Friday, March 04, 2011

What Makes a Teacher "Competent"?

According to "competent" means

having suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, experience,etc., for some purpose; properly qualified: He is perfectlycompetent to manage the bank branch.
adequate but not exceptional.

I've spent a lot of time lately defining for others the competencies expected of beginning teachers. There are dozens of categories under which there are then dozens more indicators. We are moving away from the specialist model to a generalist model.

If you want to teach elementary school, you need to know how to teach every subject on that level, but there's more:

  • you need to take additional courses in ESOL in case 1 student in your class doesn't speak English as their first language
  • you need to take additional reading courses in case you have students in your class who come to you reading below grade level
  • you need to take additional courses in special education (general) in case you have a student with a disability in your class
  • you need to take additional courses that help you become "culturally competent" in case you have students coming from a different culture than your own
If you want to teach secondary school (middle or high school), you need to know your own subject area for grades 7-12, but there's more:

  • you need all of the above as outlined for elementary teachers!
The interesting thing is that we haven't changed how many credit hours are needed to obtain a bachelor's degree in education, even though we've changed how much has to be learned. The declaration of competency is a shaky one in my opinion.

Of course we want competent teachers - but personally I'd rather have EXCEPTIONAL teachers. Going back to the definition of "competent" we find that it means "adequate, but not exceptional." How sad.

I know that I hope my doctor is "competent" but again, I'd much rather he or she is "exceptional"! I will go to a specialist to ensure I get exceptional care and that the doctor is well versed in my needs.

We've put an awful lot on the shoulders of new teachers. They have to be everything to everyone - a jack of all trades. Well, you've heard what happens if you are a jack of all trades, right? You're the master of none!

Can we find a way to prepare new teachers to be "exceptional" and not just "adequate"?