Tabitha McGee's dedication to her first-grade class at John Milledge Elementary School is one of the reasons she is the school's teacher of the year.
Her principal, Gloria Mohney, said she has well-rounded skills, works well with others and is very caring toward her pupils.
And although Ms. McGee is certified and knowledgeable in elementary subjects, a study released today by Education Week says most states do not ensure that all of their teachers have the skills needed to instruct pupils.
The report -- similar to a message this week from Education Secretary Dick Riley -- says that most states are willing to compromise and have created loopholes that allow people who lack basic skills to teach.
Georgia received a C for steps its taken to improve teacher quality. South Carolina received a B.
The University System of Georgia's Board of Regents was applauded for requiring teachers in prekindergarten through fifth grade to earn a minor in reading and math, and for an initiative to have a qualified teacher in every public classroom in the state by 2006.
But the report says Georgia is not quite where it needs to be in out-of-field teaching in middle schools and subject-specific licenses for middle school teachers.
South Carolina was commended for boosting teacher pay by 4.75 percent and making it easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom.
"What the report really looks at is policies not teacher quality," said Ulrich Boser, research associate for Education Week. "We looked at what states do to improve teacher quality; what are steps states can take to make sure teachers have a major in the field they are teaching."
In Richmond County, Superintendent Charles Larke said the district has substitutes working in some areas where they would rather have certified teachers.
"There is a difference between certification and qualification," Dr. Larke said. "When you talk about certification you have to be careful when it comes to broad-based fields. A certified math teacher may feel comfortable teaching algebra or prealgebra but may not feel comfortable teaching (trigonometry).
"Right now we have vacancies in special ed, math and science, and we have subs who are there temporarily until we can fill those vacancies," he said.
The report also found:
Twenty-nine states require high school teachers to pass tests in the subjects they plan to teach, and 39 require they have a major or minor or some course credits in their subjects.
Middle school teachers are more likely to lack expertise in their subjects. Fewer than half of the states expect middle school teachers to earn secondary licenses in the subjects they plan to teach.
Only 22 states can penalize schools or districts for having out-of-field teachers.
Dr. Mohney said teachers have strengths and weaknesses.
"I think you have to capitalize on the strengths that they have and help in areas which they may have weaknesses," she said. "I've never found anyone here who hasn't been willing to try to do better."
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.