Who majors in education?

Students who plan to major in education earn low SAT scores, writes Reform K12. On the math test, education majors rank third from the bottom, beating out students who plan to major in agriculture/natural resources and public affairs and services (social work, I think). Ed majors rank second from the bottom on the verbal exam, just above public affairs majors. Since strong verbal skills correlate with effective teaching, this is not good news. Of course, many of these would-be teachers won’t complete a degree.

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  1. A friend of mine (fellow grad student in our math department) actually lost her position because of education majors. She taught a special math course for elementary education majors, and they protested because they were expected to do “high school level math” (their words). Apparently their honest belief was if they weren’t going to teach anything past the sixth grade, they shouldn’t be expected to know anything beyond the sixth grade level. The roar of protest from the students led to my friend being denied a teaching position the next semester.

    Most of the mathematics education majors I’ve met (who are training to be high school teachers) are far brighter.

  2. At my university you hear this stuff all the time from my education classmates:

    I was going to be an engineer but it was hard.
    I was going to be a nurse but I flunked out.

    It’s a constant litany.

  3. Wacky Hermit says:

    I echo KimJ. One of my friends was assigned to teach the math-for-ed-majors class, and it was horrid. They were getting 0 out of 10 on their quizzes, but they fully expected her to pass them anyway because the class was required for their major, and they had showed up to class. She was so outraged at their behavior that she showed me their quizzes. She wasn’t grading them too harshly; I would probably have given them a -2 out of 10, if I’d thought they would have understood what that means.

  4. Please note (horror stories above notwithstanding, and I have my own share of them) that the low scores are correlated with what high school students plan to major in, not what college students finally get a degree in. I’m unaware of any study about the latter, which would be far more informative. Does anyone know of such a study?

    Also note the term “education majors” generally refers to those planning to teach in elementary school; most universities I know of require a major in the teaching subject for those seeking high school certification.

  5. dave'swife says:

    Does that maybe account for this- when we asked the 4th grade math teacher if he could tutor Peter in 5th grade math, he responded that he could only teach 4th grade math. He didn’t ‘know’ 5th grade math. My question to my husband was about whether the teacher meant he didn’t have the ability to teach outside his grade level or if he just didn’t know 5th grade math. Either way, it was like a thunderbolt in my head that came back to strike again at the beginning of this school year cause – guess who’s teaching the 5th grade math class?

  6. I go to a college with a large ed program, but in Mass. ALL ed majors are required to have a double. Seeing as I study Spanish (a very common ed double) and history (likewise, because for some reason the major requires fewer credits), I’ve had a ton of ed majors in classes with me. The secondary ed majors are usually very bright, but the elementary (NOT all of them) make me cringe and vow to homeschool if I ever have children. The worst was the senior Spanish/ed major in my advanced Spanish lit class who had the thickest North Shore accent when she spoke Spanish and made shudderingly bad elementary grammatical errors. She wanted to be certified as a Spanish teacher for the elementary, and I think she got it.

  7. Fortunately, California doesn’t have majors in Education. So of course we don’t have the problems mentioned above 🙂

  8. Apparently their honest belief was if they weren’t going to teach anything past the sixth grade, they shouldn’t be expected to know anything beyond the sixth grade level.

    I got into a discussion like this with a woman who was studying to become a teacher. She echoed what you wrote here: that she didn’t need to know high school math if she was only going to teach up to 6th grade. I replied that one’s knowledge of a subject should be much deeper than the level one teaches. If her vision were correct, a 7th-grader could teach 6th grade.

  9. Michael, I read in a couple of places that a study showed that people who actually became teachers had relatively high SAT scores compared to other professions. I can’t cite it, though.

  10. A 7th grader can _tutor_ a 6th grader, but there needs to be someone around with a deeper understanding of the subject.

    I’ll note that real college level math probably isn’t necessary to teach math below high school level. My Dad has stories about the two-room school where he went for grades 1-8 in the 30’s. Iowa law at that time allowed teacher certification for up to 8th grade with just a highschool diploma and six months of college. It was also fairly common for bright kids to skip several grades (and for the undermotivated to be passed over until they could drop out as a 16 year old 6th grader). Result, they got a 16 year old schoolteacher. She seems to have done a good enough job of teaching – although she sometimes disappeared at lunchtime, apparently for a nooner with the aforementioned going-on-16 6th grader…

  11. My wife and I have learned to review all three of my kids tests once the tests are returned to them.

    Why? Often the teachers have incorrectly graded the tests. Either they mark something wrong that was correct, denying our kids a higher grade. Or they have marked something right that was wrong denying my kids knowledge. And yes we report both of these even if it lowers the grade. Sadly no teacher has ever lower a grade even though the correct grade would have been the lower grade.

    I say sadly because my kids are not being motivated to learn. Instead it seems if a parent complains about a test, the teachers up the grade with no regard for whether the child demonstrates a knowledge of the material.

    Sometimes we have found the teachers do not know the correct answer, and other times the questions on a test have little or no relevancy to the supposed study material.

    Sad isn’t it that we have to check the teachers.

  12. I once took a “methods” course in teaching math for grades 7-9. The prof tried convincing us that it wasn’t necessary for us to understand the math involved, as long as we were sufficiently enthusiastic to act as facilitators for the children’s learning process.
    He was upset when a bunch of math majors in the room made fun of him in very blunt terms, but I could see about half the class agreed with him.

  13. This seems to fit in with the astoundingly rigid barriers that teachers unions push in order to protect themselves from any competition for jobs. I had top level scores on all of the college tests (those that weren’t perfect scores were over the 99th percentile), finished high school in three years, finished undergrad in three years and had my first doctorate at 24. Caught in a downsizing after 20 years of professional work, I looked into teaching and found it would take three years of college courses (besides all the student teaching time) in order to get certified in my state.

  14. I was in college back way in the 60’s. It was common knowledge even then that the Education department was the last refuge of students who couldn’t make it anywhere else. And based upon the “Ed” majors I knew, the belief had a lot of validity.

    I guess that situation hasn’t changed much – and it probably goes a long way toward explaining our steady downward trend in educational performance.

  15. That explains it all…..

  16. When I was a grad student, some of the undergrads I knew were teaching assistants in a science course for education majors. Some of the ed majors were hopeless at the math: “If you have, say, 3+9, and then a long line under that, and then under that you have 4+2—-what does that mean?” That is, she didn’t know that she was meant to divide 3+9 by 4+2.

    Another one told one of my friends that she didn’t see why she had to know any of this old stuff, and that she simply Could Not Fail because she was graduating that semester. She wasn’t pleading, mind you; she was indignant that anyone would imagine a graduating senior would be held back because she didn’t know the material. And this wasn’t some naive 21-year-old. Most of the students were older (that is, late twenties and up) women.

    Boo, John of Iberian Notes has had similar experiences. He teaches English as a foreign language in Spain. He notes that in the EFL business, it’s hard to attract people who are fluent in both English and the native language. It doesn’t pay enough for that. So wannabe-EFL instructors are taught the formula du jour for teaching students English, formulas which do not tax the abilities of the instructors.

  17. Thanks, Joanne. I really, really appreciate you taking the opportunity to give people a reason to tell stories about how stupid teachers are once again. It makes me feel so good about the work I do. And it makes my job in the classroom such a piece a cake because students really respect me when they’re under the assumption that I’m a moron who couldn’t break 800 on the SAT.

  18. My instant reaction to Rita’s plaint was that while there certainly are bright and competent teachers, there are also many who clearly fall in the lower quintile, and that _as a group_ those in the profession of teaching _do not_ do anything to police their profession.

    We have in my local elementary school one teacher who is incapable of simple arithmetic…I hear the same complaints about her now that I had when my children were subjected to her twenty years ago.

    If educators want to be recognized as a learned profession they must police their ranks. The absolutely do not do this now.

  19. jeff wright says:

    You know, nobody’s tougher on teachers than me, but I think we all have to understand a few realities:

    1. K-12 teaching is a low-rated occupation in this country, especially for men. Ironically, the society that beats its breast about the quality of its colleges—and Nobel Prize winners, etc.—pays only lip service to K-12 education.

