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Life among the Bottom Feeders?

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Life among the Bottom Feeders?

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Bobby sent me a really interesting article that breaks down how one's college major translates into various measures of intelligence and academic aptitude. The hard sciences come out on top in every single measure and no surprises there. And on the bottom?

Education majors.

(Well, okay, in one measure, agriculture majors were lower than ed majors. The farmers did better than the ed majors in every other measure.)

Neither Bobby nor I was surprised. We are both teachers; also, neither of us has ever been an education major, unless you want to count the "Master's certificate" that I completed in order to be certified as a secondary English teacher. However, we have taken a lot of education coursework in the process of being certified. Majors become rather complicated when one starts talking about education because one can become a teacher without majoring in education. For wannabe secondary teachers, majoring in education may not even be an option. At my undergrad alma mater (UMBC), "education" wasn't available as a major if you wanted to teach secondary; you had to major in your content area and then do a separate certification. So the stats for undergrad are very likely missing most or all of secondary ed teachers. Many U.S. states, however, require or strongly encourage teachers to earn Master's degree. Most of those degrees are in education, so the stats for grad students are probably capturing most of the teachers (with the exception of those like Bobby and me, who decide to go the rocky route of a Master's in our content areas).

Here are some anecdotal experiences that perhaps illustrate why Bobby and I weren't surprised by this data. Bobby went to a district-wide meeting once, and the person running the meeting asked how many people had MEd degrees. Most of the room raised their hands. And then how many people had Master's degrees in their content area. Bobby was the only one. This is backed up by research too, with 90% of teachers who hold Master's degrees having that degree in education.

When I was student teaching, it was a not-so-secret belief among my colleagues that completing an MEd degree was the fastest way to access the higher pay grades open to teachers with advanced degrees because the coursework was so easy. My own experience taking graduate-level coursework in order to earn my certification confirms this. It was easy, much easier than my undergrad coursework (in psychology) was. I've told the horror stories before; I won't repeat them again now but will simply conclude that, aside from developing a nice collection of reference books related to education and aside from the wonderful mentor I worked with for two years (who wasn't affiliated with the university, I might add, but Carroll County Public Schools), I was really just paying to have the right credits added to my transcript in order to earn my certification.

This is, incidentally, why I decided not to do my Master's in education. I remember completing my certification and looking at the MEd program at my university. My thought was that if my certification courses took me partway to my MEd, I might as well finish. My big goal, at the time, was to do an MEd in special-ed and an MA in humanities. None of my certification coursework counted toward the MEd, and after two years in the education grad-school ghetto, I felt sick at the thought of more education courses. Yes, I made the choice to do four more years of school in a challenging discipline rather than coast through more inane education coursework. I would still love to do a real research-based and rigorous graduate program in special-ed. But I despair of ever finding one.

So this gets back to the original article and what it means that education majors are consistently from the bottom of the barrel. I think it has two implications: 1) it speaks to the attractiveness of education as a profession (where really smart people want to go on to become teachers) and 2) it speaks to the state of "education in education," which I'd assert is a joke.

As to the attractiveness of the job: I think this is pretty obvious in the U.S. There has been a lot of discussion about teacher pay, and this is a serious issue in some districts (where a new elementary school teacher, for instance, may make only a borderline living wage). It's not so much an issue in Maryland, thank goodness. I think the issue is really with working conditions and respect for the profession. In terms of working conditions, classes are overcrowded, teachers are stretched thin among competing obligations, they face a high risk of being assaulted or injured in some schools (many in Baltimore) and are almost certain to be verbally abused by students or parents, and they are very often not provided with the resources needed to do their jobs. And then (and this gets to respect for the profession) they get blamed when kids fail. Teachers have become the scapegoats for many social ills. If a student is failing, why look at the fact that there is no or permissive parenting, no value placed on education by the student's role models, perhaps crippling poverty or community violence ... certainly those things have nothing to do with a student's inability to pass a state-mandated test, right? It all actually comes down to the couple of hours per week that you, the teacher, see that child. Who wants to go through the years of education and training to work in an unpleasant environment and be blamed and undermined for your efforts?

Slate had an interesting article last year in which a Finnish education student (Finland has the best education system in the world) compared her experiences as an ed student in Finland the U.S., especially the response she received from people she told about her major. In Finland, only 10% of applicants to education schools are accepted. In the U.S.? Saying "I'm an education major" is slightly more respectable than saying "I'm a mushroom," but not much. The popular phrase "if you can't do, teach" that is bandied about generally in the U.S.--can't blame just the conservatives here (although they particularly seem to love it) since I was told this by a liberal fandom friend upon receiving my teaching certification and after actually making my living for a year "doing," i.e. writing for a living--says so much.

So, in short, really smart people in the U.S. don't want to become teachers. Why would they? To make a mediocre salary for the honor of possibly being punched out by a student, cussed out by a parent, and blamed for the social ills that politicians find too thorny to deal with? Typing this, I'm beginning to doubt my own intelligence for choosing this as a profession. (Although everyone here knows how strongly I do believe in it.)

