Like many, I thought that when the phrase “Wississippi” was coined in the 2011 protests, a gross exaggeration was being made.
Even though I personally, wasn’t happy with the direction that things were taking in our state government I thought to myself, “We’ll never go to that extreme, Wisconsin will never want to set the bar that low when it comes to educating our children.”
Last week, in the early morning hours, at 1:30 AM, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee quietly slipped into the budget a proposal that goes even further. The proposal requires the DPI, at the request of a school district, to license anyone with a bachelor’s degree and “real life experience” to teach math, English, science, or social studies. The proposal also allows for anyone at all, even high school drop outs to be licensed to teach any other subject in grades 6 through 12 if they have “real life experience” in the subject that they would teach.
Are there people out there who are not currently licensed to teach that might make good teachers?Absolutely. So why isn’t there a short cut to help those who might be good teachers to become licensed in less than four years? There is a way for those who are truly interested in dedicating themselves to educating Wisconsin students to obtain a license in a shorter time period. The alternative steps to obtain a teaching license are clearly outlined on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s web site.
Having expertise in an area is an important and necessary component of becoming a good teacher. However, having expertise is only one of the things needed to be a quality educator.
A good teacher understands that students have different learning styles that require different approaches. A good teacher has knowledge and understanding of learning disabilities and is able to meet the needs of students that have them. A good teacher has gone through an apprenticeship with frequent observations by someone with more experience and expertise providing feedback on their teaching skills. This apprenticeship and feedback should happen before the teacher steps foot in the classroom on their own. Being a good teacher requires many things in addition to subject expertise.
Why would anyone propose the elimination of standards for obtaining a teaching license? There is a genuine need, and a shortage of teachers in some of our rural school districts.
Rural districts have requested some flexibility in licensure requirements. What they asked for was for the ability to have a degreed, licensed teacher teach a subject that they were not certified for, while they sought certification in that area. The executive director of the Wisconsin Rural School Alliance, Jerry Fiene, when asked if the proposed changes in the state budget were what rural schools were seeking said, “Heavens no. This totally destroys any licensure requirements that we have in Wisconsin. It’s very concerning.” The author of the proposal to change licensure requirements, Mary Czaja, of Irma, could not name a single school district who had asked for the changes.
What can we do now? The legislature, to their credit, has listened to those in their districts when it concerns education. They have made changes to the budget and can do so again. We must spread the word to all of Wisconsin to make sure that this proposal does not get signed into law.
This should not be a partisan issue, those on the left and the right should come together to prevent it from becoming law. If the proposal is passed as part of the budget, the state of Wisconsin would have the lowest standards for teacher licensure in the nation. We cannot and should not allow that to happen.
David J. Poffinbarger
Stevens Point, WI