Thursday, September 21, 2006


Qualifications for teaching

Part of what PZ Myers says in Pharyngula about teachers and their qualifications prompts me to write about something related. Professor Myers is specifically looking at questionable qualifications to teach science. I want to look at the other side: questionable reasons for refusing to let someone teach.

I know someone who has been an adjunct instructor at a major northeastern university. My friend has a background in education, nearly 30 years of experience, and recognized expertise in the field. My friend was one of the designers of the curriculum and has taught the course at this university for several years as an adjunct instructor, always receiving excellent course reviews — the best of all the instructors of the course.

But my friend does not have a PhD, and, beginning with this fall's term, is no longer permitted to teach at the university, even on an adjunct basis. They've changed their rules, ostensibly to maintain standards. In the process, they've lowered their standards considerably, putting form above substance.

The school is saying that it's willing to accept the teaching of someone fresh out of graduate school, with no experience, no track record, no established reputation... but with a degree. And that it's not willing to accept the teaching of someone with extensive experience, a proven excellent track record, publications in the field, and a worldwide reputation. Someone with strongly demonstrated qualifications.

Someone's priorities are backward here.

An advanced degree is evidence of the effort that was put into it; it is no small thing. But it only shows one aspect of what one offers, and is not, in itself, proof that one is qualified. Decades of excellent work and recognition by one's peers are also evidence of serious effort — certainly no less so than a PhD — and provide far more evidence of qualifications.

I would rather see our advanced institutions include experts in their fields in addition to those formally trained by those same institutions, and I believe that universities do a disservice to their students by blanket, out-of-hand exclusions such as this. Rules need to be applied not blindly, but with intelligence and consideration for the best results.


Permadot said...

I had the same problem as your friend but in a different arena.

When I was first applying for a working visa in the U.S., I almost did not get it since my major was not IT or IT related (my major is on Biology).

When I was asked to produce a document that backup my knowledge, I told the person interviewing me: I have more than 13 years of experience in the field and I have a (re)certification in the activities I am going to do, so why do you need me to be an IT related major?

Anyway, I got my visa since I sent some documents and additional certifications that backed up my knowledge aquired in the field.

Julio C├ęsar

Dr. P. said...

This is the problem of credentials versus competence. Once upon a time the proper credentials more or less guaranteed competence, but that is no longer the case.

To qualify as a public school teacher some states require their math teachers to have majored in mathematics or math education. Yet licensure test results reveal that many of these prospective math teachers graduate without fluency in high school level math.

Yet the rules prevent people who do have this fluency, but majored in physics or electrical engineering from teaching.