Which comes to my second point: the dismal state of education in education. And it is dismal. My theory is that, especially as districts have sought to encourage teachers to get advanced degrees and especially as online and other nontraditional options have expanded, colleges and universities would be fools not to offer an education program. In my experience, the courses are usually taught by teachers (itself a problem since teaching makes up for all the months of vacation by really piling on during the school year) and most of the students are usually teachers too ... again a problem, since I speak from experience when I say that juggling a teaching career and graduate school is difficult. People who know me well know that I literally made myself sick last year in trying to do both. And I don't have kids; if I did? My life for the last year would be impossible. So the nature of the professors and students in these programs makes them lean toward being easy. Also, which program wants to be the one that has the reputation of being rigorous enough to fail out teachers already practicing, perhaps at the cost of their certifications? Who wants to have the program that gives out B's and C's where other programs award A's just for showing up, putting one's own graduates as a disadvantage?

This creates an ugly feedback loop. Education coursework is easy; everyone knows that. So who is going to respect someone with an advanced degree in education? The lack of respect for educators contributes to the constellation of problems plaguing teaching as a profession (as well as being a problem in its own right) and makes the profession less attractive to the most qualified candidates, who can usually go elsewhere and do easier work for more money and prestige. So now you really do have a higher-than-usual number of less-qualified candidates entering the profession and, thus, education programs. The bar has to be lowered because no program wants to become known as the program that flunks out teachers who are doing perfectly well in the profession otherwise; such would be financial suicide. And so everyone knows that education coursework is easy.

My thoughts aren't popular in the education establishment on how to fix this. There, the prevailing mentality is that pedagogy can be taught and that people who aren't taught pedagogy can't teach. (This is why many teachers hate Teach for America. Every successful TFA teacher undermines the establishment to which they have paid long and costly dues.) To an extent, I understand and agree with this: Education, like any subject, can be subject to research and have best practices established. I just question whether education programs actually advance these objectives. Education is the only human services/social science discipline I'm familiar with where the graduate level doesn't require a research methodology course (I even had to take one as a humanities student before being allowed to register for further coursework); indeed, the week-long course I took in Content Literacy II last summer was the first education course I had where we even read scholarly articles (we read two). As an undergrad in psychology, I had to have several research courses, and the rigor was high enough in these that they were well known as the courses that caused many students to drop the major. But in education, instruction centers instead on learning faddish techniques that often seem ripped straight from the ether for all the empirical support they seem to have. In my training as an educator, I was given a particular skill set but never taught to find and interpret research in my field. So, as the scholarship on pedagogy evolves, I am left with no way to keep up. (Aside from taking more education courses, i.e., continuing to feed the beast.)

I actually feel like a lot of what makes a good teacher good can't be taught. And what can be taught must be learned in the field, i.e., under an excellent mentor, which I was lucky to have. Watching cute little videos on classroom management for a course didn't help me. Being in a classroom with my mentor and seeing how she handled various situations and having her explain to me later why she did what she did and being permitted to slowly do more and more in her classroom ... that was useful. It's like any other profession that deals with human beings in all of their complexity. You will hear doctors, for example, say that having exceptional knowledge of medicine doesn't alone make one a great doctor. Same with teaching: knowing all the cute names for the methods du juor and the current eduspeak doesn't alone qualify a person for trying to teach an unfamiliar concept to thirty immature human beings, each of whom brings something unique (for better or worse!) to the classroom. There is an art to it, and like all arts, it is not something that can be distilled down into a set of instructions.

Like I said, this is not a popular view. But I think that there is a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance at work here: After spending so many years, so many hours in dull and often infantilizing education classes, it is tempting to become a crusader for MORE PEDAGOGICAL TRAINING!!!1!! I've found it happening myself. No one wants to believe that they've spent the time and money they have on coursework that really doesn't benefit their students. But that's what the research increasingly shows--a Master's in education doesn't improve a teacher's effectiveness--and what I feel as well.

So what would I do? I'd insist on more rigor in one's content area and in understanding education as a science. With the increased academic rigor that has come with the Common Core standards, teachers should be exceptional in their content areas. There should be no more scraping the bottom of the barrel, no more acceptance of "can't do so teach." (Yes, this means improving working conditions, pay, and respect for teachers to make it an attractive profession to those bright enough to have other opportunities.) There should be preference given to teachers who have actually done real work in their content areas. If you can do, you should be teaching: This is a far more productive philosophy. Education coursework should focus on how to interpret and do research in education and should carry the same rigor as any social science. Most "pedagogical training" could probably occur in workshops that happen alongside internships so that students learn new techniques and put them to immediate work in the classroom. The emphasis should shift to internships and working with a mentor rather than long coursework. No more three years of coursework and three months of student teaching; rather, new teachers should be guided over the course of years, beginning as student teachers, perhaps co-teaching with a mentor or experienced teacher, and working solo under the guidance of a mentor.

