Teacher qualifications problematic

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2003

Alabama State Board of Education members were supposed to pass a resolution defining the term at their Thursday meeting but decided to table it, claiming they weren't prepared to make a decision just yet.

Their decision - or rather indecision - has left graduated and enrolled education students between a rock and a hard place.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, individual states are supposed to define the standards for a highly qualified teacher and then qualify teachers before the 2005-2006 school year.

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The board's lack of conviction means frustration for universities trying to prepare teachers.

"It's left us stabbing in the dark," said Donna Jacobs, the dean of Troy State University's College of Education.

"We need to have a definitive board action."

Jacobs said the ambiguity of the mandate is frustrating because it makes it difficult for TSU to make its teacher graduates marketable.

As a result, one problem many graduated teachers face is not finding a job in the fall.

"Several principals and superintendents have said they won't even interview teachers who don't meet the highly qualified standard," she said.

TSU is struggling to prepare its teachers for the new standard while still honoring their requirements for graduation, which is set by the Alabama State Department of Education.

"We need confidence to say this is the definitive answer," she said.

Jacobs said one person from the State Department of Education told her the mandate was like a moving target.

"Until that target is in one place, we're going to have trouble hitting the bull's-eye," she said.

She said TSU is making all the adjustments it can possibly make in its teacher curriculum and advising students as much as possible, but the definition continues to evolve.

When the federal mandate came down, each state was allowed to choose how to define a highly qualified teacher.

Alabama has what is called the Alabama Model to define the standards.

The problem is that the model is just a draft and is not approved.

Therefore, it is in a continual state of evolution.

"By the time we look at preparing programs to meet the standards, the model has evolved," Jacobs said.

But TSU has additional layers of concern that principals and superintendents don't have to deal with.

"We are preparing teachers for other states as well," Jacobs said.

She said instructors face the dilemma of preparing teachers for other states that may not have the same definition of highly qualified.

"Every state has its own model," she said.

"They have similar standards about what qualifies, but every state as an independent definition."

The reasoning behind the federal mandate is to ensure that the best teachers are teaching our children.

Though it's a nice thought, compliance is easier said than done.

Jacobs feels the state is being too narrow by only looking at college coursework.

"It concerns me right now that it is one of the only ways," she said.

Currently, the measure of a highly qualified teacher does not include workshops that are already required by the state and years of experience.

As a result, veteran teachers are scrambling to get in a few extra classes before the fall and TSU is scrambling to provide them.

Deborah Fortune has spent a busy summer lining up classes through TSU's Southeast Alabama Technology Network, or SEAL.

"There has been a massive amount of coordination with the area principals and superintendents," she said.

Classes begin Monday and will include special topic math and biology classes.

Fortune said the classes have been specifically designed for the experienced teacher.

"We've really tried to work around the schedule of what the state department required of teachers as best we could," she said, referring to summer workshops.

She said this is the first time TSU has taught a SEAL class of this nature on such a large scale.

"On Monday, we will have 120 teachers taking the classes at 12 locations," she said.

Sites are set up at Pike County High School, Goshen High School and area community colleges.

"Those who have been teaching for quite a number of years may be nervous about going back to school," Fortune said.

She said holding a class specifically for the experienced teacher at convenient locations will help ease the anxiety.