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Teaching is so easy, anyone can do it!

This guy, Anthony Seldon, works at a teaching school, and he has just politely dissed teachers everywhere on the pages of the Guardian.

Schoolteaching is a profession, but it’s not like becoming a doctor or a vet. No one would want to be operated on by an amateur who hadn’t had years of experience. The prospect of going to the dentist and being confronted by somebody with a lifelong passion for teeth but no university background or training would alarm all but the most steely. For that reason, there is no Teeth First, though we do have Teach First, albeit with intensive training.

Nick Clegg and others who argue that teachers must first be qualified are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the profession. The teacher’s role is much more akin to that of a parent. It is a great loss that governments worldwide have made teaching much less like being a parent than an impersonal civil servant. No job is more important than parenting, yet no one is suggesting parents go off for a university course to qualify as a parent. Parents pick it up as they go along, and that’s exactly the way great teachers are forged.

May I be the first to suggest, then, that maybe parents would be better for it if they actually had to prepare for the responsibilities? There are an awful lot of terrible, horrible parents out there who end up abusing children by neglect or intent.

But no, I’m a teacher, and it’s nothing like being a parent. (I’m one of those, too, so I do have rather solid grounds for a comparison.) Maybe preschoolers need a more parental nurturer, but everything beyond that…teachers are bearers of knowledge that they must communicate to their students — their diverse students who may be hostile, apathetic, or enthusiastic, who may be coming into the class unprepared or thoroughly ready, who may be disciplined or disorganized. And they damn well better understand their material.

One of the first things you learn when you start teaching is that you have to know the content inside and out — it’s simply not enough to know the bare minimum that you expect the students to master, because as a teacher, you need to push just a bit farther to get them up there. You need to be able to lead them to knowledge, and you need to be able to point off in the distance to all the cool stuff they can learn if they continue. How can you inspire if you’re not drinking deeply from the Pierian Spring yourself?

And teaching itself is a skill. It requires constant work and adjustment. In my introductory classes, I’m comfortable with the content and it requires only a little attention to keep up to date on the science, but I’m constantly fretting over how to communicate concepts better this time around. There actually is a teaching literature, you know, perhaps Mr Seldon is unaware of it. There are always new and better ways to instruct coming out and being tested, and there is academic knowledge behind it.

One of the terrible secrets of college teaching is that it fits Seldon’s ideal: most of us get almost no instruction in education as grad students, and then we’re thrown into being in charge of a class for the first time when we’re hired as faculty. And let me tell you, it sucks for both the teacher and the students. My first year was terrible. I had no idea what I was doing, I was frantically struggling to all hours of the night to figure out what the heck I’d be doing the next day, and I pity my poor students from that time.

I could dig up my evaluations from back then if I wanted a reminder of my misery. My student evaluations were bottoming out my first year; I had colleagues coming in and giving me pages and pages of advice. Those evaluations steadily rose until I had people praising me as one of the best teachers in my department…but it took five years of hard work on the job.

So Seldon compares teaching to surgeons and says, “No one would want to be operated on by an amateur who hadn’t had years of experience.” No one in their right mind would want to be taught by someone who hadn’t had years of teaching experience, either. I’d go further and say you ought to demand that your teachers be well-qualified, because you’re trusting your children to them, and they are usually only going to get one shot at learning and growing.

But Seldon thinks there is no expertise to teaching, only passion and enthusiasm.

And then there’s this.

Those who care more about themselves, are time-watchers, and place pay and conditions above caring for the young will never make it. Teaching is a vocation as well as a profession.

Do not diminish the importance of a profession standing up for self-interest. It’s true that people go into teaching because they love it, but it is entirely in the interest of the paymasters to scorn the self-respect of teachers and tell them they shouldn’t care about pay and conditions. Teaching is one of the most important professions in our society, deserving of the greatest respect, but somehow, the bureaucrats and administrators have decided that it’s not worth paying for, and that teachers who demand appropriate acknowledgment of their contributions are compromising “caring for the young.”

Nice racket. I know who’s side Seldon is on, and it isn’t the teachers’.

Comments

  1. says

    Ob quote from Zen Pencils about what teachers make.

    It seems to me that Mr. Seldon is dismissing efforts by teachers to be recognized for their time and dedication. We’ve been seeing a lot of that in Washington State, where education keeps getting short-shafted in the state budget: teachers protest decreasing wages and increasing workloads, teacher unions start demanding that the state meet its constitutional obligations *, and anti-union yahoos start screeching about how unions are destroying public education and that professional teachers (aka “socialist troublemakers”) should be replaced by low-experience temporary contract teachers. His opinions would fit in well with Washington’s right wing rags.

    * – Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington Constitution reads, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” The state Supreme Court has reprimanded the Legislature — several times since 2000 — over its failure to fund public education.

  2. says

    What a fucking idiot.
    I spend several hours a week in college doing education science. Yes, learning the fundamentals of learning, behaviour, child psychology, etc. Looking at studies that show what is actually beneficial in teaching and what isn’t.
    How to set up a valid exam and how to interprete it to the greatest benefit of the learner (no, that doesn’t mean giving everybody an A).
    Then I study some more about didactics: How do I prepare and structure a lesson, how do I set my aims and objectives, how do I make sure that all students are engaged, what approaches work best…
    And then I do internships.
    And when I’m done with all of that I’ll get 1.5 more years of on the stop traininguntil I’ll be a fully qualified high-school teacher.
    And if you’ve ever stood in front of a class of children in the full knowledge that you can fuck up their lives, you’ll know that this isn’t anything like “overqualified”.

    PZ, OP

    One of the terrible secrets of college teaching is that it fits Seldon’s ideal: most of us get almost no instruction in education as grad students, and then we’re thrown into being in charge of a class for the first time when we’re hired as faculty.

    This.
    My BIL has a PhD in biology and he’d like to go into teaching, and sometimes he does teaching on top of his research job. And seriously, from what he tells I’m sorry for his students. He knows his material, but he has no clue on how to structure a class or set up an exam. He’s susceptible to begging and therefore plain unfair.
    At least my university is currently offering teaching seminars for people who plan to teach in university.

  3. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Anthony Seldon is wrong about teaching. A really good teacher can kickstart a brain and change a life. On the other hand he is 100% correct about his own job–being a professional dumbass.

  4. hillaryrettig says

    Similar to the crap people write about artists. Oppressors and exploiters (and their tools) always use the same language. Sorry to see this in the Guardian, tho; it’s more an unintentional indictment of modern journalism than teaching.

  5. blf says

    Sorry to see this in the Guardian, tho [sic]; it’s more an unintentional indictment of modern journalism than teaching.

    “An indictment of … journalism” — How? It is a comment piece for fecks sake.

  6. Maureen Brian says

    Silly man! He’s just sucking up to the Goves and the Camerons of this world because that’s the side bread is buttered these days. There was talk of them giving him a peerage a little while ago.

    You’d never know it but he does have a teaching qualification – one of those cheap, one-year jobs you tack onto your degree in something else entirely and – hey, presto! – instant omniscience.

  7. AussieMike says

    Therefore, he would be thinking Finland is sooooo off the rails with teachers needing a masters degree and get treated like doctors and engineers.

    And as an addendum to the above comment about Zen Pencils. Here is the original Taylor Mali video.

  8. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Maureen Brian

    There was talk of them giving him a peerage a little while ago

    Yes, and I think that’s a fair assessment of who might be his “peers”.

    You’d never know it but he does have a teaching qualification – one of those cheap, one-year jobs you tack onto your degree in something else entirely and – hey, presto! – instant omniscience.

    I wonder if he realized his teaching education was bunk and instead of thinking he should have gotten more for his money & time he just assumed that there no such thing as non-bunk teaching education?

  9. Becca Stareyes says

    One would think proper compensation for teachers would preserve this enthusiasm. I mean, I did a PhD in astronomy. I love astronomy, and science in general. If I felt like a life of astronomy would mean a constant worry that I’d become homeless or be unable to pay for my medical care, I would be scouring the job ads to see what a BS in Physics gets me and switching astronomy to ‘awesome hobby’, with ‘writing fiction’ and ‘watercolor painting’ and other things that are hard to make a living at. Frankly, I like things like my health and a roof over my head far more than astronomy (or writing, or painting).

