Educational standards have been a hot topic in recent years. Too many teenagers are graduating from high school without having learned basic skills like reading, writing, and math. In order to address this problem, schools, school districts, states, and even the federal government have upped educational standards. Following this trend, Washington state has raised the standards that teachers must meet in order to teach.
In order to get a residency teaching certificate to teach secondary education (middle school and high school) in Washington, applicants must possess a Bachelors degree from a regionally accredited college and pass a state approved teacher preparation program, a background check, and a basic skills test. These requirements are typical of state requirements in the United States.
Additionally, teachers in Washington must earn an endorsement in the subject area they want to teach. For example, an English teacher must have an English endorsement. Before September 2005, endorsements can be earned by completing an approved college program, achieving National Board Certification, or passing the appropriate Praxis II subject test. However, as of September 2005, al teachers must pass the Praxis II subject test in order to earn endorsement.
Beginning in the 2003/2004 academic year, teachers are also required to learn about pedagogy, or teaching methods, as part of their teaching preparation program; all Washington colleges now include a pedagogy assessment in their teaching programs. Teachers seeking an endorsement may be required to take a pedagogy assessment test in addition to subject test in the future.
Pedagogy is extremely important. Good teachers need to know more than the subject they are teaching; they also need to know how to relay that information to students. And because not every student learns in the same way, teachers need to know a lot about various teaching methods.
There are three basic learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile. Visual learners learn most effectively when they are reading and looking at diagrams, auditory learners learn most effectively when they are speaking and listening, and kinesthetic/tactile learners learn most effectively when they are engaging in an activity. Most people are a combination of two of thes learning styles. In order to accommodate all learning styles, teacher must present information in a variety of different ways; simply lecturing will fail to reach a large number of students. Without learning about pedagogy, which includes but is by no means limited to the use of learning styles, teachers would be unable to do their job successfully.
Prospective teachers will need to meet Washington’s new requirements, and this will mean a little more work for them. However, teachers will also be better prepared in both subject matter and pedagogy.
Teachers who pass the new requirements should feel confident that they have all the skills needed to be excellent teachers.
At the same time, prospective teachers who do not meet the regular requirements for residency certification still do have a couple of options. Individuals who can demonstrate expertise in a subject area but do not have endorsement in that subject area may qualify for a conditional certificate that will allow them to teach. However, conditional certificates are only valid for two years, and professional development coursework is required. Prospective teachers who have almost completed a teacher preparation program may qualify for an emergency certificate.
Teachers who possess a teaching certificate can act as a substitute teacher for any subject, regardless of whether or not they have an endorsement in that subject. Additionally, prospective teachers who have not quite finished their teaching preparation program may be granted an emergency substitute teacher certificate, which is valid for three years.
Emergency certificates and conditional certificates are usually only issued when a school can find no other qualified candidate. They exist only to ensure that schools are able to hire the needed amount of teachers. The vast majority of teachers will have a residency certificate.
Washington’s new requirements should benefit the students. Students will be guaranteed that their teachers are thoroughly qualified to teach their subject and are familiar with effective teaching methods. Parents should be comforted by this, too.
The effectiveness of Washington standards will also be measured, albeit indirectly, according to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Passed in 2002, the NCLB act requires all schools to meet national educational standards. Specifically, students must pass standardized tests in order to prove that basic reading and math skills have been learned. In Washington, students take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) during fourth, seventh, and tenth grade. In 2004, only 64.6 percent of tenth graders passed the reading section, 44 percent of tenth graders passed the math section, and 65.4 percent of tenth graders passed the writing section. Although these results are still not as high as they should be, scores have been improving. Hopefully, well qualified and effective teachers will result in further improvements.