Maybe then we'd stand a chance of dragging ourselves up alongside, if not the physicists, then at least the farmers.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • One of Laura's really good friends came over tonight to split some take-out and a bottle of wine to celebrate that she just got admitted to Hunter College to get a degree in math. She's teaching elementary school now and wants to teach math in secondary school. She has the teaching credentials but not the degree in the subject area and she has to have that. I have no idea how it works and have retired to my room now and do not want to go back out and ask.

    I don't even know how that works. I got my B.A. in English lit. and then fiddled around taking courses to piece together the teaching credential after graduation (maybe I never even finished it?). I taught in private schools only which (surprise! surprise!) actually had lesser requirements relating to the education courses than the public schools. Then I decided I did not want to teach--I put too much into it--it was making me nuts. That was a lifetime ago anyway. So I am sure everything is different now.

    Edited at 2015-02-05 01:53 am (UTC)
    • It depends on the state, since each state makes their own certification requirements to maximize the complexity of the process! Seriously, getting clear answers when I wanted to be certified was like trying to see a straight pin at the bottom of a mud puddle!

      I went your route, more or less. Well, I had the writing coursework to teach high school English; I had to do the literature and linguistic courses and only then could do the education coursework. The fact that I had a degree in psychology counted for jack shit on the latter. Apparently, an intense course on the science of learning can't stand in for the cutesy "educational psychology" requirement. But I digress!

      In Maryland, your friend would have a hard road because elementary and secondary certifications are completely different.

      Bobby taught at my current school for as long as he did because he could teach there without a certification until he could complete the coursework. A lot of people go that route.
      • Bobby taught at my current school for as long as he did because he could teach there without a certification until he could complete the coursework. A lot of people go that route.

        I must have been doing that. I was teaching days and taking education courses at night (sleeping or reading through them). Then I'd skim the texts before the exams--straight A's! No papers or if there were I wrote them in one night. Utterly forgettable. But then there was a semester of student teaching at the end.
        • That sounds about right. Good to know not much has changed. *eyeroll* Bobby didn't have to do student teaching, though, since he was already employed as a teacher. In Maryland, the state Department of Ed will grant you a two-year provisional certification in which to complete certification requirements. (A lot of people don't make it, mostly because of PRAXIS.)

          I don't think I ever had to write a paper aside from the disastrous "group paper" I had to contribute to in educational psychology. I did have to write for the Content Reading II class I took over the summer, which was by far the most rigorous (and valuable) ed class I've ever had. The instructor was superb. People complained about the workload.
  • First, I must state there are some wicked smart teachers out there. I count you and Bobby among them, as well as some truly outstanding teachers I had in grammar and high school and...my late sister. In her case (and now I'm gonna say something rather controversial), she wanted to be an engineering major (she had a strong aptitude for mathematics and definitely a natural affinity for metal and wheels :^), but this was in the late 50s. My parents discouraged her from pursuing the major;they later expressed deep regret over this, and said guilt may have been in a factor in encouraging me to pursue biology and chemistry. At any rate, like a lot of very smart women of that time, she opted for teaching, a more acceptable career choice for those women with scientific and mathematical aptitude. I also wonder if the rigor might have been stronger then, too? She wound up teaching 7th grade math and also got her masters in counseling. If she had to do it over again? She said she would have been an engineer.

    At any rate, you hit the nail on the head. Education tracts should be rigorous, and I love your last paragraph...what you would do. Wholly agree.

    And those farmers? Heh. My late father (a farmer!) majored in bacteriology and chemistry and had amazing mathematical aptitude. My brother initially majored in agronomy (chemistry focus) then switched over to physics, and went to grad school in engineering physics. My mother, a Latin and French major, is the only non-STEM person in the family. (I count my sister as a STEM type.)
    • My mother, a Latin and French major, is the only non-STEM person in the family.

      Laura and I are freaking out about how to give Alex what he needs because it might as well be written in Urdu for as much as we understand about science, math, or the other mechanical/engineering kind of things that fascinate him. On the other hand, he totally grasps the shit that interests us--makes me feel like half a person. (Laura like me is fascinated with history of science and results but no aptitude at all for the hands-on side of it.)
      • Speaking as a STEM kid, my non-STEM mother did a LOT of the same things with me that you're already doing with Alex...taking him to museums, reading, reading, and more reading. It's more of a brain stimulation thing. The best thing you can do is to encourage his interests, which you and Laura are doing so well. My mother definitely encouraged my interests in natural history. The formal stuff will come later and from others. No need to worry that you can't teach him differential equations. :^)
        • No need to worry that you can't teach him differential equations. :^)

          Believe it or not, that is a huge relief! He does explain a lot of things to me nowadays--he gets a huge kick out of explaining Fictitious Science of Dr Who and movies to me--he loves to play those head games in addition to real science. I can tell he can tell the difference by the gleam in his eye and the little half-suppressed grin he has when explaining such things. He loves the mad-quasi-logic of fake science also.
    • First, I must state there are some wicked smart teachers out there.

