On March 15, Connecticut legislators held a hearing for H.B. 6879, An Act Concerning Teacher Certification. This bill, if passed, will create a commission that will finally present an opportunity for Connecticut to address our teacher shortage, and for potential educators to make the teaching certification process work for them.
When I was completing my undergrad and masters to become an educator, I was lucky enough to have the support of my family, and to have programming at my university to help better prepare me for the teaching profession. However, my own process was still filled with its own set of challenges and obstacles that could have been avoided if the process was more tailored to individuals.
While my initial certification process in elementary education was pricey and time consuming, I was able to reasonably complete the certification as a college student with few other responsibilities, and with the strong support of my family. However, I have since received additional certifications in English and special education that posed many more challenges.
When I transitioned from teaching elementary education to teaching high school English, I was acting as a supporting educator until I received my teaching certification in English. By this time, I had a family of my own, along with a slew of other time and financial commitments. Along with balancing teaching, going back to school full time, and paying upfront for this certification, the Praxis exam was a major obstacle in my journey. Even though I already had the classroom experience as an English teacher, without my experience being taken into consideration, I spent even more time and money completing the Praxis for a certification in a job I was already doing. The same thing happened a year later when I completed my special education certification.
One of the things I most often hear from colleagues of mine who are not yet certified is that they would go through the certification process if they had the time and resources to do so with their full time jobs, or if they had the money to stop working and focus only on school. There are paraprofessionals in my school who are already doing more work than they signed up for by covering for classes and teachers who are absent, and they are already feeling burnt out and underpaid. Adding a costly certification and testing on top of this without taking any of their experience into consideration only makes the task of certification seem more daunting.
Currently, Connecticut requires a cumbersome and expensive certification process. This process presents unnecessary obstacles to the teaching profession, and does not take previous experience into account, creating an unnecessary barrier for potential educators. These obstacles often also disproportionately affect more diverse communities, feeding into the lack of teacher diversity we are seeing in Connecticut classrooms.
So, what are some things we can do to modernize the process and make the teaching profession more accessible? Professionals have suggested that grow your own programs, where high schools allow students to gain insight on what teaching entails, is a great way to not only show students that teaching is a viable career option, but also to give them classroom experience that can be useful to them down the line.
We can also incorporate classroom experience into the requirements for becoming certified, allowing para professionals and support staff to be able to more easily and quickly transition into teaching roles that they are already passionate about. Additionally, we can implement programming that aids certification candidates financially, particularly allowing individuals who are transitioning careers the flexibility to go to school while not putting their finances or families’ finances in jeopardy.
Ultimately, Connecticut is full of individuals, both young and more established, who have the desire to become an educator, but simply cannot find a pathway to teaching that is not full of obstacles. Without a series of unnecessary barriers that prevent quality teachers from entering the workforce, we cannot enhance the quality of instruction our children receive. It is up to Connecticut legislators to address these issues and lessen these obstacles.
Our teachers need more support, our schools need more teachers, and our students need the best education possible. This all cannot be accomplished without allowing more teachers to enter into the classroom, and showing the next generation that teaching is a viable career path, and that it is not far out of reach.
Pass H.B. 6879 this legislative session.
Beth Agdish is a teacher in Hartford.