Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need

Replacing education models 1) and 2) with 3) (See 1: Education Reform… and 2: Education Reform…) requires considerable change in how school personnel are organized and how they relate to the students. But the real radical and revolutionary change comes in how we certify teachers, how we get those who want to teach ready to teach and in the classrooms in front of those young minds needing altering through knowledge and skills.

But first and foremost, teachers need to be paid in proportion to the importance of the job they do, like brain surgeons are proportionately paid. Schools are institutions, not businesses, sports teams, or military units; the money needs to go to those who do the work and take on the important responsibilities regarding students’ minds. This means administrative personnel in schools need not only to be cut back in number (Even casual observers of Waxahachie ISD’s professional structure called it “top-heavy,” or, in deference to our school mascot, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”), the salaries of administrators (and coaches) need to be shaved down so that the highest paid professionals in the district are master teachers, whose contract has been renewed each year for decades, based upon consistent, high-level performance with students in the classroom.

Schools’ greatest assets are their students; schools’ greatest paid professionals are the nurturers of those assets, the teachers; therefore, schools’ greatest professional assets are their salaried teachers. Teachers should be paid in accordance to their importance.

If the salaries of public and private school instructors are brought in line with, say, the salaries of engineers, tenured college and university instructors, physicians, lawyers, and other professionals, then those “called” to teach have no excuse not to teach. Too many people who longed to teach felt forced to choose a better-paying vocation — due to concerns of not being able to meet his/her family’s financial day-to-day obligations. The teaching profession, when it comes to pay, suffers to this day from what I call the “school-marm syndrome,” by which taxpaying communities have become used to paying an idealist (the usually unmarried one-room schoolhouse teacher) a blue-collar salary for doing the most important white-collar job in the community. So idealistic and devoted to their students have been the teachers in their profession, this syndrome has been allowed to fester and spread. Today it is so pervasive, that if anything is deemed wrong with the schools, teachers are the first scapegoats cited; I remember the State of Texas thinking its education woes years ago were because teachers were “dumb,” so they gave us all competency tests! Almost all of us were found more-than-competent; we were not the problem!

[If teachers unionize, as has been done in many States, that just feeds the syndrome, in my opinion. In the eyes of many taxpayers, unionization of teachers would confirm classroom instructors no better than laborers working for the school and the State. Instead, teachers need to take the professional re-dressing step of creating their own professional association that guards and promotes the high standards of professions like doctors’ and lawyers’ (not to mention school administrators’!). (e.g. the AMA, the American Medical Association, and the American Bar Association). Such a teachers association, like that of the doctors and lawyers, would, as I have said in 2: Education Reform…, administer the certification of teachers similarly to the way doctors and lawyers are “certified.”]

Should teachers becoming certified in the way I am about to outline have competitive professional salaries to which to look forward for future financial security, teacher shortages will begin to fall to insignificance, schools can actually be more “picky” about the teachers they hire, and, most important, for students’ sake,  the student-teacher ratios in classrooms everywhere will begin to fall to the numbers they should be. Only in post-high school study are large classrooms workable. But, at every educational level, greater numbers of teachers mean more teachers can be hired, assuring smaller, more effective classrooms.

The way teachers become certified needs to be completely revamped. I am suggesting nothing less than the complete evisceration, “gutting,” if you please, of education departments and teacher preparation programs everywhere. Even if teacher salaries are raised, these departments and programs would remain essentially useless. And the evidence, as I pointed to in my own higher education development toward being a teacher in 1: Education Reform…, is all around us, especially in the faces of those of us who attended college or university. Most, if not all, of the best teachers I had in eight years of undergraduate and graduate school had not had a single hour of education courses; when I graduated with my Ph.D. without a single hour of education, I knew how to teach, having proven it many times as a teaching assistant in the physics department at Texas A&M. My first teaching job as a Regional Science Advisor out of the Extension of the University of Texas at Austin had me teaching junior high and high school science and math teachers. I got to talk to “my students” in this night class, asking them what they would do differently in their personal preparation as a teacher; overwhelmingly, they said they would have taken FEWER or NO education courses; these courses were useless to them as teachers; instead, they said they wished they had taken MORE content courses in their area of study. My personal experience confirmed what they were saying; I was required to have NO education instruction to teach this night class, as it was assumed, correctly, I did not need it.

So the fact that hundreds of thousands of college and university instructors are successfully teaching their classes without any education courses seems to be ignored by departments of education, primary schools, and secondary schools everywhere! And there is at least one embarrassing good reason to ignore this fact; evidence is all around that education courses are useless. Somehow, departments of education have gotten degree planners to agree that to teach, one has to have hours and hours of their courses, which is blatantly not true, and schools have “played along!” Why? In my opinion, it is because THERE IS NO SCIENCE OF EDUCATION. And, education departments behave as if there is such a science. And all this mythology about teacher preparation and certification plays into the hands of proponents of educational model 1), one of the wrong models. (See 1: Education Reform….)

