Pass a test, teach a class

An Idaho engineer will become a math teacher, if he passes a test on his knowledge of the subject.

BOISE, Idaho  — Walter Lutes, of Boise, Idaho, is trying to become the first teacher in America certified by solely taking a $400 computerized test — no education degree, no student teaching — shaving three years off his career change from mechanical engineer to math teacher.

(It doesn’t take three years for a college graduate to complete teacher training, unless he’s working at his old job and taking teacher ed classes part-time.) Lutes will be tested by a new group, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. His classroom performance will be monitored by classroom cameras; mentors will give him feedback via e-mail.

Many school districts are desperate for math and science teachers who know their subjects. They’re using alternative certification to reduce the barriers to mid-career professionals and early retirees. However, so far, only Idaho and Pennsylvania have decided to accept the American Board’s test.

Of course, not everyone who knows a subject knows how to teach it. But it’s hard to teach well if the teacher doesn’t understand the subject. Poor kids are the most likely to be taught by teachers who didn’t study the subjects they’re covering, especially in math, physics and chemistry.

About Joanne


  1. Mad Scientist says:

    Personally, I see few, if any problems with this approach.

    Since engineers generally have to make presentations to peers and managment (sometimes senior management), their presentation skills are typically pretty good.

    In addition, in making those presentations, they generally have to reduce sometimes complex concepts so their target audience can “get it”.

    The problem will most likely lie in defining the target audience and tailoring the classroom exercised to the target audience.

    My question is who would think this is a bad thing? The poor guy is probably going to have to take a pay cut, and work under conditions quite different from what he is used to.

    And if the district pays him more than a freshly-minted grad with no experience, he (and the district administration) will probably get a lot of grief from the union-know-who.

  2. Rita C. says:

    I think it’s a hard way to go. He’s going to walk into a classroom with absolutely no experience teaching high school students (I’m assuming). His first year will be absolute hell.

  3. I worked on this test for ABCTE. It’s rather rigorous, and I say this as a high school math teacher.

    As for Rita’s comment I reply, not necessarily. If he can develop a rapport with the students he should do well. If I were to counsel him, I’d suggest Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book, The First Days of School. Honestly, that book contains all any new teacher really needs to know. I wish I’d been given it when I started teaching on an emergency credential (meaning I had a math degree and a pulse). At the end of my first year I had ideas about all the things I wanted to improve on or do differently for my second year. I started a credentialing program that summer and the Wongs’ book was given to us–it outlined everything that had been swirling in my head. Needless to say, my 2nd year was a breeze compared to the first.

  4. Rita C. says:

    I re-read the Wong book every August. It has a lot to offer. I never manage to implement everything I want to every year, though.

    I don’t think the first year of teaching is easy for anybody — even math geniuses. I think it is even harder walking in without a single lesson plan.

  5. I’d disagree that “it’s hard to teach well if the teacher doesn’t understand the subject.” It’s not hard. It’s impossible.

    Given the choice between a teacher who understands the subject but has no training nor experience in teaching and a teacher with training and experience in teaching but no understanding of the subject, I’ll choose the former every time.

  6. D. Cooper says:

    To liken an engineer’s presentation to peers or management to a 9th grade algebra class of 25 wiggly hormonally raged teens some of whom may not quite have those ‘times’ tables down pat is a little off the mark. Knowledge of the subject matter it will be soon found out, is a small part of the equation. It’s going to be all about control and discipline; you get that, the rest is ‘easy pickens’.

    I have no doubt that the transition can be made, and should be, but many are going to be in for a culture shock. And if they come to LI, there’ll be no grief from the unions, and can probably start if the 50k range. I’d guess NY state regs may be the biggest roadblock and given the high teacher salaries here, the shortage is not nearly as pronounced as elsewhere.

    I knew he’d get those unions in there!!

  7. Rita C. says:

    Jim, why should we choose? Why can’t we design a program that is short, to the point, and actually prepares somebody for the classroom? Essential classes in classroom management, lesson planning that aligns with state guidelines, an overview of educational psychology and adolescent psychology at night, two days a week interning in a local school during the day. Do this for one semester. Either get them hired or into a full student teaching the next semester, voila, they’re certified.

    It does no good to get highly qualified individuals into teaching if we can’t keep them because we send them in unprepared.

