Australia: Teachers don’t have to be smart

Teachers don’t have to be smart as long as they’re enthusiastic, says Australian School Education Minister Peter Garrett.

“It is not necessarily a fact that someone who is academically smart makes a better teacher than someone who isn’t,” Mr Garrett told reporters in Canberra.

“I don’t think education should necessarily be the province of the particularly smart or gifted.”

New South Wales plans to raise professional standards and make it easier to fire underperforming teachers. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said university entrance scores for people studying teaching were sometimes too low. He wants teacher training schools to “limit training places as a way of combating the national oversupply of new teachers due partly to the federal government’s decision to deregulate university places.”

Via PJ Tatler.

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  1. It’s a very bad combination when the students are smarter than the teacher. This was the case in my 10th grade honors English class. Some smart aleck friends and I had a running bet to see what completely idiotic things we could get her to say. The one in particular I remember was when she claimed the Mark Antony in Julius Caesar was cousin to the Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra.

    • I always thought he was the same guy that J Lo divorced. Just when I thought I knew something.

    • This guy is a total and complete idiot; you can’t teach what you don’t know.

      CW is spot on: a relative had to stop taking student teachers because they insisted on trying to BS his honors/AP history students, despite his continued prohibition. He got really tired of having hysterical student teachers in his office; they were from a pretty weak college, for geographic reasons, and just couldn’t handle really bright HS kids determined to test them. Yes, he tried to rein in his classes, but a herd of kids that bright really loves those kind of challenges. I’m sure CW knows exactly what I mean – my kids weren’t above doing that, either.

      A weak teacher is an open invitation; like the MS science teacher who insisted that it took 4 hours for a mouthful of food to land in the stomach. My son’s invitation to the teacher to take a big mouthful of really cold ice cream and time its arrival in the stomach put him on her @#$% list for the rest of the year.

      • Crimson Wife says:

        The sad thing was that I don’t think my English teacher ever caught on to what we were doing. She certainly never treated us like we were on her s**t list at least.

        I don’t think it’s a good lesson for a bunch of 15 y.o.’s to develop a superior attitude towards someone in a position of authority. Most teens think they know everything, and a good dose of humble pie would be better for them than having the cockiness reinforced.

  2. That has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have EVER heard. I suppose that pro athletes don’t have to be good at sports either, eh? It’s no wonder the Western world is dying… We’re killing ourselves by sabotaging future generations with PC garbage.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Teachers don’t have to be geniuses. Sometimes that’s even counterproductive.

    But they can’t be morons, either.

    And therein lies the difficulty, the delicate art of line-drawing.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Yes, bright students can cop attitude with the dimmer teachers. God knows I did it.

    But it’s also a good experience for bright kids to realize two things: (1) you won’t always have people smarter than you in charge, so learn to suck it up; and (2) intelligence *really* isn’t everything, you little smart-ass.

    Those were good lessons to learn. Hard lessons, but good.

    • Intelligence isn’t everything, but when a teacher asserts something that’s PROVABLY (as in, mathematical proof) wrong, the teacher is the one who needs the humble pie (with a heaping helping of refreshers).

  5. I don’t disagree with either of Michael’s posts, but the first of them is more important. I tend to be very skeptical of all the anecdotes about people who were just sooooooo much smarter than their teachers.

    • The teacher in my anecdote was in her second year at the school and the school had started to get enough documentation to remove her within the first few weeks of school. It was obvious that she did not know her subject and she was abusive to her students. By abusive, I mean that she routinely yelled at them (individually and collectively), including saying that she wished they’d all die. My son’s teammate had had her the previous year and several students in his class were denied permission to go to the bathroom or the nurse’s office; resulting in vomiting, incontinence and accidents caused by the immediate need for feminine hygiene products. These continued during the year my son had her, along with screaming episodes on a variety of topics. She was a minority female teaching a subject with few female teachers and the county admin made it clear that she would not be removed without reams of documentation. Her lack of knowledge and her behavior were well-known – she could be heard halfway down the hall and her grading (right vs.wrong answers) and comments were written documentation. In this case, it wasn’t hard for a number of her students to be smarter than she was – particularly since most had at least one parent with a PhD or professional degree (law, medicine, dental etc.) and many had two.

      • >> denied permission to go to the bathroom….

        Damned if you don’t….

