By Bill Waychunas – My apologies in advance for being the bearer of bad news, but this post is directed towards the teachers-in-training who have big dreams of graduating and jet-setting across the country to find their dream teaching job. There are schools everywhere in the country, so you should be able to find a teaching position in New York, or Los Angeles, or Austin, or Seattle, right? Sadly, it’s not as easy as you would think because of the complicated and ever changing teacher certification process that is different in every state.
This summer, I wrapped up the final college coursework that I needed to obtain my Illinois teacher’s certification. It has been an arduous (and expensive) process that has spanned over a two year period. I’ve now ventured through the bureaucratic jungle that is the licensure process in three different states: Wisconsin, Nevada, and Illinois. Will I need to go through all the frustration and confusion again if I move to another state or when it comes time to renew my license? With interstate reciprocity, I am hopeful that the answer is no.
Getting licensed in Wisconsin was simple as my teacher prep program was a state approved program. The process wasn’t so simple in other states. How is it that the requirements to teach students is so different across different states? Can kids and schools in Milwaukee really be that different from those in Chicago or Las Vegas or New York?
With each new state I’ve been given an initial “provisional” license which includes a laundry list of tasks that must be completed within a given time frame, otherwise you don’t get the standard teaching license and with it, goes your employment. These requirements have ranged from submitting fingerprint cards, additional coursework, to taking standardized teacher tests which have frequently been redundant and less-than-helpful, not to mention expensive.
To date, I have taken three “Basic Skills” tests to show that I can read, write, and perform basic arithmetic. Each test was, at a minimum, $100 and required that I either take a day off of work or give up a significant portion of my weekend, which is no small-ask in the life of a teacher. Twice, I’ve taken social studies content tests and exams that determine foundational knowledge of teaching methods and theory. These tests are money and time wasted in a profession that is notorious for overworking and underpaying its employees.
In both Nevada and Illinois, I’ve had to take college courses in subject areas that I was currently teaching (government, geography, and reading). In total, I’ve had to take an additional 5 courses, costing over $4,000 in tuition, not to mention the mental and physical costs of completing coursework while teaching full-time, like the Friday night class I had to take at Chicago State University. I did learn some useful skills, methods, and information in these courses, but the costs certainly outweighed the benefits.
A standardized, national teacher’s certification would alleviate this problem. No, I’m not talking about “National Board Certification,” I’m talking about a teacher license that would be accepted in all states. It would give teachers the freedom to move and be employed wherever they would like, whether because there is an excellent school they’d like to be a part of, teacher shortages in a certain region, or simply because their significant other is taking a job outside of their current state. In a profession that is known for burnout and career-changes, why are we making it harder for teachers to do what they love where ever there is a need?
Sure, I know that “standardized” and “national” are taboo words in the world of education lately. Many states like to do their own thing, but in this case, they would be putting themselves and their students at a disadvantage because they are limiting their talent pool. We know that putting an effective teacher in every classroom is the most important variable in student achievement which we can control. This is why teacher recruiting is becoming more and more important. Any state that isn’t interested in reciprocity is severely limiting their candidate pools and hurting their chances of finding excellent teachers for their classrooms.
What is there to lose?