    2. We have so many feel-good laws and policies that teachers can’t adequately control their own work space, e.g., grade rigously, throw trouble makers out, etc. Most professionals rightly expect to have such control and abhor situations where they’re not in control. Why are doctors so upset about their lot with HMOs? Control.

    3. Teachers are not very well paid, principally, IMO, because of our insistence on a nine month school year. Exactly which top-notch performer who likes dough (and that’s how we keep score in our society) is going to settle for the pay cut associated with working nine months?

    4. The nine-month school year tends to attract a lot of people who as interested in their personal time as in what they’re doing professionally. Smart, hard-chargers LOVE their work and want to do it as much as possible. Teaching is not a job for workaholics.

    5. Kids are hard to deal with. A lot of masters of the universe would degenerate into whimpering, sniveling idiots if they had to deal with 150-hormone-laden middle schoolers each day. Teaching takes a uniquely nurturing, yet hard-edged personality. Check our divorce statistics and the numbers of rotten kids we have and you get some insight into just how a lot of high achievers deal with problems outside their professional lives. Teachers have to deal with those problems and somehow surmount them in order to teach.

    6. Teachers get kids for one-fourth of the day. They have no control over what’s happening to those kids the rest of the time.

    What do teachers do to hurt themselves?:

    1. Unions. They’ve managed to convince much of society that they care only about money and benefits and not about their jobs or their youthful charges. They’ve self-selected themselves out of the professional—read real hard-workers—ranks. Why would a top-performer want to be in a union? Top performers don’t want to be paid the same as low-performers who happen to have the same job classification.

    2. They whine in public. They apparently don’t realize that few people have the ideal employment situation and most have it every bit as tough.

    3. They gloat about all of the time off. Red flag to the bull who works 12-hours a day to keep up.

    4. They often tend not to be intellectually curious. I find it very telling that few teachers contribute to Joanne’s blog. Schools where I’ve taught order stacks of the local newspaper and put them in the break room. They put most of them in the recycle bin every afternoon—unread. How many history teachers actually read any of the many new books that appear each year? How many teachers read The Atlantic? The New Yorker? Books of any kind? Actually, it occurs to me if you were to ask a teacher which books he/she had read in the past year, you might get some real insight into whether you want that teacher for your kid.

    5. They’ve allowed themselves to get into a situation where they’re dominated by administrators and bureaucrats, most of whom couldn’t do what they do. See doctors and HMOs.

    There’s nothing wrong with requiring even the most technically qualified person to take some classes in pedagogy. Just because you’ve got your subject nailed doesn’t mean you can teach it. But as has been mentioned, check what it takes to get certified. It takes a lot of dedication for a top-performer to have to sit (or sleep) through much of what’s required. It’s no wonder they don’t do it. Take a year or two that could be devoted to a Master’s to just meet state qualifications? Right.

  20. KRM — why do you assume that’s the unions setting up those barriers? That’s the Ed Schools. Ed Schools are *enormous* cash cows for the universities that have them. That’s why they admit everybody and keep them in as long as possible.

    FWIW, I found the cite — from Education Week in 1999 :

    Prospective teachers who earn licenses to practice have higher SAT scores than most college-bound high school seniors, according to a study released here at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

    College-bound seniors who say they want to major in education have lower scores than their peers–an often-lamented fact. But the SAT scores of prospective teachers who actually seek licenses are nearly equal to those of all college-bound seniors, the study found, and scores for people who meet state licensing requirements exceed those of their peers.

  21. Rita … I think we all know that there are many good teachers. In fact, many are outstanding educators.

    Our problem is that there are also many poor ones. Perhaps if teachers were more vocal about the policies that protect the unqualified, the burned-out, and the incompetent, there would be more respect for the profession.

    In our town, it’s obvious to a lot of us parents which teachers fit into each group. And, perhaps surprisingly, the students are also well aware of which add to their educational experience and those who simply seem to “go through the motions”.

    But given tenure and union rules, it’s virtually impossible to differentiate between them in any meaningful way. And so, since both receive equal treatment, the good ones get discouraged and the poor ones proliferate.

    In any population, half of the individuals have to be below average. Without an effective method to cleanse the lower half, their performance is eventually considered “acceptable”. And so over time, even though half the teachers remain above the mid-point, that midpoint tends to drift downward. And the results of that slide are evident in virtually every measurable educational standard.

    Then, when there is an effort to change that trend, the answer from teachers organizations all too often seems to be either to incorporate “fuzzy” criteria to hide the decline, or simply lower the standards to normalize sub-par student performance.

    I know that my education was more strenuous than my childrens’. And unfortunately, I can even see a decline in demands and expectations in the four years between my two children.

    And so, while I wish we had a larger number of outstanding teachers, I fear that reality is that we’ll see less.

    I hope I’m wrong… and I hope that you continue to buck the trend.

    Best of luck!

  22. jeff — I’d have to quibble with the newspaper example. When I’m at school, I’m working. I don’t have time to read the paper. We do pass around issues of The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, etc., though. FWIW, I’m currently reading a short story collection by Thomas Mann. Last year I read In Search of Lost Time by Proust — all of it (as well as 43 other books according to my reading diary).

    I hate to be so cynical, but what do you think the chances of filling all the classrooms would be if you made it tougher to be a teacher? Over 1/3 of teachers drop out of the profession within 3 years as it is. Teacher retention is a major issue in the profession. I don’t mean that as an excuse, believe me. I’m just commenting on reality. I’ve noticed that with the economy sliding, competition for teaching jobs has really heated up (that steady teacher paycheck looks good to lots of people who once scorned it for much bigger checks); that may help more than anything else in improving teacher quality.

    The best way to not get discouraged by the poor teachers is to just hang with the really good ones. That’s what I do ;). And, btw, as a district employee, I get to hand pick my kid’s teacher every year. Maybe a simple choice like that would have an impact.

  23. jeff wright says:

    Rita, my comments were not directed at you. Note what I said about how few post to this blog. Fortunately, you’re one of them. WRT the newspapers, I get your point, but then I guess I’d have to say, why does the school get them? Interesting, eh? I’m not surprised that you read outside the box, but in my experience, you’re in the minority.

    And I think I may not have expressed myself properly. I’m not advocating making it harder to become a teacher. In fact, keeping in mind a lot of the BS credentialing requirements, I think it should be easier. For example, for me, in my fifties, to get a full credential in adult ed, I have to take courses in Dealing with Older Adults, Health and Computers—all of which I know. Just what those have to do with teaching people who want to learn English (I was teaching ESL) is beyond me, especially when I think that I am much older than my students, health is immaterial in an adult class and computers do not apply. Why is there no real-world thinking applied to these requirements? Why are there no waiver provisions?

    It occurs to me that the public schools might actually benefit by enticing older people to be teachers, those who’ve already made their bones (and money) in other careers. They might have already raised children and might not have financial expectations that rule out depressed teacher pay. In fact, older dogs might really like all of that time off. But, no. Instead, the schools want to treat accomplished professionals like 23-year-olds. It’s no wonder most of us just scratch our heads.

  24. Jim Thomason says:

    Rita – That Education Week article you cite is highly misleading. It is comparing apples to oranges, or maybe it would be more apt to say it compares whole apples to peeled and cored apples.

    It mentions three seperate groups of prospective teachers, each progressively more selective:

    1. College bound HS seniors wishing to become Ed majors
    2. People who seek teaching licenses (who would presumably have completed a degree)
    3. People who are licensed.

    It makes sense that the SAT scores for group 3 would be higher than those for group 2, and that scores for group 2 would be higher than for group 1.

    The problem arises with the comparison of each of these to the ‘control group’ of all college-bound HS seniors. Comparison of group 1 with this control is completely appropriate (though unflattering to Ed majors in general). However, when you compare groups 2 and 3 – who have had the worst of the lots weeded out – with the same control, it isn’t a fair comparison. That Group 2 – comprised of people who presumably GRADUATED COLLEGE – still has a lower SAT average than mere college bound seniors (a large percentage of which will be unable to complete their studies and flunk out) should be embarrasing.

