Education versus certification

By Michael Bradford

When exactly can students in the new Master of Teaching program expect to be certified to teach in Alberta? It depends on who you ask.

Technically, in order to be eligible for an Alberta Teaching Certificate, students must have a four-year degree, not necessarily in Education, plus a minimum of 12 practicum weeks in the classroom. Students in the Master of Teaching program meet these requirements part-way through the third semester of the program.

According to Education Student Program Representative Sylvia Parks, few students will be able to certify early.

"The Faculty of Education has signed an agreement with Director of Teacher Certification Fred Bernhart to not certify Master of Teaching students until after the 18 month point of the program, and then only in exceptional circumstances," said Parks.

Second-year students in the program held a town hall meeting Thurs., Oct. 1 with Dean of Education Dr. Ian Winchester and Program Coordinator Dr. Jim Paul to discuss when students can apply for their Interim Teaching Certificates, which are necessary to teach in most Alberta schools.

At the meeting, Paul stated that not all students in the program would gain certification.

"If you decide to leave the program after the third semester you will, in all likelihood, be approved for certification," said Paul. "If you want to stay in the program and certify early, then you have to make a good case for yourself."

According to students who wished to remain unnamed for fear of having their certification withheld by the faculty, the lure of third-semester certification eligibility during the four-semester program was used as a "selling feature" for the Bachelor of Education After Degree Program when the Faculty of Education first started recruiting students.

The students said they were informed by Paul two weeks ago that school principals in Calgary are being told to seriously question why any student in the Master of Teaching Program would seek employment before completing all four semesters.

"Submitting [everyone’s certification papers] in January says that certification has nothing to do with anything except practicum experience and a few courses, and we’re trying to create a professional school," said Paul. "Our responsibility is to instill some professional pedagogical understanding of the world that is not based on economic decisions."

Winchester said that this issue arose because several students’ certification papers were sent prematurely to Edmonton last year prior to his approval.

"Certification is a privilege, not a right," said Winchester. "I could certify you after two days if I wanted, or after two years, or not at all. The Master of Teaching program designers believe it’s a two-year program and certification will only take place after completion of the program except in special circumstances."

Reaction at the town hall meeting on whether or not the Master of Teaching program will make students more employable was mixed.

One graduating student who wished to remain anonymous expressed concern that continuing with the final semester of the program might be fruitless because some school boards, such as Rockyview Board, will only recognize the two-year program as one extra year of education on the salary grid.

"I think it’s only fair I should be recognized for two years of work here, and if not, then the university, dammit, should give me some of my tuition back," said the graduating student. "I don’t want to be here just to fill the university’s pocketbook."

Alberta Teacher’s Association Co-ordinator Mac Kryzanowski said that recent grads could also face employment problems with having an additional two years of education. Salary grids exist throughout the province, and many are scaled to increase monetarily as the number of years of education rise.

"It could be difficult for new U of C graduates to work for more than a year in Calgary under the Calgary Board of Education’s current hiring policy," said Kryzanowski. "More money should be coming into the system soon, but for now it will be very easy for them to hire cheaper teachers from out of province."

Winchester disagrees, and stands behind the BEd After Degree program.

"I don’t believe the CBE will be able to maintain its [hiring] policy," said Winchester. "This program has been fully supported by the government and by the ATA from the start."

For other students currently in the BEd After Degree Program, employment is an even more immediate issue. Many work to support themselves during the program, and some say that they would like the chance to substitute teach as soon as possible; a privilege only certification would provide.

"All we want is a chance to earn some money for what we have learned so far," said another student who wished to remain unnamed. "Why not let us out of the restaurants and into the classrooms where we can make some contacts and become better teachers?"

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