Writing bad checks. Aggravated assault. Molesting children. After any such felony conviction where the perpetrator is a licensed Kansas teacher, a KSDE commission submits the full details in public record to the State Board of Education and the Board votes to relinquish their teaching license. Heavy actions, but necessary when deciding who will be in the classroom everyday overseeing Kansas schoolchildren.
The number of such cases in Kansas is comparatively low.. One reason is that until now, teacher training programs have been face-to-face. Professors have four years to judge the honesty and integrity of prospective teachers. In day-to-day interaction, college teachers have many opportunities to assess not only students’ academic tests, products and performances, but also the many ungraded traits that reveal character. We do not automatically approve every student teacher who has a grade point average above the minimum. Faculty can and must make judgement calls on matters of integrity and character because being a K-12 teacher is a position that requires a standard higher than for a doctor or a lawyer.
Because I have been around for over 20 years, there is enough anonymity and time involved for me to give a few actual cases.
–A male student who made inappropriate "passes" at female lab teachers (serious sexual harassment) and who was escorted to the Registrar and dis-enrolled on second offense (after an initial warning).
–A student who repeatedly showed up in classes with alcohol on his breath.
–A student who "worked" the financial aid system in a manner that, while not illegal, was not honest.
Departments and teacher-training faculty, must recommend a student for student teaching based on integrity and character. In the last two cases above (based on more extensive classroom observations than are listed) we would not. These two students could pursue any other degree, but not teaching.
Indeed, applicants for a teaching license even have to reveal if they have ever entered into a diversionary agreement as a juvenile, something that is forever sealed—except for teacher candidates.
This "gatekeeping" is one of the most important responsibilities of teacher education programs.
And it is being rapidly abandoned by the recent drive to put coursework online. Forty-nine states now accept teachers trained by Western Governor’s University, an online program. Kansas does not.
The simple fact is that with online "courses" the teacher has no genuine interaction with a teacher candidate. You cannot smell alcohol on their breath online. You cannot detect their level of honesty in online interactions. You don’t even know if the person online is really who they say they are!
Some online programs claim they will detect the bad eggs in the student teaching experience. But as with the cases above, we need weed them out before student teaching. And four years of observation by dozens of faculty beats one semester of student teaching with a few supervisors.
Online programs point to criminal background checks. But the above cases are all sub-felony and along with diversionary agreements, would never be detected in a criminal background check.
With 49 states having buckled to online teacher training, we can be certain there will be pressure on the newly-seated State Board of Education to fall in line. This is especially true with some Kansas teacher programs also gearing up to provide electronic correspondence courses.
If the new Board votes to "fall in line" and place teacher training online, it ends our professional job of "gatekeeping." And down the road, the Board can expect to see the number of teaching licenses they will have to relinquish for felony convictions increase. —"Bad eggs" who would not have been in the classroom if we only had a chance to know them, face-to-face, as we presently do.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.