses required of the major at the undergraduate level in which he/she is seeking certification/licensure. Anything less than that smacks of preparing to enter a trade…not a profession.
Now, there are those who say that such an approach as outlined above will dissuade people from wanting to enter teaching as a second career. My response is: SO WHAT?!! If you want to become a professional, this is what you need to do. No shortcuts. Are there those who have gone the alternative, shortcut route and been successful teachers? Absolutely…but here’s my response – during the first season of the television show M*A*S*H there is an episode where a new surgeon comes to the 4077th. This person is highly skilled and does amazing surgery. And then, Hawkeye and Trapper find out that the person is really not a surgeon, but an imposter. In the closing scene, Hawkeye warns the man to never get close to an operating room again, but to go back to school and get a legitimate surgical license, noting that the person is really skilled. But here’s the catch…the guy was highly skilled, but didn’t have a license. He couldn’t take a few shortcuts and get licensed…he had to go back to school and go through all the rigorous coursework to get that license.
Is teaching less of a profession that does not require those who want to teach our children to have taken all the coursework and preparation so they can be effective in the classroom? Or is it because teaching has always been viewed as a “feminine” profession that anybody can do (you’ve heard the saying: “Those who can’t do, Teach). That it was okay for mom to be a teacher because dad had the real job. Without those required courses, we find that many of the “alternate route” teachers are excellent at reading scripts prepared by textbook companies that enable their students to take standardized tests, but is that what we want teachers to be…script readers? People who have no idea how to design lessons based on a student’s individual needs, to handle a disruptive student whose actions are not spelled out in some stated discipline plan or to work with students whose folks are going through difficult times financially or personally.
My fellow educators, the future of our profession is at stake. If we sit by and let politicos take over our profession, we will be looked at as a trade rather than a profession. The students they teach will be excellent test takers, but life isn’t filled with “selecting the best answer from among the following four choices.” Students must learn to think critically, to ask difficult questions, to understand complex thoughts processes to become productive members of our society. If we become a trade, the adage that “those who can’t do, teach,” will become a reality. The future of our society will rest in the hands of those who couldn’t make it in their first career, so they decided to teach.
In closing, I strongly urge those of you who prepare teachers and who hire teachers to stand firm against those who want to take a shortcut approach to becoming a certified teacher. That when a candidate comes in and wants to start on the second career path to carefully evaluate an person’s transcript and insist that the person completes the prescribed program required of ALL undergraduate initial certification students. Unless we subscribe to this approach, our profession will become a trade.