    BTW, I would also be embarrased that Education Week would call college bound HS seniors the “peers” of accredited teachers.

    Finally, I would be embarrased that the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the organization that Education Week got the story from, found it necessary to try to play games with the statistics in a rather sad attempt to make teachers as a whole look better than the facts will bear. A fair comparison would be to compare group 2’s SAT scores with those of other college graduates.

  25. Jim Thomason says:

    Dave’s wife – Did you feel that your son needed tutoring because he was having trouble with his 4th grade math? While there can be many reasons for someone to have trouble in a certain academic area, one of the major ones is the person teaching it.

    If this is the case, asking this person for even more “help” could often be not just unhelpful, but downright counterproductive.

  26. Jeff,

    Anyone who says that teachers gloat about their time off is living on Pluto. Most of the gloating – and reminding – about teacher summers is done by non-teachers. Just look at this message board.

  27. Oh, and one other thing. Few teachers contribute to Joanne’s blog, or probably any other, because we don’t have time.

  28. Back in 1990, when I was a high school senior taking “Conceptual Physics” (translation: watered-down physics), I remember being marked down on a d=rt question when it was clear that the teacher had completely screwed up the equation (r=dt or some such thing). The other 2 (! out of 30?!) students and I who recognized his error pointed this out and he fixed it, but neglected to change my grade in the course (this question on the test would have given me the 2 points necessary to get an A in the class). After that, I said screw this, I’m not putting in any more effort than necessary, and slid through with a C the next term.

    This is not to say, of course, that all K-12 teachers are bad–far from it. I’ve had some great ones, some mediocre ones, and some truly awful ones. I find it ironic, though, that as a PhD in English I would have to take a year of coursework in creating class assignments using collages and a year of unpaid student teaching in order to become certified as a highschool teacher.

  29. “Few teachers contribute to Joanne’s blog, or probably any other, because we don’t have time.”

    …yes, they’re too busy feeding their martyr complexes.

  30. Jim, I think you’re misreading the article.

  31. One bit about teacher certification requirements:

    They are ridiculous in many instances. Here in Delaware, a geography teacher colleague of mine, in order to finish his, had to take a counseling course (meaning, a course for school counselors)!! He inquired at the state central office and got NO adequate answer as to why he needed this class. He was so ticked off (not only about the course’s irrelevancy, but the time it’d take up, and the monetary cost he’d incur) that he actually considered quitting.

    In my own experience, my first year saw the central state ed. office informing me I needed 9 more credits in social studies for certification — the same amount of credits they said I needed for Spanish certification, which was my college MINOR. International Relations, my college MAJOR, was social studies intensive — moreso than that of History Education (or other social studies education) majors! I had almost 60 undergrad credits in social studies, but only 30 in Spanish, yet the state said I needed the same amount of additional credits in each subject in order to get certified!

    After many heated phone calls to the state’s head guy (I actually ended up shouting at him one time when he utterly refused to acknowledge how inane the “rules” were), he said that if I got a letter from my college social studies ed. program director indicating my college social studies credits were “sufficient,” he’d waive the 9 additional credit requirement. I did, and he did. But the whole process felt like I had given birth to quintuplets.

  32. Jim Thomason says:

    Jim, I think you’re misreading the article.

    Nope. Direct quotes from your post:

    Group 1

    “College-bound seniors who say they want to major in education have lower scores than their peers”

    Group 2

    “SAT scores of prospective teachers who actually seek licenses are nearly equal to those of all college-bound seniors”

    Group 3

    “Prospective teachers who earn licenses to practice have higher SAT scores than most college-bound high school seniors”


    They are comparing each group, from college bound high schoolers to licensed prospective teachers, with the same control.

  33. Julia, just to make sure I have the right understanding of the equation:

    ..is that the one?

  34. Bob Diethrich says:


    In answer to a few of your comments from above:

    1) As someone else pointed out teachers do not gloat about their 10 weeks off in the summer. And most of us do not lie around the pool eating bon-bons. Most of us are taking workshops, extra college classes and our summer vacations usually have an educational bent to them.

    Also, as the school year stands, we do NEED that time off to recharge our batteries. My Principal, a former coach, has told us that when he sees us dragging at the end of the year he is gratified. He expects us to be haggard and spent when we walk out of that school on the last day; its a sign that we gave all.

    2. I don’t know what teachers you know who are intellectually curious, but you have not been to my school. The other social studies teachers I eat with have wonderful conversations almost every day; topics ranging from current events, history and religion

    3. You are right about k-12 education being not very male friendly. IMO one of the biggest problems in schools is the elementaries being utterly dominated by females. There are almost no positive male role models.

    My first job was teaching sixth grade in a working class district in Texas. My little Hispanic girls just loved me. They were so excited to have a male teacher who wore a tie every day and was NOT a coach!

    Now as someone who entered the teaching profession in his early thirties I will tell you my reasons for choosing to be a high school teacher.

    1) A true genuine love of my subject area. I majored in history in order to go to law school.

    2) I did not have the urge to go through the utter bullshit of graduate school in history; sucking up, playing politics, cow towing to all the right political movements, in order to write an overlong paper on a sub-topic of a sub-topic of a sub-topic of an already picked clean topic in or to get those magic letters after my name.

    It has always amazed me that teachers have to go through a fairly tough practical internship (student teaching) in order to prove that they can successfully communicate ideas to others, but colleges will let anyone with PhD instruct a class.

    I enjoy teaching Pre AP world history, and I run my classes a good deal like college classes. I get to be a professor in high school without the PhD.

    3) It is a nice recession proof income. As I have mentioned I teach in an up scale suburban high school in Texas. Every year one of my “smartmouths” (the ones who don’t put forth any effort and are usually spoiled rotten)will make some disparaging remarks about teacher salaries.

    I usally point out that as long as I perform my work I have a job. I don’t walk in one morning and find that the Principal cooked the books, lied to the regulators and bought off the accountants and now I have no job and no pension. That one really shut a few of them up a few years ago when a certain Texas energy company whose name begins with “E” had just collapsed

  35. Rita:

    I’m a high school math teacher. I read Joanne’s blog daily, and every few weeks I find a thread that just compels me to type a comment (like I’m doing here).

    This is my first year teaching high school; prior to this I spent 6 years teaching jr. high. Anyway, the first week of school one senior questioned my ability to teach trig, since it was apparent from my history that I’d never taught it before.

    My response was, “What’s your GPA?” I then told her my high school GPA, and we didn’t have AP classes that boosted GPA in my school. I then told her my college GPA, my GPA if you looked only at math courses, and offered to show her both my college and high school transcript. She didn’t take me up on it.

    There’re also my Praxis scores, the ETS tests required in California for those of us who got our degrees outside the state.

    Bottom line: if people challenge your knowledge of the material, for *whatever* reason, show them that their concerns are misplaced. I don’t view what I did as patting myself on the back; rather, I established my credentials and credibility early on.

  36. Darren:

    It would be more impressive had you simply bet the senior you could calculate the distance from LA to New York, knowing only the latitudes and longitudes…or even challenged him to do it quicker than you could. “My GPA is bigger than yours” is not really a very strong argument.

  37. I know many college kids who graduated with an entirely different major than they declared when entering college. By itself, I feel that this low SAT/college major choice is more clearly a class marker. It really is the equivalent of asking a third grader, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answer reveals more about the kid’s background than their future career path. We know that kids from affluent families are likely to have higher SAT scores. A kid from a working class family, or living with her divorced mom, would be more likely to see the value of a steady paycheck, and good benefits.

    On top of the other reasons for not becoming a teacher off the bat, add student loans. Back in the dark ages, when I was in college, most students couldn’t conceive of becoming a teacher, because they had to factor in their debt upon graduation. Tuition and fees have risen drastically since. I would be in favor of a program to aggressively forgive student loans for able college graduates, if it would raise the quality of instruction.

    There’s an old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Any parent is more likely to come into contact with many teachers during a child’s educational career. Among that number, there will be a few bad apples. Parents are unlikely to come into contact with a similar number of doctors, or lawyers.