    Also anyone who thinks teachers don’t need training in teaching is full of it. Especially given there is so much study of ‘how people learn best’ that isn’t always obvious. While practice helps, and I bet a lot could be taught or reinforced by hands-on ‘student teaching’ situations*, that’s no substitute for actually laying things out rather than dropping new teachers in the pool and hoping they figure out swimming before they drown. (Which probably also helps with burnout; drowning is frustrating.)

    * Though I’d definitely pay the supervising teacher more, since sie has to both make sure a class learns AND supervise a teaching student. In the beginning, that will be twice as much work, especially if the student comes in with nothing but observations of how hir teachers acted.

  10. blf says

    Unfortunately, having looked the chap up, it only makes it worse. He’s in education.

    Yes, just like poopyhead mentioned in the first sentence. And the nutter himself said in his comment piece.

    In my opinion, poopyhead didn’t quote the worse part of that comment piece:

    [Rookie teachers] will learn much better on the job than at a university.

    That seems to be fractally dubious. The more you look at it, the more dubious it gets.

  11. wcorvi says

    If everyone had his attitude, to never go to a surgeon who didn’t have years of experience, soon we would have no one with any experience, and a lot of dead people, from failure to go to a surgeon. But, I learned as much from my bad teachers (what NOT to do) as from my good ones. And, which ones are good and bad are different now than when I was in their classes.

  12. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Also anyone who thinks teachers don’t need training in teaching is full of it. Especially given there is so much study of ‘how people learn best’ that isn’t always obvious. While practice helps, and I bet a lot could be taught or reinforced by hands-on ‘student teaching’ situations*, that’s no substitute for actually laying things out rather than dropping new teachers in the pool and hoping they figure out swimming before they drown.

    So my teaching is extremely limited – I didn’t earn the title “adjunct”, if that tells you anything – but I have pretty extensive experience lecturing. It was clear to me that lecturing and teaching are very different. There are things that could have been done to help me, and I have a long history in curriculum development and presentation skills. This on top of having a best friend who is a speech path, so I hear all about people’s different abilities to communicate and learn whenever I have a cup of tea [and she isn't on about the administration instead].

    So, yes, agree with everything you said here. But on top of all that is that most people don’t know their own subjects as well as they should. PZ alluded to this when he talked about needing to know more than you expect of your students. After all, though most subjects won’t get an insightful follow up question during lecture that extends the discussion, some will and you won’t be able to predict which those are.

    It has been one of the most frustrating things of my life to watch professors of gender studies and biology carelessly confuse sex and gender. You read biology papers all the time talking about the gender of some zebrafish. Likewise, it’s ridiculously common to read gender studies professors’ writings discussing the differences in tendencies between female and male science fiction authors – with nary a karyotype or fertility test in methodological sight.

    God bless’em, I know that they know a lot and that some of that knowledge is both beyond mine and yet very useful to what I want to do. And yet, how do I trust a biology professor who thinks zebrafish have a gender? How do I trust a gender studies professor who believes sexes can be accurately identified from paragraph long author’s bios?

    These are “little” mistakes, but holy crud are they both fundamental to their fields and terribly common ***in peer reviewed material***.

    It makes me despair for both of the fields in their entireties.

  13. sonofrojblake says

    There actually is a teaching literature, you know, perhaps Mr Seldon is unaware of it.

    Sarcasm?

    “Anthony Francis Seldon MA, PhD, FRSA, PGCE MBA, FRHistS… is 13th Master (headmaster) of Wellington College, Britain’s top co-educational independent boarding school… He qualified as a teacher at King’s College London where he was awarded the top teaching prize in the year across all subjects.”

    Some “journalist”.

    For those in the US who don’t know, “independent”, when applied to a UK school, means “fee-paying”, to the tune in this case of over $50,000 a year. This man is the head of a school for the children of the 1%.

    it is entirely in the interest of the paymasters to scorn the self-respect of teachers and tell them they shouldn’t care about pay and conditions

    Absolutely. This piece is about ideology, not education.

  14. Rey Fox says

    Schoolteaching is a profession, but it’s not like becoming a doctor or a vet. No one would want to be operated on by an amateur who hadn’t had years of experience. The prospect of going to the dentist and being confronted by somebody with a lifelong passion for teeth but no university background or training would alarm all but the most steely.

    I don’t get it. He starts off good and then does a complete 180. Really need the Gumbies for the rest of the quote.

  15. wdcazz says

    I teach Science in a small school. Grade 7, 8, 9, 10 science, and grade 11/12 biology, physics, and chemistry. I may love teaching but it would not be sufficient to simply love teaching. I have 3 degrees, B.Sc.; M.Sc; B.Ed.

    The reason I mention that is simply to say that I spent a lot of money and 10 years of my life acquiring my skills. And while I don’t want to sound arrogant, I do feel i am better qualified than most people who teach high school science (in Canada anyway), and while I don’t want to make it all about money (because I do love my job), I don’t feel it is too much to be asked to be payed for my skills.

  16. roro80 says

    There seems to be this myth about “good teachers” and “bad teachers” among the (usually) conservative set, where being a good teacher is an innate, born magical quality that some teachers have (generally just that one they liked in high school) and most don’t because blah blah blah unions blah free market.

    The reality is that teaching — like any profession with some amount of art or performance to it — is a set of skills that a very select few pick up and get quickly, almost intuitively, but that most reasonably smart people of the correct temperament can learn through hard work and consistent upkeep of the skill set. It’s also something — again like most types of art or performance — where even those who are naturally good at it will benefit greatly from training and upkeep and new techniques.

    Treating teaching like magic bestowed by gods allows conservatives to justify policy that eliminates credentials, takes power from unionized teachers, and tries to set up voucher systems where the best magic teachers will get paid way more because the free market will seek them out, and the worst teachers won’t be able to stay in education. There are at least 700 things wrong with this view, but they’re all set up to satisfy the conservative wet dreams anyway — union busting, privatization of education (profits!), plus poor kids get screwed. What could be better? It’s all got the same Randian quality of the Superman Benevolent Titan of Industry Who Can Do No Wrong feel, except for with teacher. Bleh.

  17. feministdalek says

    Ooh, but this rankles!

    Teaching wasn’t easy for me. In my undergrad for secondary education, I spent a lot of time learning about the history of education in the US, child development and neuroscience (a bit) in that it relates to teaching and learning, teaching philosophies and their associated movements, a multiculturalism course about challenging institutional biases as educators…all BEFORE getting into content-specific education. Then there was two more years of that.

    Then there was ten weeks of an unpaid internship (aka “student teaching”) where I pulled 14+ hour days between my two hour commute, lesson planning from scratch, grading writing projects and essays (which take an ass-load of time to grade properly…not the kind of work that you can pass off to a TA, if you’re lucky enough to have one), actually working a full class-load, AND helping with extracurricular activities.

    And then you graduate, to find that you are applying for positions with 300 applicants. Or more. And if you’re not willing to do extracurriculars (especially sports) your first year, you may as well forget it. So you’re expected to show dedication to the school district by being a sub. Great! Now you have absolutely no control over your schedule, no benefits, and, in some districts, maybe $80 at the end of the day.

    So you sub. You sub, sometimes for YEARS, before a position opens up. And you hope with all your might that your measly position has drawn enough attention to merit you a tiny bit of extra attention.

    And you land the job. Woo-hoo! If you work in Oklahoma, your starting salary can be right around 30k. For those 14 hour days, and all the meetings, and all the other miscellaneous responsibilities…not to mention fighting the general uphill slog against anti-intellectualism and its delightful side-kick “teaching is easy and I don’t value their service”.

    After 20 years at the same school in OK, you might get lucky enough to be making 50k.

    I was never, ever in teaching for the money. I knew it would be hard work…I was in it for the kids. I love to teach, more than anything in the whole world. But the exhaustion, the emotional impact (I am one of those people that takes it so seriously, I had a hard time “leaving work at work” – particularly when parents are reminding you on the reg about how you’re failing their poor delicate petunia), the long hours, the extra responsibilities (staying til midnight to help paint and build set pieces, getting up at 5 a.m.), trying to accomplish things around constant interruptions, from bomb threats to fire drills to test days to assemblies and on and on and on.

    The anxiety was too much for me. I am constantly humbled and inspired by some of my friends and cohort that still do teach (many of them don’t…lots of them would like to but can’t find work) are amazing at their jobs. Their dedication, and the crap they put up with, is amazing to me.