      I wholly agree. In fact, I think some of the data in the article are missing these people: those who go for degrees in their content areas (most undergrad middle/high school teachers and at least 10% of those doing Master's degrees). At no point would Bobby or I have identified as an "education major"; hence, we would be missing entirely from that dataset. My mentor, too, did both of her degrees in English, never education: another brilliant person and gifted teacher!

      In fact, I'd say most teachers that make it are pretty smart. This is a profession with a pretty high turnover rate for a reason, and a dumb bunny isn't going to cut it for long!

      (and now I'm gonna say something rather controversial)

      I agree that it would be controversial but don't particularly find it so! :) I think there are a lot of compelling points made about how the view of teaching as a "woman's profession" affects how it is seen by people and the expectations compared to similar professions. I'd imagine there were a lot of people in your sister's position in the '50s!

      I sometimes throw the hypothetical at myself: What would I do if I could make my living as a writer? Not a freelancer, like I did, but a bona fide novelist? Would I do it? It's easy to say that I believe enough in my profession and its importance to turn down what would be very likely a dream job; it'd be harder to walk away from that opportunity.

      I also wonder if the rigor might have been stronger then, too?

      The stats in the study go back to the '40s, I believe. But ... your sister wouldn't have been captured in them anymore than Bobby and I are, as an engineering and then counseling major. Which is a shortcoming of this study, as it seems likely to miss those teachers who are going to skew the numbers higher.

      Education tracts should be rigorous

      It's ridiculous that they're not. The purpose of Common Core is supposed to shift learning from rote memorization to being able to problem-solve and interpret information, yet the very teachers who are supposed to be embracing this paradigm shift aren't taught this way in their own profession! My factual knowledge from my days as a psych major is doubtlessly out of date, but I'm also confident in being able to bring it up to speed by being familiar with how research is done and presented in that field. We need a Common Core for education majors! Actually, that is something cutesy that they would like ...

      And those farmers? Heh.

      Perhaps the farmers fall into the same trap as the teachers: It is a profession that pulls from a range of majors other than ag science. Your father and brother certainly would have missed being counted, and again, I suspect that these are the people who would skew the data higher.

      But farming, like teaching, seems to me to be a profession that requires not only knowing but applying scientific knowledge. When I first became interested in teaching, I assumed that my background in psych would qualify me for this reason: I had already studied human behavior and now just needed to know how to apply it. I even applied for Teach for America, fresh out of undergrad--and was rejected because my major didn't qualify me to teach! This seems symptomatic of the problem with the system as a whole. No one would argue that a background in chemistry wouldn't be useful in agriculture, but a background in psych is viewed as useless to an educator.
  • This was really interesting for several reasons. Education has been a hot topic around here for a long, long time, and some things are different while others are the same. I can't help but thinking that the lack of prestige of education as a field experienced in both countries has a connection with another fact - Portugal is the closest country in Europe, by far, to the US, in income disparity. Providing good education to the tiny citizens does pay off in building a fairer society but hey, tell that to the people running the show - the budget for education is always lower than other ministries'.

    Anyway, for us, only people teaching up to grade 4 need and must have education degrees. For people above that, they must take a degree on their subject matter, which has a teaching specialization branch (I was shocked to learn, many years ago, that the teaching majors don't actually have pedagogy classes or anything of the sort!). (My first full-time job, a long time ago, was teaching Physics and Chemistry, so I feel strongly about the whole topic, hence the ranty comment. *winks*)

    Our undergrad courses for any profession are much more uniform than yours. We jokingly say that no two Americans have the same degree, because for us, the students in one degree path will all have the same courses within the same university, with minor variations between institutions. The concept of major/minor was only recently adapted, after implementing the Bologna approach - I could write pages on why Bologna was hideously adapted in my country, but it's not the place.

    Teachers' wages here don't vary as wildly as over there, and while teachers do complain about wages, so does everyone else. A teacher who has graduated with a much lower GPA than a lawyer or an engineer, with enter a job in public teaching earning the same wages as the lawyer who goes into public service (or in fact more, in some circumstances).

    Some thirty/forty years ago, teaching was highly respected, even if it was, like nursing, a gateway for people of poorer background to get into the system. The coursework was rigorous and there were more men enrolled. Now, it's still, like nursing, a gateway, but it has lost its credit... I think that in part its because people with lower GPAs chose it. Why do they chose it? Because they are not as well prepared as other students to apply to mathematics, medicine, engineering (btw, her farmers with higher ed are agricultural engineers and it's a fairly prestiged thing - I found it so funny that it ranks low there, the land of the wide, wide fields, but it figures, since so much of American agriculture has changed into big corporations' hands. Sadly).

    I think I lost my point back there. Ah, yes, the people who go into teaching up to grade 4 are also considered less apt, and it's a woman's job for the most part - but here let me make a note - this is not because women are thought dumber but because taking care of children is still a woman's thing - actually much more now than 30 years ago. Also, these women are enrolling in higher ed in rates that are not matched by their male counterparts from the same socioeconomic backgrounds.

