Archived Information

The Quality of Vocational Education, June 1998


It is generally a cornerstone in both the early and contemporary literature that beginning vocational education teachers must be expert in two arts: the art of teaching and the art of a craft or trade. If only one of these is available, preference seems to be given to employing vocational teachers who are deemed competent in some trade or craft. In other words, the prevailing philosophy has been that you can teach an experienced tradesperson to teach much easier than you can teach a prospective (or practicing) teacher a craft, a trade, or a business.

Throughout the history of vocational education in this country, the value of occupational experience for the vocational education teacher has been proclaimed. Opinion and rhetoric abound in the literature of the need for occupational experience as a requirement for teaching in vocational education programs.

As cited in D. L. Beidel (1993), the 1914 writings of Taylor emphasized that vocational-industrial teachers must know the technique of the trade to command the respect of employers and foremen. The National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (NSPIE, 1914) - the forerunners of the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act, the original federal vocational education act - concluded that:

Trade teachers should first of all be masters of their trade. To be qualified to teach their trade they must have lived it; from this trade experience they bring skill and intimate acquaintance with the best practices of its every branch (p. 12).

NSPIE did point out that trade experience was not enough and encouraged teachers to acquire pedagogical skills as well.

Thus, the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act of 1917 specifically stated that instructors who were to teach in federally-funded vocational education programs must have had work experience in the specific occupational area. The states enacted policies and processes to recruit and credential skilled workers to be employed as vocational education teachers without requiring them to have any postsecondary training in the liberal arts or in education.

The Federal Board for Vocational Education was established by Congress to administer the Smith-Hughes Act and to oversee the operation of vocational education in this country. The Federal Board perceived that land-grant colleges and state universities were not capable of preparing trade teachers. It is interesting to note, however, that the Federal Board apparently felt institutions of higher education were capable of preparing agriculture and home economics teachers - provided the "boys" had "lived and worked on their parents' farms and...graduated from the vocational agricultural departments of county high schools" (Prosser & Quiqley, 1949, p. 310). As for the "girls":

And a similar encouraging tale is being told of the college trained homemaking teacher, who domestically inclined, had her homemaking interests, insights, and practical doing and managing abilities further developed by the successful accomplishing of her homemaking projects under the cooperative tutorage of her mother and her high school homemaking teacher (p. 310).

But, in general, the Federal Board and Charles Prosser -- its first administrative director -- felt college and university teacher training "can contribute little or nothing to the training of teachers in vocational subjects of secondary grade" (Prosser and Quiqley, 1949, p. 307). One of Prosser's 16 theorems includes:

[V]ocational education will be effective in proportion as the instructor has had successful experiences in the application of skills and knowledge to the operations and processes he undertakes to teach (p. 223).

Thus, the Federal Board proposed, and states accepted, shorter curriculum, extending over a few months, either during the evening or day, as the most beneficial way in which to prepare tradesmen and craftsmen to enter the teaching profession. College-level training was not expected nor necessarily desirable.

Subsequent writings of various philosophers and authors who molded and shaped the development of vocational education also touted the value of occupational experience for vocational education teachers. Roberts (1957 and in subsequent editions) identified as a major principle of vocational education, "Vocational education personnel should be occupationally competent" (p. 586). Miller (1985) also stated as an essential principle: "Teachers of vocational education are both professionally and occupationally competent" (p. 81). Mason, Furtado, and Husted (1989) stated that "Prospective vocational education coordinators need the equivalent of at least two years (4,000 hours) of business or industrial experience" (p. 124).

This practice is still prevalent today in preparing teachers for trade and industrial education, technical, and health occupations programs in our nation's public secondary and postsecondary schools. Demonstration and verification of occupational competence and experience is considered to be proof of the teacher's mastery of the subject matter to be taught.

The philosophy or beliefs, too, have been (and remain quite firmly entrenched today) that certification of trade and industrial education teachers is somehow unique and should be differentiated from those who teach in academic or general areas and even those who teach in other areas of vocational education (for example, in business education, home economics, or marketing education). As early as 1914, the NSPIE stated that individual states should be the sole certifying authority and decide who should teach. Trade teachers should be employed based on examinations, personal interviews, and practical demonstrations of their trade. "This certification process should be separate and apart from the certification of regular teachers" (Beidel, 1993, p. 3).

Similarly, the Federal Board for Vocational Education, in 1917, perceived that state certification requirements were too high and were sacrificing technical proficiency for professional training. According to the Federal Board as cited by Beidel (1993), "Public criticism of vocational teaching was most often directed at practical deficiencies.... The common complaint of typical teacher training came from practical artisans who said school work was not practical and was too far removed for industrial conditions" (p. 5). The conclusion then, and in effect today, is that alternative schemes of certification for vocational education teachers were needed and that important modifications must be made in state certification from those used to certify academic teachers. College-level preparation was not warranted and indeed not necessarily desirable. As discussed by Leighbody (1972):

It is chiefly in the trade and industrial subjects that teachers are recruited directly from the occupation itself, with no college training or degree and with no prior plans or preparation for teaching. [This] field tends to dominate the thinking of the overall program of occupational education and has been the most impervious to change. Trade and industrial educators have long insisted that the necessary subject competence can only be attained by lengthy experience on the job and that to secure such teachers it is necessary to forego formal education in favor of occupational experience, and convert craftsmen into teachers (p. 138).