        During one inservice professional development a colleague told me of how she’d allowed some girl to go to the bathroom and then she, the student, was caught having sex in the bathroom. Of course it was her, the teacher’s, fault, and she (the teacher) suffered some reprimand for it.

        I have no excuses for the screaming and ignorance.

    • Well, you have to figure that a high school class with a couple of hundred students is going to contain at least a couple of geniuses. It seems a pretty safe statistical bet that at least one student out of 200-400 is three sigma above average. In addition, you’re going to have a handful of two-sigma kids (which is an IQ of around 130, if I’ve read wikipedia correctly).

      That handful is probably smart enough to trip up a not-so-bright teacher. And, speaking as a former teenager myself, I’m sure they would delight in it.

      The only cure is smart teachers. They don’t have to be geniuses, but they at least have to be smart enough to know when a smart-aleck kid is trying to play them.

  6. Robin H. says:

    Note that Mr. Garrett doesn’t actually say “Teachers don’t have to be smart as long as they’re enthusiastic” – that’s a paraphrase written by a journalist to grab a reader’s attention. The two actual quotes in the article are much more nuanced, as Mr. Garrett always is.

    • “The Headline is a lie” is a less nuanced way of saying that he actually doesn’t say what they say he said in the headline. What Mr. Garrett says makes sense and is more rational.

      Thanks for pointing this out Robin.

  7. Within the teaching corps at any given school, there should be at least a few really smart (especially at high schools), and plenty who are smart enough; and there needs to be NO teachers who are confused about what they are supposed to be teaching. The problem with what Garrett proposes is that it’s an attitude of carelessness — “brains don’t matter” — that makes room for truly inadequate teaching clothed in a good attitude.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Never saw a kid beat a teacher on subject matter, although there was a kid in physics who knew enough to jump a couple of steps in the instructional process.
    “How do you know the valve is closed?”
    “The handle is perpendicular to the pipe.”
    True, but not where the prof was going, which I heard the prof grousing about later, while not dismissing the kid’s intelligence.
    But that was in the class of ’62. Might have been a different time.
    Now, there are teachers who tell kids stuff than which the brighter ones know better–see Zinn, for example–but they’re smart enough to keep their mouths shut about it.

  9. Cranberry says:

    The Education Minister’s a politician. If he says the current crop of teachers aren’t smart enough, he only creates trouble for himself.

    But it’s also a good experience for bright kids to realize two things: (1) you won’t always have people smarter than you in charge, so learn to suck it up; and (2) intelligence *really* isn’t everything, you little smart-ass.

    That sort of attitude could explain the great disdain the education reformers — many of whom were bright kids back in the day — hold for teachers with below-average test scores.

    Smart kids need smart teachers. At a minimum, they need teachers who are smart enough to realize their students aren’t pretending to be smart in order to get on the teachers’ nerves.

    It’s really common for very smart kids to develop superior, arrogant attitudes. In my opinion, this maladjustment can arise when students realize (certain) teachers dislike and resent smart kids. Thinking of intelligent students as “little smart-asses” doesn’t build a healthy teacher-student relationship, even if the teacher never utters the words aloud. Humans are adept at reading body language.

  10. Cranberry, like all homeschooling moms, you dramatically overstate your own and your kids’ intelligence.

    Besides, you don’t know any “very smart” kids, but rather kids in the 1st or 2nd STD of IQ, which is also where most teachers are. Despite your comforting delusions, your little snowflakes are, simply, smart. In elementary school, most teachers are easily smart enough to handle them. In high school, a good number of the teachers will be smarter or at least as smart as your preciouses.

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      Really, Cal? ALL homeschooling moms?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Talk about lacking self-awareness. Complaining about dramatically overstating something just after offering “ALL homeschooling moms”. Funny.

    • Cranberry says:

      Cal, I don’t know you — and you don’t know me. My kids have all been tested — and yes, they’re above the 2nd STD of IQ.

      I’m not homeschooling — my kids are in selective private schools. The high schools use standardized tests for admission. Their feeder schools use IQ tests for admission. Yes, I know many “very smart” kids, because they’re a select group.

      Most teachers aren’t in the 1st or 2nd STD of IQ — do you have a source for your assertion?

      Researchers compared Praxis results of 153,000 people in 20 states and the District of Columbia, looking at self-reported GPAs and SAT scores of test-takers in two periods: 1994-1997 and 2002-2005. Teaching candidates’ mean verbal score on the SAT rose from 518 to 531; the mean math score rose from 504 to 521. That’s slightly higher than the general population’s average SAT scores from 1990 to 2005 — 504 verbal and 510 in math.

