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How should teachers be taught?

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brianvds
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« on: April 02, 2014, 05:49:51 AM »

http://mg.co.za/article/2014-03-31-how-should-teachers-be-taught

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...
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Faerie
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« Reply #1 on: 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...
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Tweefo
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« Reply #2 on: 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.
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« Reply #3 on: 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.)

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Brian
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« Reply #4 on: 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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cr1t
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« Reply #5 on: April 02, 2014, 10:55:15 AM »

Is the old saying not "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

There should be at least some sort of standard way of seeing if somebody is qualified at a subject matter before they teach it.
But that won't tell you if they will be good teachers that is a skill I don't know how you measure, I think the children they teach would
be the best judge at that.

Maybe the children should rate there teachers at end of each semester.
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brianvds
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« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2014, 12:03:01 PM »

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.

I would agree in principle, but the minimum standard has to have relevance to the job. We could make red hair the minimum standard for a teacher, but clearly that would be absurd because it has no bearing on the person's ability to teach. The question is whether a B. Ed. degree has any such bearing, and I get the impression that the answer is "no."
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Mefiante
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« Reply #7 on: April 02, 2014, 12:15:23 PM »

We could make red hair the minimum standard for a teacher, but clearly that would be absurd because it has no bearing on the person's ability to teach.
Hmm, but their likeability as a person would have bearing.  I remember reading an article whose central thesis was that red-haired people are generally less well-liked than blonde or auburn or brown individuals.  This is borne out by one critic’s view of the Harry Potter movies as “unrealistic because a red-haired kid with two friends!?  C’mon now, really!” Tongue

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brianvds
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« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2014, 12:41:11 PM »

Psychology and sociology themselves, though very close, aren’t quite pseudoscience; it would be more accurate to call them quasi-science.

"You're quasi-scientific. You're semi-scientific. You're the margarine of science. You're the Diet Coke of science. Just one calorie - not scientific enough." :-)

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

Yup. When they do limit themselves to easily observable phenomena, they tend to do much better. E.g. the psychology of child development is on fairly solid ground in the sense that we can now quite accurately predict at which age kids learn which basic skills. Seeing as we know almost nothing about how the brain goes about learning those skills, we should hold off on the speculation-masquerading-as-learned-theory.

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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.

On this we are in agreement, to some extent.

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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.

I think it depends to some extent on the level at which you teach. For the lower grades one can require lower qualifications - you don't need to be a doctor of math to teach grade four kids long division. This is actually one of the things that frustrates me the most about our education system: fer fook's sake, it's not rocket science to teach primary school kids to read! My brother taught me to read when I was six and he was ten. They did it with huge success in 19th century Britain and Germany, before they had any educational theories at all. Hunter-gatherer kids acquire knowledge equivalent to a university degree or two by the time they are 16, without any departments of education or "fully qualified" teachers. What on earth is it that we are doing wrong, one has to wonder. If a ten year-old kid can teach younger kids to read, then why the hell is it that our "fully qualified" teachers can't do the same?

Anyway, for high school subject knowledge becomes ever more important, though I predict that you will never have enough people with a B degree in mathematics to fill all your vacant math teacher posts. I'm not sure it is essential either, but at least some university maths is probably essential. At the school where I teach, our grade 8 and 9 math teacher scraped through matric math and the other day admitted to me that her one pupil threw her off balance when he asked her how many zeroes a million has - she didn't know offhand.

So why don't they let me teach high school math then, seeing as I have B degree in zoology and did at least some first year math? Because I'm not fully qualified, that's why. :-)

So now you have the guy with the B. Sc. teaching the grade 5 and 6 classes, and the lady who scraped through matric math teaching the high school kids. In fairness, her B.Ed. specialization in in life sciences, and my impression is that with that she has reasonable subject knowledge. She's teaching math for the moment because math teachers are almost impossible to come by. And I have to say she makes up in enthusiasm and dedication for what she may lack in knowledge.

I don't really mind teaching primary school, because my experience tells me that it is there where everything goes wrong with math. When I tutored for a living, I noticed this time and again: the high school kids who struggle with algebra struggle because they fell through the cracks in primary school. By high school it is too late, and even an excellent teacher can often not do much to help because the kids are simply too far behind.

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 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.