    I want to throw this dude into a pit of 9th graders. We’ll see how long he lasts.

  18. sonofrojblake says

    A large part of the problem with education in the UK is that everyone thinks they have an informed opinion on it.

    I’m a chemical engineer. When I tell people that, they don’t tell me how to do my job because generally none of them know what it is. Many of the people I work with have at best a fairly dim understanding of what it is I do. I’ve never met anyone with a three figure IQ who was arrogant enough to lecture me on what’s wrong with my profession from a position of complete ignorance. Doctors, accountants and lawyers only see any given member of the public fairly fleetingly, so people don’t assume they’re experts in those professions either.

    But we all spent over a decade watching teachers do their jobs at us for hours every day… so we think we know what they do. It took living with a teacher to show me how little I understood what it is a teacher does.

    Worse, there is the old saw “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (Those who can do neither… comment on blogs…) This saying is so ingrained it was used (ill advisedly in my opinion) as the basis for a government sponsored recruitment campaign in the UK a few years back – inspiring snippets of fantasy classrooms full of engaged kids, with the tagline “Those who can, teach.” What this was supposed to achieve, beyond reminding anyone watching of the original adage and the contempt it implied for the entire profession, is unclear.

    Education is a political battleground in the UK at the moment, more so than it has been for as long as I can remember. This man is representative of the worst of those who would see teaching devalued further.

  19. Juliana Ewing says

    I think the only bit of truth in that is that some schools of education are teaching rubbish that isn’t helpful on the job. At any rate I’ve heard that from many teachers. But none of them thought teachers didn’t need training — they thought teachers needed BETTER training than what they had received.

  20. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    I wonder if some of the problem arises from the fact that many teachers of the younger grades are female. Whatever the society and whatever the tasks, anything that women do is devalued and taken for granted; furthermore, women’s tasks are considered to be automatic: women ‘naturally’ have the skills for them and should want to do them, so paying them well for their work is illogical and unnecessary. Therefore, teaching is not a skill so much as an exudation of personality with a thin layer of automatically transferable knowledge on top. Add the elitism at university levels that assumes that an intelligent professor can do anything if asked and you have a mess when it comes to evaluating, paying, and seeing the need to train educators.

  21. sonofrojblake says

    eliminates credentials, takes power from unionized teachers, and tries to set up voucher systems where the best magic teachers will get paid way more because the free market will seek them out, and the worst teachers won’t be able to stay in education

    You say that like weeding out the worst people and throwing them out of the profession is a bad thing.

    One of the main reasons I believe teachers aren’t respected as much as they might be is that everyone, every single person who went to school or has a kid in school, can name a teacher who was no good at their job yet carried on getting paid year after year. In the UK at least, and until recently at least, once you met the minimum standard for the first year or so of your teaching career in the public sector, and assuming you didn’t beat or boff any of the children, you were basically unsackable, no matter how bad at the job you got. And while one bad accountant or bad engineer might annoy a few of their colleagues and cost their company money, one bad teacher can damage the education of hundreds or thousands of kids, and their reputation can spread far and fast.

    Teachers should be better paid because their job is important. But it should be easier and quicker to sack the bad ones because their job is important.

  22. cartomancer says

    Well, I have something of a personal grudge to bear here, given that I was teaching at a sixth-form college last year, but my contract was given to someone else this year. Needless to say this was because she had a formal teacher training qualification, where I did not. Three years of experience, a doctorate in the field and consistently good exam results and student feedback be damned. I will be applying for PGCE courses for next year when the system opens on November 1st, however, because it seems they are becoming a necessity now. Even though I’ve got by without one perfectly well thus far, and my father has been teaching for decades in a similar position. Fortunately there are still government grants for people in my position, and student loans are available – otherwise I would not be able to afford it.

    But I can see the advantages of formal training. It was quite a struggle in my first few weeks without it. I think there is a lot to be said for on-the-job training too, and spending a lot of time learning from fellow teachers certainly helped me a great deal, but having an initial boost into things would certainly have improved matters. I was fortunate in that the subject I teach – Classics – generally attracts bright, enthusiastic and committed students at sixth-form. Had I been faced with surly, uncooperative ones instead then I would have fallen to pieces.

    I think part of the problem, though, is that the quality of teacher training courses, at least in the UK, is very varied indeed. Many of my fellow teachers who have been through PGCE courses and the like came out the other end feeling they were pretty much a waste of time, while others appreciated the courses and felt them worthwhile. If teacher training courses are generally of low quality then it’s a fair point to say that they shouldn’t count for much. The solution there, however, is to improve the quality of the courses…

    There’s also a slightly annoying feeling, which I know is nonsense, but culturally hard to shake off, that I’m only in sixth-form teaching because I’m not good enough to teach undergrads at a university. In Britain there is far more respect and kudos afforded to those who teach at universities than those who teach at lower levels, and certainly for people with postgraduate degrees and doctorates teaching at a school or FE college is considered a lesser option. Though, curiously enough, not among actual university teaching academics – they’re about the only ones who do have significant respect for it.

    Anyway, I think the fact that Mr. Seldon teaches at a private boarding school in the Home Counties (with vast fees) is a big factor in his outlook. Those places have never needed formal qualifications for their teachers, and the massively higher salaries mean they tend to attract very capable people, whose talents let them muddle through more effectively for their first years in the job. Also, such schools select pupils based on ability – and teaching solely high-ability students from high-income backgrounds is massively easier to start with.

  23. magistramarla says

    feministdalek @22
    Everything that you said in your post is equally true in Texas.
    There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for one teacher to do justice to the needs of 150 students.
    Yet, we were expected to teach 6 classes per day, turn in detailed lesson plans for each class every week, keep up with grading and uploading grades, keep up a tutoring schedule before and after school, participate in extra-curricular events, do extra duty that is really administrative or staff work during our off periods AND attend meetings, attend professional development classes and call or e-mail parents with updates on their children. All of this, and an income of $45,000 annually.
    My husband, whose income was more than double of mine, often commented that I worked much harder than he did for half the pay. I loved my students very much, and I indeed felt like a mother or grandmother to many of them. It was difficult to leave them, but my physical health demanded that I leave when I did. (I can’t draw a disability check either, since my school district “opted out” of paying into SS. The district also lost a third of my retirement fund in 2008, just before I rolled it over into a private IRA when I left.)
    It’s outlandish that teachers are expected to earn college degrees and earn even more in continuing education, and then are not appreciated for what we do, let alone paid fairly for it.

  24. feministdalek says

    sonofrojblake @26:

    One of the main reasons I believe teachers aren’t respected as much as they might be is that everyone, every single person who went to school or has a kid in school, can name a teacher who was no good at their job yet carried on getting paid year after year.

    This is also true, and more so, with politicians in the US. (I know you speak coming from the UK, but I found this sentiment to be true as well in my experience with education). The politicians are also making six-figure salaries, a sum most teachers will never see. As with anything in life, there will be a few amazing teachers, a few really bad apples, and a huge middle ground that is on its way to effective teaching. So why implicitly blame other teachers for these “bad apples”? Why not turn our ire to the administrations that are responsible for allowing these bad educators to continue teaching?

    Also, “no good at their job” is a pretty subjective thing to determine. A friend of mine is a teacher who is about to switch over to a merit-based pay system that is based, primarily, on test scores. Now, since she’s low in the rankings, she is frequently saddled with the most difficult classes – students that are in remedial classes, or general track, or are far behind in their reading abilities, etc. etc.

    My friend is an amazing teacher, but her salary is, beginning in 2014, going to be tied to student groups that are the most difficult to motivate (the students she teaches, before they meet her and see her demands, consider it a “blowoff” course that they just need to get by in in order to graduate; many of them are already employed with well-paying part time factory work that will transition into FT jobs as soon as they graduate). She has done incredible work with kids in rural communities, increasing their test scores by leaps and bounds, yet she is going to be judged with the exact same metrics as college-bound Advanced Placement students who will ALWAYS score higher overall. And that means she will ALWAYS be behind.

    That’s kind of the problem with teacher evaluations in general. They are always attempting to put the context of an entire classroom environment into a 1-page Scantron form, and it’s just not possible to do that.

    I’d much rather see people in power formulate a really cogent way of assessing teacher performance, instead of trying to solve the “bad apple” problem by adding more and more responsibility and less and less respect to the profession. That doesn’t weed out the baddies; it just burns out your dedicated workers.

