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Should Maine Relax Certification Standards To Get More Teachers In Classrooms?

Robbie Feinberg
Maine Public
Third-grade teacher Sara Wilder leads her class in a "community circle" at Loranger Memorial School in Old Orchard Beach in 2016.

Like a lot of states, Maine has a shortage of teachers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, schools are struggling to find people to fill positions ranging from librarians to Spanish teachers.

Proposed rules from the Maine Department of Education could make it easier to certify some teachers and bring them into the system. But at a hearing on the proposal Wednesday, some educators worried that the new rules could lower the bar, and bring unqualified teachers into the classroom.

To become certified as a teacher in Maine, you’ve got to pass a number of education classes, as well as other classes related to your field. But under proposed rules from Maine’s Department of Education, there could soon be another path to the classroom. Instead of education coursework, a prospective teacher could now be certified with work experience.

Specifically, an applicant would only need a bachelor’s degree and at least eight years of work experience that the Department deems to be “directly related” to a specific teaching field, as well as a few classes in subjects such as classroom management and pedagogy. The new rules were proposed in accordance with a law passed by the legislature earlier this year.

Those new rules, supporters say, could provide more flexibility to the system. But some educators say the rules could leave many new teachers unprepared.

“We believe this weakens our profession, which is no way to recruit college students into our ranks,” says Lois Kilby-Chesley, Maine Education Association president.

She says she understands the difficulty in finding and recruiting new teachers, particularly in rural Maine. But she worries that with limited requirements for certification under this new pathway, many teachers could enter the classroom with far less experience than they currently need. She says that could potentially also hurt students and schools.

“We must be ever-vigilant that we refrain from hiring unqualified individuals,” Kilby-Chesley says.

And Colby College education professor Karen Kusiak says that teacher preparation programs are vital in order for education students to understand the ideas behind the best teaching practices — and how to properly bring those ideas into the classroom.

“Teachers need to know why we teach the way we do. Why we include students. Why we talk to students in particular ways,” Kusiak says. “Why we model patterns. Why we model practice for students. Why we organize classrooms the way we do.”

Other educators expressed their concerns about provisions of the new rules and wanted to ensure that preschool and kindergarten teachers were properly trained in early childhood education.

However, some officials say they are encouraged by the proposed changes. Dick Durost, the executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said in the hearing that teachers are scarce in rural Maine. And Durost says he’s been forced to hire certified applicants over other, potentially better teachers who were not certified. Durost says added flexibility could make it easier for administrators to hire the best candidates.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said in a statement that the new pathway is intended to help people with industry experience become teachers, and the department wants “students to benefit from all available talent in the state.” It’s accepting public comments on the new rules through Jan. 18.

For disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents most of Maine Public’s news staff.