At peril of making the news about myself, I offer myself as an example of one thing that might be wrong with our K-12 system. I currently (and proudly!) teach French at Spearfish High School and direct drama next door at Spearfish Middle School.
If you review my teaching certificate, you will see I am certified to teach French. That certification comes from a minor in French that I finished at SDSU in 1990. I did nothing with my French (other than stammer at a pretty Frenchwoman in St. Petersburg) for 21 years, until Spearfish hired me in 2011.
Drama appears nowhere on my teaching certificate. One needs no such endorsement to coach extracurriculars. I have K-12 acting and directing experience, but on paper, my only formal preparation for directing school plays is some speech and lit classes.
But here I am, large and in charge of two important school programs. The same was true in my last big teaching job, at Montrose, where I taught speech, composition, literature, and drama, even though I don't even have a minor in any of those subjects. South Dakota may be the only state in the union where I could have built the K-12 résumé I have.
South Dakota, don't get me wrong: you've been very good to me. I appreciate the opportunities you've given me to work with students and language and art. But if we're committed to the highest-quality K-12 education, I have to ask: should you be letting me teach?
Granted, things are a little tougher for new teachers. Since my certification in 1994, the state has (or, I should say, bought from an other out-state corporation) a certification exam. New teachers have to sit for exams with questions on their content area and on teaching theory and practice. There are still a number of subject areas that don't require a Praxis test (French does, but my other big language, Russian, does not).
I've not had the pleasure of taking the Praxis™ (and I welcome the comments below of teachers who have!), but I have a feeling it's not quite as rigorous as, say, the South Dakota bar exam, which requires aspiring lawyers to sit for two days worth of essay and multiple-choice questions. If I understand it correctly, prospective teachers can retake their Praxis test as many times as necessary to reach the cut score. South Dakota bar exam takers get three tries.
Joel Klein thinks teachers should face a rigorous bar exam... and then some:
We need to start by insisting on a rigorous entry exam for those who teach, along the lines of the bar exam for lawyers or the national medical exam for doctors. Shanker actually proposed a three-part national exam: first "a stiff test of subject matter knowledge," followed by a second test on "pedagogy ... [including] the ability to apply educational principles to different student developmental needs and learning styles." Then, for those who passed both, he recommended a "supervised internship program of from one to three years in which teachers would actually be evaluated on the basis of how well they worked with students and with their colleagues" [Joel Klein, "The Case for a Teacher Bar Exam," The Atlantic, 2013.01.10].
I love taking tests (which also translates into a love of creating tests, much to the chagrin of my ever-suffering students). Bring on a bar exam. But how about that three-year internship? Do we have time to subject students to that much practice teaching without radically restructuring their undergraduate education or requiring every prospective teacher to obtain a graduate degree?
And can South Dakota, where rural districts often must take utility players like me and plug them into whatever openings they have, afford to hire only teachers with professional preparation of rigor and length equal to that of lawyers?