    Even in Math and Science, that dearth of teachers is disapearing fast, btw. The ed schools are churning out huge numbers, and districts are laying off.

  8. I’ve gotta agree with D. Cooper on this one. To equate effective corporate presentation skills with teaching middle school or high school kids -well, you’re in for a shock.

    And when I worked on my master’s I used to laugh to myself at how different the professor’s and the k-12 teacher’s worlds were. I had instructors who’d come puffing in five minutes late, swirling in a flurry of papers. He/she’d spend ten haphazard minutes just reviewing the syllabus and then another five minutes doling the handouts, getting settled, and pulling out a thermos of coffee.

    I’d marvel at how quiet and calm the students were while the prof got ready.

    That’s fifteen class minutes of subdued adult time, but in a middle school class? Not on your life. The kids would be climbing the walls.

  9. LOL at Suzie’s last post! I so wholeheartedly concur! And not only that, the complete lack of knowledge of what a contemporary public school is like was too often demonstrated by my masters’ professors. I recall a foreign language methods professor “demonstrating” a lesson technique whilst the whole class was snickering at its unrealistic premise. He was like, “What’s wrong?” He was clueless and then very curious as to why the lesson was likely to fail. We had to educate him.

  10. Michael says:

    Oh, Dave, you can’t leave me hanging like that: what was his unrealistic premise? (I teach a social science methods class, so I’m more than usually interested.)

  11. As someone who is trying to get a job teaching math (B.A. in Math, now working on ed credentials), I’d sure like to know where that dearth of math teachers is!

  12. D. Cooper says:

    Sandrs .. Where they pay … no dearth!!

  13. I think that the difficulty of teaching children is related less to the training of the teacher and more with the lack of discipline of the children.

    I was talking with a co-worker and engineer being laid off who was thinking of going into teaching here in Texas where they are apparently desperate for teachers with math and science experience. When calculating his math and science background the half-wit doing his paperwork accepted his freshman year Rocks for Jocks class as a science credit, since it had a science course name. But when he asked for his statics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, linear vibrations, and other engineering classes to be recognized as math or science they refused.

    I think the teaching world is lacking clues on what a real education is, and fixating on the simplistic matter of special “education” training. My best teachers were always those with better subject knowlege, not those who could make me feel good about being in a classroom.

  14. I came into education from industry, having a degree (MS)in my teaching field. NONE of the idiotic education courses I took (at the University of Cincinnati) in the course of gaining cerification were of any help AT ALL when I entered the classroom. It took me about 5 years to become ‘proficient’ as a teacher; I am convinced that no amount of ‘education college’training could have accelerated this process. I would have saved myself about a year and a half by going directly into the classroom.

  15. J. Olsen says:

    I just stumbled across this blog while doing some educational research. It fascinates me because, although I wasn’t interviewed for this Fox News story, I have taken the ABCTE exam in Elementary Education. Just this morning I received word that I passed the objective parts of the two exams “with flying colors.” I am still waiting to hear the results of the essay portion, but I am assuming I passed the written assessment as well.

    I believe that the ABCTE route to certification is excellent for prospective teachers like me. My undergraduate work was in education but due to unforseen circumstances I was unable to complete the program. Overall, I have a full year of practicum and student teaching under my belt. I have also been working in an elementary school for the last year. I think it is a wonderful program for individuals who have been working in an educational setting (paraprofessionals, content experts, substitute teachers) to make a smooth and natural transition to certified status. Walter Lutes, the subject of the report, appears to be an excellent candidate for ABCTE certification.

    That being said, I don’t feel this is an adequate test for individuals without any experience in education. I think this will become evident when newly certified ABCTE teachers, without classroom experience, are not hired by individual school districts. I believe the situation is analogous to the airline industry. Would you fly in a plane with a pilot that passed a multiple-choice test but had never actually flown a plane?

    My other concern with the test is the educational bias that exists in the actual exam. During my teacher preparation courses, I learned multiple strategies and approaches to education. Most were research validated and teacher tested. However, the ABCTE exam strongly aligns itself with an explicit, direct instruction methodology.

    Lastly, I have found that in general there is a lack of classroom management instruction for pre-service teachers. I also found this to be true with the ABCTE exam. Every great teacher knows management is the key to an efficient classroom! A classroom must have order and stability to foster learning. I have personally garnered these skills from reading the Wong’s books, Love and Logic, and The Essential 55.