Friday, June 27, 2008

Excellence Required

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate, my roommate and I were talking about what we would do when we finished school. I recall being somewhat disappointed in her, when she said "I'll have kids, then I'll maybe try teaching. That's easy enough. Go in at eight, leave at three. Read, write, do some math. I mean, how hard can it be?"

I was rather reserved back then, and didn't tell her how I felt. If I had the chance now, I'd tell her that because of attitudes like hers, many elementary school-aged children are being cheated.

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released a study stating that Teachers Are Not Properly Prepared to Teach Math. They also point out that teacher-ed programs are not being discriminating enough when accepting participants. Anyone who wants to teach can enter a program, consequently shaping the success of hundreds of students.

Too many college students look at teaching as the easy alternative, as something to fall back on, as the least energy-consuming job. They breeze through teacher-ed programs, creating the required thematic units, writing the customary papers on "their philosophy of teaching", and taking the easiest courses to "prepare" them to teach math, science, writing, and reading.

Many folks I know are guided by the scripts in the teacher's manual. (My brother once said they were "married" to the teacher's guides.) Especially where math is concerned, few people delve into, or care to understand more deeply what they are expected to teach. I know colleagues who skip over decimals, or measurement, or probability. Furthermore, a consequence of No Child Left Behind has been a growing number of desperate teachers plowing through curriculum at such a fast rate that students are denied adequate time to master skills and concepts.

Teaching is a science and a calling. We must return this profession to a pedestal, encourage the best effort, and require excellence. When studies such as the NCTQ's come out, I cringe because I know who and what they're referring to. Some folks are in the wrong place, doing it the wrong way, and doing it for the wrong reasons.

Let's spread the word about this profession. It is not easy. You are required to think, a lot. You should know why multiplication is magical. You have to know what is going on in the rest of the country, and around the world. You need to read. You must hold yourself and your students to the highest expectations.


Astro said...

It is never easy to teach maths or any subject with the continuous changes in the syllabus. Being an elementary teacher for 7 years it is a constant challenge everyday in the classroom to stimulate and enlighten the minds of the kids I am working with.
Teaching is not a 9-5pm job as assumed by others outside the profession but has equally long hours as any other job.

Angel said...

Unfortunately the teaching profession isn't put up on a pedestal at all. Look at what we pay teachers. I believe that teaching has to be your passion, not just a career that you go into because it is all you can think of, or because you like the hours. What I've noticed is that once a teacher gets hired, even if they are horrible, and put little effort into the job, it is difficult for them to be fired. I do hope that the requirements for becoming a teacher become more difficult, and that more of a screening process takes place. Our children are worth so much more than they are getting.

katied said...

Your last paragraph says it all. Our district recently adopted a new math program that is filled with skill and drill worksheets that are opposite to more inquiry based program we were implementing. Aside from the program, yes teachers must be able to think and create environments for the many different learners we have. It is not an easy profession when you are passionate about growth and change.

La Jibara said...

I agree; dedicated teachers are hard to find. Our school district and the teacher's union have been fighting for months to come to an agreement on salary/benefits package. I could tell you which,in my daughter's school, have rightfully earned an increase, and who has not. They are deadlocked, even after mediation. Is sad. I commend you for taking your career seriously. Is more than a job. It really is a calling.

TeacherDee said...

I believe teacher education should be more rigorous and it should be easier to get rid of teachers who do a poor job. If changes like these were made, though, they would have to make teacher pay more competetive. The good news is that there are a lot of people like us out there teaching--who love teaching and do a good job at it, and we do it despite the pay. But there are also a lot of talented would-be-great teachers out there who are working in other jobs because they can get paid a lot more and they are shown more respect.

Your last paragraph is well said--I mean it is all well said, but your last paragraph reminds me that we do need to get the word out about the great job that we are doing and how much work it really does take!

By the way, I like the changes you've made to your site. It looks nice!

Zee Harrison said...

Hi Cassy,
I just had to leave a comment as a relative of mine teaches mathematics at a school in England. I wrote a post recently where I talked about some of the issues at the school and within the UK educational system as a whole.

I now believe these issues arise in most countries. How very sad for the next generation.