    Teachers don't interview for jobs. They are placed countywide based on their GPA, job evaluations, years of service... Just there I named to how topics. Many years can pass before a teacher can be part of a school's permanent staff and they can be moved around every year, which makes it so hard for people with families. The other thing is the evaluations. I'm not very current on that topic, but it's been a huge deal, with teachers who oppose it altogether, on the basis that it will promote all sorts of wicked problems and with other teachers who don't oppose evaluation per se but who can't agree with the current terms.

    So yeah, education is in a sad state over here too, to sum it up. Despite all that was made supposedly to improve teaching quality, our rankings are shamefully low, and its a downward trend. Talk about fixing what is not broken and leaving it worse.

    Edited at 2015-02-05 03:07 am (UTC)
    • Icon in honor of your world-class rant. ;)

      Providing good education to the tiny citizens does pay off in building a fairer society but hey, tell that to the people running the show - the budget for education is always lower than other ministries'.

      Yep. Same here. Education is always the first to get the ax. Or, as a bumpersticker from one of my favorite progressive catalogs reads, "It will be a good day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." :)

      There is a lot of lip service paid to helping schools in disadvantaged communities. My husband teaches as such a school: Title 1, as we call it here, where 40% or more of the students live in poverty. These schools are supposed to get first dibs on the best resources. My husband's school currently doesn't even have enough copy paper. TPTB don't care about giving those kids a leg up; to do so would only mean more competition when their own children apply for colleges and jobs. /cynicism

      Anyway, for us, only people teaching up to grade 4 need and must have education degrees.

      It is similar here. Elementary education (kindergarten through 6th grade, or ages 5-11) typically involves a degree in elementary ed. Secondary education typically involves a degree in one's content area with the certification coursework on the side. And the certification cares much more about the pedagogy coursework than the content area work.

      I found it so funny that it ranks low there, the land of the wide, wide fields

      I noted to Pandemonium that I think the methodology used by the study might be missing a lot of farmers, who don't necessarily major in ag science but in the hard sciences, like chemistry and who would skew the numbers higher if they were included. Similar to how these stats are going to completely miss someone like me, who is a teacher but has never majored or earned a degree in education.

      Here, I suspect there is a lot of cultural stuff at work too. Agricultural regions tend toward the anti-intellectual, anti-science bent that typifies American conservatism. Even in Maryland, the state where I live--and one of the most liberal states in the U.S.--the agricultural counties vote consistently conservative with all the usual anti-intellectual rhetoric on the side. I know--I live in one! :)

      My mentor teacher (who teaches in my home county) used to teach at one of the most rural schools in the county, and she said it was an immensely frustrating place to teach because of the complete lack of intellectual curiosity among the students. Kids knew they'd go to work on Dad's farm and just didn't care about anything that might go on inside a classroom; they were just biding their time. So I wonder to what extent that mindset has become entangled with ag science in the U.S. (because, as I noted to Pandemonium too, agriculture is really the application of hard sciences like chemistry, and one would think that your scenario--where it is regarded as an intellectually rigorous profession--would be the norm).

      other teachers who don't oppose evaluation per se but who can't agree with the current terms.

      That sounds like our debate on the same subject here. There is a push to tie teacher's pay and even their job security into students' scores on standardized tests, which is problematic for so many reasons. We don't mind being evaluated but don't want our very jobs to be contingent on whether a kid ate breakfast that morning or is in his sixth school of the year!

      The idea of being moved from year to year ... yikes. That sounds awful.
      • That icon is the impersonation of awesome! :D

        Kids knew they'd go to work on Dad's farm and just didn't care about anything that might go on inside a classroom; they were just biding their time.
        I knooowwww. :( I had students like that, and there are still lots of them around, according to my friends who still teach and they are not all from farmer families, but also from other poor backgrounds, rural and urban. It used to infuriate me when I was in my 20s. One time I made a small explosion in the lab just to get them interested. lol, it worked for like a week. Now I just find it so sad. Curiosity is the greatest intellectual gift and giving up before you even begun... I am comforted, however, that some of them turned out really well. One of them, an orphan living in an institution is now a policeman, when he could have easily slid into crime or permanent unemployment, etc. Others are doing fine too, but sadly not all. My secret plan is that when Tiago is bigger maybe I'll get involved in a tutoring-cum-mentoring program that is being fairly successful...
  • Kinda OT-ish but did you read this yet?

    http:// bookriot.com /2015/02/04/ texas-student-suspended-for-lord-of-the-rings-terroristic-threat/
    • I did! Someone posted a link to an article about it in Reason on the Mythgard student Facebook page.

      The ironic thing is that it happened in Texas! If he'd brought an AR-15 to school, someone would have argued for his Second Amendment rights to openly carry, but when you start getting into that satanic magic from a pagan novel written by an idol-worshipper? Oh no no, we can't be having that!
    • The sad thing is he probably would have gotten in *less* trouble if he had brought a gun.

