Letters

By , Ellen West, Elizabeth Reichert and Allan Dean

Teacher certification as an obstacle - or necessity? Jeanne Etkins is to be applauded for her Sept. 2 opinion article "Teachers vs. 'educators.' " In 1996 I completed two master's degrees in foreign languages and history, was nominated for a Fulbright doctoral dissertation research grant, and taught at two universities.

However in 1998, before school district officials accepted my application to be a per diem social studies teacher at $7.50 to $8 per hour, I had to demonstrate "ongoing progress" in a New York state teacher certification program. Without such certification, continued employment as a teacher remains impossible. Robert L. Marion Rochester, N.Y.

With two master's degrees - one in education and one in business - and more than 20 years in the corporate world and community development, including several years of training others, I am not qualified in the state of Washington to teach even typing, except with a probationary certificate.

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I am already certified to teach kindergarten through high school, but in order to teach vocational courses I must be recertified. This will require six more college courses in such things as business communication and business math, seven tests, and another stint in student teaching. The cost to me is enormous: college tuition, including eight hours of credit for student teaching, many months of time, and a drop in income of more than 40 percent.

I love teaching my high school classes and have been evaluated as excellent. Is it any wonder that I feel discouraged? Ellen West Seattle

Although I would agree with Ms. Etkins' proposal to open teaching to noncertified professionals, I feel compelled to take issue with her supporting argument.

Mastery of subject matter is essential to good teaching, but unlike Ms. Etkins I do not believe it is sufficient. Some of the worst teaching I endured was at the hands of college professors. They were very "serious" about their subject matter. Teaching was a sideline, an inconvenience which interfered with time in the lab.

Expertise in one's subject is necessary but not sufficient because teaching is not simply the dispensing of information. Although the experts may understand complex science, can they explain it to 35 restless teenagers? I doubt most scientists could construct a good high school lab or authentic assessment of student performance.

I agree that low entry-level salaries and difficult working conditions keep qualified and potentially successful people from the field. But so do the negative perceptions fostered by groundless assumptions. Teaching is more difficult today and success is harder to achieve. Etkins proposes that schools will improve "when we make it easier, not more difficult, for the right people to become teachers." I agree. But her attitudes make it harder for the "right" people to stay.

Elizabeth Reichert Phoenix Ariz.

Can wartime aggression be ethical? Regarding "How war has evolved since World War II" (Sept. 2): "Ethics of battle" and "just war" are oxymorons. Ethical and just causes do not justify aggressive reaction except for self-defense and survival. Aggression by all-powerful nations against weak nations can hardly be termed ethical.

Military ethicists (another oxymoron) can rationalize our aggression as being "antiseptic" and "precision," permitting overpowering force, "humanely" delivered. They can debate the Christian tradition - along with Hebrew, Islamic, and other theologies - justifying war. But by its nature, aggression cannot be ethical.

Allan Dean Swannanoa, N.C.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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