In my time as a student in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, I've had the opportunity to interact with a handful of exceptional educators, teachers who had profound knowledge of their subject and who loved sharing that knowledge with their students. One such physics teacher is leaving Myers Park High School this year, and with him leaves a graduate degree in the field and years of work experience at NASA. The strict requirements for lateral entry caused CMS to lose his talent.
According to the N.C. Department of Education, “lateral entry is an ‘alternate' route to teaching for qualified individuals outside of the public education system.” It allows individuals without a teacher's license but with real-world experience to begin teaching right away, while taking classes and obtaining a teacher's license over time.
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These educators bring to the classroom hands-on knowledge in a specific subject. They have the ability not only to inspire a love of the subject, but also to paint a picture of what students can achieve applying their knowledge outside of the classroom. They teach not for the paycheck (most retire or leave higher-paying positions before entering the classroom), but to give back to their communities.
However, the stringent licensure rules for lateral entry deter many qualified individuals from becoming teachers. Being a teacher is a full-time job, with responsibilities – such as grading papers, answering questions and planning classes – that extend well after the final bell has rung. Lateral entry requires that teachers take classes at a university while working, for as long as three years. In CMS most lateral entry teachers complete their coursework at UNC Charlotte, but for those living outside the university area, the demands of simultaneously teaching classes, commuting and taking classes proves daunting.
Judge by results in classroom
North Carolina should do more to encourage job applicants from industry seeking teaching positions. The extensive course requirements in education for lateral entry teachers should be eased or dropped altogether. If they demonstrate proficiency in front of the chalkboard and when sitting for the Praxis II exam, they should not be forced to do additional coursework.
Let teachers demonstrate their skill as educators not by a certificate they frame but rather by the knowledge and passion they impart to their students. Teachers should undoubtedly be held accountable for maintaining professional standards, but those who have shown their ability to inspire students by raising test scores and gleaning positive feedback shouldn't be forced to jump through hoops.
In the lateral entry program, teachers take classes on how to write lesson plans, even after they have been writing lesson plans at their school for a year or more. Being an exceptional teacher is a talent that few adults have, however most intelligent adults could learn the basic skills associated with teaching in a relatively short amount of time. In a revised system with more flexible standards, principals would maintain the authority to hire only individuals they believed were qualified, but could assess them based on real-world results.
The current lateral entry system reduces the supply of teachers; the associated hassles discourage those leaving the private sector from passing along their experience. As baby boomers retire, many will look to teaching as a way to continue meaningful employment while still receiving health care and other benefits. North Carolina should more actively encourage the transition. While teachers' lobbies encourage strict requirements to reduce supply and therefore raise wages, these requirements aren't in the students' long-term interest.
Bill Gates not qualified
The emphasis on educational training rather than subject-specific training is skewed; as it stands, Bill Gates could not teach computing in CMS, nor Pablo Picasso art - unless they were willing to take additional classes. To fill an AP Macroeconomics position, a noted college professor in the field would be passed up in lieu of someone with a teaching degree and a background in sociology.
To guarantee students a quality education, we should ensure that there are quality teachers. That means analyzing individuals in terms of personal accomplishments and aptitude rather than in terms of strict guidelines. I will be sad to see my physics teacher leave; his contributions to Myers Park High School, and to me as a student, have been innumerable.