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Point of View: Commencing work for Oklahoma teachers

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Dan Vincent
Dan Vincent

With commencement season in full bloom, Oklahoma's universities are projected to graduate 1,233 comprehensively prepared teacher candidates. These graduates have had countless hours preparing for a standard teacher certificate that culminated in a 15-week intense, unpaid student teaching experience.

Also this year, our state emergency-certified 2,987 teachers, many of whom entered the classroom with little to no teaching experience, let alone university coursework to prepare them for the rigors of teaching.

Let that sink in: This academic year, our state will award almost three times more emergency teaching certificates than it does standard teaching certificates. This disparity is shocking and alarming.

To highlight a few of the differences between these certificates, consider the following. Comprehensively prepared teachers are required by state law to:

• Complete at least 60 hours of classroom-based field experience and complete a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid student teaching under the guidance of an experienced mentor and a knowledgeable university supervisor. Emergency-certified teachers can, according to state law, enter the classroom with zero experience with kids, let alone in a classroom.

• Understand child development, have skills in effective classroom management, and have the ability to effectively interact with all students. Emergency-certified teachers can, according to state law, enter the classroom with none of these.

• Diagnose and teach reading to kids (specific to early childhood and elementary). For most universities, this involves 15 credit hours of coursework in which teacher candidates develop knowledge and skills by working with kids under the supervision of a reading specialist. Emergency-certified teachers can, according to state law, enter the classroom having no knowledge or experience in teaching reading to kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud those who want to help address our critical teacher shortage, but this path is unsustainable. And to reiterate, three of every four teaching certificates this year are from alternate pathways.

To begin to address the issue, the state could do several things for comprehensively prepared teachers. It could pay test certification fees, offer loan forgiveness and provide tuition waivers for student-teachers who are, in essence, doing a full-time job without pay. This would attract and retain teacher candidates who would enter the classroom on day one being comprehensively prepared. The state also could create a tiered teacher certification and compensation system (similar to RNs, LPNs).

At the core, Oklahoma’s teacher shortage, and by extension the high number of emergency-certified teachers, has been caused by low pay and poor working conditions brought on by years of attacks on the profession. Although this damage won’t be fixed overnight, we cannot wait any longer to address some of the systematic issues in our state. If we want to be a top-10 state in education, the time to start is now. Let the work commence.

Vincent is chairman of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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