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1.6: Are the Best Teachers Highly Qualified?

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    by Kelley Atkins


    What is teaching exactly? Some argue that it is a learned profession, others say it requires many years of training. I believe it is a combination of both. “Teaching is, or ought to be, a difficult and complex endeavor. When one considers what is expected of a teacher in terms of end results- the preservation and improvement of our culture and civilization-teaching is perhaps the most important job in a democratic society.” (Troen and Boles, 34 and 35)

    Personally Qualified

    Teachers are a special kind of human beings. They are willingly entering a career with minimum room for promotion, hardly any recognition from society, a dastardly amount of pay, and in many cases, unfavorable working conditions. It takes a special person to become a teacher, especially to become a good teacher. Anyone can become a teacher, hence the phrase, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In order to become an influential teacher you not only have to be highly qualified, you have to be highly dedicated. In the book “Extraordinary Teachers, The Essence of Excellent Teaching,” Fred Stephenson outlines the qualities of an extraordinary teacher:

    1. Extraordinary teachers have a great passion for their work.
    2. Extraordinary teachers know what to teach, how to teach, and how to improve.
    3. Extraordinary teachers excel at creating exciting classroom environments.
    4. Extraordinary teachers connect exceptionally well with students.
    5. Extraordinary teachers challenge students to reach their full potential.
    6. Extraordinary teachers get extraordinary results.

    Stephenson, Introduction page xix.

    Standards, degrees, laws, or any other structural requirement is not stated on this inspiring list. The essence of teaching is wanting your students to excel, genuinely caring about their success, and having the will to improve your own methods. It is a sad misconception that anyone can teach, and that it takes minimal skill and talent. To be a highly qualified teacher, one must be a dedicated, hard-working person, who is drawn to teaching through a sense of high purpose and social conscience. “They genuinely like children and want to help them achieve success.” (page 32 Troen and Boles) Aside from these personal characteristics, a highly qualified teacher should also be competent. This is the side of teaching that requires passing exams, mastering material, and holding up to government standards.



    "In my opinion, mastery of the subject matter and staying current, having a teaching plan, and being organized, and developing one's communication skills are the responsibility of every teacher. These are components of effective teaching that teachers owe their students.

    Keith J. Karnok, "Thoughts on College Teaching"

    If our teachers are to become more highly qualified in an academic sense, we should make it a priority to make the standards and/or qualifications as well as their implementation more clear and concise. In a study performed to uncover the “implementation of the highly qualified teacher provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act,” the following was found:

    •While the majority of teachers were aware of the state requirements for highly qualified teachers, nearly half of the teachers said they had not received official notification of their status.

    • Special education teachers were almost four times as likely to report that they were not considered highly qualified (15 percent) than were general education teachers (4 percent).
    • Nearly all teachers reported taking part in content-focused professional development related to teaching reading or mathematics, but only 20 percent of elementary teachers participated in more than 24 hours of professional development on reading strategies, and only 8 percent participated in extended training in teaching mathematics.
    • About half of high school mathematics teachers (49 percent) said they received no professional development focused on the study of mathematics content.
    • States have been working to update their data systems, but most reported difficulty tracking some data elements and in collecting and maintaining data on teacher qualifications.
    • A minority of districts provided targeted support for teachers who were not considered highly qualified. About one-third of districts reported providing increased amounts of professional development to teachers who were not highly qualified with little variation by poverty or minority level or district size.
    • Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of Title I instructional paraprofessionals were identified as qualified; 28 percent did not know their status. Paraprofessionals in medium- and high-poverty schools were notably less likely to have completed two years of college or an associate degree (one of the three NCLB requirements) than were paraprofessionals in low-poverty schools.

    The No Child Left Behind Act had a meaningful and potentially influential purpose, but it was not implemented to its full degree. If teachers were actually held to the standards it provides, school systems today would be a completely different level of achievement. Some of standards set by the NCLBA are listed below:

    • Elementary teachers must pass a state test demonstrating their subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading/language arts, writing, mathematics and other areas of basic elementary school curricula.
    • Middle and high school teachers must demonstrate a high level of competency in each academic subject area they teach. Such demonstration can occur either through passage of a rigorous state academic subject test or successful completion of an undergraduate major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate major, or an advanced certification or credentialing.


