Teaching's rusty gate

Teachers should be gatekeepers for admission into the profession, writes Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land in The Rusty Gate. In addition to raising the bar for entrance and “investing more time, resources and research on effective teacher development,” the teachers we’ve already got need more support, she writes.

Struggling teachers come in two basic flavors: #1) teachers who haven’t had sufficient experience or training to do the job well and #2) teachers who once had the disposition and tools to be good teachers, but have checked out due to cynicism, fatigue, bitterness and unforgiving working conditions.

Novice teachers often fear evaluation and try “to keep a low profile,” she writes.

One thing that can be done by accomplished veterans: asking newer teachers for their ideas, and approaching them as full colleagues, rather than those who need help. . . . Novice teachers ought to be considered for leadership roles, such as curriculum writing or the school improvement team, rather than dumping unwanted, time-sucking class advisories or club sponsor roles on them.

Some burned-out veterans “were once enthusiastic and creative, but had had their mojo squashed by a culture of anger and perceived betrayal,” Flanagan writes.

. . . a significant group of teachers who retain the potential to be very effective in the classroom have found the only “leadership” role open to them is fighting back against systemic change through their unions. They need to have their professional experience validated and acknowledged; they’re not going accept either praise or criticism from someone they don’t respect, but they have not stopped caring about their students’ learning.

There’s a chance to learn from veteran teachers, even those who seem to have “dried up,” she writes.

About Joanne


  1. I like this so much. One thing I appreciate about a new principal that came to my school is this principal’s willingness to shake up the committees and reach out to people (like me) who had never been on committees before and hear their ideas. One bad things we as teachers tend to do is solidify into cliques just like those of our students. If an administrator and teachers, working together, can help to break that up and push for real collaboration, that’s a great thing.

  2. The blind leading the disgruntled? That’s what we have already!

  3. hahahaha! Yeah, right, that’s what’ll fix things: teachers deciding who they want to let in as competition.

    Why does anyone demand the right to determine who becomes a teacher? If you’re credentialed and passed a criminal check, you can work as a teacher.

  4. My colleagues aren’t my competition (no merit pay). I want the best teachers around me as possible. Not only does it make my professional life a lot easier when my students come in with an excellent education, but I like being in an environment where I’m learning all the time.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    What about 3) teachers who are dumber than a box of rocks and 4) teachers who can’t teach their subject because they don’t know a quotient from a noun phrase?

  6. “If you’re credentialed and passed a criminal check, you can work as a teacher.”

    You shouldn’t need a credential if a credential means a teaching license or a degree in education. You should have earned a degree in a real field of study, e.g., biology, mathematics, English, psychology, foreign languages, pass a criminal check, and meet any criteria that a district/school may have, e.g., pass a basic skills test in reading, writing, math. Nothing more.

    A teacher needs a license/degree in education like a fish needs a bicycle.

  7. I don’t care one way or the other about the credential. But a degree isn’t an indication of knowledge. We should keep the difficult qualification tests and require them even if the applicant has a degree. Pass the test without a degree, who cares? Have a degree, can’t pass the test–buhbye.

    Either way, teachers should not have a sayso over who else becomes a teacher. Lawyers don’t get to okay lawyers, doctors don’t okay doctors.

    I want the best teachers around me as possible

    I want a muscle car and George Clooney in the passenger seat. Oh, well. You can’t always get what you want. Cope. Your desire to have great teachers around–as you define them–doesn’t trump the societal need for teachers or an individual’s desire to be a teacher.

    And just to clear something up: teachers already have some limited say as to who gets hired at their school–whatever degree the principal wants to give them. The proposal requires letting teachers bless who gets into the profession, which is a whole nother issue.

  8. Cal, I cope quite nicely, thanks. And since I’m usually part of the hiring committee when we have an opening, I actually get lots of say in whom I teach with.

    Cool, huh?

    But my point isn’t that I want to be a gatekeeper, just that your argument that it isn’t a good idea because I (as a random teacher) would want to eliminate the competition good teachers would present is not a good one since it rests upon the false premise that other teachers are competition. I understand that many who would like to see education transformed into a busines model would like to turn things in that direction, but we are not there right now.

    There may be other flaws to the proposal, as you rightly point out, but that’s just not one of them. And regardless of the gatekeeping aspects, creating opportunities for leadership in the profession is a good idea if only because it would help retain talent.

