Wading Through the Bureaucracy of Teacher Certification
by GABRIELLE LENSCH PLASTRIK | Teacher, Revised
This is the summer that I had to buck up and undergo the certification renewal process here in Wisconsin. I should say that I probably find the Wisconsin process more annoying than people who have always lived here do because in my home state of Illinois, a teacher only needs to teach and take six credits to switch from an initial educator license to a professional one. No such simplicity for Wisconsin.
The thinkers at DPI (The Department of Public Instruction) saw that young teachers leave the profession mostly because they feel that they have not accomplished anything. Based on the nationwide research they were using, a plan that went beyond coursework and helped educators see themselves meeting goals would be highly superior. It is beautiful in theory—like most of education reform.
And such was the birth of the PDP (professional development plan). Initial educators have five years to change their license to a professional one. In order to do so, they need to set a professional development goal (a goal for their own learning) that ties into their students’ academic success (preferably judged by a standardized test). Then, in order to ensure that teachers know how to go about meeting their goal, they have to set up three to five objectives, all of which need to be supported with three to five pieces of evidence. Then, three people need to approve the goal plan: an administrator, a member of the higher education community, and a professional educator. They all also have to have been trained in being on a PDP team.
At the end of every year of the plan—it is supposed to take four years after the first year, which is spent devising the plan—the teacher is supposed to reflect on his or her progress and submit evidence of progress toward the goal. Then, at the end of five years, all evidence has to be submitted and approved in order for a teacher to be a professional educator.
There are a lot of great ideas in this plan. I particularly appreciate the plan to have trained professionals evaluating the PDPs. The process, while unnecessarily complicated, is by no means difficult. My major gripe, though, is how arbitrary the whole thing is. It forces a new teacher to focus on filling out paperwork and reflecting on one small goal that is necessarily not central to his or her practice because of its focus on self-improvement linked to student improvement. That means that whatever the focus is has to be quantifiable. I couldn’t, for instance, learn about fostering creativity in order to improve my students’ creativity in their short story writing or, more accurately, I could, but I would be unlikely to pass at the end of the cycle.