  25. carlie says

    But if anyone can be a teacher,
    and it doesn’t take training,
    and teachers just “pick it up as they go along”,

    then how can a teacher be bad?
    How can unions that protect teachers that have been there the longest be bad?
    How can any problems their precious children have be the teachers’ fault?
    How can we do merit pay for teachers?

    If he’s going to take away all concepts of required skill sets for teachers, then he certainly can’t hold them to have any responsibility for their teaching.

  26. carlie says

    Now, since she’s low in the rankings, she is frequently saddled with the most difficult classes – students that are in remedial classes, or general track, or are far behind in their reading abilities, etc. etc.

    And what’s more fun is that districts have a financial incentive to NOT classify children as having learning disabilities, because they have to pay more for special services. So they get streamlined into classrooms they can’t handle, and the district saves money there, and then the class test scores are shit, so they save money not paying the teacher in that classroom any more. Win-win! Except both wins are for the district, and all the losses are the teachers and the students.

  27. carlie says

    everyone, every single person who went to school or has a kid in school, can name a teacher who was no good at their job yet carried on getting paid year after year.

    Do you think that person went into teaching because they loved doing something that they sucked at?
    Or, perhaps, do you think that they might have gotten no support from their employer, never got any professional advancement training, got slapped with pre-fab curricula that allowed for no deviation, got saddled with ever-larger class sizes, and, eventually, got worn down when every bit of creativity and spark they had got discouraged? Bad teachers aren’t a force of nature, and they’re usually not someone who somehow sneaked by and fooled everyone until they got tenure. They’re created by the system itself.

  28. roro80 says

    @26

    You say that like weeding out the worst people and throwing them out of the profession is a bad thing.

    No, apologies if my communication wasn’t clear: that is what people who already hate public education say, as if it were true. It’s not. In fact, it’s very well established that places that enforce strict credentialing requirements have much better teachers (which makes sense), so this idea that eliminating these requirements will mean your kids get better teachers is bunk. If you take a private school full of uncredentialled teachers and compare them to credentialled public school teachers, you’ll almost always see that public teachers are better teachers; often this doesn’t come out in the data as kids whose parents can afford private school can also afford those “extras” like private tutors, extracurricular activities, art, sports, and, er, basic nutrition for their kids.

    And sure, we all had a few stinkers who got credentialled and still sucked at their jobs. Some things that often get lost: just because you didn’t like a particular teacher doesn’t mean you didn’t learn from hir; and just because you didn’t learn from hir doesn’t mean that many or most of the other students didn’t either. Furthermore, as has been discussed by the teachers here, it does take some time and a ton of work to get good at teaching. Not every crap teacher we hated as kids or university students falls into these categories, but lots do. Not to mention the fact that, at least in most places in the US, there is a world of difference between what you can accomplish as a teacher in a really positive, supportive environment where your students are well prepared, parents are involved, and the kids ate breakfast and don’t deal with daily violence, and what you can accomplish where these things don’t exist.

  29. feministdalek says

    Carlie @31:

    So they get streamlined into classrooms they can’t handle, and the district saves money there, and then the class test scores are shit, so they save money not paying the teacher in that classroom any more. Win-win! Except both wins are for the district, and all the losses are the teachers and the students.

    Bingo. When student teaching, nearly 1/3-1/2 of my students in general classes had IEPs. I never had a para in the classroom with me.

    I did my absolute best, but “individualized instruction” is kind of strained when you only have fifty minutes and thirty kids, many of whom need additional instruction and time to do classwork, quizzes, and tests.

    I know a lot of brilliant people in a lot of different fields – engineering, aviation technology, medicine, writing – and not a one of them is capable of dealing with this. It’s not about intelligence or dedication or anything – we simply ask too much of our teachers and give them far too little resources to properly carry it out.

  30. magistramarla says

    cartomancer,
    I also taught Classics, but in Texas. Many years ago, when I first became a teacher, it was true that usually the best and the brightest students were drawn to the study of Latin and Classical History.
    However, that was not true in my huge high school in Texas. I did have a number of top students in my classes, but the counselors tended to drop other students into my classes and those of my German teacher colleague, since they tended to be smaller than those of the Spanish and French teachers.
    Thus, I would have a number of students who had been rejected by the Spanish teachers. Those kids weren’t so bad, since I like kids who think “out of the box”, and the Spanish teachers tended to reject the non-conformists, such as the goth kids, the skater kids and especially the openly gay kids.
    The counselors also tended to toss emotionally disturbed or other special education students into my classes for the small classroom setting. We also had a gang problem, so I often found myself dealing with students who were from competing gangs in the same classroom.
    And so, I might have in a Latin I class, the future valedictorian seated next to a gang leader, who was in turn seated next to a profoundly emotionally disturbed teen. I was expected to meet the extremely diverse needs of these three children, as well as those of the other twenty students in the class.
    To top it all off, I had never taken any classes on teaching special education, since it was not something that interested me, and like you, I had expected to see mostly capable and interested students in my classes.
    If the schools in the UK are beginning to emulate US schools, I think that they need to take a long hard look at what is going on in our schools before doing so.

  31. ChasCPeterson says

    Apologies for the OT derail, but my goat got gotten (golly!):

    It has been one of the most frustrating things of my life to watch professors of gender studies and biology carelessly confuse sex and gender. You read biology papers all the time talking about the gender of some zebrafish…how do I trust a biology professor who thinks zebrafish have a gender?

    This is ignorant arrogance.
    I can’t speak for the field(s) of gender studies, but allow me to suggest that this ‘error’ on the part of biologists is only egregious when viewed from within your little bubble of experience and Correct opinion. You ought to get off the high horse once in a while and swallow those condescending judgments about fields you don’t know much about.

    The gender/sex difference is a relatively recent concept even in social psychology, and it has only ever been valid for humans. The terms have always been used synonymously in zoology, and until very recently many actually preferred ‘gender’ because it avoids potential confusion with other valid uses of the word ‘sex’ (e.g. the act). Just last year I had this very conversation in a Masters-thesis defense, in which one extremely knowledgable, distinguished, and accomplished prof suggested that the student (who had done a nice study of behavioral sex differences (gasp!–but in lizards so it’s OK)) go through the thesis and change ‘sex’ to ‘gender’ throughout, for clarity. I had to explain why you North-campus types would frown on that and he was genuinely surprised to learn it–not because he was untrustworthy or sexist or stupid, but simply because his training and interests had not happened to include recent sociology. This is why the usage persists, even in ***peer-reviewed publications***: because within the field from which peer reviewers are drawn it is not regarded as ‘wrong’. But you know better, eh?

    And since the sensu novo concept of ‘gender’ is only applicable to species with human-level cultures anyway (i.e. only humans), is there really any confusion that could possibly be caused by referring to zebrafish ‘genders’? A: no, there shouldn’t be, but thanks to misguided pedants like you now there can be, because I have seen people (not biologists) refer to alternative reproductive strategies as animal ‘genders’, which really is a dangerous category error.

    There really is such a thing as legitimate polysemy, especially among academic disciplines where definitions tend to be more narrow than in everyday vernacular. This gets back to a long-time peeve of mine (hi, Jadehawk!) with sociology specifically, in which existing vernacular words are given different or much narrower academic definitions (no real problem yet), but and then these new definitions are insisted on in vernacular discourse (such as blog comments). Do you sneer at people for using the word ‘minority’ to mean ‘less than 50% of a whole group’ instead of ‘an oppressed class’?

    Seriously, despairing for the entire field of biology because somebody uses a term the way it’s always been used within biology instead of the new way it’s been recently redefined by your own field of interest?
    Fuck you.

    [apologies if this seems over the top, but hey, it's my goat]

  32. roro80 says

    @29

    , since she’s low in the rankings, she is frequently saddled with the most difficult classes

    Yes, this! My mom spent her career as an ESL/ELD teacher in Southern California. She was (well, is) fully bilingual, did tons of outside learning, trainings, conferences, etc, on the best ways to teach students with low English skills, and regularly worked with the poorest kids, with generally non-English speaking parents who worked multiple jobs, and on top of all that the political situation of caring about the welfare of non-white Spanish-speaking children in an area like San Diego — well, let’s just say there were challenges. Trying to teach a 12 year old kid who has very little schooling at all how to write an expository essay? Yikes. She was one of the best teachers out there, and spent the last few years of her career developing curricula for the state, going all around and teaching teachers how to do it, with really strong results. But her students were never going to get the kinds of test scores, on the whole, that rich white kids were going to get.