      1051 on the re-centered SAT is barely above average for college applicants, the 57th percentile of SAT test takers:

      In other words, 43% of high school seniors post higher scores on the SAT than the average new teacher.

      • “In other words, 43% of high school seniors post higher scores on the SAT than the average new teacher.”

        No. 43% of high school seniors who *took the SAT* posted higher scores. This group of students is going to be disproportionately drawn from the right side of the bell curve.

        I’m willing to believe that you’re right (and more willing if we’re just discussing elementary school teachers), but I think alternative evidence would be helpful.

        • Cranberry says:

          No. 43% of high school seniors who *took the SAT* posted higher scores. This group of students is going to be disproportionately drawn from the right side of the bell curve.

          True, or at least the more affluent side of the curve. On the other hand, 1,647,123 high school seniors took the SAT in 2011, out of 3.1 million graduating seniors, thus about 53% of high school seniors took the SAT. (1.623 million took the ACT. ) Perhaps most students took both, but there are significant groups of students who take either one test or the other, depending on their state. In other words, yes, the pool may be better prepared and more academically successful than the entire cohort, but it’s a large segment of the student body, too large to be composed of academic superstars. It also happens to include most of the students who attend college which demand standardized test scores for entry (with the exception of those students who only take the ACT.)

    • Okay, Cal. I’d gladly compare my academic qualifications against the average ed school grad (*NOT* TFAers or similar selective programs). My SAT score put me in the 99.8th percentile of test-takers my senior year of high school. Surely you’ve taken enough statistics to know that is quite a bit more than 2 standard deviations above the mean…

  11. I hope this guy’s kids get the dumb, passionate teachers.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cranberry. Take it easy on Cal. He’s…. You know.

    Darren. Nope. This guy’s kids are going to go to a select school. The lower orders go to the public schools. See big shooters in DC.

    • I’m starting to think Cal must be an intentional parody instead of a real person. These posts are just so over the top with meanness, ignorance, and faulty assumptions.

    • I guess we should periodically point out that Cal’s a she.

    • Cranberry. Take it easy on Cal. She’s…. You know.

      Teach For America’s teachers are both smart and passionate (at least for a while), but since TFA also upsets the teacher training paradigm, some here won’t appreciate me pointing that out.

  13. Cranberry,

    You are including both elementary and high school teachers. The original report did not. Elementary school teachers are around 500, high school teachers are 580-590 in their subject.

    But in any event, 1st SD is about 115 IQ, which is about what your average 510-520 SAT section needs. So I’m not sure why or how you think you’ve disproved my point, rather than supporting it. You do realize that college applicants that take the SAT are a bit smarter than the population at large, don’t you?

    And you used to homeschool, didn’t you? If not, I grovel because I must have you confused with the other C poster. Crystal something. All you Cs post alike.

    • Cranberry says:

      We never home schooled. We would probably never have left the public system if it still had effective tracking. Our state has no gifted programs, discourages tracking, and encourages mainstreaming.

      I repeat that smart children need smart teachers. By “smart,” I suppose I’d mean the top 30% of each group. The tracked system of old used to supply work appropriate to the children’s needs. At present, the system provides scripted lessons aimed at children in the middle of a mainstreamed class. Any differentiation for students depends upon the teacher’s energy and good grace. It’s a lot to ask, despite the assurances of some that any teacher can teach on multiple levels simultaneously.

      The best a parent can hope for is a teacher who allows the student to work ahead independently. That’s rare. More often, the child who begins the year with little to learn is drafted as an unpaid aide.

      In the context of the original post, the New South Wales education minister stated, Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) scores range from less than 50 to the high 90s, Mr Piccoli told reporters in Sydney today, adding that “below 50 is not the kind of score that we want for schoolteachers”.

      According to this document, ( below 50 on the ATAR converts to an SAT score of 1125 (CR + M + W), which is much too low to teach, in my opinion. An 1125 SAT score lies in the eleventh percentile (11).

      Sorting the less able teachers into the younger grades and the more difficult schools causes problems in later grades. If a teacher never really understood math, why would his students surpass their teacher? How could they?

      It does make it easier to pay tuition to be reminded of the disdain some (not all!) teachers have for intelligent students and their parents.

    • Says _C_al.