According to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Education, Maine schools are in need of teachers in all kinds of subjects, from math and science to Spanish and special education. The state Department of Education has proposed loosening some of its certification requirements, which some school officials hope can address the shortage.
The state teacher’s union expressed concern about the proposed rule changes at a public hearing on Monday. The lengthy proposal would change several requirements for becoming a teacher in the state, and also introduce a new “pathway” to teaching.
Currently, most teachers are required to graduate from one of the state’s educator preparation programs before getting their license. The new pathway, however, would allow someone to become a secondary-level teacher without that teaching degree.
Instead, the candidate would need a bachelor’s degree, eight years of relevant “work experience” and only three college education courses, on subjects such as classroom management.
A similar proposal failed to garner enough support in the Legislature last year. And at Monday’s public hearing, there was pushback again, from the state’s teachers’ union.
“We must take care not to shortchange our students, and not to take shortcuts that may have long-term, negative effects,” says Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt.
Leavitt says her organization understands the need for increasing the number of teachers in the state. But she’s concerned that only relevant “work experience” and a few college courses will not adequately prepare a new teacher for the classroom.
“There is much more to teaching than many people not in the profession may realize,” she says. “And we do not want to diminish quality merely in order to increase quantity.”
The union is also worried that schools, particularly in rural districts, may not have enough resources to support and mentor these new teachers with little classroom experience.
On the other hand, school administrators were largely positive about the changes. Vicki Wallack, the director of communications and government relations with the Maine School Management Association, says the organization supports the new pathway. However, she says she worries that new rules for recruiting employees from other states could be burdensome.
“We feel like it’s putting up barriers,” Wallack says. “And given the teacher shortage we have, we need an easier pathway.”
In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the agency could only answer “clarifying questions” about the proposed rules. The agency is taking comments on the proposed changes through Jan. 28.
The rules still need to go through the Legislature, which will likely have a public hearing on them later this year.
For disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents most of Maine Public's news staff.
Originally published Jan. 14, 2018 at 5:33 p.m. ET.