Cases of teachers losing their license for felony fraud or child molestation, and the recent case of an ex-mayor appealing to the Kansas State Board of Education for a teaching license, bring questions to the forefront. How do we regulate the quality of teachers we place in classrooms? How do we ensure that only honest and good people are the role models and guides for our children?
Across Kansas, university and college faculty—departments or committees—must recommend a student before they enter student teaching. This is not just a grade point average decision. It is based on integrity and character as judged by the many teachers who have worked with the candidate teachers over their years in college. If there have been too many instances of showing up late, or of dishonesty, or of irresponsibility, then faculty may vote "no."
I sit on a student teacher admission committee and this "gatekeeping" is one of the most important responsibilities of teacher education programs. The criteria for becoming a teacher are more stringent than for becoming a physician, attorney, or police officer. To become a teacher, any felony convictions—even juvenile diversionary agreements—must be revealed.
We discuss these high requirements with students entering teacher programs at our Kansas colleges and universities. There is no checklist of offences, no threshold of honesty, no defined borderline that a student cannot cross. The criteria is a broader one: Would I want this person teaching my child in the classroom?
Red flags can come from many directions. Sexual harassment of classmates. Cheating. Alcohol breath on many occasions. Repeatedly claiming more hours than actually worked.
A faculty advisor who detects these problems can intervene early. If the student cannot change the behavior, they cannot become a teacher. Completing coursework is sufficient to get you a B.S. or B.A. degree, but is no guarantee of an education degree.
With an unlimited variety of potential problems, no checklist can be broad enough. But these decisions are not arbitrary, and courts have upheld educators’ right to judge character and fitness at levels far below a felony.
Once a teacher is licensed and in the classroom, there are cases of teachers who commit crimes. Writing bad checks. Aggravated assault. Molesting children. After any such felony conviction where the perpetrator is a licensed Kansas teacher, a KSDE professional practices board 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.
There are rare cases where a person with a felony conviction decides to pursue a teaching career. They must carry their case for being rehabilitated to the university program faculty, to the professional standards board, and finally to the Kansas State Board of Education that makes the final decision. In a high profile case last month, the Kansas State Board refused to grant a license 6–4. Does a person have to walk on water? No. But even with evidence of rehabilitation, the severity of a felony may make public trust impossible.
The number of cases of Kansas classroom teachers who commit crimes is comparatively low. One reason is that until now, teacher training programs have been face-to-face and faculty have had four years of contact to judge the honesty and integrity of prospective teachers. But teacher training in Kansas is rapidly moving “online.” With online “courses” the teacher has no genuine interaction with a teacher candidate. You cannot smell alcohol on their breath online. You cannot detect honesty in online “interaction.” You don’t even know if the person online is really who they say they are!
Every teacher trainer in the state cringes when the news reports a rare case of a convicted teacher: "Please don’t let it be one of mine!"
In the future, with online teacher training, there may be more cases. But no one will cringe.