    Add this to the debate about average SAT scores: some in any group will score above the average, and some below. Where do you think those who score above the average will tend to end up? And where do those who score below the average end up (in general)?

    (note: I have been posting as “Julia”, but I’m changing to “JuliaK”.)

  38. Jim, everyone takes the SAT at the same time — as a college bound senior. I think the article assumes you know that. The point is that by the time people make it through the credentialing process, the low-scorers on the SAT have been weeded out.

    Bob… I also work in an affluent district and I often get the same comment. I usually respond with the fact that I get to have fun at work.

  39. Bob,

    > Also, as the school year stands, we do NEED that
    > time off to recharge our batteries.

    And this differs from employees in other fields how? Somebody earlier protested that teachers don’t in fact, spend much time boasting about their time off, but as far as I can tell your statement is just saying the same thing from the school-year perspective instead of the vacation-time perspective.

  40. Bob Diethrich says:


    point taken, but as I also said I do not lie around all summer. I am often doing professional development and taking courses, things related to my work and things to make me better at my work

  41. Jim Thomason says:

    “Jim, everyone takes the SAT at the same time — as a college bound senior. I think the article assumes you know that. The point is that by the time people make it through the credentialing process, the low-scorers on the SAT have been weeded out.”

    Exactly my point. Thank you.

    When you compare what I have been terming group 2 and group 3 with college bound HS seniors, you are comparing a “weeded out” group with one that has not been similarly winnowed. So why would you compare the two unless you were trying to lie with statistics?

  42. Andy Freeman says:

    > The point is that by the time people make it through the credentialing process, the low-scorers on the SAT have been weeded out.

    One would hope that credentialed teachers, folks who presumably didn’t flunk out of college, would rate[1] somewhat higher than folks who dropped[2] out of college.

    However, even if credentialed teachers compare favorably to drop outs, we still don’t know how credentialed teachers compare to other folks who didn’t drop out.

    I don’t see “credentialed teachers tend to be more qualified than college drop outs” as a huge selling point, but you have to sell what you have to sell.

    [1] In other words, the SAT actually does have some predictive value wrt “drop out of college”. And to think that some folks insist that standardized tests can’t be useful.

    [2] Surely a significant fraction of the drop outs are folks who couldn’t cut it.

  43. Um, to make the point that while the bottom tier of students may plan to major in education, that’s not who ends up being credentialed, and the assumption is that it is the bottom tier that ends up credentialed (because those who can’t do, teach, etc.). I’m sorry I can’t explain it better. I can’t see what you see as deceptive. The entire point of the article is that the low scorers get weeded out, leaving the highest scorers as actual licensed teachers.

    What the statistics point out, I think, is that a) the profession suffers from the wide public perception that any moron can be a teacher*; b) that education schools will accept anything that has a pulse; and c) that those who actually get a license, are, on average, top SAT scorers.

    *Familiarity breeds contempt, as somebody else has said. Everybody has been in a classroom, and gee, it doesn’t look that hard.

  44. Sorry, Julia K.–I’ll do likewise and remember to fully identify myself. 🙂

    To answer David Foster’s question: yes, the equation was distance=rate x time.

  45. jeff wright says:

    “What the statistics point out, I think, is that a) the profession suffers from the wide public perception that any moron can be a teacher*; b) that education schools will accept anything that has a pulse; and c) that those who actually get a license, are, on average, top SAT scorers.”

    Rita, I’ve been sort of with you and sympathizing as you take on the difficult task of defending the profession. But I just can’t let the whopper in “c)” above slip by. I’ll grant you that more teachers than generally recognized will turn out to have been top SAT performers. But across-the-board? C’mon. What about the ones who can’t speak English, but somehow get a credential? What about the growing numbers of credentialed teachers who flunk basic skills competency tests? C’mon.

    And speaking of whoppers: “Few teachers contribute to Joanne’s blog, or probably any other, because we don’t have time.” Guess we won’t hear from you anymore, eh, SuzieQ?

  46. I am a retired teacher. I graduated from high school way back in the 50s. I didn’t take the SATs because at that time only the kids who wanted to get into ivy league schools took them-at least from my small-town high school. But when I had my first conference at Indiana University with my advisor, he pointed out my test scores (not sure what the test was)that were all 99 and 98 percentiles, and tried to talk me out of majoring in education. However, I really wanted to teach and I stuck with it.
    At that time, I really think there were a lot of women who were good students (intelligent people) who went into teaching because there were not many opportunities for women in other careers. I worked one summer in a big law office (about 50 lawyers)in Chicago and it was a nine-day’s-wonder when their first female attorney joined the firm!
    Over the years as I was teaching, it seemed that the general knowledge level of the new teachers gradually declined. The last year I was teaching (2001) I was attending a mandatory workshop for second grade teachers and I was shocked at the lack of mathematical understanding shown by a couple of the new teachers. These were people who had been hired and were actually teaching classes. I remember one man was supposed to demonstrate on an overhead projector a subtraction with regrouping problem and he obviously did not understand how to do it! I wonder what he did when he was supposed to teach it to the kids!
    By the way, I have subsribed to (and read) Atlantic Monthly for many years!

  47. Jeff — it’s not me you are with or not with — that’s what the article says. Ain’t my whopper. And I said “on average,” which means something different than “across-the-board.”

    I think few teachers contribute here because of the tone. Joanne once remarked about how she approved of the openess of teacher blogs. Any time I’ve been open about something I’m not good at, etc., somebody has come back with how I’m not fit to be a teacher. That’s real encouraging, ya know?

  48. Anonymous says:

    > At that time, I really think there were a lot of
    > women who were good students (intelligent
    > people) who went into teaching because there
    > were not many opportunities for women in other
    > careers.

    I certainly made that assumption, but in thinking it over, I wonder. I started first grade in 1960, and even at that time, women only predominated in the lower grades. Starting in 4th grade the teaching staff was at least half male.

  49. jeff wright says:

    Point taken, Rita. But, you know, your problem is not going to go away—because what you do is so important. People entrust their children—their most precious assets—to the schools and rightly expect that the folks manning those schools be competent and professional. I think teachers often fall into the trap of viewing theirs as just another job. Well, it isn’t. Just like my former career of military officer isn’t. Society demands that certain people be judged by the Caesar’s wife test. And pay is not the discriminator. You think I got rich in the Army? You think I didn’t have to put up with less than optimal working conditions? Teachers are in this category, like it or not. My wife is in the category. She’s a nurse and they and the doctors have taken their lumps because of complaining. Public trust.

    I think teachers are often their own worst enemies. Go to a lot of schools. Check out minor things such as dress. Ragged jeans, shorts (shorts!) and God knows what else. The people judging the schools have an image of a teacher wearing a coat and tie. Little things like dress are very important. Recall the old saw about never having a second chance to make a first impression? A lot of teachers seem to have forgotten that. Then the strikes and the constant bitching about pay. People are tired of that. What would you think if the Army went on strike? And it occurs to me that they’ve got a lot more reason to do so than teachers.

    It seems to me that the school establishment has also done a good job of portraying an us-and-them attitude, wherein they can’t be bothered to be accountable to the very people who pay their salaries. “You clearly don’t understand the sheer magnitude of what I am doing here. I can’t be bothered.” Every hostile, supercilious or inept teacher is a PR disaster for you. One teacher or principal talking down to a parent undoes countless good works. Old saying: One aw, shit wipes out a thousand atta-boys.

    The statistics regarding the quality of students in ed schools just fuel the fire.

    BTW, I’ve never said you weren’t fit to be a teacher. I obviously don’t know you, but from your posts, I’d say you’re eminently well qualified. Stay with it.

  50. D. Cooper says:

    I was going to respond earlier on but couldn’t locate my suit of armour. Got it!!! Now, it seems that the SAT scores of students seeking out certain professions would rise in accordance with how well that profession is paid as well as how it is viewed by the public. Given the bashings here and the ‘relativily’ lower pay status of teachers in general, is it a wonder who and what it attracks? Why on earth would a bright young student seek out the lashings some of you here dish out? Fortunately, despite the trashings here, many still do.
    Yes, I am/was a teacher … 35 years. Good thing I didn’t come to this site 30 years ago. I don’t know if I could have withstood the beatings. Just kidding… of course I could.,, but some of you are not very nice.

