Much fuss has been made the last couple of weeks about lowering the standards to become a teacher. Between proposals to allowing unlicensed military veterans to become teachers to waiving the certification exams, many states have kicked around ideas that would make it easier to enter the classroom. Not everyone is on board with these plans. Many people have accused these places of trying to lower the bar. Technically, they are not wrong. However, in a time of mass teacher shortages, they need to be more flexible and direct their anger at where it belongs … the teacher pipeline.
I should start by saying that I completely understand and even agree with the premise of the opponents of lowering the bar. It is not hard to see why teachers, who have been fighting to be recognized as professionals, would be dismissive of efforts to peel back the requirements to join the ranks. Not only do the optics look bad but most of us already did it so it doesn’t seem fair. However, there is one inescapable truth that permeates this entire debate:
It is difficult to maintain standards in a talent deficit.
There are many jobs in which raising or maintaining exceptionally high standards has no negative impact. These jobs all have one thing in common: people are lining up to take them. That is not teaching. If you are a teacher, particularly in a rural or inner-city environment, if you quit your job in the middle of the year realistically your position might not be filled. Additionally, the data now show that your spot might not even be filled over the summer. A survey of schools found that the largest reason for this is a lack of qualified applicants. This means there is a lack of both interest and necessary skills.
Under this paradigm it is only natural that decision makers get creative.
Now obviously paying more would yield better results. But even relatively well-paying schools are having trouble keeping teachers, and since they don’t control the pipeline itself the only other inputs they can tweak to change the math are the starting requirements.
Now let’s talk about some of these requirements. The teachers that come out of the teacher-prep programs are not always ringing endorsements of that pathway. I skipped that pathway in my own journey to become a teacher. The transition to teaching program I was in also wanted to combat the shortage of teachers. Some of the people in my program worked out and some of them didn’t. From my vantage point it was roughly the same success rate of our traditional counterparts. The criticisms of the classroom pathway I took were and still are valid but at the end of the day the schools that used my program or similar tactics opened with a full roster of teachers and the ones that stood on ceremony about not “lowering the bar” often struggled to stay fully staffed. I noticed they often resorted to poaching teachers from schools including teachers who entered the profession through one of the alternative pathways they claimed not to support.
All alternative pathways to teaching are not created equal and the goal should be to raise the profile of the profession, so we don’t have this problem. But we do have this problem and the kids have to go to school. So, when a school leader staring at empty roster spots decides they want to take a flyer on a couple of unlicensed career changers, realize that decision was not made in a vacuum and until the context of the profession changes it will happen again and again.