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Teaching rule changes have some worried

By Clay Wilson

Sherry Crown spent one-and-a-half years getting her teaching certification. Having stopped just short of a business degree 20 years ago, Crown decided to teach after she began working in the Henry County Schools Transportation Department.

"Just working around children and seeing the need – (I decided) I need toz be teaching," she said.

Crown, who is married and has a 14-year-old daughter, worked as a Transportation secretary while taking classes two nights a week (and one on weekends). While student teaching she would spend most of the day in school and the evening in the Transportation office.

Now a certified middle-grades teacher and hoping for a position with the county school system this fall, Crown isn't thrilled with new standards that will allow people to teach without going through education classes.

"I don't think I would be prepared for things you have to do in teaching had I not gone through the education certification process. I really don't," she said.

On Thursday, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission approved rule revisions that will allow people to teach in a subject related to their college degree if they pass a battery of tests. They must also participate in a one-year "supervised practicum," which means they will be mentored by an experienced teacher.

Officials with the Professional Standards Commission, the division of the Governor's Office that sets certification standards for teachers, say the rule revision is necessary to deal with both Georgia's teacher shortage and the requirements of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act.

"We've got to find a different way of getting teachers into the classroom besides the traditional way," said F.D. Toth, the PSC's executive secretary.

However, the change has sparked negative reaction from some education professionals, who charge that it will allow underprepared teachers into Georgia's classrooms.

"I've seen lots of mid-level executives (who've gone into teaching) who within a few weeks in the classroom literally crash and burn – because you can't fire an eighth grader," said Allison Gilmore, associate dean of Mercer University's Tift College of Education.

At its Regional Academic Center in Henry County, Mercer enrolls more than 350 non-traditional students from surrounding counties in its teacher-preparation program. Depending on how much college work an enrollee has already done, it can take up to four years to earn a teaching certificate through the program.

Gilmore said that in her 15 years of watching new teachers enter the profession, "I've seen how they struggle in the classroom – (with) all the things that we try to teach them in our teacher preparation program that they're not going to get with (a non-education degree)."

She said it's not enough just to know a subject – one also has to be instructed in how to teach it.

"You have to understand how (a child) views the world in order to know how to motivate them to learn," she said.

However, Toth said the PSC has addressed this issue by requiring people who begin teaching under the new rule to pass the "Principles of Learning and Teaching" (PLT) test.

"If you can pass that test, it'll document that you know how kids learn," he said.

Toth added that Georgia has for years allowed people to teach on "provisional certificates," whereby those with non-education degrees could begin teaching under the condition that they obtain certification within three years. He said that under the former program, the new teachers didn't have to take the PLT test or be mentored in their first year.

"We've really strengthened the requirements," he said.

Toth also said many private schools have teachers who did not get an education degree – and pointed out that such a degree doesn't guarantee teaching success.

"Just because you've completed a college education degree doesn't mean you can get in that classroom and be successful," he said.

Still, the newly certified Crown contends that simply having any college degree doesn't prepare one for life in the classroom.

"Just because you know (a subject) doesn't mean you're going to be a good teacher," she said.