Provinces should fast-track teacher certification
Suppose your local high school urgently needed a new science teacher. Would a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry or physics be eligible for the position?
Not if she had a PhD and 30 years of teaching experience at an elite university but no teaching certificate. That’s because only someone with a teaching certificate can be hired for a permanent teaching position in a public school. To get this certificate, our Nobel Prize winner would need to complete a Bachelor of Education degree from an accredited university. In most provinces, this requires at least two years of full-time study.
Never mind that our Nobel Prize winner knows more about chemistry or physics than a typical high school teacher. Even someone with decades of teaching experience as a chemistry or physics professor at a major university cannot teach in a public school without a Bachelor of Education degree.
Considering the current shortage of teachers, particularly in specialty areas such as math and science, it doesn’t make sense to prevent otherwise qualified people from working as teachers. In fact, that is why the province of Quebec is streamlining its teacher certification process.
Starting this fall, TELUQ University will offer a 30-credit distance education program to prepare candidates for teaching. This means that anyone with at least a bachelor’s degree can become a certified teacher in a much shorter period of time. This is good news for the approximately 4,000 non-certified Quebec teachers currently working on temporary permits.
Some critics are concerned that this change will lower professional standards. However, the reality is that Bachelor of Education programs are filled with useless courses that often focus more on social justice advocacy and woke propaganda than on helping students master the academic basics. Even worse, many education professors haven’t taught in a K-12 school in decades, if they ever did.
This doesn’t mean that prospective teachers don’t need any training. One of the most beneficial aspects of any Bachelor of Education program is the practicum component where teacher candidates work in schools under the direct supervision of experienced teachers. This practicum is a great way for new teachers to hone their craft. But they must apprentice with the very best teachers and not be merely assigned to any teacher regardless of their interests in mentoring.
However, there’s no need for this practicum to be offered only within a Bachelor of Education program. Think how many more teachers could be hired if anyone with a relevant bachelor’s or master’s degree was eligible to work in a school under a formal apprenticeship program. This apprenticeship could be similar to that undertaken by articling students in law or residents in medicine.
Teach for America is a training program that works under this principle in the United States. Prospective teachers with a relevant university degree are hired to work for two years in schools located in low-income neighbourhoods. During these two years, they take courses on a part-time basis while working in schools. If they successfully complete the program, they can continue their career as teachers.
It's important to recognize that there’s a huge difference between a recent high school graduate looking to pursue a teaching career and an experienced professional wishing to make a career change. While it might make sense to require someone in their early-20s to complete a Bachelor of Education degree, this requirement is an unreasonable barrier for someone who already has plenty of education and considerable experience doing other things.
In addition, if we are serious about diversifying the teacher workforce, we should make it easier for people from relevant professional backgrounds to enter the profession. For example, there’s no reason to make an Indigenous historian in his 40s complete a Bachelor of Education degree prior to being hired to teach high school history. In many cases, onerous teacher certification requirements act as a direct barrier to promoting competent and diverse teachers in schools.
Teachers play a fundamental role for students. When professionals in other fields express interest in becoming teachers, we owe it to our students to ensure that we don’t put unreasonable barriers in their way. Students deserve the best teacher in the classroom whether they have a Bachelor of Education degree or not.