Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Who Should Teach Teachers?

Yesterday Joanne Jacobs ran a piece about how good teacher pay looks in a recession. And people have told me that during the depression, teachers did better than a whole lot of people. It's beyond pathetic that's what it takes to make this job appealing to some, but when you see how regularly we're vilified in the press, it's certainly understandable.

My attention was drawn by one of the comments, from one Obi-Wandreas, who writes:

There’s not a gorram thing you’re going to learn in an education class that will actually be of any use to you in the classroom. You still have to take a metric keesterload of them, however, to get a teaching license. This takes a significant amount of time. I was fast-tracked and it took a year before I was able to teach.

I can't really argue with that. I too had to take several courses that were total crap to become a teacher, but I also learned a lot about my subject area. Many in the "reform" crowd, including Rod Paige, ex-US Education Secretary, falsifier of the "Texas Miracle," and part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten's biggest fan, say this must be corrected, and the sooner the better. We need to make it easier for people to become teachers, and we need to ease the restrictions, because it's too hard to get certified.

Actually, folks like Rod don't give a damn who teaches kids, and want to let anybody in so as to enlarge the employee pool and keep salaries down. But many buy that line, and NY Times columnist Nicholas Christof thinks it's keeping Meryl Streep and Colin Powell from becoming teachers. That's an idiotic notion, of course. Just as implausible, but somewhat less idiotic, was a remark I read somewhere suggesting, "Just put a CPA in that classroom. Give him the book. He'll know what to do."

Actually, leaving aside the woeful cut in pay, a CPA may know math, but that doesn't remotely guarantee he can control a room full of 34 teenagers. We had a Teaching Fellow in our school who knew as much or more math than anyone, but couldn't handle the kids at all. And poor retention rates suggest (to me at least) that not everyone can do this job.

So perhaps we shouldn't have ivory tower professors who've never seen public school classrooms telling us how to run them. Perhaps we should find people who have actual experience doing the instruction. Actually, I have friends who are lawyers and nurses who tell me their education included lots of impractical nonsense. Still, you don't hear people say we should let absolutely anyone become a nurse, or a lawyer, or a doctor.

That's because, make no mistake about it, an awful lot of people have no respect whatsoever for what we do. We could certainly improve teacher education. But I think eliminating it is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard.

What do you think?
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