  9. just that your argument that it isn’t a good idea because I (as a random teacher) would want to eliminate the competition good teachers would present is not a good one since it rests upon the false premise that other teachers are competition.


    See, that’s the problem with so many teachers, particularly the ones who swallow the Koolaid. They are so removed from basic job economics that they can’t engage in a meaningful conversation.

    But never mind basic knowledge. Have you looked at your teacher contract lately? Everything in it is designed to reward seniority and eliminate competition. So spare me your protestations. Teachers and their unions put protecting their own as a very high priority. That’s as it should be; there’s nothing wrong about it. But the idea of any union protected “profession” being gatekeepers to the profession is risible on its face.

    By the way, I didn’t “rest” my argument on teachers and competition. That’s just the part that makes the idea moronic without further ado. Try reading my second paragraph for the fundamental objection, even for a job or profession that rested on meritocracy.

  10. Miller Smith says:

    My school system is so hamstrung by the union contract and state certification requirements that we cannot find a qualified high school teacher for art. Plain old art. My school had to hire the perm sub who has been teaching the class for the year and try to get her to go for certification.

    Now remember, we are in a recession and people are scrambling for jobs-any jobs. Our state makes a career change to teaching so laborious and time consuming that most people don’t even try to change.

    Right now half of my system’s chemistry classes are being taught by perm subs or other certified personnel teaching “out of field”. I haven’t worried one bit about this economic downturn. Our principals can’t even threaten teachers with a file of applicants as there are none.

    And you’ll love this: My state is getting ready to raise the time for tenure from two years to four. Yep! That will work! High opportunity costs in time and money, low starting wages, and now increased periods of job insecurity! Talk about feeling secure! I’m kicking back…

  11. “Lawyers don’t get to okay lawyers, doctors don’t okay doctors.”

    If you want to be an attorney in the U.S., you have to pass an examination written by lawyers. In effect, these lawyers okay you, but only if you pass their test. And, should you work for a law firm, the okay of more senior lawyers is essential should you want to rise in your profession. There are also other employment situations for attorneys under which they will have to depend on the okay of other lawyers.

    If you want to become a physician, you have to first be an intern under the supervision of doctors, who have to okay you in order for you to become licensed doctor. You also have to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam, a test created by doctors. If you don’t pass this test, you fail to earn these doctors’ okay and cannot legally practice medicine.


  12. Cal, I would point out that I am not engaging you in an ad hominem argument about who drinks which beverages in her spare time.

    Seniority is not competition. It doesn’t matter how many fresh new faces come in under me or how smart they are: I am not competing with any of them for my job. In fact, the more who come in, the safer my job is since it edges me up the seniority ladder. At present, over 3/4’s of my department would need to be laid off before they got to me. Seniority is the very antithesis of job competition and that’s why so many want to do away with it in pursuit of teacher quality.

  13. Within each medical specialty, graduating residents must pass a written exam, composed of specialists in that field, and usually an oral exam, as well. Surgeons must also submit a list of cases, as specified by that specialty, which is examined for both quantity and type of cases.

    In nursing, primary licensure is determined by a multi-specialty exam, composed by nurses. Specialty certification (critical care, pediatrics etc.) also requires passage of an exam, and may also require a master’s degree (which is clinical in nature) in that specialty. Certification always requires a certain amount of clinical practice in the designated area, as does a master’s degree.

  14. Additionally, in the union-controlled trades (if one chooses to see teaching in that light), the current members control who enters through apprenticeship.

    Miller: my district doesn’t grant tenure until year 6’s contract. Doesn’t seem to amount to much of an issue.

  15. Miller Smith says:

    Lightly Seasoned, my school district is Prince George’s County, Maryland. We are-depending on the source-the 11th largest school district in the nation. We are Urban Wasnington DC and some suburban black professionals and blue collar.

    We usede to have a four year tenure some 20 odd yers ago but that was costing us recuits. Montgomery County, MD-one of the richest districts in North America-had four years as well. When lost recuits were asked why they dropped us we were told that four years for us was stupid. We dropped the number of years to 2 for us just to try and compete.

    We still can’t get applicants as things are now. We fired every untenured teacher at the end of last year for budget reasons when the state had to cut their contributions to us (we had a new millionare surtax that ran the $$$ right into the arms of Virginia…we now have an addiotnal $3 billion in lost taxes to cut from us this year). I will tell you right now, our admin is very upset with the 2 to 4 change coming.