  51. “I think few teachers contribute here because of the tone.”

    Yep, Rita, you nailed it. I appreciate your more even-handed tone when it comes to the constant drone of anti-union, anti-public school, anti-teacher groupthink around here.

    In fact, here’s a recap of teachers according to this blog:

    1. Teachers are dummies. They score low on the SAT.

    2. Teachers are overpaid.

    3. Teachers have an easy job and they get summers off. (Also, we gloat!)

    4. Teaching is easy. It’s an easy job that should produce clearly measurable results.

    5. Variation on 4: there are no instructional variables, therefore teachers should be held personally and professionally accountable for student homework, study time, student intelligence and test score results.

    6. No teaching conditions are worth improving. Teachers who complain or, heaven forfend, advocate for better conditions are whiners.

    7. The teacher’s union is evil.

    8. There are a few good teachers out there, but they’re far outweighed by the whiners, lazy, do-nothing e-mail and newspaper-reading slackers who got into this profession because they were too stupid and lazy to get any other job.

    That’s it in a nutshell. The lack of originality is astounding.

  52. 1) Apparently, teachers score lower than other professions. I’m not willing to say that that means anything in particular – SAT scores are not the whole story – but it seems to be the case.

    2) Many teachers are underpaid – the ones who do their jobs well. The ones who don’t are overpaid. And of course, the reason for this is the unions – they keep the bad teachers in (lowering wages for all) and don’t let the good teachers get fair market value for their labor.

    3) Good teachers have hard jobs. Bad teachers have easy jobs. And the summers off thing: yes, teaching is hard (for the good teachers), but being a doctor or an engineer is hard as well, and they don’t get three months off. (This three months off thing also affects pay.)

    4) Nope. But there must be some way of measuring productivity. There’s no job in the world from cash-register jockey to heart surgeon that doesn’t have some form of accountability; teaching should be no different. That is, unless you want the bad teachers to stay around and give you all a bad reputation.

    5) Teachers should not be held solely accountable for students’ performances. But there must be some way to hold teachers accountable for their job in order to determine who the good (and bad) teachers are.

    6) Good teachers who want better conditions deserve them, and they could get them by dumping the unions that force districts to keep the bad teachers on. As long as good teachers want to keep the unions (which means keeping the bad teachers), they will never get fair market value for their labor.

    7) Hey, you want to make less money than you should – by all means, go ahead, since it’s my tax dollars paying your wages anyway (yay privatization!). But do you really think that teachers would make less money without the union? Please. The unions are keeping the good teachers down and propping the bad teachers up. I don’t think they’re evil to anyone except the good teachers who deserve more than $27k/yr starting (in Indiana, anyway).

    8) There are more good teachers than bad out there. However, there are some people who got into the profession because they were (quite frankly) too stupid to do anything else. I mean, am I the only one here who had an incompetent aerobics teacher teaching them honors history? Geesh. Nonetheless, yes, I know that there are a lot more good teachers than bad. But until you all figure out some way to hold yourselves accountable and get rid of the bad teachers, you’re going to continue to have a bad rep because of the few, the vocal, the incompetent.

  53. All through graduate school, I was struggling with the idea of going into high school teaching… Just this month, I finished my PhD in Astrophysics from Berkeley… Over the years, my PhD advisor frequently complained about how horrible the public schools were, and how the quality of his daughter’s teachers was so low… he knew I was thinking about being a teacher, an semi-regularly discouraged me from entering that profession… usually saying that I was too smart/had too much potential to waste it on becoming a teacher… The next time he complained about the quality of his daughter’s teachers, I called him on it and told him that he couldn’t have it both ways… complaining about teacher quality, yet discouraging bright students from entering the profession… Its not just him though… in PhD programs in the sciences/engineering/math, people look at you as if you had two heads if you even mention the possibility of teaching at the sub-college level… its almost heresy.

  54. Kirk Parker says:

    Hey Nick, to add to your response, let me ask a question related to #7: has anyone ever heard of a teachers’ union being decertified? I sure haven’t.

  55. Wacky Hermit says:

    With all the comments, I was sure someone would beat me to it, but why hasn’t anyone pointed out yet that “certified teachers” includes SECONDARY teachers (who major in their field) as well as elementary teachers (who major in education), while “college-bound ed majors” includes only (prospective) elementary teachers? Assuming it’s true that ed majors have a lower average SAT score than, say math majors, wouldn’t it stand to reason then that a group that includes some of both would have a higher average SAT score than a group that only includes ed majors?

  56. “I started first grade in 1960, and even at that time, women only predominated in the lower grades. Starting in 4th grade the teaching staff was at least half male.”

    This differed between school systems. I was one year ahead of you. In the school system where I went for grades 5-12 (1963-1971:

    Elementary school: Only 3 men in the building, the principal, janitor, and boy’s gym teacher (who also taught a 5th grade class half-days, his wife doing the other half). This sole male teacher seemed exceptionally skilled, but I may have been prejudiced. Another thing – I had the impression that the principal was a teacher promoted beyond his competence, and a couple of secretaries (women of course) actually ran the place.

    Junior High: About 1/3 male teachers, including the very best and the very worst. The two best teachers left the public schools within five years, but the worst had been there 20 years already and obviously was staying until retired. There were 6 administrators – principal, vice principal for each grade, and 2 counselors – and the girl’s councilor was the only woman. The secretaries still seemed to run the place. (I might have been prejudiced; my best friend’s mother was one of them.)

    High School: About 50-50 in teachers, but administrators still nearly all male (and actually competent for a change). Except for science and math, the best teachers now were mostly tough old ladies, near retirement.

    So I think that education did benefit a lot when educated women were generally restricted to 3 career choices – nurse, teacher, secretary. Schools could hire skilled women teachers at pay barely above unskilled labor at the auto plants, and secretaries (who could have been managing corporations given equal opportunity) for even less. This seemed to end as far as recruitment goes well before 1970, since none of the young women seemed likely to ever fill the shoes of the old lady teachers.

    The male teachers in that era were mostly quite good, with a clear love of teaching that outweighed the low pay. One exception was a j.High English teacher who would probably have been utterly incompetent at anything – so he hung onto the one job he couldn’t lose for incompetence. I’ve seen college professors with no interest whatsoever in teaching still do better than that boob.

  57. Um, to make the point that while the bottom tier of students may plan to major in education, that’s not who ends up being credentialed, and the assumption is that it is the bottom tier that ends up credentialed (because those who can’t do, teach, etc.). I’m sorry I can’t explain it better. I can’t see what you see as deceptive. The entire point of the article is that the low scorers get weeded out, leaving the highest scorers as actual licensed teachers.

    Rita, I don’t mean to pick on you, since you are in the unenviable position of defending an article that you didn’t write. However, there’s a flaw in the logic here.

    All degree programs weed out the lousier students. With that in mind, how do the SAT scores of licensed teaches compare with those of:

    Accountants who have passed the CPA exams?
    Lawyers who have passed the bar exams?
    Engineers who are working (few engineers take licensing exams; civil engineers do, but I don’t know of any software or electrical engineers who have done so)?

    I could go on, but my point is clear. Yes, the lower students are weeded out of Ed schools. That much should be obvious to everyone. But we should compare the scores of the finished products of Ed school to the finished products of other programs.

    I don’t think teachers are dummies. However, I’ve run into some teachers who are hardly credits to their professions.

  58. D. Cooper says:

    Thank you SuzieQ for a little support here. It may be of some consolation to know that becoming a teacher is getting more and more difficult. Competition for positions is on the rise, and receiving tenure is no longer a ‘given’ as perhaps it may have been in the past. I’ve taught for 35 years and have seen a distinct difference in hiring polices (unlike when I began back in the mid 60’s.) Many a new recruit has been shown the door after one or two years prior to receiving tenure.

