DeSantis: 2-year degree plus a mentor to be a teacher? Will it undercut 4-year education degrees?

Florida Phoenix | By Danielle J. Brown | August 16, 2022

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced alternate routes for Floridians in all walks of life to become teachers, but with a catch: People would need only a two-year associate degree to lead a classroom — with the help of a teacher mentor — rather than a bachelor’s degree that would include four years of college and pedagogy skills, classroom management and other education requirements.

“I believe that the teachers that become great teachers don’t become great teachers because they’re sitting in some university lecture hall listening to some professor bloviate,” DeSantis said at the Tuesday press conference at a high school in Pasco County. “I don’t think that’s what makes it teacher great. I think what makes it teacher great is actually being there, doing it, watching experienced teachers and seeing what they do that works, working directly with students.”

 Gov. Ron DeSantis, Aug. 16, 2022. Credit: Gov. Ron DeSantis Twitter

DeSantis has already approved expedited alternative routes in the previous legislative session, and the initiatives Tuesday would require passing legislation for 2023. For example, a military veteran will soon be able to lead a classroom without a bachelor’s degree, which is required for most other new teachers, the Florida Phoenix recently reported.

The changes are a worrying trend that may undermine education and training in the education field and undercut the value of many education colleges within Florida’s university system.

DeSantis’ Tuesday announcement drew condemnation from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who released a written statement:

“Let me be clear: we should not be lowering the bar for teachers in Florida. Instead of paying teachers what they’re worth and agreeing to stop politicizing their jobs, DeSantis is trying to let Floridians with no experience and minimal training teach our kids,” Fried said.

Fried is a Democratic nominee for the 2022 gubernatorial race in the August 23rd primary, and early voting has already started.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., was at the press conference. According to his bio, “Diaz received his bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas University, a master’s degree in education from Nova Southeastern, and completed a Harvard Graduate School of Education program for principals.”

Many of Florida’s educators start with a temporary teaching certificate, where they can begin teaching in a classroom while they finish out the necessary requirements to earn a professional teaching degree, but that usually requires a bachelor’s degree.

During the Tuesday press conference, located at River Ridge High School, DeSantis said that a proposed “apprenticeship” would be available for Floridians with an associate degree, meaning two years of higher education, not four.

“So they will spend two years teaching under the leadership of a high quality teacher mentor to gain real world classroom experience,” DeSantis said. “The apprentice will then go on to receive the bachelor’s degree and the teacher mentor, for every apprentice that they have, will get a $4000 bonus.” It wasn’t clear when the bachelor’s degree would be finished.

A follow-up press release on the proposal for the “Teacher Apprenticeship Temporary Certification Pathway:”

“Once receiving a temporary certificate, the apprentice will spend the first two years in the classroom of a mentor teacher using team teaching requirements to further develop pedagogy skills. This component would fulfill the on-the-job training component of the apprenticeship and its associated standards, allowing individuals to earn a paycheck while working toward their bachelor’s degree.”

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, told the Phoenix that people who pursue education in colleges and universities get instruction on basic principles of pedagogy.

“When people go to colleges to become teachers, you take classes versed in the pedagogy of teaching. That would include classroom management, how to deliver effective instruction, how to work with parents — all of that is part of the learning in schools,” Spar said.

“And then of course you also get training in your content,” Spar explained “So, with myself as a music teacher, it wasn’t just being a good musician and knowing music — It was also ‘how do you teach kids music?’”

He told the Phoenix that this proposed apprenticeship will likely be a lot of responsibility added on to the mentor teacher.

“What it means, as I understand it, is that you’re going to have these apprentice teachers teaching in the classroom — and then another teacher is going to be responsible for what they’re doing in the classroom while teaching another class,” Spar said.

“So, again, you have teachers who are overburdened right now, stressed out beyond belief, because of all the policies and responsibilities he’s (DeSantis) thrown on them, and then you’re saying ‘oh, but you’ll want to mentor, too.’ Teachers would love to mentor and support one another. They don’t have the time or the ability to do so.”

Other initiatives DeSantis proposed Tuesday include a fee waiver for retired first responders, such as law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics. These retired first responders would receive a $4,000 bonus for teaching, with an additional $1,000 added if these new educators step into a subject that has been identified by the Florida Department of Education as a “critical teacher shortage.” In this case, those retired would have a bachelor’s degree, according to DeSantis.

The last proposal involves providing scholarships for high school teachers to earn their master’s degrees so they can instruct dual-enrollment classes, which allow students to receive college credits while still in high school.

A handful of sheriff deputies and other first responders were at the press conference, as well as Rep. Ardian Zika who represents part of Pasco County.

Before discussing what would be legislative proposals, DeSantis went on at length discussing previous education policy changes in his time as the Florida governor, which included controversial decisions on the reopening of Florida’s in-class instruction during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and his initiatives to raise starting teacher pay that did little to adjust the pay of experienced educators.

DeSantis is up for reelection this year, and he is the expected Republican nominee for the general 2022 gubernatorial election.

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