A New Teacher Certification Code

“It’s hard to be a Christian these days.” Doesn’t this summarily describe the life of a Christian as he lives in a world of sin and depravity which is so much like the world as it was in the days before the deluge? Isn’t this a fact whether one is a child or an adult? Forcibly was I reminded of this fact as a colleague and I attended an official hearing conducted by the State Board of Education in Lansing, Michigan, respecting a Proposed Certification Code for the certification of elementary and secondary classroom teachers and school administrators. The proposed Teacher Certification Code for the State of Michigan is published by the Department of Public Instruction of which Dr. Lynn M. Bartlett is superintendent. This proposed Certification Code is intended to replace a Certification Code which was first adopted in 1935 and has often been amended. Nothing, however, in the proposed Code can apply “retroactively to any holder of a valid teaching certificate.”

In general, it should be stated that the Code presently in force is less restrictive than the proposed Code. According to the provisions and regulations of the current Code a person must have attended an approved college the equivalent of three years in order to qualify for a minimal certificate; i.e. a special certificate. If he has been graduated from a college with an A.B. General or an A.B. in Education and if he is recommended by this college, he can be awarded a Provisional Certificate. This Certificate is valid for five or six years. During these years the holder of such a certificate is expected to earn an additional ten credit hours of either graduate or undergraduate credit so that he can receive a continuing or Lifetime Certificate to teach. (Graduate credit is broadly defined as hours of credit earned in either a planned or unplanned sequence of advanced university study which could lead to a master’s degree.)

The proposed Code for Teacher Certification makes the requirements for certification on the elementary or secondary level more stringent. The purpose for the stringent restrictions in the proposed Code is to “improve the quality of education in the State of Michigan.” While the truth of this statement might be debated, it is a fact that Michigan Teachers’ Certificates will be less easily obtained due to the regulations of the proposed Code. Michigan Teachers’ Certificates will be granted only to those who have completed four years of study in an approved college for teacher education; i.e., they shall have been granted a bachelor’s degree. There will be no differentiation between the number of hours necessary for an elementary or a secondary certificate. Presently a person with less than four years of college education can be awarded a Special Certificate to teach the elementary grades but according to the restrictions of the proposed Code one who teaches the kindergarten or the ninth grade shall have been the recipient of a bachelor’s degree in order to be certified. The certified individual will be compelled to earn not ten extra hours but at least thirty hours of graduate credit beyond his bachelor’s degree so that he may receive a continuing or life-time Certificate and continue to practice the profession of teaching.

In spite of the present shortage of elementary teachers and in spite of the fact that 9,000 or more elementary teachers in the Public Schools are presently teaching with minimal requirements this proposed Code was favored by the majority of those who attended the hearing conducted for the discussion and elucidation of the regulations laid down in the Code. Even though many teachers currently employed in the Public Schools are teaching with Special or Limited Certificates, it seems highly probable that the State Board of Education will act favorably toward this proposed Code and enact it as a State Law.
Now regardless of whether one agrees or does not agree that the state shall exercise control over the education of children which the Lord has given to certain parents or should usurp a parental responsibility and prerogative, it remains a fact that unless contested and repealed the law of the State of Michigan requires that each person between the ages of five and sixteen shall be on the membership rolls of a school and shall be in regular attendance. It is also a fact that a grade school is defined as such an institution which employs individuals who are certified by the State Board of Education to educate those required by law to attend school. If uncertified teachers are employed the institution ceases to be a legal institution to instruct such children and administrative measures are employed to rectify the situation.

A school which does not abide by these stipulations and is supported by public funds is usually forced to obtain certified teachers by having their state support curtailed or suspended. A school which is not supported by state funds (a parentally controlled Christian or private school) is expected to operate “within the limits of the laws affecting non-public schools.” “Certification requirements for teachers and administrators in such schools are considered to be the same as those for teachers and administrators in the public schools.” The enforcing of the law would necessarily take another course than the one cited above for Public Schools because the suspension of state support is not possible for these schools. Whether the transgression of the law can be considered a felony and is of such serious proportions that it is punishable is a determination which is presently being made in the office of the Attorney General of the State of Michigan.

Morally, however, school boards in their employment of teachers are obligated to observe the law and shall employ only those who are certified to teach according to the Code in force. A teacher should be able to give positive evidence that he has been or can be certified to teach according to the regulations of the State Certification Code. Hiring any other teacher is a violation of the State Law. Any violation of such law is not consistent with ethical principles which govern the life of the Christian. (Cf. Romans 13:1ff).

Our Protestant Reformed Christian Schools have hired teachers with minimal or less than minimal requirements for certification. It is my conviction, however, that the Protestant Reformed Christian School needs a highly-qualified individual. He must be intellectually and spiritually superior. Protestant Reformed Christian Schools need teachers that are superior to those employed in public schools and they should be able to hold their head up high as being thoroughly qualified and prepared to practice the profession of teaching. The education he is called to give is so important that it cannot be given haphazardly but he must have a thorough education, a wide grasp of the subject which he is teaching and a knowledge of the art of teaching effectively and in conformity with Protestant Reformed Principles of Education. Let it be stated with emphasis that it is undoubtedly a fact that many individuals who cannot meet the formal certification requirements in the state in question are actually or potentially better teachers than some of those who can. This is particularly true in the elementary grades. A teacher who teaches these youngsters must be devoted to the work and must love children and must be willing to patiently work with them so that they will master the necessary skills for further learning. Such an one cannot be a mere mercenary. I agree with one who writes: “I believe it is the bane of many schools, that a large number of teachers have no genuine professional interest in their work. Many, especially of the women teachers, look upon school as a means of being employed in a genteel fashion during the years between graduation and marriage. They have no intention of making teaching their career if they can help it. Hence they come to their task as skimpily prepared as the law will permit. They do not delve for themselves any further than the classwork immediately requires, and they do not carry with them any great enthusiasm for their work. They may get by but they will certainly never set the minds of their class on fire. The same may be said of many young men who use the school as a stepping stone for something which they consider better. The interests of the school are rarely served by teachers of this class.”

The implement of one who is not certified should certainly be an emergency measure; it should not be the rule and should not be a flagrant and malicious violation of the school law which limits and prohibits such practices. In Protestant Reformed Christian Schools, however, such practices may continue to be necessary unless more of our young people; particularly young women, will devote their lives or at least a considerable period of their lives to the teaching of covenant youth. This demands a devoted individual, one who feels called of God to enter into the high calling of training children of the Covenant and one who is qualified intellectually to perform this service of love.

Parents of Covenant youth have a great responsibility to encourage and to assist financially those youth who seriously consider the calling to enter the teaching profession. The cause of distinctive Protestant Reformed Christian education and its development is the issue.

Prospective teacher who is preparing himself for the profession, you are encouraged hereby not to be discouraged but to diligently apply yourself so that you may take your place in the ranks of those who teach in our Protestant Reformed Christian Schools. The cause of distinctive Protestant Reformed education depends by God’s grace on the devotion of those who have prepared themselves and feel called to this profession.