Last week we learned in an biannual budget address that Governor Scott Walker proposes saving money by creating a life-time teaching license rather than continue the five-year license that is currently in effect.
You’d expect most teachers to stand and huzzah the Governor this one time, wouldn’t you? Most of us dramatically roll our eyes and sigh heavily at the beginning of the school year when we see the suggested/required Professional Development courses needed to build up CEUs to renew the five-year license every, well, five years. A life-long pass from taking those courses should give us more time to prep and teach, which is what we say we want to do anyway. Right?
But I’m not sure that this is such a good idea.
Governor Walker’s proposal cuts 10 full-time equivalent positions from the Department of Public Instruction that manages licensure, according to a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Now, I’m sure that the fact that this one lone state department is run by a Democrat, Tony Evers, has nothing to do with the downsizing proposal. After all, we are talking about teaching our kids and adult students, not making political points. Right? And, one might point out that Wisconsin did function well with lifetime licenses until 1983, when the incoming Democratic administration of Governor Anthony Earl thought it was a good idea to for teachers to record and be rewarded for their professional growth. Gov. Walker argues that his proposal saves money by paring an evil bureaucracy as well as making it easier to attract teachers.
This is where I have a problem. Do we really want to make easier to attract and keep teachers? Rather than staff the Best and Brightest, would we rather fill our empty teacher lounges with the Least and Lightest? I'm not sure. Is any warm body at the front of the classroom better than no body at all? Some cynics would say this is what we deserve. They would say the shortage of teachers in Wisconsin is the direct and logical result of the denigration and devaluing of the profession by an anti-union Republican administration, but I’d rather not comment on that.
Rather than taking away or dumbing down the five-year license, I would like to see teaching requirements increased, rather than decreased. I think it should be harder to get and maintain a teaching license in Wisconsin, not easier. Our students deserve this. Certification activities should be expanded to include not only academic course work, but also professional development activities that include, but are not limited to, curriculum development, conference presentations, leadership positions among colleagues, professional papers issued to peer-reviewed journals, structured networking opportunities, and community activities. And, I sure hope, somewhere, somehow teachers would be given structured time to sit down on a regular basis with cross-departmental colleagues to talk about the art and craft of teaching.
If the Governor really wants to make nice with teachers in the state, he could direct some dollars or political capital toward enhanced certification that demands and supports mastery of the teaching craft in all our classrooms, not just mouth a mamby-pamby philosophy of just getting by.
If the problem is within the five-year certification itself, like it’s outdated, or courses are not longer offered, or its reporting mechanism is tied to an archaic computer system, then, Mr. Governor, work with Mr. Evers to fix the problem. That's what you are paid to do. Don’t throw up your hands in defeat, peck away at union personnel in the department and hope problems in our state’s classroom miraculously solve themselves. The problem with relying on miracles to accomplish the job, as I tell students, is that they are so damned unreliable.