New path to teacher licensing comes under scrutiny | ParkRecord.com

New path to teacher licensing comes under scrutiny

A new policy from the Utah State Board of Education that would make it easier for people without teaching experience to get state licensure is drawing ire from teachers statewide and in Park City.

In June, the Board of Education passed the Academic Pathway to Teaching rule. The rule, designed to alleviate staffing problems caused by a statewide teacher shortage, allows people with professional experience and a bachelor's degree in a field of study to teach provisionally if they pass a test for certification and an ethics exam.

Once hired by a school district, the new teachers would undergo three years of mentorship and training from another teacher before the state grants them a license.

But critics of the rule, which the Board of Education was set to review at its August meeting after a public hearing last month, say it drastically lowers the standard to become a teacher. Being an expert in a field, even with years of professional experience, they say, does not equip someone with the pedagogical knowledge teachers rely on in a classroom.

Sam Thompson, co-president of the Park City Education Association, a labor organization that represents the district's teachers, said the rule is a short-term and ineffective fix to a much larger problem.

"It's not going to reap the benefits they hope are going to come of this," he said. "I love the analogy of, just because you've flown in a plane doesn't mean you can fly the plane. Just because you've been to the doctor doesn't mean you can perform surgery. It's the same thing with teaching. There's a lot more to it than just having the knowledge of your subject area."

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Ember Conley, superintendent of the Park City School District, noted that the policy has its positives, but she shares the concern that it could water down the quality of teachers throughout the state.

"It certainly is not a substitute for someone who has gone into the education field and had their degree in education," she said. "I mean, it takes years to become a master teacher."

A more permanent solution to the teacher shortage, Thompson said, would be for the state Legislature to provide funding to increase teacher salaries. Making teaching a more attractive profession, where wages are commensurate with other careers people considering teaching could pursue, would go a long way toward enticing young people to enter the profession, he said.

That would also stem the tide of people abandoning teaching for other fields, he said. According to the National Education Association, nearly 50 percent of newcomers leave the profession during their first five years.

"They want their cake and to eat it, too, and you can't have that," he said. "If you want to attract people to this profession, you're going to have to make it more attractive financially. If we want the best and brightest, we need to pay for the best and brightest. You get what you pay for."

Thompson added that the policy will also put undue stress on the teachers tasked with mentoring the newcomers. He said increasing demands on teachers' time are already adding to their workloads. This would exacerbate the problem.

"You're going to put a lot more on the plates of veteran teachers who went through the process and have the expertise on these things," he said. "They're going to be spending an inordinate amount of time having to work with these teachers. But they will because teachers help other teachers. It's the nature of our profession."

Supporters of the change, however, have said that one major benefit is that it gives school districts more flexibility to hire people they feel would make good teachers, even if they lack traditional qualifications. Conley acknowledged the rule's faults, but noted that it would not oblige the district to hire anyone. The district's current hiring policy would remain largely unchanged.

"Our compensation is the highest in the state," she said. "We recruit from the perspective of we only want the best."

The rule is an expansion to the state's current alternative route to licensure process, which also allows people without a teaching degree to obtain licenses, but under stricter requirements. Conley said a plus of the new policy is that it cuts through the "red tape" that makes the current process cumbersome.

"That's kind of been lost in translation over this whole thing," she said.