Anyone Can Teach!

by Robert Pondiscio
February 13th, 2009

Training or experience? Pedagogy or subject matter expertise?  Utah lawmakers are weighing what makes a good teacher as they consider a bill that would allow anyone with a bachelor’s degree to become a licensed teacher by passing competency tests in the subjects they wish to teach or demonstrating skills in those areas. The bill, SB48, was given preliminary approval Thursday, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Now, most people who lack education degrees but want to become teachers must get approval from the districts in which they hope to teach and then pass subject and pedagogy tests. They may also go through an alternate process that requires them to take education classes before becoming fully licensed, among other things.  SB48 would allow individuals to go directly to the state Board of Education to become licensed and would not require pedagogy classes or tests.

“I know a lot of guys who have retired and are absolutely fabulous and would make wonderful teachers because they understand the marketplace,” says the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars said. “This is long past due.”

“This bill really is an insult to education,” counters another Senator. ”Teachers have a skill set that is unique, developed and is nurtured and trained. I think this bill expands the profession of teaching into a hobby of teaching.”

The bill requires a bachelor’s degree and passing a “rigorous” state test to teach elementary school. Anyone wishing to teach basic middle school and high school subjects would also need at least a bachelor’s degree and would either need to pass a state test or demonstrate competency in the subject with a major, graduate degree or coursework.

The Utah Education Association has come out against the bill.


  1. If there were some evidence that teacher prep programs (like mine!) actually created significantly more effective teachers, then I could see opposing the bill. But all I’ve seen is a number of studies that show either no, or very marginal, benefit from traditional certification routes. I scanned the UTEA site briefly but didn’t see anything about SB48. What’s the argument they’re trying to offer?

    Comment by Paul — February 13, 2009 @ 11:55 am

  2. I agree with the proposed legislation. As a former teacher who taught in private school without a credential, then went through a formal certification program in California with required classes on “diversity” and other subjects, then taught in public schools, and then was deemed “uncertified” when I moved back to the East Coast (until I took additional, different tests), I think the current certification system needs a major overhaul.

    Comment by Attorney DC — February 13, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  3. I agree that a lot of teacher prep programs are weak and unfocused. And I certainly concur with the idea that certification and licensure of teachers could use a major overhaul, nationally.

    But is the answer scrapping all attempts at educating and preparing teachers, or legally ensuring their readiness to step into classrooms with real, vulnerable kids?

    If we do that, it’s tantamount to saying that there is no special knowledge that teachers should have–or no way to give them the pedagogical tools they need to be successful. It positions teaching as a kind of natural artistry–either you’re good or you’re not–and opens the door to sending even more unprepared, clueless folks into classrooms to try out teaching for awhile, just to see if it might work out.

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — February 13, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  4. It’s a heck of a thorny issue to get your head around, with lots of competing interests and many moving parts. It’s almost impossible to discuss it in the abstract since one state may have shortages where another doesn’t, one may have a need — a greater need — for a particular subject area and prize that more highly than a professional teaching credential. And there are no doubt legal and liability issues to consider as well. And for every “unprepared, clueless” neophyte who finds his or her way into a classroom if you lower the bar there may be talent left on the outside looking in if the bar remains to high or arbitrary. This is one of those issues that I could argue round or flat.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — February 13, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  5. Utah already has a similar program to what, as I understand it, this legislation will allow.

    The second bullet on that page is for ABCTE (disclaimer: my employer). We have been certifying Math teachers in Utah for several years and last year the subject areas were expanded to include the sciences, English, History and elementary education. They allowed the additional subject areas based on how impressed they were with the Math teachers as well as a detailed review of our assessments.

    Comment by Bill Schimmel — February 13, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  6. James Steigler and James Hiebert addressed this topic in a roundabout way in their book The Teaching Gap. One of their conclusions was that in Japan teaching is more of a science as opposed to America where teaching is more of an art.

    Their lengthy discussion of lesson studies was clearly the highlight of the book. Unfortunately, lesson studies have seemingly failed to gain much traction in this country.

    Can ANYONE teach? I’ve always thought this to be true as long they are of sufficient intelligence and willing to put in a commendable effort. This goes hand in hand with my low opinion of our teacher colleges nationwide. Are they all bad? Of course not, but too many are extremely lacking. Their inertia challenged methods courses are nothing short of abysmal. They have offered little new, profound, or revolutionary for far too long.

    I am also a strong believer that the longer someone teaches the better they (should) get. They are able to refine their techniques, learn from their mistakes, and hopefully get to appreciate kids more.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — February 13, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

  7. Teaching in the US has too often become the refuge of the flunky. Feather-bedding in the schools has become a problem, particularly in the US Northeastern and Midwestern cities.

    Teacher training in far too many Schools of Education is abysmal, full of dumbed down training, politically correct indoctrination, and social promotion. It is as if professors such as William Ayers got together and asked each other: “How can be best tear down the human infrastructure of this offensive nation of ours?” The present system of teacher training was the result.

    Comment by Alice Finkel — February 13, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

  8. Something like this would make sense to me if it were followed by a year of apprentice teaching, with a mentor who could provide significant support.

    I took a semester off grad school and taught in a private 7-12 high school. The small, content-heavy classes (e.g. the 12-student calculus class) went well. The classes that needed classroom management and pedagogy (e.g. 7th grade math), not so much. And that was a school filled pretty motivated kids. I would have chewed up and spit out by really difficult kids.

    Comment by Rachel — February 13, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  9. I think the most difficult question here is whether removing these certification requirements makes more sense than changing the nature of these requirements dramatically in hopes that teacher training programs will be forced to adapt.

    The evidence seems clear that traditional methods of teacher prep are not effective– there are no essential skills imparted that translate to greater success in the classroom. Does this mean that screening before teachers enter the classroom is a lost cause or just currently misguided? Does this mean pedagogy is unteachable or taught poorly?

    Comment by Jason — February 17, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

  10. I’m reminded of what Leon Botstein, the head of Bard College said a few years back in announcing a revamped teacher training program at his school:

    “The education schools in the United States have had an unfortunate stranglehold on teacher training, and they have created a pseudo-science in pedagogy and wasted the time of future teachers by not deepening the knowledge that future teachers need.”

    I don’t recall much argument about his characterization of pedagogy as a “pseudo-science.”

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — February 17, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  11. Bill SB48 might be both good and bad. Good because it can give that certain flexibility to certain individuals to pursue the education profession. Bad – there might be the tendency of diminishing the quality of education for allowing these same individuals to teach by minimum qualifications.

    Comment by Lina of Education Jobs — July 15, 2009 @ 7:22 am

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