Teachers Must Practice What They Teach

by Robert Pondiscio
January 9th, 2010

Indiana teachers will need a degree in the subject they will teach under new licensing rules approved Wednesday.  The original proposal from the state’s Education Superintendent Tony Bennett would have required elementary education majors to take no more than 30 college credit hours in teaching methods, notes the Indianapolis Star.

Bennett released his proposals six months ago. But in a series of public meetings, there were howls of protest, primarily from universities that said the proposals focused too much on a teacher’s knowledge of a subject and not enough on teaching methods.  Education schools were against Bennett’s proposal, which would have limited the number of teaching-method classes required for a degree. The schools wanted to maintain control of their degree requirements. And they won.

Other the new rules, secondary teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject they will teach and a minor in education. Elementary teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree in education with a subject minor (or a subject major with an education minor). School boards will be now be allowed to hire superintendents from outside of education.  And all teachers will have to pass subject knowledge tests.

7 Comments »

  1. And here I thought we didn’t need to understand content! “We don’t teach content, we teach children.”

    I wish I was valued, as a teacher, as an expert on literature. It seems to be very beside the point of the job I find myself doing now.

    Comment by Miss Eyre — January 9, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  2. A teacher who knows pedagogy but not subject matter is like a mechanic who knows customer service but not cars.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — January 9, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  3. A relative with 40 years experience as a high school teacher has always said that the only necessary ed courses are (1) tests and measurements, (2) methods, (3) practice teaching; all subject and level specific. He’s willing to argue about a couple others, such as a growth/development/psych course, but not to the 30-credit level.

    Comment by momof4 — January 9, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  4. While I wouldn’t automatically think of Indiana as the metropolis of educational pragmatism, it appears they have fallen into some relatively thoughtful licensing reforms.

    “…all teachers will have to pass subject knowledge tests.” Now there’s a idea every state should embrace.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — January 10, 2010 @ 10:24 am

  5. A couple of years ago, I was mentoring a group of first-year teaching “fellows” (from the well-known national competitive program that brings high-achieving graduates of prestigious colleges to work in hard-to-staff schools). Content knowledge was not a problem for these teachers.

    In every meeting or conversation, what these teachers craved was advice on turning knowledge into pedagogy. They wanted to know how to teach “The Crucible” to a group of African American students living in rural poverty. How to teach mitosis to sophomores with 2nd grade reading levels. How to use the presidential campaign to teach the history of partisanship in America (rather than endorsing “support” for candidates based on their appearance).

    In short, what they needed were what the article sneers at: teaching methods. I once watched a HS English teacher–an accomplished master of her craft–spend three hours dumping out her bag of pedagogical strategies to these Fellows. How to teach Shakespeare through paraphrase. Poetry that rang the chimes of minority kids in rural poverty. How to teach point of view using a stool, and how to teach foreshadowing using a backwards baseball cap. The scaffolding activities needed for kids writing their first research paper (in HS, but better late than never). Juicy discussion questions for a couple dozen old literary chestnuts in the district curriculum.

    The Fellows took prodigious notes and asked great questions–and decided not to take a midpoint break. At the end of the workshop, they begged her to come back. It was the first useful teacher training they’d ever had, and she’d helped them plan their next units.

    With all due respect, let’s not revive the foolish, false-dichotomy battle over content vs. pedagogy. Thirty hours seems like plenty of methods classes to me–and who would ever endorse sending teachers with weak content knowledge into classrooms? They’re both absolutely critical to effective teaching.

    And–where are the states that don’t require teachers to pass subject matter exams in 2009?

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — January 10, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

  6. I think the problem is not so much that teachers don’t *know* how to teach content, but that teachers are not permitted to, or are discouraged from, using the pedagogical techniques they believe will work effectively for them and their students. I can think of, or find, many ways to make works of literature come alive and be accessible to my students. But whether or not my students understand great works of literature seems to be beside the point. A collection of largely meaningless, outwith context, “reading skills” in which my students show “proficiency” seems to matter more.

    I know an awful lot about literature. I love talking about it with students. But constantly having to shoehorn my teaching into discrete “skills” tends to make it not as fun or worthwhile, for me or the kids.

    Comment by Miss Eyre — January 10, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  7. I hope Indiana’s new policies will include some exceptions for those teachers who do not fit the mold of “college education major to first year teacher.” The policy excerpt states: “Other the new rules, secondary teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject they will teach and a minor in education.”

    As a college student, I did not become interested in teaching until my third year of college (after we had to choose majors and minors). I finished college, attended graduate school, and then received a teaching license in my mid-twenties. If there are no exceptions to the Indiana rules requiring specific college majors and minors for all teachers, no one will be able to teach unless they know: (A) that they definitely want to be teachers; (B) exactly what subjects they wish to teach; and (C) the state they want to live/teach in … all by age 19.

    Hopefully, the rules are not that rigid.

    Comment by Attorney DC — January 11, 2010 @ 11:51 am

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