      Imagination is *scary*! I just hope that his parents decide to homeschool because he's going to be ruined if they leave him in the TX school system.
    • And for another link, this one shared by a hs classmate of mine who also teaches:

      http://www. kansascity.com /news/government-politics/ article9352574.html

      The mind boggles. :/
  • Interesting article and discussion. I got my BA in Anthropology and my MA in the same. I wanted to get an Education certification too, but it would have required an additional year of school for my BA and that was economically impossible for me.

    I did some teaching while getting my MA, but discovered I really didn't enjoy it enough to stick with it, so I guess it was a good thing that I didn't bother with that Ed certification.

    They just released $ amounts per student that our state and the main Twin Cities spend and I'm rather amazed. The mean for the Twin Cities per student is $14,000+ and state-wide is $11,000+ Given the deplorable state of education that our students are receiving, I am appalled at the dollars spent for such a lack of life education for our students. *sigh*

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • I wanted to get my teaching certification as an undergrad too, but I was already doing a major, a minor, and two certificates, so I had no more room in my schedule and, as a scholarship student, it wasn't worth it enough for me to spend thousands of dollars of my own money to go another year.

      The cost per student is probably skewed high by the special-ed students (assuming it's a mean average?). For example, tuition at my school is about $70,000/year, which is paid by the public school district that the student belongs to, so that student is going to pull the whole average much higher. Even if a student doesn't attend a separate school, a self-contained classroom or one-to-one aide can nonetheless raise the cost per year of educating that one student into the tens of thousands of dollars.
      • The cost per student is probably skewed high by the special-ed students (assuming it's a mean average?). For example, tuition at my school is about $70,000/year, which is paid by the public school district that the student belongs to, so that student is going to pull the whole average much higher. Even if a student doesn't attend a separate school, a self-contained classroom or one-to-one aide can nonetheless raise the cost per year of educating that one student into the tens of thousands of dollars.

        That's quite possible, although it wasn't broken out in the original data or in the followup data. That would make a bit more sense to me since so many programs in our schools have either been eliminated or have been altered to carry high price tags for the families since the funding supposedly isn't there.

        I can easily see where special needs and special education students could move those per-student numbers quite a bit higher.

        - Erulisse (one L)
  • This is really fascinating (and terrifying!) because the system is so different around here.

    Not entirely, different, of course. Teachers get punched out by students, cussed out by a parents, and blamed for all social ills here, too. But their salary is more than mediocre, and the long-term benefits are pretty sweet (the traditional model is that teachers are state servants, so they have an income guarantee for the rest of their lives (and a lot of teachers don't even work until the official pension age of 65-67), and they're insured via the state, i.e. "for free".
    And while people often complain that "teachers got it easy", both coursework-wise and work/life balance-wise, in order to become a teacher - just in order to get into an education-focused program of study! - you need pretty excellent grades while you're still in school. (Ironically, the pressure is highest on those who want to become elementary school teachers, and only then on those who opt for a college-level education major.) So teachers are among the top feeders, here.

    What's the same is that not all people who go for an education major actually have what it takes to be a good teacher. Students majoring in education - and young teachers - have a reputation for being lazy, knowing nothing about "real life", and being either bright-eyed idealists or cynics who're just in it for the state servant's pension. That is unfair, of course, because many young teachers are highly motivated and talented, but it is true that some people who become teachers are no good at teaching others at all (let alone teenagers). The downside of the state-servant system is that once you've become a teacher, you'll stay a teacher until you retire. You can be an awful teacher who leaves generations of students frustrated with your subject, but unless you molest one of them or otherwise violate your oath of office, you're in it for life. So the bad eggs have led to many people looking down on teachers, even though there are at least as many talented teachers as there are awful ones.

    Despite this, our educational system is considered to be pretty bad, and schools are chronically underfunded. >_>
    • It is hard to make generalizations about teachers in the U.S. because schools systems are controlled at the state and local levels, so even a tiny little state like Maryland, with just 24 counties, has 24 different pay scales, 24 different benefit packages, and 24 different sets of policies for curriculum, evaluations, etc. In Maryland, teacher pay and benefits are generally really good, but we have one of the best school systems in the U.S., and the Maryland Department of Ed is eager to keep it that way! :) We are also a liberal state (for the most part), so teacher's unions have been able to keep a strong footing. In other (especially conservative) states, teachers are not so lucky.

      The downside of the state-servant system is that once you've become a teacher, you'll stay a teacher until you retire. ... So the bad eggs have led to many people looking down on teachers, even though there are at least as many talented teachers as there are awful ones.

      That is the case here as well. Teaching is one of the only professions left in the U.S. with a strong union presence. Currently, teachers' unions are being demonized by the right wing in the U.S., especially because of tenure policies. Many school districts grant a teacher tenure after two or three years of working successfully in that district. Once a teacher gets tenure, she or he is granted due process in any termination decisions. (Most U.S. employers are "at will" so they can fire you at any time, for any or no reason.) This has been warped by the right wing as "it's impossible to fire a tenured teacher" with the specter of teachers in jobs they can't lose doing a lazy or shitty job because they know they can't be fired.

