Help! (Not Just Anybody)

Allow me to paint a picture for you.

Imagine, if you will, that one day out-of-the-blue, you begin to experience some pain in your stomach. You vow to lay off the fast food lunches and go about your business. When the pain doesn’t subside after a few hours, you decide to call your doctor. They tell you a stomach virus has been going around, and that without a fever or other more serious symptoms, they don’t need to see you in the office. The pain comes and goes for several days; what started out as a slight stomachache is becoming bothersome enough that you call in sick to work. After a week of this, you call your doctor’s office again and they agree to see you. When they don’t have an explanation for the symptoms, they give you some anti-nausea medication and refer you to a specialist.

A week later, you visit the specialist. The pain still comes and goes, but it’s more intense. You’re losing weight because the pain is at its worst after a meal. This doctor orders blood work and several tests to screen for possible answers to your problem. A few days later, the specialist doctor’s office calls you back to tell you they believe they have found the problem: your gall bladder. It must come out!

So…they refer you to a surgeon. You meet with your surgeon to go over the procedure, which they schedule for the following week. You manage the pain with medication, but you’re still too sick to work, and you’re running out of leave!

Finally, the day of the surgery arrives. You follow the pre-operation procedures given you, including cutting out food and drink twelve hours before the surgery. This means your 5am drive is without coffee. Upon arriving, a receptionist collects your information, and soon after a nurse retrieves you from the waiting room and escorts you to triage to collect your vitals. He takes you to your pre-operation room, where you change into your hospital gown, and have your IV put in your arm. A half-hour later, your anesthesiologist checks in to explain how he will put you to sleep for the procedure.

Finally…two hours after your arrival, a team of nurses come to take you away to the operating room. You expect to see your surgeon there. She said she’d greet you before the procedure. But upon arriving at the operating room, she is no where to be found, and somebody else is waiting for you. He introduces himself:

“Hello! My name is Dr. Stan Din. We are currently experiencing a shortage of surgeons who are highly qualified to perform this procedure. As a result, our state medical board has decided to issue ‘EMLs’ (Emergency Medical Licenses) so people can continue receiving the medical care they need. No worries! I have a college degree (in Art History) and six weeks of intensive medical training, so I feel qualified to perform this procedure. But just in case, I brought my notes from EML training, so I can refer to them throughout the surgery. I feel fairly confident I can complete this surgery, and my team is prepared to take you to the emergency room in the case a complication arises. Okay! Let’s get started! Nurse? Scalpel…”

End scene.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be jumping off that table faster than you can say “malpractice”.

Is this a silly and unbelievable scenario? Of course!

Unless you’re tens of thousands of school children across the state of Oklahoma.

You can rest easy, there is no such thing as an “Emergency Medical License” (at least not to my knowledge). But there IS such a thing as an emergency teaching certificate. Emergency certifications are given to individuals who do not hold a degree in education, and who have not passed the teaching exams (Oklahoma General Education Test, Oklahoma Subject Area Test, Oklahoma Professional Teaching Exam) so they can be hired to teach in an Oklahoma classroom.

A few days ago, the state of Oklahoma approved 182 emergency teaching certificates. 182. In one day. In 2013, there were 189 given FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR!

Why is this necessary, you ask?

Two words: teacher shortage. Last year, there were more than 500 teaching positions filled by emergency certification, and we were still at least 1000 teachers short. This year, it is predicted the teacher shortage will only be worse.

It’s a real thing, people. It’s a real thing that’s happening, and it’s serious.

Across the state, nearly 700,000 students are getting ready to go back to school. Tens of thousands of these kids will be heading back to a classroom without a highly qualified instructor. These students, many of them in urban or rural high-poverty districts, will be taught by a substitute teacher.

I don’t mean to offend the hundreds of people who are stepping up to the plate to answer our call for help. But ask yourself…if it’s your kid we’re talking about…would you rather have your child taught by somebody who answered the CALL to become a teacher by pursuing a degree in education and obtaining, over the course of years of study, the proper credentials and training to be a certified teacher? Or are you content with Mr. Stan Din giving your child 180 days of instruction?

I appreciate the people who are answering the S.O.S. But it’s not the solution we need. It’s not the help we need in the long run.  It doesn’t solve the problem long-term of how to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers in our state.  Don’t our kids deserve that?

Why is this happening, and how can we fix it? Those are questions I plan to answer in my next posts. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, let’s remember these words that open this familiar Beatles tune: “Help, I need somebody. Help, not just anybody…”