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Teacher licensing a good start

BY SHAWNA KAY WILLIAMS-PINNOCK

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

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Recently , the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) announced its mission to have our nation's teachers licensed. This, according to the council, is an important means of “professionalising teaching”, and ensuring teacher accountability and quality.

Admittedly, a few years ago I opposed this move when it was fleetingly aired in the media. At that time I thought licensing would have done nothing but compound the already unreasonable demands of the teaching profession. However, today, after much careful thought and research, I feel and think differently.

If teachers are licensed it means that more of our educators would be motivated to undertake in-service professional development courses. These courses may be done in addition to the informal in-house staff training in our schools. At the end of each course, teachers could be given official certificates as proof of their completion.

This sort of continuous training for re-licensing should not be viewed as a punishing act. It would certainly fight against the self-damaging inertia that has seemingly caused a number of our teachers to retire from professional studies after obtaining their first diploma or degree.

Please note that in Finland, a country with an incredibly successful education system, teachers are highly trained and are expected to hold at least a master's degree. Even so, they are required to regularly participate in in-service training as part of the country's regime to continually improve teaching and learning.

Teacher licensing will also help to ameliorate the status of the profession. If teachers are continually vetted, and re-licensed on the basis of their proven competency, they will naturally command greater esteem. Yes, licensure is a mark of any true and noble profession.

What is more is that we would be able to trust our teachers and trust the standard of instruction that they offer to our children. We would know that in addition to their academic certification, they can actually deliver in the classroom.

Necessary Considerations

Nevertheless, in order for the licensing of teachers to yield the tremendous good that we intend it to, the Ministry of Education must also play its part. First, the ministry must consider offsetting, in part or full, the cost of professional development courses that teachers may pursue as they seek to be relicensed every five years. If not, the ministry could design and deliver personalised courses that could help teachers, at individual schools, to effectively respond to the needs of their students.

Let me go ahead and suggest the first course: Teaching Students with Emotional and Behavioural Disorders. We simply cannot rely on special educators to treat with such kinds of students when so many of them comprise the general classroom. Teachers at traditional and non-traditional high schools would thus be enabled to create more inclusive classroom spaces, while advancing their potential for relicensing.

Second, the ministry would need to see about granting more of our teachers study leave so that they can pursue graduate level training and enhance their portfolio for relicensing. Importantly, teachers' salaries, following such training, should be made commensurate with their qualification. Believe me, more teachers would be motivated to pursue higher education. Moreover, at the end of the day, they would be better enabled to facilitate their learners.

Third, since relicensing will be dependent on the results of systematic appraisal, the ministry should further support schools in developing systems of teacher appraisal that are sensitive to the conditions of the individual institutions. For example, we cannot expect to rate teachers lowly for their failure to incorporate technology into their lessons when their schools are woefully under-resourced and ill-fitted for same. No, I am not legitimising or excusing the non-use of technology by some teachers. I am simply highlighting an uncomfortable reality, which, with greater financial prudence on the part of the Government, can be addressed through the retrofitting of our schools.

Licensing is not the elixir for all the shortcomings in our education system. It is, however, a start.

The myriad issues that can arise from the implementation of this teacher licensing policy can, as best as possible, be ironed out through a sustained and respectful dialogue between the ministry and our teachers.

Let us be dispassionate in our analysis. Better yet, let us think about the kinds of teachers that we want for our children.

— Shawna201@gmail.com

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