How Maine’s Colleges and Universities Can Revolutionize Our Public Schools

For a long time I have been interested in the teacher certification process and pre-teacher training in the United States.  Research assigned for a course I am enrolled in at the University of Maine at Farmington got me thinking about this in a new way.

Maine has a number of private and public colleges and universities scattered throughout the state.  Even in the states most isolated and rural communities, there are universities where one can acquire a college degree.  You can live in the northernmost and/or easternmost reaches of the state and major in elementary or secondary education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Presque Isle or Machias, not to mention all of the other state university campuses in other parts of the state, such as the one where I am doing my coursework.  Combine those with Maine’s private colleges and universities that offer education degrees, such as Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, the University of New England, Saint Joseph’s, Husson and others, and there is practically an education program around every corner.  

This sets up a great potential for what could be a wonderful partnership between Maine’s public school districts and its higher education resources in education.  Most of these education programs already do partner up with local school districts to allow for their pre-service teachers-in-training to receive their internships.  But I think there is a potential for something more aggressive, substantial and effective.

The goal of an expanded statewide public education partnership with Maine colleges and universities would be to ensure that every student is taught by not only “highly qualified” instructors, but also instructors with expertise in every content area they teach.  The contributions from the university end would be quality professional development in the form of in-depth academic study to achieve expertise in the content area(s) one teaches.  As it stands today, teachers have the option to take coursework as a means to re-up their teacher certification, but they must choose options nearby or online institutions offer that meet their professional goals.  Whether or not those options exist is really up to fate.

An example of this is this course I am taking right now; while I am very interested in learning more about teacher evaluation and also supervision techniques, philosophies and strategies, I am not committed to becoming a school administrator. I took this course because it was available to me, and the administration certificate is an avenue to take in the event I ever decide to become a curriculum director.  As things stand right now, I could go the administrative route after very little teaching experience, or even relatively weak performance on my part.  That can result in a relatively inexperienced, unsuccessful teacher becoming a school administrator, supervisor and evaluator.  

So how do the partnerships benefit the participants?  The university gets student enrollment in its advanced degree programs.  The school benefits by its teachers receiving intensive and rigorous academic training that most pre-service certification programs simply do not offer.  The end result would be not only more teachers with greater expertise in the content areas and grade levels they teach, but also more professionals transitioning to administration with qualifications that include being a master teacher. Here’s how it might work.

A teacher enters the profession at a basic novice level, like most teachers do today. They are certified, but not much else.  They might have been an education major at the undergraduate level, or they might have participated in a fast-track certification graduate program, but they have the minimal requirements necessary to apply for a professional teaching assignment.  As it stands, this is where most teachers enter the profession and this level of expertise is not advanced other than by years of classroom experience and few courses added onto their resume to obtain a Master’s. This is what I did; acquiring my Master’s degree was not exceptionally challenging or time consuming, nor was it rigorous.  It was a handful of courses beyond my certification courses, a few of which were engaging and/or helpful to my profession and one of which was academically challenging (I should mention that this course is also turning out to be both engaging and academically challenging– I feel as though I am getting my money’s worth!).  In the partnership I am proposing (just surpassed the 500 word mark, so I’ll wrap this up), academics are directly related to content area instruction (pedagogical content knowledge), childhood cognitive development, and classroom management… all areas in which many teachers have minimal formal training.  

So a “novice teacher” enters the profession at base pay, but after five years has the expectation (but not requirement) to achieve a new certification.  An “established teacher” (or perhaps something with a better name) acquires, say, 12 credits of academic study, and after 10 years and more academic research and coursework, could acquire a third “master teacher” level of certification.  This certificate would be required before a teacher can embark on the transition to an administrative role within a school system. Teachers would be able to opt out of this step system, and merely obtain the minimum necessary requirements to renew novice certification, but would possess fewer qualifications and would not receive the same compensation and opportunity as those who have opted into the system and earned their advanced certificates.  

I strongly feel there needs to be a bridge to excellence (I am sounding SO much like a politician here) if we ever want to accomplish what countries like Finland and New Zealand and nations in Southeast Asia are accomplishing with their student achievement.   We need to greatly enhance teacher training without discouraging highly promising and capable people from entering the teaching profession.  Why not start with a powerful university partnership of this sort, and why not in Maine?  Please chime in here or on the Facebook page and help me refine or revise this thinking.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for twelve years, and a writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a Certificate in Math Leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife, Erin, and my dog, Sally, in Bowdoinham.