Admittedly, I have been jamming to Beyoncé’s new album, “Renaissance”, ever since it came out this past summer. It literally speaks to my soul, not only because it acknowledges my humanity but also in the way it pays homage to the intersections of Black and Queer artistry. “BREAK MY SOUL”, in particular, reflects my work as a public high school history teacher as I have had my own renaissance navigating the toxic landscape that further marginalizes educators struggling to hold on to their humanity while teaching.
No more is this issue present than in recent attempts to de-credentialize our profession, especially as districts across the country navigate various forms of teaching shortages in urban, suburban and rural communities, alike. Our credentialing process – which traditionally includes a litany of required college-level coursework, licensure steps and extensive professional development – can admittedly be frustrating and difficult to traverse. These systems are not perfect; however, it is a process that gives teachers multiple opportunities to hone our craft as professional educators.
Instead of circumventing the process in ways that devalue the artistry of our profession, we can support systems and structures that cultivate it.
An Open Door Policy: De-Credentializing our Profession
In June 2022, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron Desantis signed a bill that permits military veterans the ability to become classroom teachers without degrees. The next month, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a measure that allows any person enrolled in a degree-granting program to teach in public schools.
While these legislative actions have been positioned as noble and well-intended measures to address teacher shortages, the consequences can be more insidious than they appear. When there are shortages in the medical profession, we don’t create less rigorous pathways to bring doctors, nurses and dentists into the profession without credentials, because we want to ensure we have the most knowledgeable and qualified individuals provide us with the best health care.
Educators are no different. Removing the need for certifications, licensures and teacher preparation programs that demonstrate the competency and ability of a person to teach is not the answer to addressing the teacher shortage.
In the 2021-2022 academic year, students of color represented approximately 63 percent of the public school populations in Arizona and Florida. Putting people with minimal experience and preparation in front of students who need and deserve more than the bare minimum runs the risk of perpetuating continued cycles of marginalization.
To be clear, I’m not saying that there isn’t a space for career changers or alternative pathways for educators — in fact, that would be welcomed as we need all the help we can get to train and retain quality teachers in the education system. I just want to make certain that the appropriate structures are in place to prepare those interested in this craft. However, that would require us to recognize the art that goes into teaching in the first place.
We Are Artists
Educators serving in the classroom demonstrate the creative, imaginative and intellectual talents of artists. We design environments for and with young people where human learning occurs in complex ways across identity, sociopolitical realities and lived experiences.
Our work is more than just the hours spent with young people in the classroom. It’s the preparation that goes into teaching multiple lessons in a day, reflections on our teaching after a long day at work, the relationships we build with young people to support their humanity and learning and the connection with other colleagues and families to support students. To do this difficult work well, we have to continue to hone our craft.
During my tenure as a classroom teacher, I have sought teacher preparation programs and professional development experiences to improve my teaching abilities. During my career, I have obtained three degrees in education and social policy, cultural and educational policy studies and learning sciences — not to mention, I am currently working on a doctoral degree, as we speak. I’m doing this work not only because I am a lifelong learner that is committed to my craft as an educator but also because I believe in the importance of stewarding this work with others who want to become better educators.
Over the last few years, I’ve committed more time and energy toward developing sustainable solutions for preserving the preparation of educators while addressing teacher shortages in ways that do not diminish or devalue our work. In addition to serving as an appointed member of a state licensure board and an instructor for the teacher education program at Northwestern University, I also work with the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois Program. Golden Apple’s work is a solid model of the ways we can invest in the profession and artistry of future educators and the work they do with students and families.
Golden Apple and the Teacher Shortage in Illinois
This past summer, I served as Scholar Institute Curriculum Coordinator for Golden Apple (GA) Scholars where I developed a curriculum for Reflective Seminar, one of the key summer learning experiences for the program’s roughly 1,000 scholars. Our scholars, selected as high school seniors or first and second-year college students across the state of Illinois, participate in the pre-service teacher preparation program with the goal of building a highly prepared and effective teacher workforce for schools of need in Illinois.
The seminar, among many other learning opportunities in the GA Scholars program, provides several key experiences that support the development of teachers. Golden Apple Scholars participate in annual scholar institutes between academic years, building on the skills they are learning in their preparation programs. Additionally, tuition assistance offered through the Scholars program supports those rightfully concerned about the astronomical cost of college. Golden Apple receives a significant amount of funding and support from the state of Illinois, as well as local and state businesses and organizations that support its mission. Furthermore, Golden Apple partners with virtually all of the education degree-granting and credentialing institutions in the state.
Golden Apple’s work is particularly significant in the intentional way it seeks to address the teacher shortage in Illinois while also diversifying the teaching profession. Historically, 53 percent of Golden Apple Scholars were of color, matching Illinois’ percentage of students of color in 2021. Due to the success of Golden Apple over the years, the program has now expanded to New Mexico.
At the end of the day, I want folks to understand the artistry that teachers bring to our students, schools and communities. If current trends continue, I am concerned that de-credentializing our profession will ultimately lead to educational malpractice, a phrase I am borrowing from my colleague, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, professor of history at The Ohio State University. Instead of putting ill-fitting bandaids on the problem, as is the case in Florida and Arizona, let’s build a community around elevating and supporting the cultivation of highly effective and diverse educators like the Golden Apple program has done in Illinois and New Mexico.
Becoming an artist does not happen overnight and it can take years for a teacher to perfect their craft. As an educator that has made the commitment to my artistry, I firmly believe the next renaissance must include an investment in teacher preparation programs, if not for the betterment of the education system, then simply so that we do not continue to break the souls of the teachers that care about our profession.