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Teaching? Hey, it’s not rocket science

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Aug 16, 2016

Aside from an astronaut, a rock star, and a professional athlete, there were only two things I ever wanted to do when I grew up.

Write, or teach.

I weighed both options back in college (the ships having long since set sail on those first three career choices) before deciding on a journalism degree. And while I don’t regret that decision, there have been times I’ve wondered about the road not taken.

When my children were young, I was a regular volunteer at their elementary school. I got to know the principal and teachers quite well, and frequently heard the comment, “You would make an amazing teacher.” The principal, in particular, would try on an almost-weekly basis to get me to go back to school and get a license to teach.

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It was tempting. I can think of few things more rewarding in life than helping young students develop a lifelong love of learning. But there was no way a young father who had already gone to college for one low-paying job (writing for a newspaper) was going to give up all that to spend a bunch more money on college for another low-paying job (teaching school).

Since then, I’ve flirted with the idea a time or two. A few years ago, I met with a counselor in the education department at Weber State University, but dropped the idea after calculating the actual time and money required. More recently — after getting an uneasy feeling that, while I still loved journalism, perhaps journalism no longer loved me — I applied for the ARL program.

ARL stands for Alternative Routes to Licensure, and it’s sort of an on-the-job teaching program. If you have a college degree and meet the minimum requirements, you can immediately begin teaching school on what amounts to a learner’s permit — with the understanding that over the next three years you’ll take the required classes and obtain a teaching license.

I completed the background check, got fingerprinted, and paid $115 in fees, only to be told I lacked one credit hour in physical education/health. That’s a P.E. class, folks.

Curse you, unathletic nerd writer self!

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And I’m not alone. I’ve known my share of incredibly competent, caring people who, at some point in their careers, believed they could make a real and lasting contribution to society through teaching — only to be told they had to jump through a number of expensive and time-consuming hoops.

Well, all that changed on Friday when the Utah State Board of Education voted to allow public schools to hire teachers without licenses or experience. The backlash was instantaneous.

Look, I get it. Nobody wants a guy like me teaching their children in a public school setting. And I can see how someone who attended four years of college and received a teaching degree could see it as a slap in the face.

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But teaching is not rocket science, people. (Come to think of it, rocket science isn’t even rocket science.) Yes, training is important, and a mastery of certain skills is necessary. But it’s not the degree that makes a great teacher.

And don’t bother offering me the “Oh yeah?” defense. As in: “Oh yeah? How would you like it if they hired untrained journalists to report the news?” I’d like it fine, as long as the candidate had the right attitude and was eager and willing to learn.

Indeed, newspapers hire people without formal journalism training all the time. It’s happened here at the Standard-Examiner. We had a reporter who had absolutely no training and was — irony alert! — a schoolteacher by trade. With strong mentoring, and a little patience, editors and fellow reporters turned that teacher into a solid journalist.

More commonly, untrained correspondents with no j-school experience work their way into full-time reporting jobs by simply proving they can write and report like nobody’s business.

The fact is, in both journalism and teaching, the degree pales in comparison to the hands-on training. The actual reporting and editing I did at a college newspaper and as an intern at a small-town weekly newspaper taught me far more about being a good journalist than sitting in a classroom reading about inverted pyramids.

All I’m saying is, don’t completely dismiss the idea that a sharp principal, facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, could find a few diamonds in the rough who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to enrich students’ lives if the usual teaching barriers were in place.

And to those of you with school-age children: Relax, I’ve long since gotten the notion of teaching out of my system.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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