Of Teacher Shortages and Licensure Regulations

This post is written by member Peg Grafwallner. 

Recently the State of Wisconsin proposed new license regulations to curtail teacher shortages (see State of Wisconsin Proposing New Teacher Licensure Regulations to Curtail Teacher Shortage by NCTE Higher Education Policy Analyst Donna Pasternak). In theory, it makes sense to review the license regulations to see what can be done to alleviate this dilemma. However, we know that theory, while important, hardly works in the real world. What then are we supposed to do?

Like all of you, I worked hard to earn each of my teaching licenses. I wrote reams of lesson plans, read through volumes of research, stayed up late collaborating with study teams, learned new technologies, sought professional development opportunities outside the university, observed classroom teachers in the field, and put theory into practice during student teaching. I deserved every license I earned and am proud of the work I did to earn them.

Therefore, when I read words like reduce, softening, and allowing regarding the possible changes, I was apprehensive. I wondered what all of it meant.

After reading Donna Pasternak’s policy analysis report, I have grown more concerned. The teacher shortage issue has been created through a series of political circumstances. But to respond to the politics by relaxing teacher requirements doesn’t make sense.

My English license allows me to teach English grades 7–12. I do not have the skills or background to teach journalism or creative writing. I would do a disservice to students who were expecting to be taught the fundamentals of journalism but who would have to settle for me, because, unfortunately, that’s what it would be. Students should not have to “settle” in their education. They should expect teachers who are experts in the content of their field and experts in conveying that content.

When I think back to my student teaching days, I needed the time, experience, and opportunities to fail in order ultimately to be successful. Student teaching gave me all the experiences of being a teacher—but with a safety net. That “net” meant that while I was responsible for planning, instruction, grading, paperwork, and other details, an experienced teacher “had my back.” I wasn’t driving alone; my co-pilot offered advice, expertise, and modeling of best practice. I was not qualified to be the “instructor of record.”

According to Wikipedia, “the term pro forma [as referenced in the policy analyst report] is most often used to describe a practice or document that is provided as a courtesy or satisfies minimum requirements.”  Therefore, teachers from other states could teach without having to meet Wisconsin’s level of requirements; as a matter of fact, their out-of-state license is all that would be necessary to placate the “minimum requirement[s].”  Our children deserve more than the “minimum requirements.”  They deserve teachers with 21st century skill mindsets who are passionate about leading them and their learning.

I cringe when I think that a standardized test or meeting a certain GPA could determine whether I qualify to be a teacher. Standardized testing measures my test-taking abilities on that particular day. How can a standardized test measure my level of empathy, or my ability to create engaging lessons, or my ability to collaborate with colleagues? A standardized test will measure my knowledge at one point in time. That is not enough to teach children; knowledge is merely part of a complex puzzle.

Finally, giving school districts the “authority to validate teacher competency” gives too much power to individuals who don’t understand or know the specifics of every license. As an example, if a school district lacks a reading specialist, will it try to substitute an English teacher? A reading specialist requires a diverse set of skills that are different from the skills required of an English teacher. Once again, to compare the two licenses is to minimize the other. Who would make these decisions and does this individual have the expertise to make that decision?

Altering the requirements for teachers is an insult to our profession and a travesty for our students. Insinuating that pedagogy—the art and science of teaching—can be somehow magically bestowed diminishes the important work all of us did to get where we are. Students deserve consummate, expert educators in the classroom, not “certified-lite” interns who are grappling to learn the profession while students are struggling to learn the content. Let’s work together to maintain the highest quality of professional educators who continually better themselves for the sake of our students.

Peg Grafwallner, M.Ed., is an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist at a large urban school in Milwaukee, WI.   She is a blogger, author, and national presenter with articles appearing in ASCD, Edutopia, Exceptional Parent, Literacy Daily, Literacy and NCTE, WSRA Journal and Illinois Reading Journal.  Peg can be reached at peggrafwallner@hotmail.com or at https://peggrafwallner.com

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

6 thoughts on “Of Teacher Shortages and Licensure Regulations

  1. In NJ, a teacher may not live in PA and work in NJ. Border districts that have trouble finding qualified candidates can’t accept applications from qualified candidates outside of their borders. It is frustrating to see policies that in the end just hurt students. What can we do?

    1. Hello Lisa, many thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what the answer is to your question. However, like you, I know our children deserve the very best educators. I also know that it seems as though educators are seldom asked about policies regarding education. Maybe that’s where all of this needs to start – ask educators what they need to support our students and give them those supports.

  2. This is an insightful, impassioned article , Peg. It brings up a host of issues, and your article could be the first in a series on this subject. The point I would like to offer is that lowering teaching licensure standards for any reason does not just hurt kids. It hurts individual teachers, as well as our entire profession. Any teacher who is not fully qualified and trained runs the risk of prematurely leaving the profession, which puts us into a shortage spiral. Meanwhile, all of the qualified teachers pay the price of seeing their profession degraded and maligned because they cannot properly train and retain teachers who serve the needs of students. Thank you for speaking out on this important issue.

    1. Thank you, Robert, for your comment. I agree; lowering teaching licensure standards hurts our students and us. In Wisconsin we are seeing drastic teacher shortages and our colleges are suffering – colleges have recorded a 35% deficit in teacher candidates. Unfortunately, teaching is no longer considered an attractive or respectful career. It is up to each of us to demonstrate that, indeed, teaching is a profession that influences every other occupation and inspires our children to grow, develop and ultimately succeed!

  3. It is shocking to know that a state would lower their teacher’s license requirements. Yes, it is true that we as a nation are facing a problem with shortage of teachers but I do not agree that state should lower their teaching requirements. I am a victim of being taught under a teacher with no affiliation to the subject. Junior year of high school, I had taken Latin 3 to receive honors credit in foreign language, but due to shortage of teachers, a new German teacher, taught our class. Throughout the whole year he struggled and practically learned Latin from us. The school received many complaints from parents and students to be put in another class, and I eventually finished my semester of Latin 3 in the media center through an online class. It has been four years since I graduated high school, and I cannot remember a single Latin word, grammar, or phrase I learned that year. I understand that there is a shortage of teachers, but we need to come up with other solutions for the sake of the students, instead of having the students “settle” just like Peg mentioned. Perhaps, having larger classrooms and teaching students in a college environment class, if there are shortage of teachers. Or having a limit to the subject you could sign up for and provided other elective classes.

    1. Hello Jein, thank you for your comments. I truly appreciate you sharing your experience with the Literacy and NCTE blog readers. Also, your ideas are well-founded. I agree, we need to have the most competent, most dedicated teachers in the classroom conveying content and understanding. Once again, thank you!

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