Frustrated With Education Bureaucracy
June 10, 2003
When I decided in January that I wanted to pursue becoming a public school teacher in South Carolina, I knew the path would not be an easy one. But little did I know just HOW difficult it would be to break through the education bureaucracy.
After trying my hand at substitute teaching in Spartanburg County public schools for a few months, I knew that I wanted to teach in the middle school or high school level. While I enjoyed working with elementary children because I like to make them laugh and they are easier to discipline, I found that I needed to be a little more intellectually stimulated than 2+2=4 or spell the word "that."
I taught quite a few elementary classes this year, but most of my substitute teaching was in secondary schools, primarily Dawkins Middle School, Dorman High School and the Dorman Freshman Campus. I informed the principals of these schools that I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English/Political Science and a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy. Much to my delight, I was regularly asked to teach English when I was called to be a substitute.
Although my education background would allow me to easily pursue getting certified to teach social studies, I really enjoyed teaching English. I probably should have pursued a Master of Arts Degree in English instead of Public Policy. But, hindsight is always 20/20. I loved social sciences just as much as English!
Since I was not an education major in college, I have been trying to get certified in South Carolina in a critical needs certification program called Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE). ; This program allows a way for people like me who have a college degree and wants to pursue a mid-career change to education to enter the profession. Areas of critical need include both subjects and geographical areas.
Unfortunately, Spartanburg County is not considered a critical needs area geographically. But the subject of English is ALWAYS an area of critical need (interestingly, social studies has never been deemed a critical needs subject area, although many students probably couldn't tell you who the Governor or either of the two U.S. Senators are in South Carolina. I anticipate social studies will become a critical needs area in the next decade as the United States decides to get serious about teaching students about their government.)
In March, I filled out the extensive application to begin the process of becoming a teacher in South Carolina. I knew I would probably have to take an aptitude test to see if I am qualified to teach secondary English in South Carolina public schools. After reading some atrocious writing from the students attending Spartanburg County public schools, I didn't think it would take very much to be qualified to teach them.
After months of studying and waiting, I finally took the Praxis test for English Language, Literature &; Comprehension: Content Knowledge (costing over $100 just to take the test) in late April. The test took place on a Saturday morning at Greenville Tech. There were 120 multiple choice questions that needed to be answered in two hours. I had taken the practice test the week before and failed because I was rushing too quickly through the questions. At the actual test, I paced myself well, finishing the final question with one minute to spare.
The test results would be mailed to me in 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, I received a form letter from Inez Tenenbaum's office at the South Carolina Department of Education informing me that they consider me academically unqualified to teach English in South Carolina public high schools. There was no explanation about what this meant or why I was deemed unqualified.
After months of gathering multiple letters of recommendation, getting fingerprinted for an FBI search, submitting transcripts from the schools I attended, filling out the teaching application and submitting the $75 application fee, is this form letter all I am going to get? But, instead of getting angry at this, I decided to wait and see how I did on the Praxis test.
However, I decided to attempt to contact the state Department of Education again. I sent an e-mail to the person in charge of the PACE program requesting an explanation for why my teacher application was so quickly denied. A few days later I received another form response that informed me that in order to enter the PACE program I would need 30 hours in the subject I wanted to teach.
I received 24 credit hours in the subject of English as an undergraduate, good enough for a major at the University of Tennessee at Martin. But, according to the South Carolina Department of Education, this isn't enough to qualify me to teach English in South Carolina. Frustration began to sink in at this point. Over the next few days, I gave this a lot of thought.
After all, if I didn't pass the Praxis test, then maybe the state Department of Education was right. Maybe I don't have what it takes to teach English in South Carolina public high schools. Maybe I'm not qualified.
But then I received the results of my Praxis test last week...AND I PASSED THE TEST!!!
Woo hoo! I was so surprised that I passed this test, despite the fact that many of the questions required me to evaluate student writing and various classroom situations. But my excitement about passing the Praxis test was quickly dampened by the reality of being told I was academically unqualified to teach.
But what about my results on this test? Wouldn't it stand to reason that if I passed the test that supposedly shows that I have the aptitude to teach English that I would be considered?
I spoke with a high school English teacher who entered the PACE program last Fall. She said she went around to the schools she was interested in and asked for an interview for a teaching position, although she was not certified to teach. When a school decided to hire her to teach English, assuming she was certified, she revealed to them that she had not received her teacher certification and only had a MINOR in English.
Nevertheless, this Journalism major was accepted into the PACE program, no questions asked! This story proves that it is possible to get a teaching position without having to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops required by the state Department of Education!
Now I am at a crossroads. What am I supposed to do? On the one hand, I have been told that I do not have the qualifications to teach in South Carolina. On the other hand, I passed the test that says otherwise. I think I have a lot to offer as an educator in South Carolina.
My frustration with the education bureaucracy has reached its peak. I am seeking the advice of CommonVoice readers to help me decide what to do next. Any suggestions?