Hiring Uncertified Teachers. Is this the BEST and ONLY solution for Tyler ISD?

Why have Tyler ISD parents and community members been okay with over 100 uncertified teachers in classrooms throughout the school district? Where is the outcry from parents and community members the way there was about books in school libraries that should be banned? Do parents and community members not know – or do they not care about students having a teacher who has no certification in education at the head of the class? Why does Tyler ISD hire these uncertified individuals as teachers yet they do not hire retired teachers who are certified – and come with decades of experience?

In February of this year, Tyler ISD had 125 teachers in classrooms without a teacher certification from the state of Texas. This is up from 94 uncertified teachers in February of last year. Some of these individuals are in classrooms at the Career and Technology Center (CTC) teaching vocational classes such as welding and construction. Others are teaching academic courses in elementary and secondary classrooms.

In February last year, the Tyler ISD Superintendent informed the school board there were 21 uncertified teachers in elementary classrooms and 73 in secondary classrooms. In February of this year, personnel from Tyler ISD Human Resources Department informed the school board, “We began the fall having 129 individuals that are on DOI, currently we have 125.” A DOI (District of Innovation) teacher may or may not have a degree but does not have a teacher certification from the state. According to Tyler ISD Human Resource personnel, several had obtained a standard certification since the fall of 2021, but it appeared the majority had not.

In 2017, Tyler ISD applied for and received a designation from the state of Texas as a District of Innovation, aka DOI. There are many other school districts in Texas that have done the same. Tyler ISD has been a District of Innovation for over five (5) years, having finalized all requirements to be designated as such in June 2017. Such a designation allows a school district to have some of the same flexibilities as open-enrollment charter schools. In essence, DOI school districts have more local control over school start dates, instruction time, and in my opinion, most importantly, the hiring of noncertified teachers in classrooms to teach students they would not ordinarily be considered qualified to teach.

To become a District of Innovation, Tyler ISD was required to form a DOI Advisory Committee. I was a member of this committee. Our task was to create a DOI Draft to present to the Tyler ISD school board for approval. I was the only committee member who voted against the plan. My main concern was that once approved, noncertified teachers with no classroom experience could be hired. The school board approved the District of Innovation Plan on June 9, 2017. Five years later and over 100 noncertified DOI teachers later, this is still my concern.

Those who are teaching in classrooms without their teacher certification means they did not take educational courses in college such as Teaching Skills, Managing Classrooms and Behavior, Teaching Diverse Learners, Human Growth and Development, and Classroom Assessment to name a few.

While I do not believe that taking these educational courses automatically makes a person a great teacher, I do believe a person who has gone through the teacher certification program is more equipped to begin their career with information that will increase the odds of becoming a good classroom teacher. For example, at the same school board meeting referenced above in February of this year, a great deal of discussion centered around discipline problems in some Tyler ISD classrooms. Could the lack of education in this area by teachers hired under the DOI Plan contribute to this problem?

There appears to be no incentive for uncertified DOI teachers to obtain teaching certification after being hired by the school district as classroom teachers. Though a few people do take the necessary courses to become certified after being hired, obtaining a teacher certification is strictly voluntary and is not required by the school district. Yet, uncertified DOI teachers receive the same salary and benefits as certified teachers. The question begs to be asked whether allowing people to be classroom teachers with only a degree is a contributing factor to fewer college graduates going through a teacher certification program if they know that there are districts like Tyler ISD that will hire them under the DOI Plan and pay them the same salary as a certified teacher.

Is the hiring of DOI uncertified teachers a better solution than the hiring of retired teachers who come with a standard teacher certification – in addition to tons of classroom experience from day one? Some school districts in Texas continue to hire retired teachers, often at a reduced salary. Tyler ISD does not.

Tyler ISD has been hiring DOI uncertified teachers for over five years without any real plan in place to try to increase the number of certified teachers from which to pull. Earlier this year at the February school board meeting it was announced that the district is working with two institutions of higher learning to provide programs for Tyler ISD paraprofessionals who desire to obtain a degree. Paraprofessionals include those individuals who work as teacher assistants. After obtaining a degree, they will then need to go through an Alternative Certification Program, something not required of DOI teachers.

While this is at least a start, it could still take some time, time in which more DOI uncertified teachers will continue to be hired and not be required to obtain their teacher certification. Paraprofessionals will be able to continue to work as teacher assistants while they complete the online classes for a degree. This is a good thing since it was also reported they will need to pay out of pocket about $750 every couple of months to take classes. I recently contacted Tyler ISD Human Resources about how many paraprofessionals are currently part of this program. I was told they do not have access to that information.

It Is well known that in Texas as well as nationwide there is a teacher shortage. It is also well known that a majority of teachers nationwide are white – as are most of the teachers in Tyler ISD. Yet only about 26% of Tyler ISD students are white. Most are minority students with Hispanics and Blacks making up the majority of students of color. Why not create a “Grow Your Own Teacher Program” to not only increase the number of teachers in Tyler ISD but also to increase the number of minority teachers as well?

Tyler ISD already has Early College High School in which students can earn both a high school diploma and college credit up to and including an Associate Degree. In fact, one of the ten-degree plans at Early College High School is Education. Could Tyler ISD work with Tyler Jr. College, U. T. Tyler, and other universities to create a program that provides an incentive for more students who graduate from Early College High School to choose the degree plan in Education and become teachers within a couple of years after graduating high school?

In some school districts, when there is a shortage of teachers in areas such as Math, Science, Special Ed, and ESL classes, a stipend is paid to these teachers as an incentive to get them to come aboard. Can this be done when there is a shortage of a much-needed racial and/or ethnic group of teachers such as black and Hispanic? Or is it only acceptable to pay a stipend to teachers who have a certification in a specific area of study in which there is a limited number of teachers – but not acceptable to pay a stipend to teachers who themselves are limited based on their race or ethnicity?

Per the recently released report of the National Education Assessment, what is referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, 4th and 8th graders fell behind in reading and had the largest ever decline in math. This is the situation at the same time we have a shortage of teachers. To meet this challenge, is the best solution really to hire uncertified teachers as Tyler ISD is doing? Or, is there a better solution?

By Carolyn Davis

Carolyn Davis grew up in Tyler in 1950's and 60's, graduating from John Tyler in 1971. She received a business certification, bachelor's degree with teacher certification, and master's degree from TJC, UT Tyler, UT Arlington respectively. In the 70's and 80's, Carolyn worked in various clerical positions in Tyler including Cotton Belt Railroad, Phillips Coal Co., and ARCO Oil and Gas. She became a teacher in 1988, teaching at Chapel Hill High School her first year. She retired in 2011 after 23 years of teaching, primarily in Dallas. She currently lives in Tyler and is starting an Anti-Racism Book Club. The will begin Thursdays, Aug.18th, 5:30 pm at Tyler Public Library. All are welcome.