Teachers, board debate merits of hiring rule


Maryland school systems have had everything from a "flurry" to a "barrage" to a "bombardment" of calls from people who are hoping to take advantage of a new state rule that would allow them to become teachers without attending a teachers college.

But the systems are reacting very differently. Baltimore, which has faced chronic shortages of teachers and has wrestled with the problem of poorly qualified teachers, is eager to find a way to capitalize on the new rule.

The suburban counties, on the other hand, say they're content with things as they are, and they have no plans to hire liberal arts college graduates under the "resident teacher certificate" plan approved by the state school board last week.

The state's big teachers union renewed its opposition to the resident certificate yesterday by formally asking the state board to reverse its decision. The Maryland State Teachers Association, which represents teachers in every district except Baltimore, argued in a letter to the board that it acted without giving proper public notice.

The request is designed to lay the groundwork for an eventual suit against the state, union officials said.

The real issue, though, is a fundamental disagreement over the likely effect the new certificate will have on the quality of teachers.

Proponents, including Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the state school board, believe it will serve to improve the quality of teacher applicants, attracting people who have earned a liberal arts degree, which generally requires more rigorous college work than an education degree.

But opponents of the new certificate -- including not only the MSTA but also its archrival, the Baltimore Teachers Union, as well as the personnel offices of several school systems -- argue just the opposite. They say it will lower the quality of teachers, by putting people in classrooms with virtually no training in how to teach.

Liberal arts graduates can earn a resident certificate by passing the National Teachers Examination and taking 90 hours of course work on teaching techniques in the summer before they begin, which can be provided by the district that hired them. For the next two years the district must closely supervise them.

Typical, perhaps, of those interested is David P. Trainer, a 23-year-old Loyola College graduate who majored in English literature. Now working at the Newman Bookstore on Cathedral Street downtown, he said he has considered going back for a master's degree in education but will pursue a resident certificate if he can to save the time and expense. A product of Catholic schools, he said he wants to teach in the public schools in the city because, "I want to make a difference."

He believes the new certificate will draw more committed and more idealistic people into teaching.

"People that are interested are interested from the heart," he said, "and they would see it as an opportunity. And they would grow with their students."

The teachers unions, however, say that hundreds of applicants like Mr. Trainer would give the false impression that there are no teacher shortages and thus reduce pressure for salary increases.

"Their motive is to fill classrooms with warm bodies at a time of shortage -- individuals they can claim are fully qualified teachers when in fact they are not," Jane Stern, president of the MSTA, said yesterday. She called the resident certificate "a fraud on the public" and "cut-rate education."

Thomas W. Regan, in charge of hiring teachers for Baltimore County, said advocates of the new certificate try to make it appear that there is a large pool of Ivy League graduates who are itching to teach but have been thwarted by school system bureaucracies because they lack schooling in education courses.

"I think it's a rather specious argument," he said. "And I don't personally buy the argument that all education courses are a waste of time."

The county, he said, has no need to hire teachers with the resident certificate. This year, for instance, his office hired eight secondary school English teachers out of 300 applicants, all of whom followed the traditional course.

Mr. Regan's arguments were echoed by his counterparts in the Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties school systems.

But that hasn't stopped the calls from coming in. Baltimore alone has been clocking 50 calls a day from potential applicants since the resident certificate was approved last Wednesday, Douglas J. Neilson, the system's spokesman, said yesterday.

Mr. Neilson said the Baltimore schools' personnel office is putting together a proposal to create the summer program necessary for resident certificate holders. The city, he said, is determined to take advantage of the change in state rules in order to find more qualified teachers.

Ms. Stern, of the MSTA, argued that liberal arts graduates would bring little to a classroom -- that their strengths do not fill a need.

"The notion that it's subject matter that teachers need to know more of is nonsensical," she said. "I've never been in a class where I didn't know 10 times as much as any student."

Techniques of teaching -- and an increase in resources -- are what schools should concentrate on, she said.

Mr. Embry said the union should raise its concerns with local districts, not the state. "This doesn't require a school system to hire anybody," he pointed out. The rule simply gives systems that want it an alternative approach to finding teachers, he said.

If the suburban systems believe they are getting the best teachers available using the traditional candidates, he added, then it's fine with him if they don't pursue resident certificate applicants.


The Baltimore school system, bowing to demands that it get more public comment on an experimental decentralization plan, will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. today at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. The proposal, drawn up jointly by the Baltimore Teachers Union and top administrators, would give 20 schools some autonomy over their own affairs next year, with a council of teachers, parents, community representatives and the principal making decisions at each school. Some critics have said that the plan is overly vague.

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