    Where do you teach that tenure is not a competiion issue for applicants?

  16. If you want to be an attorney in the U.S., you have to pass an examination written by lawyers. …and all the other posts of this ilk.

    What is it exactly you think the CBEST/CSET/PRAXIS etc is, if not parallel competency tests?

    That is the appropriate parallel, not this nonsensical teachers-approving-teachers suggested here.

    Where do you teach that tenure is not a competiion issue for applicants?

    Psssst–it’s not a problem of location, but comprehension.

  17. “Lawyers don’t get to okay lawyers, doctors don’t okay doctors.”

    Actually, a percentage of annual bar membership fees, necessary to continue practicing law, is dedicated to the creation and scoring of the state bar exam, and attorney grievance and reprimand processes. Oversight is generally provided by the state court system. So–lawyers do gate-keep and police their own. Thanks to Momof4 for providing examples of how health care professionals have a hand in creating licensure examinations.

    BTW–if you read the blog, there was no “proposal” to shoot down. I was merely suggesting that teachers take responsibility or at least defend the idea that there were things teachers should know and demonstrate competently before practicing. Further –teachers should embrace routine rigorous evaluation of their practice, and demand that all their colleagues perform competently. Until that happens systemically, the entryway into teaching and determination of teacher effectiveness will be a rusty gate.

    The only comparable assessment/exam system we have for teachers in the U.S. is National Board Certification; those standards and assessments were created by practicing educators, and fewer than half the teachers who attempt them (a pretty high-functioning pool to begin with) succeed on the first try.

    The national teachers’ associations don’t function as truly professional organizations–they went in a different direction, putting their emphasis on working conditions. I would never endorse allowing unions in their present form to set requirements for admission to practice–but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be more judicious in selecting new teachers.

    My point was not that teachers should “choose their competition”– that’s inane. Only that making it more difficult to enter teaching and investing in codifying and continuously upgrading practice (as other nations do) would not only weed out bad candidates but revitalize some teachers. Good practice breeds good practice.

  18. Miller: the midwest. The local disaster of an urban district does three years. I’m sure it isn’t a factor in making them competitive with the suburban districts.

    You implied that Montgomery County has also dropped the number of years for tenure, is that true? Is it a regional issue or a district issue?

  19. Miller Smith says:

    Lightly Seasoned, it is a money issue. Montgomery County, MD contains Chevy Chase and Bethesda. The suburbs are full of cash and expenive homes and lots of high tech. Prince George’s County is poor. Very poor. We have to get the entire state to send us money to cover our bills. Besides Baltimore, we are the district with almost all the violence that occurs in schools. We are more violent-as measured by number of incidents-per month than the rest of the entire state is all year.

    We had to import teachers from the Philipines due to no applicants living in the entire United States willing to even interview with us.

    When we heard the state wanted us to increase the years until tenure, we just laughed. Today I just heard through our union that my district will be getting an “exemption” for science, math, and special ed teachers who will get tenure in 1 year.

    Things just aren’t the same everywhere, so a one size fits all plan won’t work anywhere.

  20. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    What is it exactly you think the CBEST/CSET/PRAXIS etc is, if not parallel competency tests?

    I can’t speak to CSET but the CBEST and PRAXIS are utter jokes that test junior-high level skills. Even the “Geometry” section of the PRAXIS is really more about sixth grade geometrical concepts like the area of a square and 180 degrees being in a triangle than any sort of exercise in mathematical reasoning.

    They’re about as much exercises in gatekeeping as checking for fog on the mirror.

    (Note that I’m not saying you disagree with this, though you might.; it’s not clear one way or another I’m just pointing out that as parallels go, these tests aren’t really in the same league as a bar exam so the “parallel” is abstractly structural only.)

  21. Miller: oh, I absolutely believe you. And I can see how tenure could be a negotiation item under those conditions — especially if layoffs come through regularly. I was just wondering if the surrounding rich districts saw it as a recruiting factor as well.

    And no, one solution does NOT fit all. Again, I see that as a function of politics. Everybody wants the easy solution and it doesn’t exist.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, Mary Pat Campbell. Mary Pat Campbell said: RT @kriley19: Joanne Jacobs: Teaching's rusty gate http://bit.ly/4ZQbDZ […]