Well, some years ago I started doing a postgrad teaching diploma but it was so boring and pointless I quit. I would suggest that instead of a formal diploma, teachers are appointed in assistant positions for a year or two to gain experience, and are then certified as qualified.

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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,

Hey, I can live with that! :-)

Quote
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.

But here you lose me - I would never go for a job that requires me to leave so soon, and I don't think many other people would either.

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However, SA’s labour laws would need some adjustments.

Heh, South Africa's labour laws can do with adjustments anyway. They are well on their way to ripping our economy to shreds.

There are several points to keep in mind here. South Africa is a developing country. I do not think teachers earning the salaries of lawyers or actuaries are anywhere on the horizon yet. Government school teachers earn almost twice as much as what the free market would pay them (I would know; I work for a private school!) This is partly why they are so useless, perhaps - if memory serves, learned psychologists have discovered that people that are grossly overpaid get every bit as lazy and unmotivated as people who are underpaid. :-)

But there are also other utterly disastrous policies that are neutralizing the work of teachers. For one thing, in many schools any and all discipline has basically been abolished. Under such conditions nobody learns much. Even more disastrous is the policy that a child may only be failed once in every phase (the school career being divided into three phases). Pass a kid who should have failed, and he falls irretrievably behind. Last year we got a new grade 5 girl from the government school across the road from us; she was completely illiterate. She did not even know that letters represent sounds. So how did she get to grade 5? Because it is government policy to "pass one, pass all."

The kids who do work hard see this and eventually stop working. Why should they? They're going to pass anyway.

Add to this the absolutely shocking parental neglect that a very substantial fraction of South Africa's children suffer from, and you have a population of millions of seriously remedial kids. It's a bit of a nightmare - much of our educational woes are due to factors out of the government's control, mainly the unshakable belief among the majority of parents that they have no responsibilities whatever - it's the government's job to educate their children.


Last but decidedly not least: in South African schools, almost everyone teaches and learns in a language that is for them a second or even third language. The impact of that is often underestimated, I think.

Some solutions:

Instead of focusing on the matric results, open up pre-school centres by the thousands, which kids attend from toddler age and where every day they are under responsible adult supervision, who stimulate them, play with them, and speak only English to them. That way, by the time the reach grade 1 level, much of the language problem has been overcome. The school where I work has such a preschool centre, and you cannot believe the difference between the kids who passed through our system and ones who didn't.

While subject knowledge is important, there are limits to how many graduates we have available, and at primary school level I'm not sure you necessarily need a whole degree in the subject you teach. Perhaps any B degree will do.

I would go as far as to suggest that university students get a certificate of some sort for every year they passed, so that if someone flunks out after his first year, he has at least some sort of qualification to show for it. Surely someone who passed his first year at university knows more than someone with matric alone? Such people can conceivably work at my proposed preschool centres where they could do much good, and if they perform well there, perhaps be promoted to primary school.

And for heaven's sake, bring back some discipline. We are not doing the kids a favour by allowing them to run wild.
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Mefiante
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« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2014, 13:57:44 PM »

But here you lose me - I would never go for a job that requires me to leave so soon, and I don't think many other people would either.
Not necessarily.  There are numerous lucrative activities and jobs, usually for young people, which are subject to the type of expiration I have outlined.  Most obviously, several sports are like this.  Contract activities such as oil rig work or diamond diving also fall into this bracket.  All of them require some prior training and/or qualification, and they are pursued by young people primarily because they are lucrative.

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brianvds
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2014, 15:43:13 PM »

But here you lose me - I would never go for a job that requires me to leave so soon, and I don't think many other people would either.
Not necessarily.  There are numerous lucrative activities and jobs, usually for young people, which are subject to the type of expiration I have outlined.  Most obviously, several sports are like this.  Contract activities such as oil rig work or diamond diving also fall into this bracket.  All of them require some prior training and/or qualification, and they are pursued by young people primarily because they are lucrative.

Well, perhaps. I would not go for such a job. Then again, perhaps I would have in my younger days. But it seems to me unnecessary to force out anyone. Yes, you get in new blood, but you also lose excellent and experienced teachers. And I find that in teaching, experience makes a big difference, much more so than any "qualification" in education.

Of course, what you are talking above is probably the state school system, and I would think twice before working for the government anyway. Bit of an anarchist, me. :-)
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