Ready to Grow?

Is a Teaching Degree a Waste of Money?

Posted by Grace Lee on Aug 5, 2013 8:13:00 AM

With my daughter entering the senior year of her undergraduate degree in education, I can’t help but wonder if over $60,000 has been wasted in this pursuit. After working as a school administrator for more than 20 years, I recognize that she definitely has the gift to teach--it’s her passion to inspire young minds and she’s unusually good at it. My question, however, pertains to the best options available to become a professional teacher.

Alternative teacher certification programs such as Teach for America (TFA) have demonstrated that teacher education can be accomplished through a well-designed summer training program combined with on-the-job coaching and regular professional development classes throughout the first and second school year. If intelligent students with degrees in business, accounting, psychology, biology, computer science, etc, can rapidly learn to be effective, certified teachers in such a manner, what’s the point of an education degree?

Would engineers, doctors, or lawyers be tolerant of such a fast track to certification in their respective fields?

I’ve seen districts around the country where TFA teachers were hired in a speed-dating-like 20-minute interview (an unusual employee selection practice), were given priority over experienced teachers, and were paid high starting salaries. The evidence shows that a substantial number of TFA teachers are effective, so perhaps this is a trend for other professions as well.

Money Down the Drain

Doesn’t this essentially make the undergraduate education degree an outdated, waste of money?

When I asked this question to an aunt in my family with over 30 years of teaching experience she responded: “Yes!” Her opinion is that most teacher training is not reflective of actual practice, and that much more is learned through hands-on work in the classroom. She has worked with numerous young teachers who were alarmingly unprepared for the realities of day-to-day school life.

I think if you’re a college professor in the department of education, those alarm bells you hear probably aren’t a fire drill--this may be a genuine emergency! Might want to develop a different way to create value because what you’re doing now apparently isn’t distinctive, and the scrutiny headed your way from federal and state governments is likely to alter campus life as you know it.

I am very proud of what my daughter has accomplished in her classroom work and in her student teaching experiences. The teachers I have previously hired from her program have been some of the best in the school. It’s hard not to wonder, though, if she would have more career options had she pursued a different degree discipline before starting down the path of teacher training. 


Below is my daughter's response to this post:

As an elementary education major, I am beyond thankful for the classroom experiences that I've had thus far. By the time I graduate next May I will have clocked over 1,000 hours of classroom experience, completed action research projects, organized and facilitated school-wide events, participated in conferences and professional development, not to mention the dozens of cute bulletin boards I'll have created. I will have 4 certifications when I graduate including special education.

The classes I have taken include: Clinical Experiences in the Education Culture, Introduction to Instructional Technology, Overview of Child Development, The Arts, The Sciences, Assessment Across the Curriculum, Classroom Management, The Professional Educator, and Collaboration in Educational Practices. Is it realistic to expect all of this academic preparation to be duplicated in a short-course format? More teachers are needed, but what sacrifices are being made in the depth of pedagogical understanding?

Yet, despite all of this training, experience, and development, I will be competing for jobs with law graduates, business majors, and computer engineers. These competitors may be taught pedagogy and instructional tactics in summer training, but there is a lot to be said for experiences with emergency drills, student meltdowns, parent conferences, learning disabilities, and collaborative work with other teachers who have received teacher training.

If we believe what we say about the power of an effective teacher, of master teachers, then are we belittling and overlooking the value of award-winning teacher education programs and teacher certification? Practical training and experience is still very valuable, and I remain excited about this program of study and the opportunity to inspire young minds.

Subscribe to Weekly Email Updates

Recent Posts