      The truth is, of course, that teachers can be fired, but the due process required of their tenure means that they can't be fired, for example, because the district wants to save money by firing all of the experienced (and higher-paid) teachers and replacing them with teachers fresh out of college. It means that teachers can't be fired for teaching unpopular ideas (which, in some parts of the U.S., could be evolution, birth control, climate change, or that the U.S. was not established as a Christian nation). It also means that teachers can't be fired because their students' test scores are low, and this is where the conservatives have, in recent years, really doubled-down (and unfortunately made some progress in some districts).

      But similar stereotypes as your teachers experience are true here as well, but because of unions rather than government employment. On conservative blogs, for instance, I have seen it said that teachers only work 6-hour days for 10 months of the year and therefore have no right to complain. Which makes me laugh. Hard. My mentor--with 15 years experience!--used to literally pull all-nighters to get all of her planning and grading done. This is the first year that I haven't worked 10+ hours a day for six days a week (and my school goes year-round).

      The funny thing is that Germany is a school system frequently held up as an example of what U.S. schools should aspire to! :D I suspect that is more because German graduates are perceived as having an edge economically over U.S. graduates.
      • Even funnier (not ha-ha funny, the other funny), the US school system is held up as a shining example to us! That is because in the PISA series of tests, American students tended to get better results than German students. The grass is always greener...

        And yup, education is organised on a state level here as well. It's one of the last things that each individual state can control directly, so naturally they insist on continuing to do that. It's impractical and idiotic; it means that there's no national standards, and students who have to move from one state to the other (either before or after graduation!) regularly end up dropping from All As to All Cs or having to repeat a year altogether. It's even worse after graduation, when one state's degree may not be fully accepted in another state, and (naturally) this is most dramatic in the field of education. A friend of mine who studied Teaching Music and Teaching Chemistry (in Germany, you rarely study Education alone, but specialise in specific subjects from the start) in Bremen had to move to Bavaria (where her husband got a job). Think she can work as a teacher in Bavaria, having all the qualifications on paper? Nope. A Bremen certificate is worth nothing in Bavaria. Not only would she have to take both teaching exams (as well as the year-long qualification period in between) in both subjects again - she'd actually have to take at least a year's worth of studies on a Bavarian university, too. (As a result, she's now switching to the Rudolf Steiner system. That actually has a nation-wide policy of "teaching is a craft, not a field of studies". So she's got to do an apprenticeship to fully qualify as a teacher, but at least she'll be paid an apprentice's wages instead of having to pay further tuition fees...)
        My brother's got his second teaching exam tomorrow, after which he'll be fully qualified to teach -- in Northrhine-Westphalia, and possibly nowhere else. (But NRW is the most densely populated state in Germany, so his chances of finding a job around here wouldn't be too shabby if he didn't insist on wanting a school that does bilingual classes.)

        Your tenure system is hardly comparable to the state servant system -- it's just like our standard for "normal" regular employees. Interestingly, despite our new-fangled commie workers rights system, we aren't entirely destitute yet... (but I'm aware that your conservatives, just like ours, won't get their heads far enough out of their arses to notice!)
        • That is not-ha-ha funny. I think one of the main reasons the German education system is held up as ideal by some in the U.S. (aside from the perception that y'all are more economically successful than we are) is because it uses what we in U.S. eduspeak call "tracking," or placement in programs based on ability. (Or I'm assuming it still does? I remember comparatively studying the ed systems of perceived successful countries like Finland and Germany, but this was years ago.) This has become decidedly unpopular in the U.S. education system, but a lot of people argue for bringing it back. Instead, we now value "inclusion" with the teacher using "differentiated instruction" to reach a classroom that ranges from serious special needs to gifted. Lovely on paper but somewhat of an impossible dream in practice, since teachers lack the ability to warp the space-time continuum to provide themselves with unlimited time to plan and the same people who advocate for inclusion aren't advocating for reductions in class sizes.

          It's one of the last things that each individual state can control directly, so naturally they insist on continuing to do that.

          That's very similar to how things are here and was part of what Common Core was intended to overcome. A child moving from, say, Massachusetts (one of the top school systems in the U.S.) to Mississippi (one of the rock-bottom school systems) would find herself way ahead of her classmate, whereas the kid relocated from Mississippi to Massachusetts may have had no chance in hell of catching up. So Common Core provided a set of standards so that, at least, states were reaching the same goals at the same time. But, of course, adoption was voluntary at the state-level, and since this was Obama's program, then conservative states were inherently opposed, and since conservative states tend to be those that lag educationally (i.e., could have benefited the most from Common Core), then I'm not sure if it will actually serve it's intended purpose. The high-achieving states didn't really need it. For example, Maryland's standards pre-CC and post-CC didn't change appreciably, but we have one of the top school systems in the country.

