Long-term, Non-Certified Teacher Impact

Chelsea Penney
July 15, 2021

Uncertified teachers are impairing student learning in the long term

As the teacher shortage has continued to grow over the last decade, state legislatures have passed new rules “temporarily” allowing uncertified individuals to teach classes in public schools to solve the issue. However, there is no end in sight for these emergency measures. Uncertified teachers have not received the same training and licensing as traditionally certified educators, and their inexperience can be damaging to students’ learning outcomes. 

According to the Learning Policy Institute, in 2017, there were approximately 108,757 teachers nationally not fully certified for their teaching assignments. Teacher certification processes vary state-to-state, but the overall goal is to ensure each classroom is staffed with well-trained and highly qualified teachers. Ideally, every classroom teacher is an expert in their subject and age group. Unfortunately, the national teacher shortage has made administrators desperate for teachers, and legislatures have lowered the standards to put certified educators in the classroom. That translates into hiring any graduate with a bachelor's degree to fill an immediate vacancy, instead of recognizing the needs of students. 

What does teacher certification mean?

Teacher certifications differ in each state, but often require a bachelor’s degree, student teaching experience, completion of a state-approved teaching program and a licensing test. They are usually required to be certified in the age group of the students and the subject matter they teach. After the initial certifications, teachers are expected to continue their education at their own cost for the duration of their careers. Without some of these qualifications, teachers are unprepared to write curriculum, understand child development, manage behavioral issues and help students excel. Uncertified teachers are forced to learn on the job, which puts student learning on the backburner. 

What do educators have to say about this change?

Steve Nuzum, a teacher in South Carolina and the Legislative Director for S.C. for Ed,  said, “It’s a very difficult job to come into with no actual hands-on experience. So, what I think we’re going to see is a lot of people who are trying to do something really good and they change careers and come into teaching [...] but the daily reality of teaching in 2021 is such that I think a lot of them are not going to be able to make it through the year."

Placing teachers without certifications is an easy way out to fill vacancies, but it cannot be a long-term solution. States have labeled these initiatives as temporary emergency measures, but there is no end date. Texas State Teachers Association spokesperson Clay Robison called the innovation plan exemption “a way for districts to ‘cut corners’ without the same accountability.” With this plan in place, districts do not need to invest time searching for the most qualified candidates to fill teaching roles because the requirements have been eased. 

What does this look like? Some examples include:

  • Math teachers could be placed in Government classes without the necessary background knowledge. 
  • Teachers could be placed in elementary classes without early childhood development training. 
  • Individuals could be placed in Special Education classes without knowledge about how to approach students or leverage abilities.

The longevity of plans like these may result in students not learning from experts, and education as a whole will suffer. With this learning loss comes lower test scores, more failing grades and behavioral issues, which are bad for students, teachers and districts.

How does it affect districts and students?

  1. Loss of Parent Trust

After more than 30 consecutive days of having an inappropriately certified or uncertified teacher to the same classroom, according to state law and Texas Classroom Teachers Association, school districts must provide written notice of the assignment to the parent/guardian of each student in that classroom. Within the notices, parents or guardians are informed that the inappropriately certified or uncertified teacher is an individual serving on an emergency permit or one who does not hold any certificate or permit. Once parents know their children are being taught by non-certified teachers, they pressure the district and add extra stress to the overwhelmed teacher. Mistrust grows out of that instability and damages relationships between parents, districts and teachers alike.

  1. Teacher Transitions

Poor teacher retention and increased class sizes affect relationship building. “In the United States, more than a quarter of a million teachers leave the profession every year, and it is estimated that more than 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years.” Less teachers inevitably means squeezing more students into each classroom. Small class size is an indicator of quality education because students can receive more one-on-one instruction. With fewer students in the room, teachers have more time to focus on individual needs. However, with fewer teachers overall, more uncertified teachers and more students in each classroom, students can be left behind undetected.

  1. Student Engagement

With uncertainty, uncertified teachers, and large class sizes comes a lack of dependability that is damaging to learning outcomes. Continuity of care is a simple concept, but it is an essential component of development from a young age. It states that students should have a consistent teacher to make them feel comfortable and safe enough to create a nurturing learning environment. The benefits of those secure attachments include better outcomes in emotional regulation, attention, memory, language development, planning actions, and self-control. With smaller class sizes and secure environments, “Students describe themselves as having better relationships with their teachers, [displaying less disruptive behavior which leaves] more time for instruction.” Non-certified teachers and teacher vacancies inevitably hinder the stability students need in the classroom. Without this engagement, students do not learn, perform poorly on tests and sometimes drop out altogether. 

How can we help?

Proximity Learning and our partner National Virtual Teacher Association have established leaders in educational equity and make sure all students have access to the expert teachers they deserve. We are a permanent solution to the teacher vacancy crisis because we have honed our skill set for over 10 years and continue to offer the highest quality instruction all year. All Proximity Learning teachers are trained and certified to ensure student success. Read more about how our teachers establish relationships and personalize learning.

Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelors Degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver. She is currently in graduate school through Texas A&M University studying Marketing. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline of the many marketing initiatives for Proximity Learning.

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