By Ryan Tibbens
Public school teachers will attend tens of millions of hours of division-prescribed professional development this year. Almost none of it will help teachers learn more about ‘what’ to teach and ‘why’ to teach it. Nearly all of it will focus on ‘how’ to teach. That is ridiculous.
First, let’s acknowledge the power of pedagogy and honing one’s craft. Teachers should be constantly learning and sharing methods, increasing their arsenal of strategies to engage and affect an increasingly distracted and diverse student body. Teachers must also work purposefully to learn about new technologies and how to implement them (or not) in order to build “21st Century Skills.” Professional development must always include a consistent and sincere focus on pedagogy.
However, ‘how’ to teach is useless if the teacher does not know ‘what’ to teach or ‘why’ to teach some topics in depth, others in brief, and others not at all. Because teachers have traditionally been regarded as gatekeepers of knowledge, and because the first requisite qualification for work is a college degree in the discipline, many people falsely assume that teachers already know enough about their content. That is patently untrue.
Before we even worry about content-specific knowledge, let’s consider teachers’ general academic aptitudes. On average, teachers scored below average on the SAT when they were in high school. 54% of elementary teaching candidates fail the Praxis I test on their first try. Most data indicate that teachers have an average IQ of, well, around average. Praxis II (content-specific test) data is harder to come by, but even basic score ranges indicate great variation and suspicious pass rates. I’ve heard more teachers make the “Cs get degrees” joke than I care to count.
I’m not arguing that teachers are stupid. Most teachers are smart, hardworking, and functional in the classroom. Approximately 10% of teachers earned SAT scores in the top 20% (still a striking underrepresentation though). I’m simply arguing that teachers, on average, are average (particularly in lower grade levels). And we can all probably agree that, on average, we don’t remember too much detail from our own public schooling. But that’s what college is for, right? Uh-oh. Check out what the National Council on Teacher Quality found in a survey of elementary teacher preparation programs:
The teacher does not need to be the most intelligent person in the room based on IQ, but the teacher does need to be the most knowledgeable, the most aware, and the most (justifiably) confident. I remember being in classes when there was no doubt that the teacher was in the bottom half based on IQ and only somewhere around the top quarter based on content knowledge – it was the worst part of school for me.
So what do we do? Let’s get real. Let’s stop pretending that pedagogy and technology are the only things that teachers need to be trained on. If we’re going to sit through dozens of hours of mandatory professional development each year, is it crazy for a couple days to address content knowledge? Public school leaders always talk about creating “life-long learners” and “critical thinkers,” but how is that a likely outcome when teachers don’t learn more about their content? How can we promote interdisciplinary connections and PBL if we don't learn more about the other subjects their students study? If you don’t know stuff, you can’t think stuff; and if you can’t think stuff, then you can't do much. Let’s empower our teachers.
Pedagogy is great. Technology is fine. But if we spend all our time worrying about “how” to teach without supporting “what” and “why,” then we’ve done our teachers, our taxpayers, and, most importantly, our students a great disservice. Bring back content-based professional development to inspire teachers’ curiosity, passion, and overall performance.
Advice for new college students. Read. Remember. Congratulations, you're ready to graduate. (Yes, it really does go by that quickly.) By Ryan Tibbens
When you arrive at your dorm, be nice and be confident. Don't be too cool to hug your parents. If dudes in the dorm feel hostile, pretend like you're in prison and punch the biggest guy in the face as hard as you can to establish dominance. Go to every class, even if they don't take attendance. Read everything they tell you to read, even if they don't seem to use it. Take notes by hand. If possible, set aside time in your weekday schedule for short naps, gym visits, and library sessions. Get involved in dorm activities. Join a club. Don't rush until second semester or sophomore year or maybe at all. Use professors' office hours. Start studying three days before you think you need to. Pack extra Febreze. Start lining up next year's living arrangements two weeks before anybody else brings it up. Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Don't talk to cops. Don't walk in the street. Don't call or text after midnight. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, and don't do some things I would.
What advice would YOU give rising freshmen as they head off to college for the first time? Leave some wisdom in the comment section below.
By Ryan Tibbens
Check out the CONTEST at the end of this article!
A new teacher recently asked for advice, claiming 'impostor syndrome.'
This was my response:
"Fake it 'til you make it, and don't be too upset if you never really feel like you make it (just trust student feedback and results). Ask for help; beg, borrow, and steal. Then steal more. Make the kids laugh in class and nervous when the grades are due. Make parents and principals confident; make students curious and aware. Make time for yourself. Find your favorite beer or wine, and keep it on hand. Find your favorite students and build bonds, but never let them or anyone else know that you have favorites. Tell yourself you'll go to bed early, and don't be surprised when it's 2am. Tell yourself you'll get up early, and don't be surprised when kids arrive at your classroom door before you do once in a while. Specialize in something. Attend as many conferences and as much professional development as you can in the first five years and then semi-regularly after that. Watch 'The Dog Whisperer.' Get on a first-name basis with the main office secretary and custodians as soon as possible (they run the school). Always be yourself: kids sense phonies like bees sense fear. Oh, and apply for other, better jobs ASAP."
CONTEST -- Are/were you a teacher, coach, classified employee, or school administrator? Were you an observant student? We're offering a $20 Amazon.com gift card to the person who submits the best ORIGINAL advice to beginning teachers. Keep entries under 200 words and appropriate for classroom discussion. ReadThinkWriteSpeak must receive at least eight entries to activate the contest and prize, so tell your friends. Contact us using the form below, email, or private messages in Facebook or Twitter. Top submissions will be posted and voted upon in mid-July. All entries due by 7/10/2019.
Because no one else