A couple of analogies will help: 1) education departments are like IBM years ago when they were the only computer company “on the block.” IBM assumed, and tried valiantly to get the public to accept, that they were indispensable when using computers; users could not get a computer to work for them without big brother IBM “looking over their shoulder.” That piece of BS fell apart when the “nerds” made the first Apple computer in their garage. Then, when personal computers under the control of the users could not be resisted, IBM desperately tried to sell the silly idea one had to know how to program a computer (which they could do for you, of course, for a price) in order to get the machine to work for the user. “Strike two” on mighty IBM, and look how they have had to redefine themselves today in order to avoid a third strike! 2) imagine good teaching is like driving a car safely. Then, imagine the people who issue the driver’s license determine that in order to know how to drive safely, you have to not only know how a car works under the hood in great detail, you have to know the history of the automobile and pay for tours of automobile assembly plants. Ludicrous! Just as you do not have to know how to program a computer in order to operate and run a computer, and just as you do not have to know exactly how your car goes down the road in order to drive safely on the roads and get from one place to another, you do not have to know the plethora of teaching models or Bloom’s taxonomy in order to be able to teach.

How do all the great teaching professors in higher education learn how to teach, then? The same way I learned how: observing as a student in classes examples of good and bad teaching, and then remembering the good and forgetting the bad. (If the student has been fortunate enough to have good teachers throughout their schooling, all the way back to grade K, and if the student is fortunate enough to retain memory of how those good teachers operated in the classroom — as was my case for both, then several school years of good teaching tips can be added to collegiate classroom observation.) Then, practice teaching points to your classmates in study groups as often as you ask them to teach you points in these groups. When you get the chance to actually teach a class (as I did for undergraduate physics labs, the same labs I had taken a year or two before), practice copying the good instruction you have observed; in other words, the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method of learning!

And once you have practiced teaching in an actual classroom situation, monitor yourself and see if you truly like it. Ask yourself if you enjoy sharing knowledge and helping students. If you love doing these things, as I did, then consider yourself “called” to teach. Even though I am philosophically anti-clerical, I understand and resonate with members of the clergy talking about being “called” to be a minister.

I believe there are more than enough potential “natural” teachers out there who can mimic good teaching and can communicate knowledge of particular subjects because they care about students receiving that knowledge to more than fulfill the need for good teachers in our public and private schools, from grade K to Ph.D. candidacy. If teachers’ salaries are as professionally enticing as they should be, it will be easy to believe this. And, moreover, the need is fulfilled without the efforts and expense of departments of education.

Here, then, is a model 3) typical path for a person X to become a certified teacher, say, in a secondary school: X attends the college or university of choice, majoring in an area of choice — in any area except education, for there is no such department anymore; the department of education has been replaced by a down-sized, much cheaper department of teacher certification, run by the national teachers’ association. If X feels “called” to be a teacher, whether through observation as a student, or through actually teaching, like in a teaching assistant-ship, or both, and when X decides to leave campus, after the bachelor’s, after the master’s, or after the doctorate in X’s area(s) of study, X applies for teacher certification at the certification office on campus. There, X is assigned to a school who has volunteered as a mentor-ship site for X’s area of expertise for a school year after graduation of “student teaching.” (In some cases, if X’s schedule allows, the student teaching can be done just before X graduates.) During this year X is paid a stipend funded by both the college or university and the school, a stipend proportional to the degree(s) earned by X, and is assigned to a mentoring master teacher. The mentor is responsible for having X experience all areas of teaching, and the mentor receives in return classroom help and aid any teacher would covet. At the end of the year (or semester, if X is in two semester classes with two mentors, rather than one full year class with one mentor) X will “take over” the class completely, with the mentor monitoring and observing X “in action.” X will be “mini-evaluated” like any other faculty member at the end of the student teaching.

With the school’s evaluation and with letters of recommendation from both the school and from X’s old campus department, X goes to the certification office and applies for a certificate. But only if X still wants to teach after the student teaching. Should X decide that the “calling” was misinterpreted as a result of the student teaching, the certification office need not ever be visited. Poor evaluations and recommendations could prevent the office from certifying X; this is how teachers who should not teach are kept out of the profession, regardless of their “calling.” However, should X feel “called,” the period in which X can apply for certification after student teaching is limited, say, to five or maybe even ten years, even when the office feels X is satisfactory as a teacher. The office, based upon the evaluation and recommendation information given, and upon any interviewing the office wants to do, issues a life-time certificate for teaching in the curriculum areas of X’s expertise. X is not only certified, X must join the teachers’ association. X then can apply through the office for a teaching position in the teaching openings listed at the office and/or at teacher job fairs. X’s hiring must be filed in the association office.

