Commentary

Senators, please drop the expensive test for teacher licensing

March 26, 2022 9:00 am

Tests are graded with an A+ and an F. (Photo by Getty Images)

A bill that would remove testing as a requirement for teaching licenses is before the Iowa Senate.

It passed the House unanimously.

Dear Iowa Senate, please pass this bill and get it under Gov. Kim Reynolds’ pen at once.

I rarely speak publicly about political issues anymore, but I confess my vested interest in this one.

I’m student teaching this semester and if this bill doesn’t pass, I’ll have to file a blizzard of paperwork and pay $300 to a private testing company for evaluation.

If I pass the evaluation, I’ve finally earned the right to pay the state $165 for a license to do a job so very few people want to do for wages that impress no one.

A $300 fee may sound small. If you took your car to the mechanic with a “rattle rattle, thump, bang bang” and walked out for less than $300, you’d be thrilled.

But that’s not the whole picture.

My tuition at Drake University this semester was more than $12,000.

Yes, I could have gone through a different school with lower tuition, this is a master’s program.

I’m 46 years old. I can’t afford to start over to the fresh-out-of-college salary scale. Most districts will start a new teacher with a master’s degree in a higher pay lane.

Student loans funded every dollar of my last two years of school. I’ll be paying that until I die.

So it goes. I’m pretty sure dying in debt is basically the same as dying rich.

What’s another $300 on top of that?

It’s more principle than anything.

Presently, there are two kinds of tests you can take to earn a license. One is a pair of exams, one for general teaching and another specific to your discipline such as English or math.

The other is a complex collection of video recorded work with students, unit plans, and essays with 17 different rubrics.

Both tracks cost $300.

You generally take them as you’re student teaching.

Student teaching is the capstone of education school for both undergraduates and graduate students.

You worked side-by-side with an experienced teacher for roughly four months, including leading classes for four to six weeks.

Student teachers are not paid.

They are working full time. They are not getting paid.

You are actively discouraged from having a part-time job, though some of my classmates do.

How they handle it is beyond me. Student teaching is the most taxing thing I’ve ever done. The level of executive function — the sheer amount of stuff you have to keep straight — is staggering.

I come home from days and collapse into bed by 7 p.m.

As a student teacher, I’m evaluated twice a week by a mentor teacher — usually a retired teacher interested in passing along good pedagogy to a new generation.

I’m observed nearly every minute by my classroom teacher.

I talk regularly about progress with both teachers and my professors at Drake. Our class has weekly seminar meetings — also a class I have to pay for.

In the end, I need three letters of recommendation from people who have seen me teach.

If I haven’t impressed my classroom teacher or my supervising teacher, I’m in trouble.

My point is this: How many tests are enough?

I’ve taken pedagogy. I’ve taken subject classes. I lived the journalism.

I’m constantly observed and have excelled at an accredited university that sets its standards in line with both the state and the latest ideas on teaching teachers.

The thing is, the test isn’t a measure of potential in a future teacher.

It isn’t even a measure of how good they are at taking tests or writing rubrics.

It’s a grift.

Private testing companies shake down education majors for a few hundred bucks after they’ve already stacked up thousands in debt to take a job that faces historic shortages.

I’ve only been in a classroom since January. Already I am a changed person. I had no idea what I didn’t know about this job.

It is hard work. It might be the hardest civilian non-first responder or peace officer job there is.

Sometimes I think I’ve permanently scrambled my egg to think I could do this.

But I’m getting better every day. And I think I love it even on the days I’m cursing into my pillow at night.

So, yes, please, Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Reynolds, remove one expensive hurdle for me and the thousands of students working hard to become the teachers our state so desperately needs.

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Daniel P. Finney
Daniel P. Finney

Independent journalist Daniel P. Finney writes and podcasts for paragraphstacker.com, an independent, reader-supported news and opinion website, and for the Marion County Express. He was a reporter, editor and columnist in Iowa for 27 years.

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