Sunday, May 14, 2006

¿Cuáles de las siguientes afirmaciones son correctas...?

I went to take the Spanish MTEL test this weekend. This test is one of the requirements to gain (or, in my case, add) a certification endorsement to teach in the state of Massachusetts. I teach primarily French at my school, but I routinely teach at least one class of Spanish in a given year as well as math, when the need arises. I already hold a certification for French, which is more than the state requires of me to teach in a charter school but, under the No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001, I am now required as a teacher in a public school (charter schools are public schools) to hold endorsements in every core academic subject I teach.

I went into the test stone cold. I’m not terribly pleased with how parts of it went, but overall I think it might be enough to pass. I figured it was worth the chance just to get the federal government off my back a little sooner and be able to keep my kickass soccer program running. The results are due to be available mid-June. I’ll let you know how I did.

I posted some time ago that I was going to have to take these certification tests so that I will be “highly qualified” as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. I had a lengthy discussion about these tests with my administration and I complained loudly that the timing of this requirement was to say the least inauspicious, what with me still being in graduate school and all. I got a lot of sympathy, but it was made clear to me that I had no choice in the matter, if I intended to remain at the school. The discussion then turned somewhat heated when my soccer program was placed on the block pending my completion of at least one of these tests (Spanish). I will carry the bitterness from that meeting around for a long while, and I will go on record as saying that I do not appreciate the position I’m being placed in by legislators whose only interest in education is to use it as a political tool.

I take my role as an educator seriously. It is an essential part of my identity, and I continually strive to be as strong and adept at my craft as I can be. I am a skilled and knowledgeable teacher, quite conversant in a wide variety of subject matter and fully familiar not only in general teaching methodologies, but in several approaches specific to the individual disciplines I teach. It annoys me beyond words that, despite this solid foundation of expertise in a broad array of disciplines, I am not valued as an educator because I do not meet the federal definition of “highly qualified”, a phrase that refers specifically and only to an educator’s certification under their state’s rules in each and every core academic subject they teach. I cannot help but believe that, by using this as the standard for teacher quality, the federal government simply reinforces the public stereotype that the only thing you need to know to be a teacher is what you’re teaching.

This attention to content is undoubtedly expected to lead to a corps of educators who are very knowledgeable in their subject matter, but there are some tacit implications of this narrow concentration. For one, it supposes incorrectly that those coming into the profession will be properly dedicated to as well as adequately trained in the art of teaching before they are hired. For another, it states unequivocally that pedagogy is not valued as a separate and equally rigorous discipline.

In my view, superior teaching at all levels properly demands a broad base of expertise in many arenas of knowledge beyond the content of their classes. In addition, it requires considered wisdom, a talent for improvisation and a commitment to people, process and product. The public laments, and students have long bemoaned, those teachers in school who seem to treat their work as simply another job. While this view is, perhaps, stereotypical, most who have endured the trials of the traditional public school experience can name at least one teacher who fits the mold. They show up, hand out books, papers and exams. They give grades and monitor the lunch hall, but they convey no excitement for their material, no understanding of their students as individuals and no appreciation for the intricate nature of the practice of teaching. However technically qualified they may be, teachers cannot be considered to be doing quality work if they lack these more subjective, but equally important qualifications.

I will now step down from my soap box. Late warnings for my students are due on Monday. Good thing that test showed them I’m qualified to write them! Oh, wait. It didn’t. Well, maybe it did, but I’d have to write them in Spanish.

1 comment:

Mrs.Chili said...

I have a lot to say about this post. I highly suspect, though, that none of it is going to come out the way I intend.

There is SO much that is wrong with the way we educate our children in schools. So much of the emphasis is on paper - what tests have you passed, what grades have you gotten - and I think that really misses the point. Life isn't graded like that - I don't really feel that the work we do in schools, either as students or as teachers, should be graded like that, either.

The things that make you and I great teachers are things that can't be measured by standardized tests, or by once-a-semester observations by administrators. The things that make us great teachers are the same things that make us great friends and great parents. We CARE. We believe in the kids long and emphatically enough that our belief starts to rub off on THEM. We don't know everything there is to know about our subjects, but we know when a kid is "off" and we care enough to find out why. We're willing to offer up ourselves as models - examples of how to learn and think and interact with others, of how to be present and responsible and caring.

There are no bubbles to fill in for that, and there never will be. Once the people in charge figure that out, things might start looking up in public education.