    Yet where should we be putting the teachers that are the very best at teaching English to Spanish-speakers? Where should we put teachers who are amazing at teaching math to kids who aren’t great at math? I’d say we should incentivise teachers like my mom to be with the kids that need them most and will benefit the most from their expertise. This will just simply not happen if you pay teachers based on test scores. It’ll be like everything else — the rich white kids on top will just get better and better as they get the best of the best teachers, while the middle class kids will get mediocre teachers and begin slipping from never having super strong teachers, and the poor will stay will poor and be stuck with the worst of the worst teachers. (For those of us who give a shit about the poor and middle-level kids, this is a huge problem. For those who do not, it’s a feature of the “merit”-based pay idea.)

  33. sonofrojblake says

    @carlie, 32:

    Do you think that person went into teaching because they loved doing something that they sucked at?

    No. I think that person went into teaching because they couldn’t get a proper job in a recession and the teacher-training qualification meant another year of government-funded student status followed by a practically guaranteed job *somewhere* that meant they wouldn’t be on the dole. I know at least ten people just from my graduating class of chemical engineers from one year at one university to whom that applied as a reason for selecting teaching as a career. I considered it. I’m very glad I didn’t do it.

    Bad teachers aren’t a force of nature, and they’re usually not someone who somehow sneaked by and fooled everyone until they got tenure. They’re created by the system itself.

    Then how do you explain why they’re such a tiny minority? It is NOT “the system”. The system ain’t perfect, sure, but most teachers manage to be at least basically competent despite that.

    @roro80, 33:

    sure, we all had a few stinkers who got credentialled and still sucked at their jobs

    Um… yes. That’s exactly what I said. And in the public sector, in the UK, until recently, those people were practically immune from being fired as long as they managed to not physically or sexually abuse the kids in their classes (and sometimes even then).

    there is a world of difference between what you can accomplish as a teacher in a really positive, supportive environment where your students are well prepared, parents are involved, and the kids ate breakfast and don’t deal with daily violence, and what you can accomplish where these things don’t exist

    Amen to that.

    Another ludicrous policy in the UK is that of “inclusivity”, meaning everyone gets educated together, in the same school. Including, but not limited to, the kid with Aspergers who can’t deal with crowds or loud noises, the kid who can’t read or spell their own name at 13, the kid who regularly carries a knife and uses it on people he doesn’t doesn’t like. I was a school governor for some years a little while back, and it took over a year to arrange the permanent exclusion of a child who had literally stabbed another boy on school grounds. There was much debate about it, largely because of the huge financial cost to the school of the expulsion. Another anecdote: the wife of a friend of mine from uni gave up teaching the second time she was pinned against the classroom wall by the throat by the same pupil.

    Most teachers are at least competent. Most pupils are at least worthy. Where we’ve gone wrong is pretending that there’s only an exceptional group at the top – the really good teachers, the really bright kids. We ignore the obvious related truth – that there are a group of teachers and kids who are so bad that they should not be in our mainstream schools, and that leaving them there harms everyone, them included.

    People like Seldon do not need to acknowledge this fact because they will never, ever be affected by it, personally or professionally.

  34. carlie says

    followed by a practically guaranteed job *somewhere* that meant they wouldn’t be on the dole.

    I guess that problem’s unique to you in Europe, then, because in the US teachers have a very hard time finding a job. Even though the pay sucks, states have never funded schools properly in the first place and cuts over the last couple of decades mean that there aren’t that many jobs to go around.

  35. roro80 says

    @38

    That’s exactly what I said

    Rhetoric not your strong suit, I see? The “Sure” is a clear indication that my next words will be agreeing with you, and a clue that I will be likely give some exceptions or qualifications to your statement afterwards, which is exactly what I did, hence the “some things that often get lost”which immediately follows the quote you pulled. Perhaps the “Sure, [repeat of your point], but [exceptions and/or qualifications]” construction isn’t used in the UK?

  36. roro80 says

    @38

    Another ludicrous policy in the UK is that of “inclusivity”, meaning everyone gets educated together, in the same school.

    I don’t find that ludirous at all.

  37. chrisdevries says

    Fascinating topic, and one that hits me personally. I taught at university for 6 years, exclusively at the introductory level, and PZ is right about the knowing the material inside and out bit: that was the first thing I learned, and one of the most important. It is also important to be able to show the students where keeping on with their studies will end up, how they could actually end up standing at the “edge of knowledge” as Greg Laden puts it, and taking expeditions into the vast unknown.

    After I taught my last university course in 2011 (I was a contracted part-time faculty member without even a MS, and they made my course disappear, along with basically the entire subject I taught, putting others out of work too), I decided to seek a B Ed. And here’s where things got interesting: teaching high school is nothing like teaching university. I had classes, in my practicums, from grade 7 to grade 12, and there was incredible variety in what my students needed from me. But it was never just instruction and inspiration related to the curriculum. Being a teacher IS like being a parent, especially at public school (my time in a private school very closely resembled teaching at the introductory university level). It is YOUR responsibility to make sure students learn what they’re supposed to, not theirs. If they slack off and do poorly, their parents will blame you, and not wrongly, because it IS your job to keep after them and make them pay attention in class, make them do their assignments, help them to understand if they have troubles, deal with any issues that make learning harder for them (which can be personal or interpersonal, or even that they didn’t have a very good teacher LAST year so they have a poor grounding in the subject). Also, schools are institutions of learning, but in primary and secondary school, “learning” means so much more than just learning the required curriculum. The students need to learn to deal with other people, with different opinions, with challenging situations. They may need to confront biases they may have harbored for their entire life. Teachers are there to help students learn what it takes to be a productive and happy member of society. And when they fail, or fail to identify those who, for whatever reason, do not become such, bad things happen.

    The English “Teach First” system is not a good or a bad idea, from the standpoint of producing better teachers. The “sink or swim” method of learning to teach worked for me, and can certainly produce excellent teachers, but the best teachers are those who learn from experience AND who have solid background on how best to communicate ideas to those who may or may not be receptive to them. I don’t know if it matters which comes first – the theory of education or the experience of it. But I do think that being exposed to classrooms and seeing real teachers in action is more valuable to a beginner student teacher than learning the seven (or eight) types of intelligence or whatshisname’s theory on moral development. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t love your job, you’ll be a crappy teacher, and the job is very different from what I, and many others, had imagined it to be.

  38. says

    chrisdevries

    The “sink or swim” method of learning to teach worked for me, and can certainly produce excellent teachers, but the best teachers are those who learn from experience AND who have solid background on how best to communicate ideas to those who may or may not be receptive to them.

    You’re right, it CAN produce excellent teachers, but it in no way makes sure that all teachers become the best teachers they might be. Just like a bad teacher may still produce an excellent student, but they will do nothing for all the other ones.
    Me, personally, I’ve witnessed the big shift in German teacher training from too little hands on experience with rather random college education* to a more hands on approach with a solid compulsory foundation in educational science. This is a big progress.
    It is still lacking in the “students are children” area, we hardly learn anything about individual approaches and nothing at all about special needs and non-neutotypical children. I learned way more about them on Pharyngula than in college.

    *There were broad categories and you picked your classes. It was entirely possible that two graduates who studied at the same time didn’t have a single class in common.

    But I do think that being exposed to classrooms and seeing real teachers in action is more valuable to a beginner student teacher than learning the seven (or eight) types of intelligence or whatshisname’s theory on moral development.

    NO, they are equally important. You need that background in order to understand your students. Because honestly, few people can remember how it is to be a child. How limited their abilities are in terms of moral reasonong or cognitive understanding. Because either you’ll despair and blame yourself when your students don’t get something you deem easy, or you give up and conclude that the stupid idiots are not worth your time.
    And you need to have a critical background in order to evaluate the teacher’s work correctly.

  39. feministdalek says

    chrisdevries @42

    But I do think that being exposed to classrooms and seeing real teachers in action is more valuable to a beginner student teacher than learning the seven (or eight) types of intelligence or whatshisname’s theory on moral development.

