That is the question: to teach or not to teach. More specifically, should educational services staff -- i.e. guidance counselors and school leaders -- i.e. principals, supervisors of curriculum and superintendents -- have years of teaching experience under their belts, or can school leaders be without teaching experience? I ask because according to licensing guidelines, particularly in the state of New Jersey, you must have at least three to five years teaching experience to be either an educational services staff member or a school leader.
Yet there are examples where individuals are being hired in positions that traditionally require teaching experience and have none. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomburg hired Catherine Black, with experience in publishing and no formal teaching experience, to be the Chancellor of his school district -- the largest school district in the country and might I add the district with the largest dropout rate of black males.
Educational Secretary Arne Duncan is the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Before he entered Chicago Public Schools, he ran a non-profit organization. Once in the school system, he had no formal teaching experience. In my own school, we have a college-access office where our counselors work diligently with our students to assist them into college. Our school has had a record of 100 percent college placement for the past few years. None of the individuals in our College Access office are certified as counselors according to state guidelines -- they all have advanced degrees, but no certification and no formal teaching experience.
Also in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has hinted to possibly relaxing the requirements to particular school leader positions -- citing that failing school districts with bigger budgets need effective and talented managers. According to a report on NorthJersey.com, the governor wants to change certification requirements for superintendents so that the job could be open to those with a bachelor's degree and managerial experience.
So is there a place for the individual without teaching experience to run a school, counsel kids or run an entire district? This is the way it has been done for decades. Does that mean that we should continue doing things this way? I am a proponent of change if it is an effective way to improve results, and I do agree that just because things have been done in a certain fashion for a number of years doesn't make it a viable impetus to not change the process of conducting business.
But, I do also believe that there is a value in having the experience of teaching as a leader of instruction and management.
Quite honestly, teachers are managers -- classroom managers. They manage the curriculum they deliver to students, they manage the rate at which they teach, they manage classroom instructional tactics, they manage academic and personal information of their students, they manage the behavior of their students and they manage their household budgets -- which include funding for their classrooms. Find me a good teacher and I will show you an equally good manager.
Personally, teaching gives me a perspective that I value when I make decisions with regards to students, families, discipline, curriculum and instruction. Common sense is the key for all decision makers, but my classroom experience helps my discretion when approached with a problem or situation. The same is true for a school leader or guidance counselor with years of teaching experience.
This does not mean that someone without teaching experience will be ineffective in a key educational position. It just means that they will lack a perspective that will provide them with an all around viewpoint that encompasses a manager, leader and teacher.
I hope that individuals like Catherine Black, Arne Duncan and others without formal teaching experience are successful in the schools and districts that they run.
My hope is that people, particularly policymakers, realize that the job of educating students is not a job of managing their education, but rather actually educating them.