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Should Undocumented Teachers Be Allowed to Cross Professional Borders? Final Thoughts

Sandy Merz Uncategorized

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In an attempt to ease our open-position crisis, recently passed Senate Bill 1042 permits schools to hire applicants with content expertise but no coursework in education. The law applies to grades six through twelve, as does this series of posts.

In Part One I replied to the most common comments and objections that I hear my colleagues make about the law. Essentially, I don’t think the law will make much a difference when it comes to filling open positions. I do think, however, that it could hardly make things worse and that the reasons to give it a chance outweigh the reasons to reject it outright. Part Two described actual cases of how open positions at my school had been filled and demonstrated, I think, that there is no obvious correlation between holding a teaching certificate and succeeding as a teacher.

Here are some final, somewhat random thoughts on the subject.

1) If having a certificate doesn’t correlate with one’s success as a teacher, what does success depend on? In the context of SB 1042, I’d say an applicant’s reasons to try teaching, the school environment where he or she gets hired, and the district’s commitment to support and train its newest professionals.

That’s exactly what I would say determines a certified teacher’s success as well.

2) Is there any way to build a college of education program that reveals the reality of classroom teachers, complete with all the complexity?

3) Relatedly, why does there seem to be such a range in the quality of education programs? I’ve heard of programs that get prospective teachers into schools early, collaborating with practicing teachers, doing rounds, and the like. But others seem so easy you could phone it in. That would describe my program. While working half time, I took four or five classe and walked away with straight As for the only time in my life. I don’t think I ever wrote more than a couple of pages of notes for any single education class. Granted, that was in the late eighties, but in 2011, CBS published Here’s the Nation’s Easiest College Major that suggests little has changed.

4) I own a book called 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School and another called 101 Things I learned in Engineering School. They’re both excellent primers. Other subjects in the series include Business School, Film School, Culinary School, Fashion School, and Law School.

On the other hand, teachers can buy, “Why Didn’t I Learn this I College?”

5) In a comment to Part One, a colleague wrote that he heard a presentation from the Arizona Department of Education. Based on the many callers asking about certification, he concluded that this new law was not going to draw the best of the best.

Judgments like that might take readers to judgments that teachers better be able to defend against. For example, his comment suggests there may be merit to the old saying that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.

Furthermore, colleges of education don’t draw best of the best, either. Quantitatively, Business Insider reports that education majors score in the bottom third on SAT tests in all categories. A quote from the CBS article mentioned above disparages education majors qualitatively: Slackers wanting to earn the country’s easiest college major, should major in education.

If you have some time, take a look at Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?, an editorial in the New York Times in which nine experts answer the question.

6) Nothing I’ve written in this series should lead any reader to conclude that I think prospective teachers have nothing to learn. Teaching is a craft, an art, a science – all of which must be learned and practiced. There are very few naturals. I just think that working in schools under the mentorship of veteran teachers would yield as much if not more success than the traditional certification process.

7) I think teachers would help the profession more from reading the times and adjusting to public preference than by constant resistance. We should absolutely debate and advocate, but also ask ourselves, how can we get ahead of the trend and make this work for the good of public education?

8) I very much like my colleague’s comment about how much a “teacher boot camp” would help prospective teachers. Even a week long study of basic elements of teaching that covered goals, objectives, assessment, management, district policies, content standards, and legal matters could give both uncertified and newly certified teachers a head start.

I could go on, and I assume you could, too. But I’ll leave with this. No matter what, SB 1042 should not be considered the solution to the open-position crisis in Arizona. Rather, it’s only one potential tool. But it is a tool that will yield real data by which to judge its efficacy. So, bring it on and let’s see.


I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I've moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I'm a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

Comments 2

  1. Mike Vargas

    I laugh when people try to teach with zero background in education and get their hearts handed to them on a platter. There is this idea out there that in physics we just get a bunch of old retired guys to fill the gaps from Ratheon or some other big company and since they already are engineers and science people they should not have to do any teacher training. They’ll be fine right. Wrong… So far every case where I have heard of this trying to take place has ended in disaster. Last week at a school in Tucson one of these 1042 ers left the keys on the principals desk and said not for me.. The best part is that they asked another person pick up the 6 full sections for a 1/4 salary stipend. Come on really?? When will these folks realize its not about your subject area knowledge but also your tradecraft as an educator. A skill that is not nearly appreciated enough. My 2 cents …

    1. Sandy Merz

      Hey Mike, Your 2 cents are always welcome. My points boil down to this – I don’t think most teacher training correlates with developing teaching tradecraft, and that 1042 could hardly make things worse. In Part two I gave examples of teachers who were successful without any training, those that received their training after they started teaching and didn’t think it did much good, and those that had the training and then bombed anyway. Clearly, teaching is more than content knowledge and has to be learned, but the mechanisms for learning to teach need to be reconsidered. I wrote about a veteran “highly qualified” teacher who replaced, against our wishes, a rookie who was uncertified, but taking classes. After three weeks, he essentially left the keys on the principal’s desk and said not for me. The classes he left stranded had subs for the next six weeks until they found teachers to take on a 6/5s, including me, for the rest of the year. Everyone would have been better off if we had just kept the uncertified rookie.

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