    I agree with Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- @43 on this one. It’s definitely important to know both, but the setup of having your first intensive teaching experience at the end of your undergraduate makes it really hard to know if you’re cut out for the gig.

    I wish there was more of an emphasis on working with teachers in the community as your academic knowledge grows. That way, a) if you get a crap mentor teacher during your student teaching, you have other experience to fall back on and b) can learn from a variety of teachers with different philosophies and goals and develop a teaching philosophy from actual experience, rather than abstract preference. Other than my student teaching, my teacher education was almost bereft of in-classroom experiences. We had a few classroom observational experiences that were required, but, at the most, a student might have to deliver a one-off lesson instead of any kind of sustained experience.

    Better teacher training is absolutely necessary, but there needs to be a sea change in how we view and value education before that can effectively solve any institutionalized problems.

  40. loreo says

    @ChasCPeterson, #36: Is “North-campus types” a general euphemism for arts and humanities? I thought that was only a UCLA thing.

  41. blf says

    By coincidence, I found myself reading the 22-Oct-2013 dead-tree edition of The Grauniad over dinner this evening (I’m way behind in my reading…), which happened to have an article about this nutter, Anthony Seldon: turbulent start in his new academy job:

    The master of Wellington College has always wanted to run a state school — Now finally he has his chance. So — how’s it going?

    It must have made for an extraordinary sight. Here, according to witnesses, was Anthony Seldon — one of England’s most prominent and eloquent headteachers — bent almost double, “shrieking” in assembly at a group of 12- and 13-year-olds.

    “‘You stand up when I enter the room’, he shouted at the top of his voice,” says an onlooker. “‘You will stand up and you won’t slouch around’.”

    The scene was an assembly in the first week of term at Wellington academy, a state comprehensive under the sponsorship of Seldon’s famous public school, Wellington College. Seldon was telling his new students how things were going to be from now on.

    “He was just going bonkers, telling them they were the most badly behaved kids,” continues the observer. “It went on for two to three minutes.

    “One kid down the front seemed to be fidgeting or giggling, so he just snapped his fingers and then pointed at him, shouting at the top of his voice: ‘Stop!’.

    “Then he made the boy come to the front and leave the room before [Seldon] called him back and told him: ‘Say “Sorry, Sir”‘.” A second observer says Seldon was “screaming”.

    Seldon, who was the driving force behind the launch of the academy in 2009, is a passionate advocate of private schools sponsoring academies to break down barriers between the sectors. He has long been keen to work in the state sector. In an interview with Education Guardian, he once explained how tricky it had proved over the years to find a school that would appoint him. “I suppose at first they thought I was plummy and green. Later, they probably thought I didn’t understand enough about state schools, and I think that really is a fair point. It’s very easy to move from state to independent, very hard to move from independent to state. There were always better people.”

    On uniform, rules have been strictly enforced. A parent source says staff are routinely checking the colour of pupils’ socks, for example.

    Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says: “Anthony Seldon is doing the right thing: he is trying to improve education for students from different circumstances to those at Wellington College.

    “But what he may be finding now is that there is no easy transition between the privileged independent sector and the state sector. It is not a simple thing to teach children in challenging circumstances, and there is no easy route to improvement.”

    The impression I have is of an unskilled authoritrain nutter mostly interested in profit$, and completely dismissive and umrespectful of other people (who he may not even recognize as people?).

  42. carlie says

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That’s great, blf. Sums up so many things that are wrong with his approach.

  43. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Chas –

    See you in thunderdome.

  44. says

    I guess that problem’s unique to you in Europe

    not “europe”; getting a job as a teacher is damn hard in a number of countries on the continent. If anything, it’s a UK problem, but I have my suspicions that actually it’s an imaginary problem.

  45. says

    i mean, you’re talking about the dude who actually believes charter schools and the free market weed out bad teachers and reward good ones, as if it weren’t well-known that financial competition results in the opposite…

  46. sonofrojblake says

    @Jadehawk,49 :

    I have my suspicions that actually [people becoming teachers because finding employment as one is relatively easy is] an imaginary problem

    Your suspicions notwithstanding, the fact is the UK had (in the 90s and 00s) a shortage of teachers, especially but not limited to science and maths teachers. The only proof you need of this is the incentives the government put in place to try to recruit teachers – wide advertising, generous grants, guaranteed work placements, golden hellos (large cash lump sums paid for staying in the job for a couple of years), the paying off of student loans on completion of probationary year in employment. The teacher I live with benefited from all these incentives. Governments don’t spend millions in taxpayers’ money on incentives to join a profession where there’s already an oversupply.

    At the same time in the UK, other opportunities for graduate employment were becoming more limited, partly due to a step change in the number of universities in 1992. (75 new universities overnight, in a country of 60 million people).

    Another salient fact is that many traditional graduate employers require at least a second, and preferably an upper second, class degree, whereas you can do a PGCE with a third.

    Put those three things together – plenty of vacancies, many unemployed or underemployed graduates, low barrier to entry – and what do your suspicions tell you would happen?

    The US apparently hasn’t had any shortage of teachers. I get that. The UK is different.

    (Note: the situation has changed. None of the above mentioned incentives are still in place. Also, many UK schools are, voluntarily or otherwise, taking on “academy” status, which means the teachers are no longer employess of the local education authority (i.e. the government), but are instead direct employees of the school. One upshot of this is that they are a LOT easier and quicker to fire, especially if the school has been put in “special measures” as a result of an inspection. Teachers’ job security, once one of the main attractions of the career, is evaporating.)

  47. says

    the fact is the UK had (in the 90s and 00s) a shortage of teachers, especially but not limited to science and maths teachers

    the US has had a shortage of teachers too, but it’s not and never been easy to get a job as one. The same was true in Germany.
    Those are two entirely separate things, and quite frankly the UK solution sounds better than the US solution, which was this: http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2011/10/31/why-i-did-tfa-and-why-you-shouldnt/

    One upshot of this is that they are a LOT easier and quicker to fire,

    unless they were 100% unfireable before, this is exactly why I’m not taking you and your comments seriously.

  48. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Since when is “job security” a bad thing?

    /confused and willing to take this to Thunderdome if it’s too off topic

  49. carlie says

    Beatrice – because you’re always supposed to be obsequiously grateful for the job you were so generously granted the ability to have (no matter how hard you worked to get those skills), and everyone needs the threat of being fired TOMORROW in order to do their job well, because there’s no such thing as pride in your work or job satisfaction. What removing job security absolutely doesn’t do is make people so scared of losing their job and going broke that they buckle down, never criticize the administration, take every new educational fad their bosses push at face value, and don’t try anything creative for fear parents won’t like it. Nope, that’s never a result of removing job security.

  50. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    sonofrojblake@51:

    you can do a PGCE with a third

    No you can’t. You need a 2(ii), and in many cases a 2(i), and almost invariably you need to have spent some time in a school, either on work experience, volunteering or working as a teaching assistant.

    None of the above mentioned incentives are still in place

    Yes they are. Maths is still in serious shortage, you get a training bursary for your PGCE year based on the standard of your degree: £12k for a 2(ii), £15k for a 2(i) and £20k for a first. Other shortage subjects have similar bursaries.

    I only know these things because I’ve been training maths teachers at a UK HEI for the past eight years. People (and also the current secretary of state for education, who doesn’t fit into that category) also seem to have some serious misconceptions about a PGCE not being as good as training “on the job”. A PGCE student spends around 2/3 of their year of training actually in schools teaching. It is training on the job, and it’s better than learning at a single job because they spend time in different schools, usually chosen to be as diverse as possible. It’s not the only route into teaching, and there are ways in that give you a qualification whilst you work. Given the obsession that the current covernment has with holding teachers accountable for the quality of their teaching, I’m pretty baffled about why they have decided to remove the very first quality check hurdle of obtaining qualified teacher status for those teaching in their pet project schools that are free from local authority (read: dangerous lefty) control.

    To return to the OP, I totally agree with PZ that HEIs around the world generally don’t train their staff in pedagogical skills anywhere near enough. The faculty I work in (and specifically the Education part of the faculty) is invariably overrepresented in the Student Union’s annual good teaching awards, and I can’t help but make a link between this fact and the fact that, like me, most of my colleagues have previously been (and trained as) schoolteachers.

  51. says

    wonder when it’s going to get through that stressing people who think for a living doesn’t actually make them better at their jobs?

