In Texas, teachers can seek certification in EC-6, which means they are capable of teaching all subject areas from preschool through 6th grade.
Let me repeat: a certification in EC-6 means you should be able to teach 3rd grade math, with fractions and complex multiplication and division; 6th grade science, with labs on kinetic energy and metal qualities; and 4th grade writing, with its focus on sentence structure and style.
Many students choose EC-6 as a concentration because they want to teach K-2, and this is their only option. Math and ELAR 4-8 certifications are available for those who want more content knowledge (poor 3rd grade! the neglected middle child).
What happens when a principal has nothing available except in grade 5, where she needs a math specialist to complement the building’s existing ELAR expert? The certification says every EC-6 teacher can handle the subject material. Many teachers are not confident about their times tables, their grasp of fractions, and their ability to explain increasingly complex word problems to students who desperately need a solid foundation in computation and critical quantitative thinking. Many teachers struggle to write a grammatically correct sentence, and sentence writing now starts in kindergarten in Texas.
So why do we do this to teachers? Physical education, special education, and elementary education majors tend to have the lowest SAT scores of any college majors. Why do we ask them to become experts in everything in four years? Why can’t they certify more narrowly, in EC-3 generalist and then require a 4-8 specialist for the other grades? Why can’t we have team teaching from preschool up, with math/science specialists and reading/social studies specialists, like STEM EC-6 and an ELSS EC-6 certifications? Is the teacher shortage so dire?
I’m sorry, but I would much rather have my 4th grader taught by someone certified in Math 4-8 than an EC-6 generalist who has taken maybe 3 college math classes and whose comfort level stops at counting to 20.
One other concern today: why can teachers become certified to walk into a classroom without having to prove they can write a coherent essay? A multiple-choice certification exam, with no essay component, for teachers who are going to set up a child’s foundation for lifelong literacy? Are you kidding me?!
Give an essay prompt with a classroom challenge and ask test-takers to explain what they would do in that situation. Make the essay a make-or-break factor; in other words, if a student does not pass the essay–which should be scored rigorously for grammar, organization, and critical thinking–she fails the whole exam. Heck, this should be part of the EC-12 PPR, Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities, because if clear writing is not a Professional Responsibility across all teaching disciplines, well…