Monday, June 5, 2017

What needs changing?

The Michigan Department of Education is considering changes to Michigan teacher certification and asking for feedback. Here is more information about their proposed certification structure.

Feedback is due today. (Sorry, I'm still a bit of a procrastinator.) However, if you consider yourself as having any stake in education, I encourage you to complete the survey, as soon as possible. It'll take maybe 45 minutes to watch the video and answer some questions.

For what it's worth, here's my response. (And, yes, I know I am biased.)
My issue with the structure being proposed is that it seems to presume that new teachers ought to be completely prepared upon certification. Even if we focused on giving specific grade-level certification, there is no way to address all the issues (textbooks, culture, community, resources, …) new teachers might encounter across the state (or country). Furthermore, this structure will limit the options available to teachers and potentially restrict administrators' ability to fill positions. I can imagine school districts asking for waivers to put PK-3 certified teachers in 4th grade because of a lack of options - a teacher that may have no training at that level.
I encourage that the state look at the Grand Valley State University teacher certification program as a model. We support the development of teacher-leaders in content areas by requiring even pre-service elementary teachers to get a subject major. Local districts regularly call us looking for recent majors because they know they will be content experts who can also integrate other subjects into their practice.
Also, the MDE needs to rethink professional development for inservice teachers. Because no teacher is truly finished learning, we must return to a robust professional development process that helps teachers build on current education experiences to deepen their pedagogical content knowledge in all discipline they might be teaching. Such a system is especially important now because we have so many new, inexperienced teachers entering the profession.
This professional development ought to be in partnership with accredited bodies responsible for initial teacher certification. These institutions are aware of the training new teachers bring to the profession and can provide meaningful experiences that can expand teachers’ current abilities. The experiences would be the result of the institutions and inservice teachers collaborating on areas needing improvement.
In my discipline, we often hold up Dr. Deborah Ball (former dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education) as the model elementary math teacher. However, we fail to recognize that Dr. Ball rose to this level after identifying this as an area of weakness in her teaching – after being a certified, inservice teacher (see p. 9). She decided to do something about it by going back to school and learning more about the subject and its teaching. We need to allow all inservice teachers to follow the path from awareness to adjustment without fear of being labeled unprepared or ineffective. 
While teacher preparation institution must make changes to better prepare teacher-leaders, teacher certification is not the primary problem. A lack of opportunities for meaningful professional development is the issue. Changing teacher certification to try to address a broken inservice support system focuses our efforts in the wrong direction and may do further damage to education in Michigan.
Thank you, in advance, for your attention to this issue.