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Is it Time for DIY Teacher Certification?

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

There can be no doubt that we live in a DIY world. Khan Academy, YouTube Education, Ted Ed, iTunes U, The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential, Udacity, eHow, diy Network, and countless other websites now make it possible to learn almost anything you could want, for free, at your own pace, and in the comfort of your own home. How far can the DIY movement actually go? We already have DIY programmers, movie makers, game developers, and countless self-trained plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and mechanics. Will we soon have DIY doctors, lawyers, engineers, and school teachers? Where do we draw the line? Is DIY strictly for manual labor and its Information Age equivalents, or will there eventually be room for DIY professionals in the workforce? Given the current shortage of qualified teachers (U.S. Department of Education, 2011), perhaps DIY teaching credential are the place to start?

DIY Teaching License?
With the explosion of options in our DIY culture, there must be a way to incorporate that model as a way of getting more good teachers into the classroom. Imagine, the 20 year veteran engineer who has grown tired of the pressure and politics of the daily grind at Big Industry X’s corporate office, but has always had an interest in passing on his knowledge to the next generation. This individual watches a few YouTube videos, does an interactive classroom management simulation or two, scans his fingerprints into the State Police database of sexual offenders, takes the self-paced teacher licensure examinations online, and is mailed his teaching license in 4-6 weeks. Said person then applies for several jobs as a high school STEM educator and receives offers based on his extensive experience. All the research indicates that this individual should be a more valuable classroom presence than a freshly minted teacher ed program graduate (Sass, 2011). This pattern repeats itself several thousand times and the national teacher shortage in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology is resolved. Viola!

The Devil Is In the Details
I patiently played the devil’s advocate in the previous sections of this post, but I feel that it is now time to take a stand against what I wrote. No, I am not schizophrenic (at least there is no formal diagnosis yet!), I am the product of a very well-respected teacher education program, and currently teach educational technology to teachers-to-be. So I have a vested interest in defending education departments everywhere. Even beyond that, I truly believe that there is much to be learned from the experience of receiving your credentials from a traditional education department.

A majority of the faculty in education departments that I have worked with had been experienced classroom teachers prior to pursuing their PhDs or EdDs. These individuals bring a wealth of experience to the higher education classroom. In the exact same way that studies, such as that by Sass (2011). indicate that professional experience is a benefit to alternatively credentialed teachers, those professors with actual experience teaching provide the greatest benefit for their students.

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger established the concept of "legitimate peripheral participation" (1991), which states that learning happens as a process of exposure to and increasing engagement with and within a field. Participation in a teacher education program is essential to helping new teachers become productive members of the professional field they wish to become a part of (Edutopia) because it allows them to gradually become part of an established community of educators.

While there certainly is a benefit to incorporating well-trained, highly experienced professionals into the teaching profession, there is a need for them to be acclimated to the history, norms, and culture of education before they enter a classroom. There is far more to teaching than subject matter. Good teachers must understand how to design a curriculum, child development, classroom management, and many other subtle disciplines that cannot be learned without the mentorship that education programs provide and which allows them to share in the experiences of the master teachers who have come before them (Farstrup, 2003).

Though unlikely, the DIY professional is not a complete impossibility. There may be some potential in the concept of the DIY teacher credential. We are moving into a world of rapid technological changes and connectivity beyond anything we have known before. No rules exist that say DIY learning has to be an isolated endeavor. Technology allows for new experiences and new ways of doing things on a near daily basis. Perhaps in a few years new technologies for social interaction and mentoring will make DIY learning a realistic possibility for those interested in DIY credentialing. Currently, however, there is too much tacit knowledge involved in the teaching profession to think that someone can step off the street and into a classroom and understand the pedagogy, psychology, content, instructional design, and systems within a school well enough to provide students with the kind of education they deserve.

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