Roberts: Parents should demand qualified teachers

Roberts: Parents should demand qualified teachers "Every student in South Dakota has the right to be taught by a qualified teacher," said Elaine Roberts, president of the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA), "And parents need to demand that local school boards end the practice of hiring long term substitutes instead of qualified teachers."

In August, SDEA predicted that many students would start the school year without a qualified teacher in their classroom. Roberts said that hiring unqualified teachers is widespread and isn't limited to any particular grade or subject matter. "We don't have hard numbers at this point," said Roberts. "However, reports from our staff and from our local associations all over the state lead us to believe that more students are being taught by persons who do not meet the minimum qualifications for their position than ever before."

Roberts said the SDEA staff and local association leaders are reporting that:

* Many school districts are hiring long term substitutes instead of teachers who are fully certified for their position. There are no minimum requirements for long term substitutes in South Dakota. This means that there is no guarantee that a long term substitute has any training in education or even minimal college hours in the subject being taught. The records of the South Dakota Department of Education and Cultural Affairs for the 1998-99 school year show that 54 people were employed as long term substitutes. However, many school districts do not report hiring long term substitutes to the department so it is difficult to know exactly how many have been employed. The practice of hiring a long term substitute put in that position.

* University departments of education are frequently approached about ways to "arrange" that student teachers "just start" in a school district without the benefit of a student teaching experience. A supervised experience with a veteran teacher is a requirement of every teacher education pro someone to "just start" means that the student teacher is cheated out of the benefit of the mentoring a veteran teacher provides.

* Unqualified teachers affect all students. Many school districts have hired teachers without special education certification to fill special education vacancies. This results in an increased work load for the remaining special education teachers because teachers who are not certified for special education cannot complete the individual education plans. Teachers also report that they are losing valuable time with their own students. They are being required to help long term substitutes with issues such as discipline, writing lesson plans, grading papers and keeping records current.

* The number of teachers hired under "an authority to act" appears to be increasing. The Department of Education and Cultural Affairs can issue what is known as an "authority to act" to persons who have at least a college degree, but no training in education or are teaching subjects out of their area of preparation. They are working on a plan to obtain full certification. In the 1998-99 school year, 790 people were granted an "authority to act." Because requests for an "authority to act" come in throughout the year, there are no hard numbers available yet for 1999-2000, but what is being reported to SDEA indicates an increase in teachers employed in this manner." This is another indication that South Dakota is having difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers who come to the classroom fully qualified for their position.

Roberts says that SDEA believes that every parent in South Dakota wants their child taught by a qualified teacher. She suggests that parents contact their superintendent and demand answers to questions such as:

Is my child's teacher certified for the position he/she is teaching? If not, what are the qualifications of my child's teacher?

If my child is being taught by a long term substitute, what is the school district doing to fill the position with a certified teacher? How long will it be before a certified teacher is hired?

Are any of the teachers in the school district teaching under "An Authority to Act." What is it that keeps this teacher from being fully certified for the position?

Are all of the student teachers in the district teaching under the supervision of a veteran teacher?

Roberts said that numerous national studies, including the 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's future, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, have concluded that a qualified teacher in every classroom is essential to providing quality education opportunities for all students. "SDEA believes that parents recognize the importance of qualified teachers. Now is the time for parents to insist that South Dakota school boards recognize this fact," said Roberts.

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