The surge of unqualified teachers: Problem or overreaction?
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With more and more unqualified teachers working in schools across North America and Europe, governments need to assess the situation by asking themselves if unqualified teachers actually serve communities and schools or bring down the standard of education?
In 2001 The Canadian Teachers' Federation said that as many as 6,000 unqualified teachers were asked to teach courses they did not have the credentials for. In the UK alone, there is thought to be over 17,000 unqualified teachers teaching in state run schools. According to a report by the Education Trust carried out in 2010, high-poverty secondary schools in the US have a rate of approximately 21.9 percent of classes taught by "out-of-field" teachers, whereas low-poverty secondary schools only have 10.9 percent of classes taught by "out-of-field" teachers.
Is there a reason for these figures? Some studies show that the baby boomers have started to retire and therefore contribute to the need for new teachers but the number of qualified teachers graduating from university is not enough to fill the positions. However, this is not the essence of the problem, just a contributing factor. By digging deeper, statistics show that there is a problem in the actual distribution of qualified teachers across school boards and an additional problem is the desire to teach in more-affluent schools. There are also particular subjects, such as mathematics, science, special education, and teaching of English as a second language, which have real shortages and where recruitment incentives are required.
If we go back to the statement above about the teacher shortages in certain school boards and less favorable areas, we can conclude that retaining teachers for schools with staff shortages is a far larger problem than first thought. This is heavily linked to working conditions such as administrative support and good relationships with colleagues as well as good teaching conditions and respectable salaries. Research also proves that teachers leave the profession more quickly if they have less preparation before they start but less support and training from peers.
For those who are not so concerned about the situation, and believe that an unqualified teacher can teach as well as any qualified teacher, advocate for the hiring of teachers based on their motivation and subject matter experience. In their opinion, children grow up listening and learning from our classroom teachers but their learning is not limited to everything from academic and structured education. The world of education should not be limited to those who have only formally acquired the ability to teach. Many ‘qualified’ teachers may know their subject inside out but do their possess the flare to transfer knowledge and inspire learners to want to know more? There is evidence to suggest that we learn more outside of the classroom than in it. When experiences outside the classroom are more motivating than anything that could have been learned on a teacher-training course, they should have the opportunity to prove themselves.
Let us not forget, however, the excellent teachers who do have a qualification to teach. Not only have these teachers dedicated one year or more into learning about the science of learning and the dynamics of classroom management because of their passion to transfer knowledge and satisfy curious minds, they have also invested in a certification that will stand them in good stead for the success and longevity of their careers. The following areas are addressed in order to mitigate the risk that teachers will drop their career or worse hinder the education of the students:
• Facing and dealing with failure. Coping strategies for recurrent challenges.
• Burnout prevention. Lack of support, poor methods used can lead to stress.
• Achievement benchmarks and evaluation. Students need to be assesses correctly and placed into the correct levels and their progess monitored and interpreted correctly.
Unfortunately, allowing unqualified teachers in the classroom could encourage resentment from those teachers who put the time and effort into acquiring the correct qualifications. The issue is not as simple as that though when we see that less favorable schools cannot attract qualified teachers. Surely, an unqualified teacher is better than no teacher at all?
Not according to Robert Puhak, director of college algebra and basic math at Rutgers’s Newark campus. There are ‘teachers’ who are neither born to teach nor well versed in the subject to which they are assigned. In the case of college level remedial classes, teachers in the US do not have to have any experience or qualifications. 75% of remedial class teachers work part-time, move from one college to another to accumulate teaching hours and apart from needing a bachelors degree they are not required to have any teaching experience. “It seems there is no standard practice across academia to get the most dedicated, trained teachers in front of the students who need it the most,” said Puhak.
When all is said and done, it is the students we must consider primarily in this situation. Qualified or unqualified, school boards need to assess the working conditions for teachers and to ensure that they are conducive to a healthy and thriving learning experience. If continual monitoring and evaluation of teachers is carried out alongside the learning outcomes of the students, qualified or unqualified teachers alike will have the tools and strategies necessary to excel in the classroom with the students.