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5 December 2013

Teaching profession deserves a review

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We’ve all heard it before: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. The idiom summarizes many’s feelings about a profession that is highly undervalued.

At the University of Miami, the School of Education and Human Development is one of the smallest schools – with 539 students enrolled, according to the Office of Admission. That’s only about five percent of undergraduates. It may not be a popular path of study, but for many college students teaching is a back-up plan.

With 18 credits, a noneducation major can earn a professional training option minor and be certified to teach in Florida. Another popular post-grad option is joining Teach for America (TFA), which is currently recruiting for 2014.

The organization takes in recent graduates who have shown leadership qualities in college and places them in public schools around the country to teach for two years. TFA makes the assumption that, as long as you have a degree, you can receive a few short weeks of training and be ready to teach.

But that’s not done in any other career. There’s no crash course in becoming a doctor or lawyer, and being able to teach – and teach well – can be just as challenging.

TFA’s approach to education is part of a more widespread problem: the marginalization of the teaching profession, as Josh Diem, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, calls it.

It has become increasingly easier to become a teacher through these alternative routes and certification programs. As a result, society seems to view teaching as something that anyone can do.

In reality, this de-professionalization of teaching as a career is only doing more harm to the underprivileged schools where TFA – which sends in unqualified “teachers” – aims to make improvements. While reform of the TFA program, such as limiting it to students with a background in education, is a step in the right direction, wider structural change is essential in the long-run.

In Finland, for example, teaching is the country’s most respected profession, and the career has competitive requirements. We need to follow Finland’s example and reverse the current trend of de-professionalization. By bringing more qualified teachers into schools,  we will be able to improve our educational system.

But this isn’t an obvious solution – because those who can, teach; those who can’t, make policies about teaching.

 

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.