How should teachers be taught?

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brianvds (April 02, 2014, 05:49:51 AM):

I sometimes get the impression that education, as an academic discipline, is almost in its entirety a pseudoscience. But I wonder whether any actual studies have been done on this. Does the possession of a B. Ed. degree or postgrad teaching diploma actually make people better at teaching? How could we find out?

I have been teaching for several years now, without any formal qualifications in education. I'm not sure the lack of qualification has really been a problem, but of course, my judgement must be heavily coloured by the fact that I have no desire to go back to study. On the other hand, there is now a huge, established bureaucracy that churns out new teachers - of course they are going to tell you that it is essential to be "properly qualified." Just like law enforcers will tell you that draconian legislation is essential or Greenpeace will tell you that their services are essential - bureaucracies take on a life of their own and often their main purpose becomes self-perpetuation rather than solving the problem they were created to solve in the first place.

My personal experience with colleagues who hold a B.Ed. degree is that some are good and some are not, and the qualification seems to make little difference. A lot of them are very inflexible and bureaucratic in their thinking, and most display an absolutely appalling lack of knowledge of the subjects they teach. I have had grade 3 teachers call in my help to solve grade 3 math problems that they struggled with.

At the school where I work, our math teacher recently left on 24 hour notice, so I now have to help fill in the gap. She was extremely hard working, but seemingly a complete bureaucrat, because when I ran a simple diagnostic test on the kids (grades 5 and 6) to see where I stand with them, it transpired that they cannot do even the most elementary math. So what the hell had the teacher been doing then? It seems she mindlessly plowed through the syllabus in complete disregard for whether any of the kids actually understood any of it.

Anyway, perhaps a topic worthy of discussion by fine skeptical minds such as the many we have here...
Faerie (April 02, 2014, 07:27:27 AM):
I can only speak of personal experience putting my two through school. I moved my youngest to an independent secular school beginning of the year and the difference between this school and his previous one is stark.

His current school employs subject matter experts - so the IT teacher actually has the IT qualification (and working experience), ditto maths, accounting etc etc. So all in all, older teachers with experience in their respective fields. The other thing standing out is that these teachers have relationships with the kids, they are called on their first names and have functional groups which the kids are divided into according to their interests, my son plays online games with his IT teacher and friends from 7 - 8pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (6 - 7pm is online teaching...). Maths suddenly became a pleasure to attend - not sure how this particular teacher inspires them but she manages pretty well in my opinion (she hosted an "intervention" a few weeks ago due to poor test results and jibed that its not religious of nature).

In Life Sciences (Biology for us old people), a couple of the kids came down with the flu in the last few weeks, and the formal curriculum got chucked out of the window and they started studying bacteria and virus' instead.

He went from a mediocre student last year to just short of honours this term in ALL his subjects. The teacher maketh the student methinks...
Tweefo (April 02, 2014, 09:06:28 AM):
There must be standards in any large organization, otherwise it will be a free for all, it would be chaos. In this case it would not stop the great teachers from teaching without the training, but it is a guide (maybe not a good guide) to the not so great teachers, on what should be done.
Mefiante (April 02, 2014, 09:28:17 AM):
Having not yet read the MG article, I’ll weigh in with my two cents. Education theory, by its nature, is largely adjunct to psychology weighed down with a bit of naïve anthropology and feel-good sociology. Psychology and sociology themselves, though very close, aren’t quite pseudoscience; it would be more accurate to call them quasi-science. For every observable psychological or sociological phenomenon there are several, often mutually exclusive, explanatory models or frameworks. Reading a random selection of published psychology (or sociology) papers typically goes something like this:

Authors Neuron-Fiddler et al. conducted a study to assess adults’ brains’ retention of details fleetingly presented to them by way of interruption while otherwise occupied. They experiment, measure, record and process statistically, concluding that their explanatory hypothesis, convulsive axon-induced ganglial stasis, would account for their results without having examined a single thing that could refute it. They might be really bold and say the their study challenges (note: not “disproves” or “negates”) the static ganglia-induced axon convulsion hypothesis put forward by authors Synapse-Twiddler et al. six months before in the same journal.

And that’s much how psychological and sociological study proceeds: Too many unknowns, too many unknown unknowns, ergo a glut of “explanatory” models.

With the above encumbrances of psychology and sociology in mind, it’s no great wonder that education theory is full of turgid and contrived verbosity. It’s a moribund murky mess, the result of which is that children suffer.

All of the aforesaid is to justify my view that the B.Ed. degree isn’t worth much. More than anything else, a teacher must know the subject they are teaching. Thus, a geography teacher should have a university degree (bachelor’s minimum) in one or other flavour of geography, and similarly for all other subjects. Only after graduation should a candidate be qualified to go on to a one-year teaching degree or diploma course, and this should focus on practical techniques and methods of teaching, presenting, testing and how to control, stimulate and discipline a class in the candidate’s chosen subject and at the appropriate age level. It should also evaluate the candidate according to those skills. The teaching degree/diploma thus certifies that the candidate has the required subject knowledge and is also familiar with teaching skills.

How does one make this arrangement attractive? I’ve always thought of teaching as more of a vocation than a job. Traditionally, this has been exploited in the wrong way by paying teachers meagrely. My suggestion is to exploit it more productively as follows: The abovementioned qualifications are not negotiable. Pay teachers really well, say at the level of actuaries or advocates, but with the proviso that they can only teach for a certain maximum period, say five or eight years. After that, they must leave their teaching post, never to return, and no exceptions. Their university degree will remain valuable. A requirement of two or three years’ work experience in a relevant field could also be prescribed.

My thinking is that such a setup, while initially resulting in manageable mayhem, will quickly attract many students to teaching and then schools can be selective about whom they employ, gradually raising teaching standards over time. The time limit on teaching positions coupled with lucrative remuneration will encourage turnover and fresh blood, and also reduce the incidence of teachers becoming jaded and viewing their profession as just a job. Such a system would of course need to be phased in over several years with extant teachers being ‘grandfathered’ in. However, SA’s labour laws would need some adjustments. (The background assumption, i.e. that the government is really serious about raising standards, is not necessarily valid, and if not, then all of the aforesaid is moot.)

Brian (April 02, 2014, 09:40:33 AM):
It's often said that mothers are the best teachers! However, if you take the argument to Universities etc as well, you'd find qualified lecturers in their respected fields of expertise but without any "teaching" experience and again some are good, others poor. Of course the environment is different to a school's as are the maturity levels of (some of) the learners. In my view a good teacher is one that inspires the learner to learn regardless of qualifications etc. Some of this "inspiration" may indeed arise from fear (of the teacher's wrath, punishment, failure)or from motivation through reward for excellence, sheer admiration, respect etc. How the teacher is able to bring this inspiration about I think, is key.


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