We don’t need no certification…

John McCain, in today’s U.S. presidential debate…

We need to encourage programs such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers where people, after having served in the military, can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which — or have the certification that some are required in some states.

Excuse me?

Having served in the military is not, and never has been, a sufficient qualification to be a teacher. (Or a president, for that matter.) A teacher, in addition to being a nice person of good moral character and all that, is supposed to know the subject that he or she teaches and to have a good command of teaching techniques appropriate to the level of his or her teaching. You don’t learn this from military service. You learn it by undertaking a specialized program of study, ending in, yes, exams and certification.

Now, it is possible for anyone to misspeak in the heat of a debate, and in any event the examinations and certification line sounded more like a drive-by than a targeted hit. So I went to McCain’s web site to check it again:

Encourage Alternative Certification Methods That Open The Door For Highly Motivated Teachers To Enter The Field. John McCain will devote five percent of Title II funding to states to recruit teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class or who participate in an alternative teacher recruitment program such as Teach for America, the New York City Teaching Fellowship Program, the New Teacher Project, or excellent university initiatives.

Troops to Teachers, presumably one of those “alternative teacher recruitment programs,” has a web page. I started out by completing a questionnaire. My fictional alter ego completed more than 6 years of active duty, received an honourable discharge, does not suffer from a physical disability, does not have a Bachelor’s or any other higher degree, but does have “the equivalent of one year of college (24 semester hours) with 6 years of military experience in a vocational/technical field.” Turns out that I would qualify to register for referral and placement assistance, but not for financial aid programs. Is this where that Title II money would go?

I’m all for helping discharged soldiers start a second career. I’m all for encouraging young people to become teachers. But teaching is not a joke. It’s not something you do when you don’t have other options. Teachers are highly qualified professionals, should be paid accordingly, and should be able to demonstrate their qualifications in that specific profession. Yes, that should mean specialized training and certification. Want to help the veterans become teachers? Offer them placement in a training program and financial aid for the duration of it. As opposed to letting them skip the exam.

I’m not saying that the current system is perfect, either in the U.S. or in Canada. We at UBC see quite a few students whose math teachers didn’t know the subject as well as they should have; based on my teaching experience at U.S. universities, it’s significantly worse over there. On the other hand, I know of at least one person with a Master’s degree who was forced to take a year-long training program that he probably didn’t need. (That person did complete it and is now a successful teacher.) But what nobody needs is a shortcut to bypass all those annoying certification thingies and encourage unqualified people to become teachers. How do I know that 1 year of college and 6 years of military service in a vocational field do not make me qualified? Actually, I don’t. That’s why we have those exam and certification thingies. To determine who is, and who is not, qualified to be a teacher. To check whether the prospective high school math teacher can in fact solve a quadratic equation or sketch the graph of a simple function. Because, if he can’t, then he shouldn’t be teaching math, his military service or other accomplishments notwithstanding.

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6 Comments

Filed under politics, teaching

6 responses to “We don’t need no certification…

  1. thank you for taking up this very important point from last night’s debate that needs be talked about more!

  2. sorry to take up your comment space again …

    but it really intrigued me that mccain said that ex-military personnel shouldn’t need certification when the debate was about how to better america’s education and teaching standards. so he would better america’s education by putting in unqualified teachers in the system? wha?

  3. wow, is McCain serious? wackjob.

  4. Tess

    How much do you want to bet that the Republican base didn’t even flinch about McCain’s proposal for military personell to become uncertified teachers? And if they ‘did’ think about it, they probably thought it was a peachy idea. :/

    Thank goodness the more educated democrats and TRUE conservatives aren’t buying into his whacko ‘promises’ and outright lies. What a blot he and Palin have become on the American record of politicians.

    I think that the troops should be given the best opportunities for jobs after service that the country can give. Make sure they get a good education and follow the normal procedures for becoming a teacher, or anything else they want. I know the right despises the words, “affirmative action” but they don’t mind allowing uncertified people becoming teachers? One of the most important jobs in our society? No way, No how, No McCain/Palin…
    ps. I am not a teacher, btw, but I highly respect the work they do in teaching our children.

  5. ischoolbio

    I can’t speak for Senator McCain’s knowledge of the literature, but there are certainly studies that indicate teacher certification is not a statistically significant contributor to the effectiveness of teachers. Some of these studies can be found at http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/dissertations/AAI3310668/ and http://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/12155.html.

    Of course, there are studies that indicate teacher certification is a statistically significant contributor.

    But, I don’t think McCain’s position is necessarily unreasonable. Reasonable professionals who try to measure effectiveness seem to be coming to opposite conclusions.

    And as a point of info, I’m an uncertified calculus and physics teacher at a small private school.

  6. ischoolbio:

    I don’t think that the current certification system is that great. We see plenty of evidence of that when those kids go to college. Also, I have no trouble believing that it’s possible for an uncertified teacher to be more effective than a certified one. But I think that the proper response to that is to put more work into refining and enforcing the system, especially with regard to new teachers, rather than finding new ways to ignore it.

    I’m sure that your school has certain standards and that there’s a procedure in place to check, for example, that the teacher actually knows the subject that he or she will be teaching. I would be concerned if soldiers were sent “right to teaching” without any such checks. It’s not clear whether this is what McCain really proposes. I couldn’t find a straight answer to that on either his or the Troops for Teachers web page.

    I was also a little bit ticked off by McCain’s apparent disrespect for the profession. It might not have come across quite the same way in the transcripts, but based on the reactions I’ve seen on the internet, there are many others who watched the debate and heard what I did. It was very old-boy-clubbish, in a “between us, who needs these formalities?” kind of way. Not what I would hope for in a President.

    Thanks for the links – I’ll check them out.