Saturday, November 07, 2009

Teachers Need To Know Something

I've been fortunate that at the three schools at which I've worked, most of the teachers have been pretty bright. Yes, there have been (and are) a few dim bulbs out there, but even they can be effective teachers if they mostly know their subject matter and have other attributes that can encourage students to learn.

But I've always worked at secondary schools, at which teachers mostly have a degree in the field in which they teach. I don't have much experience with elementary teachers, who, in California, can get a degree in "liberal studies" or some other mishmash and then get a teaching credential.

So it was with some interest that I read this opinion piece:

When I first started teaching in Philadelphia public high schools nearly 40 years ago, there was a ubiquitous joke: If you can't do, then teach. Over the years, the joke has been insightfully amended: If you can't teach, then teach teachers ("Teaching the teachers," last Friday).

"Students in troubled schools typically have the least-qualified teachers," you say. And how true that is - until recently. Last year at Overbrook High School, we had a large group of new teachers come in under the Teach for America program. These were bright, well-educated, enthusiastic young rookies who were immediately successful and are even better this year.

So, what's going on here? These young teachers had degrees in something real - history, English, math, science, etc. - instead of the usual degrees in secondary education. In other words, they actually were smart and knew something - and their students soon realized and respected that. There remains, nonetheless, this stubbornly held belief in college education departments, as well as in each new Philadelphia School District administration, that good teaching is some magical product that percolates from constantly updated "data" and can be imparted to teachers by way of professors, mentors, experts, and constantly rotating nomenclature. What an expensive and distracting myth that has been.

I would state that content knowledge is a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition for good teaching. That, plus overall general intelligence, makes for an even better teacher. Experience counts, too.


Chanman said...

At least in California, one cannot get a degree in "Education" like some other states. Not that has made much of a difference in the quality of our schools.

Anonymous said...

I'll risk repeating a comment I left at Joanne Jacob's blog on this subject.

Yes, California has eliminated the bachelor's degree in education.

Unfortunately, what many K-8 teachers-to-be take instead is a “Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies”, which is a fancy way for saying that the student’s take a lot of survey courses, but don’t actually learn anything in depth.

I know because my wife took a lot of courses with people getting these degrees.

This degree is *NOT* something as solid a a BA in history or math or classics or literature. It is a four year program of high-school level classes mixed with freshman intro-to courses.

Requiring a *real* content-degree would be great, but that isn’t what California does :-(

-Mark Roulo