    Although union bashing seems to be fair sport here, and they have certainly have defended indefensible teachers, they have been instrumental in the improvement of education in many areas. To name but a few, teacher unions have been involved with teacer training, class size, discipline policies and curriculum development.

    And, finally I’m not too sure what you ‘people’ are going to prove or disprove with this fixation on SAT scores of educators. They are what they are. What you need to do, if you believe that teachers with higher SAT scores are going to improve education in this copuntry, is find a way to attract those people with higher SAT scores into education. If you arbitrarily affix a higher SAT score (dumb in my estimation) for admittance into teacher training programs, then unless you can attract more of them, you’ll merely develop a shortage. The question is, how are you going to make teaching more attractive to bright young students, who apparently now are attracted elsewhere?

  59. Rita C. wrote

    as a district employee, I get to hand pick my kid’s teacher every year. Maybe a simple choice like that would have an impact.

    That’s exactly what school voucher proponents believe. Welcome to our side.

  60. D. Cooper wrote

    Although union bashing seems to be fair sport here, and they have certainly have defended indefensible teachers, they have been instrumental in the improvement of education in many areas. To name but a few, teacher unions have been involved with teacer training, class size, discipline policies and curriculum development.

    Isn’t that almost the same litany as to why public education is failing? I.e., teacher “training” is what leads to the endless class requirements with little or no value. Research on class size shows that it doesn’t make much difference. As for discipline policies, isn’t a big complaint by teachers the lack of ability to discipline students? On the other hand, if that’s about disciplining teachers, isn’t there also a problem about getting rid of incompetent teachers? As for cirriculum development, isn’t the dumbing down in that area another major problem?

    So, it sounds to me like you are claiming a leading place for teacher’s unions in the decline of education in America. Thanks for the confirmation.

  61. D. Cooper says:

    >Isn’t that almost the same litany as to why public education is failing? I.e., teacher “training” is what leads to the endless class requirements with little or no value.Research on class size shows that it doesn’t make much difference. As for cirriculum development, isn’t the dumbing down in that area another major problem? As for cirriculum development, isn’t the dumbing down in that area another major problem?

  62. >Maybe it’s time that some of you took a look at the difference in the student that is being sent to the school house door today, as compared to 30 years ago. If you don’t think that the ‘student’ has changed, then you’ve been living under a rock.

    I think most would agree students are more challenging now than in the past. Some of my children’s classmates are rude, disrespectful, spoiled brats. I don’t like it either. But there is not a darn thing the education system can do about it. Instead, they should be concentrating on conditions they CAN change, namely, pedagogy and curriculum. As long as we have whole language, fuzzy math, content-lite social studies, and virtually NO grammar or spelling, kids aren’t going to learn what they need to know. Different unions seem to have different positions on curriculum and pedagogy. The blame really rests with the colleges of education, whose faculty ought to know better.

  63. Lost a little there is the last post. Don’t know where my comments went. Must have been those voucher vultures got to my post. Here’s what I think was missing(or eaten).

    >Isn’t that almost the same litany as to why public education is failing? I.e., teacher “training” is what leads to the endless class requirements with little or no value.Research on class size shows that it doesn’t make much difference. As for cirriculum development, isn’t the dumbing down in that area another major problem? As for cirriculum development, isn’t the dumbing down in that area another major problem?

  64. Kim, while I tend to agree with your argument to a point, I wonder how it is that so many of our students, (Asian among others) fare so well in our ‘broken’ system. How the educational establishment is going to ‘fix’ the societal ills that affect our schools is not going to be an easy task. Finger pointing is easy … finding real solutions in finger pointing is well pointless. Can the schools undo what our society is turning into(or has become already)? We can try, but an awful lot is being heaped upon teachers that they either are not prepared for or most likely, it’s not their job. I signed up 35 years ago to teach mathematics because I loved it. I wasn’t aware back then that I’d be fighting MTV and the ‘Extreme Dating Show’. You can’t get blood from a stone, but that doesn’t stop some people from squeezing.

  65. Cousin Dave says:

    A few observations:

    The teaching profession, by and large, probably consists of good, competent teachers. However, teaching is one area where it only takes a few bad apples to wreck it for everybody. Consider airline pilots. The overwhelming majority are highly skilled and competent. But, it only takes one bad pilot to ruin the day for a lot of people, and it would only take a handful of willfully bad pilots to destroy the whole profession (by making everyone afraid to fly). So, just having the large majority of pilots be highly qualified is not enough; *all* must be highly qualified, and the airline piloting profession knows this. Standards are very tough, and there is little tolerance for people who don’t appear to know what they are doing, or who are not keeping up with changing times. Compare that to teaching: it only takes a few encounters with bad teachers to wreck the whole educational experience for a student (particularly if it happens in the lower grades).

    The profession needs to establish higher standards for itself, and that is the point that a lot of people have been trying to make here. When you get down to it, state-imposed standards, competentcy tests, etc., are really just externally-applied band-aids. What really needs to happen is that the profession needs to reform itself from within. But by and large it isn’t happening, hence the public’s increasing frustration with the public schools.

    Now, when we discuss things in the teaching profession, we need to start drawing some lines and making distinctions. The individual teacher might say, “I recognize some of the problems in the profession, but what can I, as one individual, do about it?” Admittedly, for one lone teacher to drive huge changes directly at the national level is all but impossible. But you have to solve big problems by taking them a bite at a time, and here there are places where one or a few individuals can start the ball rolling. Take, for example, the matter of teaching unions. By far the best known is the NEA, but it isn’t the only union out there, and it would be a mistake to paint all of them with the same brush. As an counter-example, check out the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Although I don’t agree with them on all issues, they do seem to have a genuine concern for the state of the profession, as opposed to the NEA which appears to be corrupt and unreformable. Someone earlier in the thread asked the question, “Have you ever heard of a teachers’ union being decertified?” I haven’t either; that doesn’t mean it never happens, but it would seem to be much less common than in other unionized areas. There is no reason why teachers suffering under the defensive and watered-down agenda of the NEA should continue to put up with it. Make contact with other unions. Start a petition for a decertification election. Put some pressure on. And if a sufficient number of the teachers in a district can be convinced, maybe they will decertify the NEA and elect another, hopefully more responsible, union instead. The individual teacher may protest that they personally aren’t responsible for any of these evils, and that is probably true. My counter-argument: I’m an engineer who has been heavily involved in the STS-107 Shuttle mission and subsequent. My area was totally absolved of any responsibility for the accident, but one thing we realize is that we cannot absolve our responsibility for preventing future accidents. Simply being innocent isn’t enough; you have to make an effort to make a positive difference.

    One more observation: As I’ve mentioned here before, I have a relative who is teaching sixth grade in this area. We’ve had some talks about the quality of the teaching (and administration, or lack thereof) in this area. One thing she has mentioned to me, and I’ve noticied it myself in past conversations with education students, is that the overwhelming majority of ed school graduates seek positions teaching the K-3 grades. Beyond this, the proportion decreases steadily; it’s a buyer’s market for the low grades, but middle school teachers are more scarce, and districts really struggle to fill positions at the junior high and high school levels. She pointed out something to me: a disturbing number of the ones seeking to teach at the K-3 level do so because they have a delusion that it will be a year-long play school, with sweet little kids scribbling in coloring books and playing ring-around-the-rosy with their teacher all day. These types always get a rude shock their first year, and either quit after a couple of years or go on to become incredibly bad teachers that districts can’t get rid of. Maybe ed schools should be doing some informal screening and taking care to be sure that prospective teachers get a realistic idea of what they are going to be doing.

    It’s been discouraging seeing the teachers here react defensively to the criticism of their profession. One thing a professional needs to learn is to not take all criticism of the profession personally. When the first and only reaction of a profession’s practicioners to any criticism is to get their backs up, that profession is in trouble, because it means that it has lost the ability to measure itself against reality. Again, distinctions need to be made. As in any field, a fair amount of the criticism is crap, and it should be possible to reject that out of hand without compromising the ability to react meaningfully to valid criticism.

