Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

What makes a teacher highly qualified? 

This is the question that AssortedStuff asks in his blog today, and while I agree partly with him, I find myself at least partially agreeing (how strange) with NCLB in that teachers must demonstrate competence in their subject matter. There are too many teachers out there that just don't know the material that they're supposed to teach. If you're in a math classroom, and you don't know how to add fractions, then you should consider a career selling insurance instead.

I'll go a step farther and say that math teachers need to know not only the subject matter that they teach but at least two years of progress in the subject area beyond what they teach. It's not enough to know what's in the book, you need to know what the book is preparing students to do in their next class.

And this applies to the people writing the books too. I've ranted before (and I'll rant again) about "geometry" problems like:

Angles 1 and 2 are supplementary. If angle 1 has measure 2x+1 and angle 2 has measure x-2, what is the measure of angle 1 in degrees.
That's not a geometry problem and as far as I know it doesn't correspond to any actual use of geometry. It's an algebra review pretending to be a geometry problem. Maybe if we dumped problems like this we wouldn't have to offer geometry-without-proofs classes.

So I would argue that we need to have educated people writing the standards and we need to have teachers who know the material inside and out. Frankly, I think that the tests that I've seen are in fact inadequate. The test that I took for certification only verified that I can do high school mathematics. It didn't test any sort of understanding or ability to connect knowledge within different subtopics in the discipline or across disciplines. There's no point, for example, asking Calculus questions unless you also address how calculus and physics are related.

But there is the very real issue of ability to teach, and this is an ability that is gained only in one way: By actually being in front of a classroom and teaching. And I have yet to see any multiple-choice test that can measure that. Apparently, at one point in California, there was an actual simulated classroom test for credentialing, with college students pretending to be the (unruly) high school students a teacher might face. Now there's an idea that's worth resurrecting.

So bottom line, I agree with Assorted Stuff that the standards for "highly qualified" are insufficient, but I disagree in that I think that demonstration of subject area competence is necessary.

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