  52. chrisdevries says

    #43 and 44: Giliell and feministdalek

    That was actually my point, what you both said (especially feministdalek). For those just starting out (I said beginning student teachers meaning like, day 1, just starting) in a teacher training programme, getting classroom experience should be the number 1 priority, because teaching IS a lot different from what many people imagine it to be, and it is important for these prospective teachers to find out whether teaching is for them or not. Of course, the other stuff, the educational psychology and multiple intelligences and stuff, is very important too, equally so in the long run to the hands-on stuff in a training programme. I just think student teachers should figure out whether they actually enjoy teaching and whether they are willing to put in the effort to become good at it before learning a bazillion ways to build bridges of understanding to all of the students in their future classes (I say that only half-facetiously, an inside joke for those who’ve been through a teacher training programme ;) ).

    The 08h20-15h35 work hours represent only a small portion of the work teachers actually do. The best teachers find themselves with little or no personal time because they are so involved in the school life, and in constantly bettering themselves and their approaches to teaching. Summers off? Ha! Lazy, slack-off teachers might see it that way, but summer is the time when much of the self-improvement takes place, when reflection over what worked and what didn’t leads to extensive research on what others have found effective, and of course, modifying dozens of lesson plans to integrate new methods with familiar ones, and creating entirely new lessons.

    If you’re a science teacher, as I am aspiring to be, that often means labs; you need to spend time at school over the summer developing entirely new labs that both better demonstrate the concepts being studied and better engage the students doing them. I had a wonderful chemistry teacher when I was in high school, and he practically lived in his laboratory, he was so devoted to his job. He would do this clock-reaction storytime demonstration at Hallowe’en, where he’d have an orange liquid in a beaker with a face painted on it so it resembled a pumpkin, and he timed his (original) story so exactly to the changes in color of the liquid in the beaker as the clock reaction proceeded, like within 1 second of each other (the story and the chemistry going on in the flask). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up clock reactions on google, they kick so much ass. The point is though, he spent hours and hours perfecting what ended up taking like, 5 minutes of class time.

    The best teachers sacrifice so much for which they are not recognized, because they do truly love their jobs and want to do right by their students. I think these are the kinds of teachers we want teacher training programmes to develop, and they can only do so with students who demonstrate exceptional effort and aptitude in the classroom, students who want to be the best teachers they can be. Theory is important, and it shapes both the methods you use and the desired outcomes you have with each student, but plenty of teacher candidates (and I know, I met many) really don’t make an effort to integrate theory into practice. The best teachers will do so regardless of when they learn specific pieces of research on how children learn. I think they should weed out the ones who think they’re getting a 2-month summer vacation as quickly as they can, by their own self-withdrawal or by failing their first practicum. And the teachers who do love teaching, who do spend far more than the time for which they are paid on their jobs, they need to be paid more. These are the individuals inspiring our children, the people who will play a central role in the life path of their students. They should be compensated accordingly.

  53. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    chrisdevries@57:

    For those just starting out (I said beginning student teachers meaning like, day 1, just starting) in a teacher training programme, getting classroom experience should be the number 1 priority, because teaching IS a lot different from what many people imagine it to be, and it is important for these prospective teachers to find out whether teaching is for them or not.

    Yup, that’s why we insist that everyone has at least a couple of weeks’ experience in a school (ideally one they didn’t attend as a pupil) before day 1 of the course. The real reason for this is so that people can self-select themselves out of a place rather than flake out as soon as the school placements begin.

  54. lucifermourning says

    as a note – the assumption that pre-school just needs a nurturing parent-figure does a disservice to early childhood educators. there’s a reason that there are college programmes and qualifications specifically to train early childhood educators – understanding how to help children learn is not a trivial task.

    at that age it’s not really about the material you’re teaching. it’s issues like play-based learning, teaching social skills and empathy, assessing motor skills, etc. none of that is trivial.

  55. carlie says

    lucifermourning – it’s also about detecting learning disabilities, which must be done as early as possible before the child starts falling behind. Teachers are also often the first line of note for detecting vision and hearing problems.

  56. ajbjasus says

    I used to teach in the UK, when the notion that if you know how to teach you could teach anything was around. That lead to some dreadful lessons and disillusioned and patronised students, too, when non-subject matter experts taught a whole host of courses. This might be an attempt to redress that balance, but is swinging way too far the other way, though.

  57. sonofrojblake says

    @Jadehawk, 52:

    the US has had a shortage of teachers too, but it’s not and never been easy to get a job as one

    A shortage means there are vacancies going unfilled… but it’s still hard to get a job? How does that work? I mean, obviously it’s never easy to get a job – you have to have a qualification, fill an application, pass an interview etc. But if there’s a glut of vacancies, just how incompetent do you have to be to still have trouble finding work? And if there’s not a glut of vacancies… what shortage?

    > One upshot of [academy status] is that they are a LOT easier and quicker to fire,

    >unless they were 100% unfireable before, this is exactly why I’m not taking you and your comments seriously.

    Huh? If it wasn’t impossible before, a change in circumstances can’t make it easier?

    @Beatrice, 53: Job security is not a bad thing, assuming basic competence. Job security for the competent was one of the most attractive features of a teaching career. Unfortunately, public ire was manipulated towards the minority of incompetents, leading our current government to systematically start attacking the job security of all. This is a BAD thing. What I was saying was also a bad thing was unions defending the indefensibly incompetent against moves to remove them from the teaching profession.

    @Dr. Marcus Hill, 55:

    you can do a PGCE with a third

    No you can’t.

    My apologies. I should have said you used to be able to do a PGCE with a third. My knowledge of PGCEs is clearly a little out of date. When I graduated in 1992, it was practically the default option for those with numerate degrees (maths, sciences, engineering) who’d missed the entry requirements for the jobs they actually wanted.

  58. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    sonofrojblake, I’m not an expert on the teacher-shortage issue, but (as I’m a student nurse) I’ve paid attention to the issue of the nurse-shortage, which is a huge issue in the US, and looks to get bigger.

    Here are a set of facts:
    (1) If you make a histogram of ages of nurses currently licensed in the US, you’ll immediately note a hump of nurses who were born between 1958 and 1968: that is, there are are a lot of nurses who are in their forties and fifties. The average age of RNs overall is 44. Nurses, like many workers, tend to retire and fall out of the job market in their fifties and sixties. Therefore: there will be a large drop-off in the number of working nurses in the next ten to fifteen years nurses retire in large numbers.

    (2) As the population ages (i.e. the average age of Americans rises), there will be more need of skilled healthcare workers, including nurses. That means that the number of healthcare workers in the next ten to fifteen years will be greater than the current need.

    (3) Studies show that if every hospital, clinic, agency, and physician’s office were optimally staffed, with every patient receiving optimal care, than there would be 30% more nurses currently working than there actually are.

    (4) The recent heathcare law, by making more people capable of obtaining medical care, has created the need for more providers.

    So! That adds up to the following:
    (1) We don’t have enough nurses now.
    (2) Nurses are disproportionately middle-aged.
    (3) If nothing is done, we will have fewer nurses in fifteen years than we have today.
    (4) In fifteen years, we will need more nurses than we need today.

    How bad is this? A study in 2006 projected that in 2020, the US will have 1 million too few nurses to serve our needs.

    Now, if the market were purely rational, you’d predict the following:
    (1) Nursing schools would be drowning in applicants.
    (2) Nursing schools would be expanding to enable them to educate more students: hiring more staff, building new buildings, etc.
    (3) Hospitals, etc, would be competing to hire the already-limited pool of nurses, so that the transition can be made as smoothly as possible. This would lead to generally nicer pay & benefits packages for nurses, and greater attention paid to the needs of nurses to have a generally pleasant workplace.

    That’s rational, right?

    Here’s what actually happening:
    (1) Happening. My cohort in nursing school is 62 strong. For those 62 slots, they had several hundred applicants. In general, nursing schools are getting more applicants.
    (2) Not happening. Why? Lack of skilled instructors – after all, to teach nursing, you need a nurse. And we loop back to the shortage issue. However, many nursing schools are finding ways to ramp up enrollment, but the numbers are still sub-optimum.
    (3) Not happening. I’ve been looking (for myself), and not that many places are hiring green nurses. Or nurses at all, really. And the pay and benefits, while better than they were, are still paltry. Nurses in large numbers report being insulted, disrespected, harassed, and even assaulted on the job by doctors and patients. Nurse-to-patient ratios are falling, which means that each nurse has more work to do. There was recently a news story about a nurses’ union at a major hospital chain that successfully fought off the management’s demands that they get fewer sick days (meaning that they be required to come into work sick – I shouldn’t have to say why medical staff coming to work sick is a catastrophically stupid idea, right?), and have longer shifts with less time off. Yes, the nurses won that one. But the management’s conduct hints at their view of nurses, does it not?