  66. Cousin Dave, I agree with your analysis and at the risk of being defensive, when attacked unfairly I do defend. Some people just love to gripe, many without any firsthand knowlege and many without thinking. I just happen to be an AFT member of about 35 years. And, it might interest you it was a battle in the early days (mid 60’s) when the AFT was attempting to gain a foothold where the NEA was ever present. NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) is a professional organization that has both teacher and student interests at its heart.

    The teaching profession is changing and it becomes a little harder every year for a poor teacher to hang around too long. The union is there to protect those who are deserving, and for that reason they are necessary. But, many school districts are scrutinizing the newer teachers a little more carefully now, and are becoming a little more discerning in deciding who they keep and who they don’t.

    Valid criticism is fine, and not to belabor the issue, people whose whine is; we’re overpaid, we only work 10 months, etc. can for my money go soak their heads. They have no clue as to what a teachers day is like. I have a very good friend of mine who spends many many hours on the weekends(not to exclude weeknights) attending to school matters(grading and planning). She, is not an exception. Teaching does not end when the last bell rings!!

  67. The comments on this blog were just as interesting as the blog itself!
    I think I can count myself as one of the fortunate ones in education. Last year I started in a brand new classroom/laboratory and made it halfway through the year when my guard unit was activated. Off I went on Homeland Security, leaving a bunch of high school kids upset and anxious.
    I tell you this because I have often, in the late hours, wondered if I was a “good teacher” that I could do the job, if I was getting through to the student, etc. etc. and sometimes I wondered what a job outside education would be like.
    Well, toting a loaded M-16 may not be considered a practical alternative to teaching, but I did let me reflect for 12 months on what I left behind.
    I have these comments about teaching and for teachers:
    1) work environment makes a difference. I left one school for another for that reason. Pay doesn’t matter (in this case it went up)
    2) people work hard if they like their job, are challenged, believe in what they do and think it is important. Look at the soldier, long hours, (24/7 literally) at low pay, dangerous working conditions, extreme personal danger, high risks of accidents, working with no sleep or little sleep, and all along expected to maintain high standards. And people put 20,30,even 40 years in the job. And you think teaching is tough?
    3) administrators can be a great help or a great hinderance. if your administrator doesn’t support the teachers, enforce discipline, makes your job miserable, then jump ship and find another one. or work to get him/her fired (at one school the teachers did just that).
    4) Give it your all. I have been around teachers that work bell to bell and no more. They need to leave the job and work somewhere else.
    5)Be careful of unions. Ask, what have they done for you lately? Do I need a union? Does the union protect those that work bell to bell?
    6) If you really, truly are doing your best, then it will matter. When I returned to school I found out how much I did impact my students!
    7) If you are like most good teachers, August is your planning month. It takes a lot of time to prepare lessons!
    8) Quit complaining. Do something to make a positive impact on the profession, on your students, other teachers. Lead, follow or get out of the way.
    9) Dress with pride and expect high standards from your students. Help them get there, but “hold their feet to the fire”. Good teachers I have met in the past all have that in common.

  68. Welcome back stateside, bob!

    You left out

    10. Take on interns and student teachers whenever possible and *train them well*.


    The best thing about teaching:

    Being involved with the kids every day. Yes, they can be real major bastards at times, but there’s no other profession in the world in which you get to love this many people. And yes, I love my students. I pray for them, I cry over them, I get furious at them, and I love them.

  69. Jim Thomason says:

    One last try. As a pure hypothetical, let’s say that an incoming HS freshman class has an overall IQ=100. The boys’ IQ averages to 95 and the girls’ to 105.

    After 4 years, the less intelligent boys have been whittled down and those who completed all their classes successfully have an average IQ of 104. Almost as high as the freshmen girls!

    Let’s further say that the state that this HS is in requires the students to pass an exam to be given their diploma. The IQ of the boys who earn their diploma after this further winnowing is 110.

    Should we compare this score of 110 with the freshman girls’ score of 105 and announce, “Boys have on average have a 5 point advantage over girls in IQ levels”? Or should they say that male HS graduates have a 5 point edge in IQ over their female “peers”?

    Notice that the article you quoted stated, “scores for people who meet state licensing requirements exceed those of their peers.” – and those “peers” were incoming college freshmen.

    Also note that when first talking about the article you felt that it established that “a study showed that people who actually became teachers had relatively high SAT scores compared to other professions”. This was the impression the authors seemed to want to achieve. However, it is false.

  70. Cousin Dave — what do you do for a living?

  71. Some of my son’s best teachers didn’t have language skills beyond that of a nineth grader.

  72. Maybe it’s time that some of you took a look at the difference in the student that is being sent to the school house door today, as compared to 30 years ago.

    *shrugs* Look at the curriculum being taught compared to 30 years ago (or especially 60 years ago). This argument goes both ways.

  73. Andy Freeman says:

    > Look at the curriculum being taught compared to 30 years ago (or especially 60 years ago). This argument goes both ways.

    What are they being taught (or not) now that is more important than reading, writing, and simple arithmetic? Why?

  74. D. Pendracki says:

    As a student of Math and Biophysicas in the 70’s, I recall a little verse taped to my advisor’s office door:

    Those who can do
    Those who can’t teach
    Those who can’t teach, teach education

  75. Last year, when my son was in first grade, the class had a “unit” on sands from around the world. One sample was from Kuwait. My son had to show the student teacher where Kuwait was. Later on, when I happened to mention to his regular teacher that my son really likes geography (we have geography time at home) and can find any country in the world, she said yes, he has a lot of “superficial” knowledge. I felt like telling her that it takes a boatload of superficial knowledge to become an educated adult. She was the same teacher that told me about how the first grade teachers examine the kids’ writings (first grade) to see if they are developing “voice”! I felt like telling her that I wanted my son to learn how to hold the pencil correctly, learn something other than “kids spelling” and learn to write a coherent paragraph or simple book report.

  76. I have yet to meet a math teacher/professor who can explain with real life examples why multiplication of negative numbers is useful. If the teachers don’t know why, how do you expect the kids to be motivated to learn this. In fact every time I ask a math teacher/professor about this, they cringe, as if this is the dreaded questions about math. Maybe it is impossible to motivate kids to see the usefulness of this, but it does not help that math teachers/professors hate this question.

    Anyone out there care to hazard an answer?

  77. I just read over my previous comment, and I realized I should have given a reason for my comment on math teachers.

    I have found that in general most teachers/professors I meet do not have a solid foundation in how their subject is used in the real world.

    For example, math teachers. (And this is where I should have added the above comments.)

    Likewise, history, science (although not as much), social science, even geography teachers have little foundation upon to rest their subject. No wonder so many of them refuse to teach facts and instead value “creative thinking” by kids. The teachers are taught to value the process of learning not the knowledge one should get from learning.

    If you don’t know why the facts are relevant or useful, you see no use for them. And if you don’t have a broad education in many subjects, you can not see how one subject’s facts and knowledge influence other subjects and real life. Again why teach something that you as a teacher do not see or feel is necessary?

    I know of only one geography or earth science teacher that can tell me one significant geographical feature of Subsarharan and its effect on the politics of this region. Most geography teachers could not take this example and explain why the United States does not have this problem, and how our poltics were influenced by this.

    I could go on and on about teachers in all subjects who are lacking the board depth of knowledge, but suffice to say much has been written and spoken on how much time and effort in educating teachers is spent on educational theory and how little is spent on subject matter, here meaning math, geography, social studies, etc.

    Here’s a challenge what is the feature of Subsaharan Africa that has affected politics so much? What about the US?

    And again I repeat the question, does anyone the usefulness of multiplying negative numbers?

  78. Nick Blesch says:

    As an attempt at the multiplying negative numbers question, let me point out that it drives home some very basic logic skills – two positives = positive, a negative and a positive or a positive and a negative = negatives, and two negatives = positive.

    If it sounds like a bit of a stretch, just think about the fact that logic and/or philosophy are (for all practical purposes) not taught at all in the K-12 set and therefore people don’t seem to understand the relationship of mathematical concepts to making arguments, etc.

  79. Nick,

    There are real life uses for multiplying negative numbers, not just as mathmatical exercises.

