March 19, 2006

Credential Paranoia?

There is an epidemic in teaching that may be unknown to some of you, but to those of us who teach "outside" of our credential area, it can be a very serious condition. The symptoms can include frustration, anger, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of inadequacy. A general malaise may develop over time leading to a desire to leave the teaching profession entirely. What causes Credential Paranoia or CP? CP is brought on by persistent and sometimes annual requests by district officials to justify oneself in his or her content area of expertise. How does CP occur? In my case, I hold a credential in English, but I teach multimedia courses which are approved for UC/CSU Art credit. I don't hold an Art credential or an Industrial and Technical education credential. In order for me to teach the multimedia courses, I need to be school board approved every year. This year my principal is writing an appeal on my behalf; an appeal for me to teach the courses that I wrote. Amazing.

It all got started when I decided to pursue teaching. Actually, I didn't decide to pursue teaching, teaching pursued me. By that I mean that I didn't always want to become a teacher. (I've already written about that here.) Once I realized teaching as a good fit, I choose to teach Drama. Drama was the subject in middle and high school that definitely got me out of my shell and into a classroom seat. Without Drama, and more importantly, without my two Drama teachers, I wouldn't be writing any of this today.

To teach Drama in California one needs a single subject credential in English (yeah, that makes sense). I was a communication major in college so this was the first obstacle to overcome, the first of many hoops I was asked to jump through before I finally landed in a classroom. I was told that I either needed to go back and get an English undergraduate degree or take a test. That was an easy decision; that was not an easy test. Back then the name had just changed from NTE to Praxis (yes, I'm that old.) Now kids have to take something called the CSET which I suppose may be in my future as well.

Taking the test did not go well for me. The second time I passed the 200 multiple-choice questions on the history of English as we know it. The essay took me a few more tries. Hard to believe that my eloquent and verbose writing style did not impress the judges (sarcasm implied). I finally figured out that all I needed to do was just get to the point and use the simple five-paragraph essay format (perhaps some of my readers wish I might do so even now, but this is much more fun). I finally cleared the testing hurdle and got enrolled in a teacher prep program.

I think most teacher prep programs miss the point. It should not be about theory and speculation on what you'll do someday when you get into a classroom working with kids. It should be about actually teaching from day one. Some programs get student-teachers into the classroom right away. That makes sense to me. I actually believe that substitute teaching is a far better training program and predictor of ultimate classroom success than the standard teacher-prep approach. Think about it, the military does not have a "12 month talk and read about boot camp" prep program before actually going to boot camp. A solider gets his or her haircut and right to work learning the ropes. But I digress.

After teacher prep I student taught middle and high school Drama and high school English. My master teachers were wonderful. Both Drama teachers were my teachers when I was in middle and high school. Both teachers were also ready to move on, leaving an open assignment for me to fill. Both gave me significant and immediate opportunities to teach. I learned everything from those experiences. (I plan to write specifically about these two men soon.) The high school principal had someone else in mind for her campus, but the middle school principal informally offered me an assignment. I had to interview and jump through more hoops, but the job was mine to take or leave. I left it after two years to teach high school English at the campus where I currently teach multimedia.

I was hired to teach English but I eventually found myself in the computer classroom. I was put there without the proper credentials not only by my own personal choice and drive, but also by administrators who saw a need and had a desire to have the subject matter taught. Sure I agreed, and yes I love what I teach. I've even written extensive curriculum for the courses. But now that same administrative body who put me there is telling me that I am unqualified to teach the content they put me there to teach. It doesn't make sense. I've got a bad case of Credential Paranoia.

There is of course a simple remedy, all I need to do is get the proper credential and I'll be "acceptable." The question is what is the proper credential? Last year I was asked to add a supplemental. I could choose programming or office technologies. I already had sufficient course work for office technologies, so I paid my fee and added the supplemental. Sure, it was a stretch, but it was something. It was sufficient then, but not now? Perhaps they want me to add the Industrial and Technical education credential. Cool, I'll learn to sew and I'll be able to teach woodshop, two dying subjects in the world of A-G and CASHEE. Or I can pick up the Art credential. It still burns some of my fellow Art teachers that I teach such courses without the Art credential (not that they want to teach multimedia).

It's a big mess, but I am not the big loser. The kids who I teach will be the big losers if an antidote for CP is not found or I am reassigned. No one is saying that yet, and I doubt it will happen, but the situation if very frustrating. After 10 years in the classroom, 6 years teaching courses I wrote myself, I am still being asked to hurdle obstacles that basically question my competence. It's silly. Not only that, but every time I'm asked to renew my credential, or add a supplemental, or take more courses it costs me money. Teachers already get paid too little, and then we are asked to invest what little we have left so that we can keep our jobs, or at least our place on the pay schedule. My job performance is not what gets me a raise; it's the number of courses I take. Silly. I will not allow CP to bother me. I'm going to keep teaching until I can't teach anymore, or until they take away my keys.

Please post your comments below.


  1. I know what you mean. I have over 20 years of professional computer experience. I taught HS computer science for 8 years in a private school. I have a masters in the subject and have written several textbooks. But I am not a certified teacher. I'm guessing that I could not teach computer science in your school. Doesn't make much sense to me.

  2. I think as long as the teachers have the experience it is okay but many times the teachers are unqualified. Then again just because you know something in and out doesn't always mean it is good for you to teach it either.