Teachers Shouldn't Need Degrees (At Least Not in Education)

Teachers Shouldn't Need Degrees (At Least Not in Education)

A few years ago, a statistic floated around the internet as a glaring reminder to us all to hug the nearest teacher to us because they're underpaid, overworked, and severely under-appreciated. The statistic was that half of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of entering it. Now, while you should still be hugging the nearest teacher to you and whispering affirmations into their ears, because they truly are underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated--but the 50% figure is wrong. It's more like 17%. Even so, and even considering 17% is still pretty high considering these are people who just spent a minimum of four years acquiring debt and eating ramen to get the qualifications to join this profession, we're all pretty quick to believe that 50% number. And for good reason.

I talk a lot about my distrust in the way teachers are being educated these days. When I was working to obtain a degree in Early Childhood Education, there were no classes offered that focused directly on play or the types of play, but I was required to take semester long courses in presenting subjects and material to children, lesson-planning, and classroom "management". All things we know thanks to research should not be a part of Early Childhood Education at all. I believe that degrees in Education are very easy degrees to come by. They take work, but not a lot. There's a lot to cover, but none of it's really challenging. One could theoretically enter college looking to study education, go in believing that children learn through intimidation and competition, and come out with a degree in-hand, never having that belief challenged. The reality of the field, however, as that teacher you're now gently caressing knows, is not easy. It's not a cakewalk. They might even be inclined to agree that what they went through in college didn't prepare them for what it's really like.

So take frazzled and stressed new teachers (17% or more of whom quit within their first five years), an already-dwindling interest in Education as a college major, and increasing media outcry regarding the teacher pay and expectations, and you've got yourself a pretty nice teacher shortage. Now, I'm not one to jump on the poor-teachers bandwagon completely. While I've already stated twice and am about to type again that teachers are undoubtedly underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated, I don't exactly think this is deserving of as much public outrage as social media makes it seem.

You see, nobody who should be in this profession enters this profession expecting to make a more-than-decent amount of money. The National Education Association reported that the national average starting salary for teachers is a little over $36,000 (but CHRIST, Montana, how is someone supposed to live on $27,274 after getting a degree?). It's also not exactly a secret that education requires long hours. Of course, I'm sure many educators if given limited hours would still spend a lot of their spare time on work-related tasks because that's just how caregiving personalities roll, and of course I wish that they didn't have to waste time that could be spent on impactful tasks and self-reflection that don't include test-prep or grading busy-work. Plus, caregiving personalities either do know, or learn the hard way that working with children and adolescents is the equivalent of being an emotional charging station. You give a lot of your emotional being to kids and you don't really get it back, so you have to recharge yourself on your own time, and because even half-way through the day our power-banks can be empty, teachers rarely find the time or energy to appreciate each other. It's not fun, but it's the dirty part of this dirty job and it's not something you should have to spend $40,000-80,000 to figure out doesn't work for you. So, what if you didn't have to?

A bill is being introduced to the Nebraska legislature that allows the board of education develop rules and regulations by which to hand out teaching certificates to individuals who have simply earned college credit in "humanities, social and natural sciences, mathematics, or career and technical education", and who have additionally "earned college credit, or its equivalent in professional education, for particular teaching, special services, or administrative assignments", who can additionally pass a background check, who have additionally had human relations training or experience, who also have prior experience in "successful teaching, administration, or provision of special services", and who (above all?) possess "moral, mental, and physical fitness for teaching, all in accordance with sound educational practices."

This bill would allow a very specific group of people to qualify for teaching certificates--people with specific fields of study who want to teach or share those fields, people with trade knowledge--like a real-life woodworker who wants to teach shop or an auto mechanic who wants to teach mechanics. This bill would also be the equivalent of a job interview not requiring a degree, but for you to check the box "some college". To a lot of people, this very understandably might seem like devaluation of personnel, or a general standards-lowering for education, but I argue that this sounds exactly like what we should be doing. 

