Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Becoming a Mista (or Miss)

An article published in the NYT this week highlights how states across the U.S. are changing the way teachers will receive certification. According to the article, "New York and up to 25 other states are moving toward... de-emphasizing tests and written essays in favor of a more demanding approach that requires aspiring teachers to prove themselves through lesson plans, homework assignments and videotaped instruction sessions." I say it's about time.

Back in 2009, I joined the teaching profession in New York state via Teach for America, which simply meant I had to obtain a master's degree (part-time, at night) while teaching full-time in a classroom. Like most of my peers, I paid more attention to my job as a teacher than my actual master's degree courses. I wish it didn't have to be that way, but it was. My kids were much more important to me than some excerpt written by Linda Darling-Hammond about best practices. Actually, not all TFA teachers even needed a master's degree: NY state happens to require a master's degree for all teachers, which by the way, is a good thing. Before receiving certification, I also had to take and pass three exams: the LAST, CST and ATS-W. Let me be super clear, these tests were a joke.

The LAST exam was a general multiple-choice test (with one essay) that assesses your ability to read, comprehend and select a right answer. That's about it. I remember getting bored about a quarter of the way into this test, but looking quite concerned when a fellow test-taker across the aisle from me was looking like she was freaked out. That moment scared me initially about how easy it was to become a teacher, and then I took the other tests which actually confirmed my fears. The CST exam was like the LAST, except content specific (e.g. 7th-12th grade mathematics). Finally, the ATS-W was another multiple-choice question test, but this time about the teaching practice in general. I took this test online at a Pearson testing center in NYC. By the way, all NY state teacher certification exams are run by Pearson.
So what sparked the need for change in the current certification system? For years, teachers have been complaining their master's programs were not effectively preparing them for the classroom. They wanted a combination of theory and practice. I guess someone finally listened. Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford whose articles I should have read while obtaining my master's degree says, "Teaching is action work...You have to make a lot of things happen in a classroom with a lot of kids, effectively. You cannot just have book learning. It is not enough to pass a paper-and-pencil test, or even to have taken a bunch of classes in an education program. You have to be able to demonstrate whether you can actually teach.” Well said, professor. You actually make me want to go back and read those excerpts of yours I glossed over.

Anyway, besides the fact that we may actually have a better certification process in the pipeline, two things struck me in this article:
  1. When states decided their teacher certification methods were dated and ineffective, guess who was ready to go with another seemingly more progressive authentic assessment? Pearson. The article states, "The new system will require teachers to electronically submit their work... for grading by trained evaluators who have been recruited by the education company Pearson." I'm sure this will raise many questions amongst educators, e.g. "Who the hell are these guys to determine whether I am good enough to teach or not? Shouldn't my professors have a say instead?"

  2. Stephanie Wood-Garnett, an assistant commissioner in the NY Education Department’s office of higher education says this gem in the article, "We don’t want to know if you [teachers] can pass multiple-choice tests... We want to know if you can drive." Fantastic! Can we please apply this logic to students in the classroom now?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good insight here.