    Math teachers don’t understand the real life examples, and thus can not give a reason for learning this. Many teachers have no concept of how their sujects apply in real life. Thus their classes are dull and boring because they can not show the applicability of facts to the lives of their students. Teachers generally don’t know the applicability; they aren’t taught this in college.

    I tried an example of multiplying negative numbers on my 10 yr old, and he now as some concept of it. But I had to use real examples.

    My point is that if teachers knew more about how their subjects are really used, they might be more effective as teachers.

  80. Sorry, Al. I have an English degree. I tell my students that they need good grammar and compositions skills so that they can be taken seriously (and be understood) when they send email and write blogs.

    Steve… voice is as important to good writing as grammar and spelling. It should be developing alongside those things. It’s just probably not something you’re familiar with.

  81. Here’s my comment on the usefulness of multiplying negative numbers.

    This is a very basic concept that is used over and over even in high school math. When a kid is 10 years old, he probably doesn’t have any idea what he wants to be when he grows up. Education at that age should be about giving the kid enough of a knowledge base that later on he can pick a field he’s interested in and pursue that. If in elementary school he skips over math he’s not interested in, he’s crossing whole disciplines off his list for later on. That’s a tragedy.

  82. Ok, Al, say 20 people each owe 20 dollars, (which is -20). Then the total amount of money owed is 400 dollars..(-400). you need another?

  83. “Steve… voice is as important to good writing as grammar and spelling. It should be developing alongside those things. It’s just probably not something you’re familiar with.”

    Rita – Spoken like a true progressive teacher. Of course, we parents are quite ignorant of the true learning process and need to be educated. How arrogant. I know all about “voice”, but, this is first grade and the spelling and grammar (and learning how to write simple paragraphs) come in a very distant second place. I think you know exactly what kind of educational philosophy I’m talking about here – “balanced reading” and “balanced math”. Balanced according to whose ideology? Fill the parents with all sorts of happy Ed-Speak just to keep them off your back. Kids Spelling and Wall Words – Oh Boy!

  84. Al Frick- here is a web page with SEVERAL examples of visualizing why a negative times a negative is a positive.

    Perhaps it is unfortunate that you have never met any REAL math teachers.


  85. Thanks for the post on negative numbers. I brought up the example to show how teachers are unprepared for teaching their own subjects.

    Multiplication of negative numbers is really not a hard concept. I came up with a good example that my 10 year old understands, although I am not sure he can explain it. Now he is more comfortable with negative numbers.

    First a little background. Growing up, we are taught math by examples. If I have 3 apples and someone gives me 2 apples, how many do I have? 5 of course. This is addition. If I give 1 to a friend, I now have 4. This is subtraction. If 5 kids go to the store and buy 2 apples each, they have 10 apples. Multiplication. If 14 apples are given evenly to 7 kids, they each have 2 appples. Division.

    But this method of teaching math breaks down with negative numbers.

    So to teach negative number multiplication, try to forget the above example, and think in terms of the real world. If I have 5 apples and give 1 away, I now have 4 apples, and my friend has 1. You have to think in terms of many people and actions. Apples just don’t go away. They go somewhere.

    Now think of negativity not as a minus or disappearing apple, think of negativity in terms of movement. An apple thrown to someone on a roof goes up 10 feet. An apple dropped from the roof and down a hill may travel in the opposite direction 20 feet.

    “Negative” really means “in the opposite direction” in math. For example, in the case of throwing an apple, up can be positive and down can be negative. If I know at what point an apple started and I know it is now -3 feet from there, I know is is 3 feet lower than before. If I made down positive and up negative, an apple 3 feet lower than before is now at positive 3 feet from the starting position, or in other words it is down 3 feet.

    This idea has many applications, as in the debt examples given on the math web site.

    What about multiplying negative numbers?

    Imagine I own an apple orchard. I hire 100 labors to pick 100 apples per day. So every day they work, I accumulate 10,000 apples. That is a lot of apples to store, so using just in time pick up and delivery to a store, I hire 5 trucks to haul 2,000 apples per day. So the math looks like this:

    10 labors x 100 apples/day into storage = 10,000, which we will cause positive

    5 trucks X -2,000 apples/day out of storage = -10,000 out of storage.

    At the end of a day I should show 10,000 – 10,000 = 0 apples in storage.

    If one day 1 truck breaks down, there is a new equation

    1 truck not removing 2,000, which becomes
    -1 truck x -2,000 meaning 2,000 apples are left in storage and at the end of one day I have 12,000 apples in storage.

    Here the flow of apples or the direction of their movement is the key to the negative sign, and the failure of a truck means another negative sign.

    I use to have a simple computer program, back in the days of Basic and GWBasic, that was a lunar landing exercise. It stepped a person through programming a simple lunar landing game. I wish I still had it, given most kids love of computer games.

    In the game down was negative and up was positive. The game did a great job of teaching negative multiplication.

    It first gave some info on what would happen as a lunar lander desended without power to the Moon. Crash. Then it slowly introduced the accelerating effect of gravity. This caused an acceleration in the negative direction, and resulted in a bigger crash. Next it introduced rocket motors and their positive force, positive being any force pushing up. By manipulating the scenarios and forces, the game taught that negative multiplication was not some vague concept but had a real life application.

    Take off and land in a plane, and you have witnessed, perhaps unknowingly, negative multiplication at work.

    I broguth this up because most people have never been taught the usefulness of it. Most teachers don’t know the usefulness of it either.

    I also gave the example of Africa because most people have no concept of how Subsaharan Africa is shaped and why this is important. Teachers don’t teach it. Africa’s shape, when viewed from the side is like a saucer turned upside down. There are ridges all around the saucer, relatively near the edges. This feature of African geography means it is hard to travel inland. There are few rivers that are navigable from the coast. And in general inland Subsaharan Africa has remain isolated from the world and itself without the network of rivers we see in Europe or China. America has been blessed with less obstacles and with more rivers for early trade and travel. Travel and trade meant the spreading of knowledge and ideas and better scientific developement.

    I have three kids that have taken world geography, and they are taught all kinds of “touchy feely”, “warm and fuzzy” things about cultures and not given one single reason why Africa, at least the southern part, has remained underdeveloped. (This may not be the only reason Africa is underdeveloped, but it plays a tremendous role in it.) Kids need these facts. Schools are not giving them the facts.

    The teachers aren’t given the facts either. Or more accurately in teachers’s defense I should say that teachers aren’t taught in college these facts. So I can’t hold the teachers at fault. It is really the colleges of education that are at fault for relegating facts to a lesser role in our kids education.

  86. Think about it this way. We need to recharge our batteries because we teachers perform the job of many for the price of one. We don’t just teach. We counsel. We guide. We teach manners. We teach respect. We teach valuable life lessons. We are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers all rolled in one. We are social workers. Some of us feed our kids. Some of us pick our kids up off the ground when they fall. We don’t sit in cubicles all day, isolated from those around us. We don’t get to go home at 5 and veg out in front of the TV. Some of us leave at 3, to grade papers on the train, plan lessons while cooking dinner, grade more papers while doing laundry. Some of us go from work-school to school-school, constantly trying to hone our craft. We all have to deal with monumental amounts of disrespect and parental neglect. To top it all, all of this is multiplied by 175 students. A social worker with that kind of caseload would be pitied. Why are we pilloried?

  87. Steve, I’d be more than happy to explain the relationship of voice to things like paragraph structure, grammar, and spelling if you would like to send me a private email. Your child’s teacher may be teaching 6 Traits without a clear understanding of the relationship among the traits. I don’t usually link my email in my posts, but it is in this one. My intent is not to be elitist, but to help explain writing theory (in which I’m a specialist — I’m also a consistently published creative writer, translator, former editor, and freelance feature writer), so you can support your 1st grader’s writing development. You are not “on my back” so I have no real motivation to get you off it. Just trying to be helpful.

    BTW, I’m not a progressive; I’m an essentialist (and I’ve read scads of ed. philosophy, so I know what those words mean). My teaching philosophy probably closely mirrors your idea of what a good education consists of.

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