In practice, I believe that neither a degree nor a teaching certificate are what make quality teachers. as I've mentioned, the ease of education-related degree programs and the process for obtaining teaching certificates do little to weed out ideologically unqualified and incompetent persons from possible employment pools in this, one of the most important and consequential public service professions. When I say ideologically unqualified, what I mean are adults who do not embrace childhood, who expect conformity and compliance out of children, whose expectations of are not developmentally appropriate, and/or whose attitudes are not cohesive to the general concept of a positive environment. 

A bill like this merely grants the school board authority to disambiguate the ambiguities in the bill, such as what training qualifies and what does not. There, depending on what in-service qualifies, and who is overseeing the quality of experiential learning these teaching candidates are receiving, I would be inclined to say this could be an overwhelmingly successful idea to not only fill empty positions, but to ensure that people are there for the right reasons, and not just because they're stuck with it thanks to their degree. 

We like to place teachers on par with doctors and lawyers because these are all crucial professions which afford us basic human rights. A dear friend of mine noted to me that we wouldn't want the education requirements of those other professions to include people who merely acquired college credit. I believe that this field differs from being a doctor or a lawyer in that the more immediate, pressing human rights concerns and liability do not require intensive and rigorous education to comprehend. It's about keeping children safe and doing what's right for their wellbeing, not about successfully diagnosing an illness so that a person doesn't die or appropriately presenting a case so that justice is served. All of the pressing human rights concerns faced by educators--abuse, neglect, starvation, homelessness, etc.--could be adequately covered at one conference, and even then, "how to respond to your hunch that a child is being beaten at home" is a lesson you can only truly learn when you're unfortunately placed in it. I view the role of the educator to be a mix between artist and scientist. The qualifications for both of those are far more lenient and open than doctor or lawyer. Artists and scientists must, above all things, be curious, be aware, and be documenting. 

I disillusioned myself from the idea of degrees when I opened my childcare centers. I have in that time employed 13 who have degrees in education-related fields from Early Childhood to Elementary to Special Education. All but three parted-ways-with because they had little passion for childhood or any type of education that embraces developmentally appropriate practice, which, to me, made them ideologically unfit to be good with and for the children in our care, despite their degrees. When I speak at education conferences, the number of administrators representing common sense education (research-based) who have overwhelmingly positive experiences with certificated/degreed teachers is extremely low.

That's not to say that having a degree is useless and everyone should stop trying to get one. A degree is an important document in that it shows that you've invested in a career, which holds a lot of weight about how serious a person is about it, but I don't think in this specific field that that investment means that a person is more qualified than someone else who embraced an alternative form of education or preparation for this career.

When you come to work for me, your degree and your certificate might as well be in shreds on the floor because when it comes to being an educator, what matters is what you're able to prove, and the palpable experiences you've had to lead you to me. What matters is what kind of person you are. What matters is your passion. What matters is your drive. What matters is how committed you are to being a life long learner (always reading, always researching, always attending trainings, always trying new things), because you may even be surprised how many people believe their degree exempts them from any further knowledge.

I would definitely view an educator who frequents conferences and symposiums, studies and researches the field often, and has a definite passion for the field to hold a more valuable education than someone who obtained their degree and only begrudgingly attends professional development days. 

This is an ever-evolving scientific and artistic practice that should attract passionate people of all walks of life, not just those privileged enough to go to and complete college, and not just those who went to college specifically for education. Anyone who is committed to life long learning, is gentle and kind, is moral, and is passionate should qualify.

But it's our job, as citizens, not to attack bills like this, but to hold the disambiguating parties who then determine the more intricate details (such as who decides what training qualifies, how they intend to ensure this law won't be taken advantage of in favor of hiring "warm bodies" who can be paid less) and the individual(s) in charge of hiring teachers in your local school district accountable for the people they hire to ensure they're always hiring the best possible candidates for the children in your community.

This is a change worth making. But like any, it would take work. Simply destroying a bill like this is the easy way out. So hug your teacher friend one more time. Teachers deserve lots of hugs. And American children deserve lots of teachers. 

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