    So: there’s a shortage of nurses. It is getting worse every day. Schools, in response to this knowledge and more applicants, are doing their best to expand the number of new nurses. However, employers are (1) not hiring and (2) treating their current employees badly. Which suggests that there is something else going on.

    Obviously, the situation with teachers is not identical. But I’d not be surprised that the otherwise attractive job market – lots of openings – is not translating to lots of new hires and employers offering nice things to the employees they have.

    (It is interesting, isn’t it, that both nursing and teaching are showing this pattern? And that both are traditionally female jobs?)

  59. says

    I’m actually a good doctor. I have a medium sized, very elderly practice.

    I was a teacher for three years before going to medical school. I was a shite teacher. It’s about more than just interest: I was interested. I was dedicated. It maybe helped a little.

    That shit’s hard work and ought to pay better.

  60. says

    Marcus Hill

    Yup, that’s why we insist that everyone has at least a couple of weeks’ experience in a school (ideally one they didn’t attend as a pupil) before day 1 of the course. The real reason for this is so that people can self-select themselves out of a place rather than flake out as soon as the school placements begin.

    A tentative no.
    Because this reinforces the idea that teachers are born and not educated. And for sure, some people are “naturally” better at it than others*. But most have to learn.
    Really, apply this logic to any other profession and you see why it’s not a brilliant idea: In any profession, doing a few weeks of internship without any prior training will mostly be frustrating. In teaching especially because you can’t just take the low-profile activities and dump them on your intern.

    *I’ve been told by many people that I can explain things. This started at around 5th grade when I would help those who hadn’t gotten it in class. Which also means that I got an aweful lot of practise before I ever took up professional teaching

    Chris Devries
    I think your heart is in the right place, but your head is up in the clouds.
    You are truely enthusiastic, and that’s a good thing, but the way you describe a good teacher is not realistic. It’s not healthy for teachers who are actually people, too. I mean, yes, there will always be a teacher who lives for their job, but most teachers have a life outside of class and if you demand “sacrifice” from them and constantly putting in 12 hours a day you’re going to break them.

  61. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What I was saying was also a bad thing was unions defending the indefensibly incompetent against moves to remove them from the teaching profession.

    And why shouldn’t the school administration be able to document those deficiencies in teaching over a few years? The lack of will, turnover, and incompetency on the part of school administration. All unions say, if you are terminating somebody, show legitimate cause, which isn’t that hard to do. And many managers fail to do that, both in and out of academia, because they are too lazy. Who is at fault really, unions or managers?

  62. vaiyt says

    So Seldon compares teaching to surgeons and says, “No one would want to be operated on by an amateur who hadn’t had years of experience.”

    And yet, that happens all the time. When you crash your car and arrive at the hospital with a beam embedded on your skull, you don’t get to choose your doctor. Waiting for the one with years of experience will be the difference between a chance to survive and bleeding to death.

  63. chrisdevries says

    Giliell

    I’m not saying every teacher needs to be that way, but we need to make sure we keep the ones who choose that path, and compensate them accordingly. There is a reason teachers like this end up in the private school system: there, they are encouraged to be themselves, to be exceptional.

    I am an education student and I can tell you that my university is unintentionally discouraging people who love teaching by forcing every student teacher to commit to a path of mediocrity. Trying new things and new ways is frowned upon; everything must be done the way people are already doing it. There is one path: their path, and if you’re not committed to it, there’ll be trouble. For people like me, who have extensive teaching experience and who want to have the freedom to innovate, it’s hard. And the message it sends to graduates is clear: be like everybody else.

    I get that student teachers are there to learn, but they’re also there to find out what works for them, to develop a teaching style that works for them and for their students. They’re there to spread their wings a bit and experience what being a teacher is really like. I had a placement at a private school my first year and it was wonderful because the people I was learning from were like me, and they valued the contributions I could make. The students too; my classes there were awesome, the students were used to being challenged, pushed beyond what was strictly required by the curriculum. But then they put me in a normal grade 10-12 public school and my ambitions were squashed. This is why I figure that when I graduate, my best option will be private school; it fits my personality better I suppose.

  64. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    The difficulty, chrisdevries, is that many teachers go into teaching because they want to reach the kids who aren’t in private school. They see the deplorable stats coming out of poor neighborhoods and think that maybe they can make a difference. So you have someone who may well be able to get a place at a top-notch private school (and excel there) teaching at some run-down place from 20-year-old textbooks, because they’d never leave the place and the kids.

  65. says

    Chris Devries
    Now, I can’t obviously comment on your teacher training because I don’t know what is actualy taught and what the goals are, but seriously, you’re comparing your experiences at a school for filthy rich people whose kids are privileged in all kinds of things to your experience in a public school wher eteachers are dealing with a diverse group of kids who have a bunch of problems the rich kids have probably never heard about.
    One of them often being that parents actually don’t value education.
    I’m getting the impression that your training insists on standards and such and you think that you’re above them. Again, teaching is a science. There are scientists who actually do research in what are good methods and what are not, what will be beneficial for a large group and what will not.
    Just trying things that you come up with might work, especially with a highly motivated group that had breakfast, but that’s not the norm.

  66. sonofrojblake says

    @Esteleth, 63:

    Fascinating post, thank you.

    I take issue with one point:

    So! That adds up to the following:
    (1) We don’t have enough nurses now.

    It doesn’t add up to that. It adds up to there aren’t enough nurses for, as you put it, optimal staffing now. But hospitals (and schools) don’t need to provide optimal staffing – they need to provide minimal staffing. It would be nice if they provided optimal staffing, but then where would the managers’ bonuses come from?

    You demonstrably do have “enough” nurses now, because people still want to be nurses despite diabolical pay and conditions. (There’s another thing at work here that nobody has mentioned – hardly any of the decent teachers I know and NONE of the nurses I know do the job “for the money” in the conventional sense. And if your employer knows you’d carry on doing your job for half your pay, your bargaining position is screwed.)

    The danger is that nobody seems to be doing succession planning. Right now it’s possible to minimally staff. But when that demographic timebomb goes off and that hump of middle aged nurses retires, even minimal staffing will not be possible… and at that point, if the market works at all, it will become more lucrative to be a nurse. It will HAVE to. But the market being as dumb as it it, it won’t even start to happen until it’s too late – the market doesn’t plan, it reacts.

    Similarly, the UK started offering extra incentives for maths and physics teacher trainees only AFTER the shortage was recognised.

  67. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Sonofrojblake, at the moment, the number of working nurses is 30% sub-optimum. And, as per people who actually study this stuff, the staffing is starting to dip below minimum – alarms are being raised about understaffing-related medical errors and the like.

  68. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    Giliell @65:

    A tentative no.
    Because this reinforces the idea that teachers are born and not educated. And for sure, some people are “naturally” better at it than others*. But most have to learn.
    Really, apply this logic to any other profession and you see why it’s not a brilliant idea: In any profession, doing a few weeks of internship without any prior training will mostly be frustrating. In teaching especially because you can’t just take the low-profile activities and dump them on your intern.

    Sorry, I don’t think I was sufficiently clear. The sort of stuff people generally do in these sort of pre-enrolment experiences is generally teaching assistant stuff plus talking to and observing teachers. Nobody expects them to actually teach anything (nor would most schools allow them to), it’s more that the experience everyone has of education from the pupil’s view in no way gives a real picture of what teachers actually do all day. The purpose isn’t for prospective trainees to gauge themselves as teachers, it’s so they have a realistic idea of what the job they are signing up for actually entails.

    chisdevries @68:

    Trying new things and new ways is frowned upon; everything must be done the way people are already doing it.

    Really? Then your training provider is doing it wrong. Trainee teachers should be encouraged to experiment and find a way of teaching that works well for them and their learners. This applies doubly to those trainees who come in with some experience of instruction, who often need strong encouragement to try something different rather than continuing in whatever rut they’ve carved for themselves.