Beidel (1993) describes four types of instructor training courses ("alternative certification") implemented early in the history of vocational education and still in effect today:

  1. Short-unit, continuous, intensive workshops - often conducted in the summer or when schools are typically not in session, usually about four weeks in length;

  2. Short-unit, discontinuous training, dispersed throughout the school year on weekends or on teacher workdays;

  3. One-on-one, on-site teacher training provided by an itinerant teacher educator (sometimes in tandem with #1 and #2); and

  4. Long-term continuous training and education, resulting in a college degree(s) while teaching, concomitantly, in a public school. Various surveys place the clock hours of professional training for alternatively certified vocational education teachers, including those without baccalaureate degrees, at a range from 0-576, with an average of about 120 clock hours.

In general the first three types of instructor training have been referred to as "survival skill training." Duenk (1990) reports that 24 states require such survival training. According to Beidel (1993):

The aim of instructor training was to provide professional knowledge and experience to those who already were masters of an occupation, trade, or subject which they were to teach. General education was also included in this training, but carefully monitored to use only material to be directly reflecting and of actual value to new or prospective teachers. These individuals were accustomed to thinking in concrete rather than abstract terms and the training should pertain to their most immediate needs (p. 6).

These survival courses usually focus on very basic, specific competencies such as occupational analysis, use of instructional sheets, preparation of teaching aids, use of audio visual equipment, preparation of lesson plans, selection of instructional materials, safety practices, and grading.

Thus, throughout the 75 year history of public vocational education in this country, the primary source for employing trade and industrial teachers (and technical and health occupations teachers) has been industry itself. The professional education of these teachers has been through one of the four methods described by Beidel. The states developed their own qualification and certification processes and often conducted the teacher training without benefit of colleges and universities. Neither postsecondary preparation in the liberal arts or college-level training in pedagogy were prerequisite to teaching, nor were they necessarily considered desirable.

It is important to note, however, that the primary route for teaching in other subject areas identified with vocational education - either in more generic aspects of the subject (career education, consumer and family living, middle school exploratory programs, business subjects, technology education) or in the more traditional program areas (agricultural education, home economics, business education) - is with a bachelor's degree in the subject to be taught, some education courses, and some occupational or applied experiences (either on the job or under controlled or supervised laboratory conditions). It is primarily in trade and industrial education (perhaps as many as 75 percent of T&I beginning teachers) and in health occupations (about 50 percent) that it is general practice to permit entry into teaching without benefit of a baccalaureate degree and some education courses (Lynch, 1991). In addition, there are some very specialized programs (e.g., child care, hospitality/tourism, food service, entrepreneurship) in just some states that one can begin to teach without benefit of a baccalaureate degree. However, it appears as though all states require at least an associate's degree to teach in these (relatively new) specialized programs.

There is wide variation in alternative certification requirements for vocational education teachers from state to state. Beginning teachers in 43 states may teach in T&I programs without any college credits but with considerable occupational experience (Duenk, 1989). Only two states (Wisconsin and Hawaii) require a baccalaureate degree for beginning trade and industrial teachers. Seven require an associate degree and five a baccalaureate degree for full certification.

The minimum requirement of trade experience for beginning T&I teachers varies from 2 to 9 years, with an average being about 4. A few states may require less than two years provided the beginning teacher has higher levels of college education attainment. Interesting, though, is that various demographic studies place the actual years of occupational experience of beginning trade round the problem. --> teachers as between 9 and 15. In some states and in many localities it is common practice to employ retirees from local businesses or industries into a second career in teaching in trade and industrial education.

Occupational experience for other vocational education subject areas, such as marketing education, ranges from 500 clock hours to about 3 years. Not all subjects (i.e., home economics and business education) require paid occupational experience. In fact, there are any number of opinion studies and rhetoric which claim that paid occupational experience should not be prerequisite to teaching (in at least some) vocational subjects, especially in business education. Nevertheless, most vocational education teachers seem to have acquired occupational experience, and nearly all school systems have a preference for employing vocational education teachers who have worked in business or industry.

In addition to years or clock hours of occupational experience, alternative certification for trade and industrial education teachers has typically included some form of competency assessment. According to Duenk (1989), there are 8 different types of evaluation in use among the 53 states and territories. The most common type of assessment is through licensure granted by the states. Thus, one who is licensed to practice his or her trade - such as cosmetology, nursing, auto mechanics, or plumbing - usually also qualifies to teach the trade in public schools. A second common method for occupational assessment is to require prospective or practicing vocational teachers to pass occupational competency tests offered through the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI). Anywhere from 12 to 18 states use NOCTI exams either for initial certification, for recertification within the first year of teaching, or for preservice teachers lacking work experience (L. G. Duenk, 1989; Dykman, 1993). Some states are simply flexible; one can be alternatively certified to teach in vocational education through a variety of permitted models. The one common denominator is that occupational competency must be satisfactorily demonstrated.

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