We Need to Be More Welcoming of Diverse Backgrounds in Education

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We often hear about a growing teacher shortage around the country. Unsatisfactory pay and working conditions usually get the blame, but what if teacher certification standards are keeping qualified individuals out of the classroom? 

Show me a first-year teacher, traditionally certified or not, that has a wonderful first year of teaching. I’ll wait.

My first year was no different. Even so, after my first year, my principal said it was like I had been teaching for 5-6 years. And yet even after this excellent end-of-year evaluation, I still was not considered a fully certified teacher by the state of Michigan. In Michigan, you can become alternatively certified if you work with an institution to oversee your certification. You also have to pass a difficult exam and fully teach in a classroom for 3 years.

As an alternative path certified teacher through Teach for America (TFA), I’ve had an atypical experience in becoming a teacher and so view the paths to being an educator differently than someone who studied it in college. Veteran educators are often not open to alternatively certified teachers from programs like TFA because they believe it displaces teachers with traditional backgrounds. While I’m fully aware of the stereotypes of TFA teachers—young bright-eyed elite college graduates who think they will change education in two short years before moving on to law school or corporate America—but that doesn’t tell the whole story. 

What Teach for America, and other alternative paths programs do is bring in people with diverse educational backgrounds to schools. As a secondary social studies teacher, why is a degree in secondary education more valued than mine in political science? Why does an ineffective teacher with a master’s degree in education get paid more than me, an effective teacher with a master’s in communication? 

Aside from the subject matter expertise from my social science degree, my differing background allows me to approach the classroom in a different way. I didn’t spend years learning that there is one way to do something. When something doesn’t work, I keep trying different things until it does. My master’s degree in organizational communication gives me expertise in helping students with their executive skills—skills such as time management, communicating effectively and appropriately, staying organized, persuasion, public speaking, and more. These are necessary skills for our students in the 21st century. Would I have learned these in a traditional teacher prep program? Perhaps but probably not. 

My favorite science teacher in high school had his PhD in psychology. My brilliant math teacher had worked as an accountant. Life experience matters. Am I saying that we should let unqualified people teach the country’s children? No. Certification rules all too often keep qualified people out of the classroom. There should absolutely be some standard for entry into the teaching profession, but the education community needs to be more accepting of alternatively certified teachers, especially if there are qualified individuals ready and willing to fill the growing teacher shortage around the country.

Megan Eme
Megan Eme is a middle school social studies teacher at a public charter school in Detroit, Michigan. She is also an 2020 Encore Fellow with Teach for America- Detroit.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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