Last month seven U.S. states announced intentions to revamp teacher-preparation and licensing requirements that essentially make it tougher to become and remain a teacher. Some of the new requirements include steeper admission requirements for teacher-training programs and licensing based on performance of a specific set of skills. The plan is intended to make for better teachers, and ultimately better students over time, but stricter teacher requirements will not necessarily lead to higher-achieving students.
There are still too many outside forces with which everyday teachers contend that make it difficult for them to be as effective as legislation and policy-makers would like. Training and education for teachers is not the problem; here are three issues in K-12 education that have a larger negative impact on overall learning for students:
- Lack of parental involvement. Of all the things out of the control of teachers, this one is perhaps the most frustrating. Time spent in the classroom is simply not enough for teachers to instruct every student in what he or she needs to know. There must be some interaction outside school hours too. Of course, students at a socio-economic disadvantage often struggle in school, particularly if parents lack higher levels of education. Students from middle and upper class families aren't off the hook though. The demands of careers and an over-dependence on schools put higher-class kids at risk too when it comes to the lack of parental involvement in academics.
- Overcrowding. The smaller the class, the better the individual student experience. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 14 percent of U.S. schools exceed capacity, but that does not include individual classrooms at schools that may not be overcrowded overall. At a time where children need more attention than ever to succeed, overcrowded classrooms are making it even tougher to learn and tougher still for teachers to be effective.
- Screen culture. I am an advocate for technology in the classroom. I think that by ignoring the educational opportunities that technology has afforded us puts kids at a disadvantage. That being said, screen culture overall has made the jobs of teachers much more difficult. Education has become synonymous with entertainment in many ways. Parents are quick to download educational games as soon as kids have the dexterity to operate a touch screen, and with the best of intentions. The quick-hit way that children are learning academics before and during their K-12 careers makes it even more difficult for teachers to keep up in the classroom setting, particularly since each student's knowledge base and technological savvy varies.
I'm not saying that stricter teacher requirements are a bad thing - I'm just not sure that is where all the focus should be. What about a program that targets parental and community involvement in what kids are learning? Maybe even a seminar for parents on tangible ways to get more involved academically in what their kids do at school? There is no way to make parents attend these but perhaps there could be an incentive. With the right funding, I'm sure schools could find a way.
Instead of making it harder to become a teacher, why not spend money on making classroom size smaller and more manageable when those teachers start their careers? Or on technology programs and training that give teachers an advantage when it comes to educational gaming?
This pilot teacher-prep program seems like just another way to blame teachers for what they cannot control. More education can't hurt, but there are so many other issues that deserve this spotlight instead.
What do you think about stricter teacher-prep laws?
Follow Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lynch39083