Monthly Archives: June 2012

Some Words on Teacher Certification

I came across this article on the Planet Money blog last week: “Why Einstein Was Not Qualified to Teach High-School Physics.” (The answer: because he didn’t hold the required teacher certifications.)

My initial reaction is, “Careful, now. Einstein was a legendary physicist, but I can’t say whether he would have made an effective high school physics teacher.” Then again, can I say that all those carrying secondary teaching certificates now make effective high school teachers? A perplexing issue, right?  Do teaching certification requirements ensure quality classroom instruction, or prevent great teachers from entering the profession?

Here’s where I stand. Education about education is essential for those who teach, but school systems should be in the business of maximizing the ways that talented people can enter the field.

Here’s my bias: I’m one of those people benefiting from a non-traditional entrance into teaching. I’m not yet certified but have plans to change that, and am an enthusiastic advocate of replicating in public schools the apprenticeship style of entry I experienced at a private school. If schools want to gain access to a large demographic of ambitious adults seeking employment and eager to learn a profession, they need to create entry level positions that can be filled by young college grads looking for work, who are potentially interested in teaching but not ed majors. (For me this was the “support teacher” position.) Let them learn some of the tricks of the trade, work with teachers and students, and find out whether their interest is more than fleeting before they have to fully commit to the profession. Schools would benefit from the chance to observe some of their aptitudes on the job before making a full commitment as well.

As these employees acquired experience and skill, they would be promoted to increasingly responsible positions on the condition that they seek any necessary certifications. This would be a more organic entry into the profession and would better match much of the rest of the workforce, where you climb the ranks by showing that you’re good at your job.

Reducing Due Dates

This year I get a trigonometry class all my own! Last year I taught trig, but under the direction of another teacher. This time it’s all me, baby.

I’ve been slowly going through the book, preparing a general outline for the course and putting together a syllabus, and I have an idea. Whenever I get a new idea, I feel certain that this is gonna be it, the idea that makes all the difference and turns my students into enthusiastic proto-mathematicians. So I might be overestimating the value of this idea, but, on the other hand, maybe this is gonna be it!

In truth, it’s not my idea so much as it’s an idea I’m adapting (mostly stealing) from my first college math professor. (Thanks, Dr. Kent!) Here’s my plan: for each section that we cover in the book, I’ll list on the syllabus every problem I want the students to solve. Then, instead of assigning a list of problems each night, I’ll assign two or three sections each week (or so). For example, on a Thursday I might assign book sections 7.3 and 7.4 to be turned in the next Thursday. On each day in between (classes at my school meet every day), the first five to ten minutes of class will be spent answering questions about problems on the assignment.

Here are my hopes: that having time in class to ask questions about the homework before it is due will lead to greater accuracy; that students will feel more energy for a task for which they have bit more autonomy (namely, they can choose when in that week to work the problems); that some will choose to get ahead by trying to figure out material we haven’t gone over in class yet; and that when those students ask questions about advanced problems, others will listen and, instead of hearing authoritative teacher-talk, will hear a peer’s request for understanding.

*May 20, 2013: This turned out to require far more executive functioning than my students were ready for. It went out the window in favor of daily homework assignments before the end of August, although we held onto the five minutes for questions at the beginning of each period.