Search This Blog

Sep 10, 2018

Teaching is not a constitutional right

Years ago, in another state, I denied a man an institutional recommendation for a teaching license, which in effect, prevented him from ever working in schools. He already completed our program, with good grades and successful student teaching, paid tuition, and spent a year of his life. And only then did we discovered an old incident. About 10 years before we ever knew him, he savagely beat up his job supervisor. He was never convicted of a crime, just arrested; had no other criminal history. When asked to explain, he refused to talk about it. I told him something like this: “You have obviously not dealt with whatever the problem you had at that time, and your refusal to talk about it makes me worry that you may repeat something like that, without wanting to. Sorry, we cannot let you near children.” He was upset, considered legal actions against the university. Then a few years later wrote me a message saying I was right, and he does have psychological issues.

I probably had six or seven conversations like that with students at different stages of their preparation, trying to explain that desire alone is not enough to be a teacher. There is no right to teach; it is a professional privilege. If you are recommended, the university faculty vouch for you, stake their names and reputations on you. The grades are not enough – we have to be personally sure you will be OK, and will not harm anyone. This pertain not just to violence; some of the students I remember were just too timid, or their affect was somehow off the mark. We do have all those measurements and standards, but in the end, it is our collective professional opinion that matters.

I have never met a group of teacher educators that would take such decisions lightly. We do normally root for our students, and understand that no one is perfect. After graduation, there is a long road ahead for a new teacher, and not everyone will be successful. There is absolutely no reason to expel anyone without a substantial concern. Students always have a right to appeal, and the right to a due process. However, the question we ask is very simple: would I want my children or grandchildren to have a teacher like this? If the collective answer is “No,” than the only ethical thing to do is to say “No” to the student. Granted, we all may be mistaken for no one knows the future, no one is able to judge another person’s ability to change with any degree of accuracy. I wish we did have more objective instruments measuring professional fitness. But the lack of instruments does not relieve us from the ethical responsibility to protect children, so we must act.

There are many other careers available, many options in life. The desire or “love for children” is not enough. I may want to be a pilot, but have a bad depth perception. Would you want to fly with me, even if I really-really-really want to be a pilot? If it was my dream for the entire life? If I know the theory of flight? If I am a straight-A student? Well, how is it different with teachers?

No comments:

Post a Comment