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How can we teach kids when we can't teach teachers?
Posted:
Apr 14, 1999 2:35 AM


I come at this from a little different perspective than I've seen in the many messages I have read on this forum. I am making a career change into teaching after 20 years in the private sector working as an actuary. I am in California so I have to take a year's worth of education courses plus do student teaching to get my credential. Anyone care to guess what percent of my classwork will involve learning anything about teaching math? Anyone care to guess what percentage of my coursework will be done with a professor who has ever taught math? If you guessed 0 you would be right on.
Instead what I am faced with is 5 courses; an introductory class of mixed elementary and secondary candidates, two secondary methods courses, a reading course and a multicultural course. To my mind this is just crazy.
The intro course was moderately worthwhile. We watched a bunch of Harry Wong's video series and learned about things like reporting requirements in cases of suspected abuse. The actual content of the course could have easily fit into an afternoon.
The first methods course was disappointing, particularly when I realize it was 50% of the methods education I was going to receive. Absolutely nothing specific to math, of course. All of the math specific content was supposed to come from studying the CA Math framework, whcih really has little about *how* to teach math. Then the crowning finish was teaching a 30minute miniclass (and having to watch the lessons of the 15 other students). And the only feedback we got on the lessons was from each other, the prof being a big believer in peer review even when it was not at all establshed that the peers in question (me included) would recognize the difference between a good lesson and a KFC commercial.
My current course is the reading course. The biggest part of this course is doing 25 hours of oneonone reading tutoring of a secondary student and submitting audio tales and writeups of the sessions. Can any of you working math teachers out there explain to me the relevance of this to teaching a class of 3035 kids math? I mean, come on. If the kid hasn't learned to read after 6 to 8 years in school, 45 of which were heavily focused on reading, how am I supposed to teach him to read en passant of teaching him math in the 45 minutes a day I have him? It sure sounds good, though, "every teacher is a reading teacher". And 20% of my teacher training is spent on this.
I don't know what will come in the second methods class. I understand that we will put together a unit, but unless by some (unlikely) miracle the prof is a math person I suspect it will be just like the first methods class, i.e., no real training on teaching *math*. So what's the deal? Is teaching supposed to be like sales? You know they say that a good salesman can sell anything. Am I supposed to believe that a good teacher can teach anything? Are the techniques of teaching phys ed. the same as the techniques of teaching math? *Are there* techniques of teaching math? Is so they are kept in secret in my program.
And then there is the multicultural class. This smacks a little too much of a bow to the forces of political correctness for me to warm up to the course. But even if it is very worthwhile, should it assume a higher priority than giving me a course in which they will give me some actual training in how to teach math?
Maybe my years in the private sector have made me too practical. When I had to train people I trained them in the things they were going to be doing. Education school seems to make great effort to *avoid* teaching me about the thing I will be doing.
Maybe it is all for the best. I'll probably end up teaching my students math the same way I was taught, since I'm not being trained to do anything different. But the real irony is that all of the things with which we are supposed to infuse our lessons, e.g., relevance, motivation, real world applications, guided practice, etc, are completely lacking in the training I am getting. Maybe the old witticism needs to be revised to "those who can't, train teachers".
Rich Bednarski



