Certification—Who Needs It? Four Reasons Not To Certify

by Sue Steck Turner, NCTM


This year I resumed my position as certification chair for Louisiana for the 12th year. In these 12 years I have seen a variety of certification procedures—and teachers—come and go; however in all this time, one thing has remained the same: the reasons teachers give for not becoming certified. Many reasons come and go as well; however, four reasons remain very strong to this day, and I offer them here for your use.

Reason No. 1: I am too busy. It is too much work. I don’t have time to do it.

Everyone these days is too busy, and there is no question that music teachers work very hard. But think about it: How many times have you heard the same excuse from your students concerning practice, and what was your response? I’m guessing it wasn’t “Oh, my dear, I am so sorry you are so busy. It is okay for you to play those wrong notes and not count if you can’t find time to correct the mistakes.” If you are like me, the excuse doesn’t hold water, and you proceed to help the student find holes in their daily schedule to practice and show them how to use practice time efficiently and effectively.

Not only does the no-time excuse fail for students, it also fails for teachers. A professional music educator needs to practice teaching—to enhance and increase knowledge and skills, to improve business practices and to stay abreast of innovations in the teaching field. It is not okay to ignore current teaching practices, philosophies, and materials. Our students live in the present. We must teach in the present. Certification fosters a teacher’s connection with the present, a teacher’s practice and growth and sometimes might even create an excitement and freshness to the everyday routine.

Reason No. 2: It’s too expensive. It’s not worth the price.

Everything is too expensive these days, especially with the economy the way it is. And not worth the price? I could easily list five things I bought in the last two months that fell apart within the first two weeks of possession. The nice thing is certification doesn’t fall apart, and just how expensive is it? The initial cost of certification is $200. As a certified, experienced teacher, I can make that payment in just four to six hours of teaching—less than one day’s work for me. Even if I made less money per hour, I could probably put aside that amount in a week or a month. After initial certification, the cost becomes $25.00 a year—the price of an okay dinner where most of us live. I could probably give up eating out once to pay for my certification. What is the cost of pride, of professionalism, of putting your best foot forward, of being certified? Probably not much. Think about it.

Reason No. 3: I know unqualified teachers who are certified. I don’t want to be identified with them.

To this excuse I offer the wise words of the late Janet Swanzy (a former Louisiana certification chair) which I found in a letter in our files: “Allow me to pose a hypothetical. If you were an attorney, would you refuse to join the Bar Association because you might know (and don’t we all!) some dishonest lawyers who are members of the Bar? In the alternative, would you abolish the Bar Association and let everyone take his chances with anyone who claimed to be a law graduate? What would you regard as your obligation to your profession—to help the Bar do an even better job of screening its members, or to discourage others from joining and resign from the Bar yourself?
Do we have an obligation to encourage higher standards in our profession? Are we being good citizens of our professional community if we refuse to help increase the validity and credibility of an accrediting process? If our best musicians support this process, others will follow, and it will get harder for unqualified musicians to get students. Will we ever be totally free of poor teachers who have the credentials to certify? Maybe when the Bar Association has no shysters out there practicing law!

Reason #4: I don’t need it.

You’re right—you don’t. You have an advanced college degree, you actively participate in the programs and events sponsored by your local and state affiliates, your studio is overflowing and you have a well-respected reputation in the community. What more will the letters NCTM add to your credentials? Very little, probably.

So then, why are Suzanne Guy, Jane Magrath, Martha Mier, Nelita True, E.L. Lancaster and Sue Steck-Turner certified? I can’t speak for the others, but for me the answer is—our profession needs and deserves it. The study of music, its performance and its aesthetic beauty, needs it. If music lessons as we have known them in our lifetime are to continue, quality and professionalism must be maintained. One obvious way for the general public to identify qualified teachers is through their certification. Teaching music is a wonderful, time-honored profession, a job where we spend the day doing what we love—at least most of the time! Being certified is one way to honor our profession, to give back to it, to maintain the quality and respect it deserves.

Reason #5: Forget it. There are no more.

Actually there are more reasons, but they’re not as good as the ones I’ve listed. The excuses teachers make for not becoming certified—just like our students’ excuses for not practicing—don’t cut it. Good teachers, like good students, practice, and one effective way to ensure practice is through certification. Certification validates our daily endeavors, it encourages growth and development and it promotes the continuance of quality teaching and music. It is time to quit making excuses. It is time to certify.