The teacher’s association certification office on campus, one of a nation-wide network of association offices, will do a “follow-up” of X’s progress at X’s new school after the first full year of teaching. If X’s one year contract has been renewed the association does nothing but wish X continued luck and offer future support. If X’s contract is not renewed, the association reviews X’s performance history at that campus and either supports the school’s decision or supports X’s continuation. If the association supports X, the association, funded by dues, provides legal representation for X, if X wants to contest the decision. The school’s school board determines, ultimately, whether X will continue to teach in that district, should X contest the non-renewal, supported by the association.

The reader should now know the difference between the two statements at the beginning of the first two parts: 1: Education Reform — Wrong Models! and 2: Education Reform — The Right Model. I stated that I am a physicist who loves to teach and that I am not a teacher who loves to teach physics and math. The story of X above describes what happened to me, up to the time of X’s graduation. By 1972 I had received my B.S. and my Ph.D. degrees, both in physics, and after eight years at Texas A&M University as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. By this time, I knew I wanted to teach, having turned down offers to go into industry as a staff physicist. Through teaching assistant-ships and the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method, I knew how to teach, with special thanks to examples in my own classes by outstanding teachers such as Prof. Manual Davenport and Mr. Richard Stadelmann of philosophy and Prof. Nelson Duller and Prof. John (Jack) McIntyre of physics. I was experienced in the “nuts and bolts” of teaching, having graded lab reports for the physics lab courses I had taught and having graded physics exams with Prof. McIntyre. Even the department of education that granted me my teacher certification AFTER I had started teaching at Waxahachie High School, the Department of Education at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), saw it was ridiculous for me to complete the education courses required for certification in the classroom, so I was allowed to receive half my “education credit hours” by writing papers instead of taking courses; I wrote papers on adolescent psychology and academic learning, easy to do by drawing upon my own experience as an adolescent. Before I came to Waxahachie, my first teaching job was a class of junior high and high school math and science teachers I’ve mentioned heretofore in this post, a class for which I was prepared to teach, thanks to the X-like training I had received from being in model 3) — though I didn’t know what to call it back then; and I was prepared despite the fact that I, as the instructor in this first class, was the youngest person in the classroom!

One final point about teachers “produced” by model 3): model 3) calls for an improvement and upgrade in teacher retirement benefits, lobbying for which is done by the teacher’s association. These benefits should be commensurate with the professional retirement benefits of employees and professionals working for the State. Here in Texas, I would call for a roll-back at the Austin headquarters for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) toward more austere and Spartan accommodations than at present, so that more funding can be funneled into retired teachers’ monthly payments. (We retired teachers do not need to “foot the bill” to keep “afloat” still another administrative staff — the TRS staff — with more lucrative salaries than we enjoyed as teachers. Nor do we retired teachers need to have to pay for massive facilities featuring hotel-like features like recreational areas for this TRS administrative staff.)

Specific teacher benefits should reflect those of State highway workers, department of public safety (DPS) professionals, and State government officials. The retirement benefits of those who served our students as a career should meet and exceed those benefits given to our State legislators, who served for a much shorter time than most teachers.

Also, and this is the final point — I promise — critical to Texas is the implementation of serious funding of “sin tax” revenues, like money from the State lottery and from horse racing (and from future casinos operated in the State), to help finance public schools. Only a small percentage of the “sin tax” intake is given to schools now, apparently — a real disgrace — where does it all go, into the pockets of politicians? All of it should be funneling to the schools, so that a free 4-year higher education could be offered to Texas resident students who keep their grades high (passing) from semester to semester — as long as they attend any State school in Texas.

In summary, much needed education reform can be done, in my opinion, by discarding models 1) and 2) and by eliminating traditional departments of education — all in accordance with model 3). Raising salaries of classroom teachers to true professional levels, while lowering those of administrators, and utilizing the “sure fire” way of “training” teachers — the self-trained way that produces the outstanding classroom teachers in our colleges and universities — will insure an adequate supply of competent and caring teachers in future to meet our growing educational needs. This self-trained way is essentially the observation-and-practice, “on-the-job” training, “learn-as-you-go,” or, to repeat myself, “monkey-see, monkey-do” method, the model 3) method. The control of school campuses needs to be returned to the faculties of these campuses, and, by implication, returned to the needs of our students of all ages.

America, the United States of America, the origin of the ideal of public education, needs to make the changes necessary to live up to that ideal and return to the position of being the top world-wide leader in educational achievement and innovation. We owe no less to all young minds over the world; we owe no less to our future.


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