    "Good teaching requires a lifelong commitment to learning."

    by Fred Stephenson, "Extraordinary Teachers, The Essence of Learning"

    The NCLB was in effect from 2002 - 2015.  

    A new law called the “Every Student Succeeds Act” was enacted on December 10, 2015. It replaces NCLB and eliminates some of its most controversial provisions.

    The Every Student Succeeds Act responds to some of the key criticisms of NCLB. One is that NCLB relied too much on standardized tests. Another is that schools faced harsh penalties when all of their students weren’t on track to reach proficiency on state tests.

    At the same time, the new law keeps some aspects of No Child Left Behind. For example, states are still required to report on the progress of traditionally underserved kids. This includes kids in special education.

    The new law is over 1,000 pages. But here are some of the most important things to know:

    State Authority: Under the new law, the job of holding schools accountable largely shifts from the federal government to the states. But the federal government still provides a broad framework. Each state must set goals for its schools and evaluate how they’re doing. States also have to create a plan for improving schools that are struggling or that have a specific group of students who are underperforming.

    Annual Testing: States still have to test students in reading and math once a year in grades 3 through 8, as well as once in high school. Students with IEPs and 504 plans will continue to get accommodations on those tests. And only 1 percent of all students can be given alternate tests.  

    Accountability: Under the new law, states may now consider more than just student test scores when evaluating schools. In fact, they must come up with at least one other measure. Other measures might include things like school safety and access to advanced coursework. But student performance is still the most important measure under the law.

    Reporting: States have to continue to publicly report test results and other measures of student achievement and school success by “subgroups” of students. That includes students in special education, minorities, those in poverty and those learning English.

    Proficiency Targets: From now on, states are required to set their own proficiency targets. They will also come up with a system of penalties for not meeting them. But the federal government will no longer require states to bring all kids to the proficient level on state tests. States also won’t have to meet federal targets for raising test scores. These changes will eliminate the harsh federal penalties schools faced under NCLB.

    Comprehensive Literacy Center: The new law calls for the creation of a national center that focuses on reading issues for kids with disabilities. That includes dyslexia. The center will be a clearinghouse for information for parents and teachers.

    Literacy Education Grant Program: The law authorizes Congress to give up to $160 million in literacy grants to states and schools. The grants will fund instruction on key reading skills, such as phonological awareness and decoding.

    Opt-Out: Opt-out is when parents decide not to have their child take a standardized test. The new law doesn’t create a federal opt-out option for parents. But it also doesn’t stop states from having their own opt-out laws if parents don’t want their children to take state tests.


    To become a highly qualified teacher is no easy task, in any sense of the term. Not only do you have to meet government standards, which are evaluated and altered very frequently, you also have to meet your own standards. Starting with personal characteristics that include compassion, dedication, and patience is ideal. Combing these attributions with standards provideded by a higher power only completes the model. Highly qualified teachers are indeed the best teachers, they are the only teachers. If a teacher is not highly qualified, I do not believe they are a teacher at all. An un-qualified teacher is merely someone looking to pay the bills, not change lives.



    (2008). No Child Left Behind Act. Retrieved January 31,2008f rom Wikipedia

    (2007) Most Teachers "Highly Qualified" Under NCLB Standards, But Teacher Qualifications Lag in Many High Poverty and High Minority Schools. Retrieved February 2, 2008 from American Institutes For Research

    (2007) Recognizing and Rewarding Our Best Teachers. Retrieved February 1, 2008 from

    (2004) New No Child Left Behind Flexibility: Highly Qualified Teachers. Retrieved February 1, 2008 from

    (2006)Highly Qualified Teachers for Every Child. Retrieved February 1, 2008 from

    (2007) No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers. Retrieved February 1, 2008 from

    Troen, V. and Boles, Katherine C. (2003) “Who’s teaching your children?”

    Stephenson, Fred. (2001) “Extraordinary Teachers, The Essence of Excellent Teaching”