          The lack of transferability of German teaching certificates seems ridiculously counterproductive. Technically, the same situation could arise here, again since education is controlled at the state level. But most states have "reciprocity" with each other, so a teaching certificate from one state can be used to obtain a teaching certificate from another state. For example, my initial certification was in West Virginia, since that's where my university is located. When I got my current job, I simply sent in my WV certificate to Maryland's ed department, and a few months later, I received my Maryland certificate.

          Your tenure system is hardly comparable to the state servant system -- it's just like our standard for "normal" regular employees.

          Ha. That makes me want to laugh and cry.

          Also, laughing/crying over paid apprenticeships for student teachers. My mentor lamented the lack of this here constantly while I was student-teaching with her since, as she pointed out, I did most the work while she collected all the pay! Interns and student teachers most definitely aren't paid, ever, which of course is an obstacle to career-changing teachers (like me). I was just lucky to have enough skills as a writer to make enough of an income as a freelancer during the year when I was interning and student-teaching. But throw in a couple of kids or a higher cost of living and that wouldn't have been an option even then.
          • Yes, the German educational system is still based on "tracking". (Which is often considered a bad thing because the first division is done between grades four and five, which some people seem to think is too early.) However, the sorting is really just a recommendation, and parents are free to disregard it and send kids with a lower-level recommendation to a high-level program. Add to that that the traditional secondary school system is getting a severe overhaul ATM and that some states are, again, doing things differently, and it's really all just a mess!

            Personally, I do think tracking can be a good thing. It's unfair to act as if all kids react the same way to the same kind of classroom environment and the same expectations. Some work very well in a high-level program (I did, until my classmates taught me that this was seriously uncool), others can't function there at all. So the idea of splitting classes so the overachievers can be in one group, the mediocre students in another, and those who don't care for learning at all in yet another, makes sense to me. Some people act as if once you've been placed in a lower program, you can never rise again, which was nonsense even when the system was more strictly enforced: Once you had finished your basic education in a lower program (after grade 10), you could add the qualification for the high-level program (by completing grade 11) and then join the overachievers for the last two years. Additionally, there were schools - so called Gesamtschulen, "comprehensive schools", in which all three programs were run together (hence the name), and no decision had to be made at all (until you reached grade 10 and had to decide whether you wanted to go on or not).

            Inclusion is a big thing here, too. And yes, it's a lovely dream, but the way they're currently pushing it - add special needs kids, but no or only one per classroom additional educators - can't work and only breeds resentment. :/

            The lack of transferability of German teaching certificates seems ridiculously counterproductive.

            It really is. But in some cases, the educational systems really are so absurdly different from each other that it almost makes sense. Different states even have different school forms that don't translate from one state to the other. I think my state, which is trying to adopt several systems at once, might be the most chaotic one...

            Interns and student teachers most definitely aren't paid, ever, which of course is an obstacle to career-changing teachers (like me).

            WHAT. That's really hard to comprehend. Whether interns (in schools or elsewhere) are paid is up to the individual employers here, but student teachers definitely get paid. But I think that may be where the huge difference in prestige comes into it. Here, the theory goes that in order to be a student teacher, you've got to complete a) your high-level school certificate with a good enough grade to get into educational studies, b) most of your education studies at university. In other words, you're an intellectual and pretty highly qualified - the only thing that's missing is the second teaching exam (for which a year of student teaching is a requirement). You're trustworthy enough to take the state servant's oath (although it's not yet the life-long version), and the year of student teaching counts towards your pension as well. Pay isn't stellar, but for a professional beginner. To me, it's completely bizarre that student teachers should get nothing at all. Only students aren't paid at all! But I guess if teaching is considered a rather "lowly" thing, it's not work that's appreciated. I often think education isn't valued enough, but compared to the American system, we're still golden...
            • However, the sorting is really just a recommendation, and parents are free to disregard it and send kids with a lower-level recommendation to a high-level program.

              In my district (Baltimore County) when I was a kid, the superintendent made a name for himself by introducing "gifted and talented" classes and magnet schools, specialized schools that students can apply to attend rather than their home schools. I was in all G&T classes, and I also attended a magnet high school (considering that, a couple of years ago, I wrote about a former classmate averting a shooting at what would have been my home high school ...) I can't underestimate the positive impact of both of these things for me personally, especially the magnet program, which was rigorous enough that the transition to university was painless. (Actually, my first uni semester was much easier than my senior year at the magnet school.)

              But what happened here was what you described: By the time I graduated, parents were putting their kids into G&T classes, even though they didn't belong, and had even made it so that anyone could take magnet school electives (which we did two years of extra maths and science coursework to qualify for). This had the effect of either watering down a rigorous curriculum because now everyone didn't have the prerequisites, or putting kids into class who usually couldn't keep up and so often acted out.

              I can understand the gut reaction people have against "tracking"--and certainly, as kids, we knew which classes and which teams were "smart kids" and "dumb kids"--but it seems to come in a large part from the expectation that the G&T classes are automatically more interesting and engaging, and it doesn't have to be--shouldn't be--that way. (In fact, I could get away with dull lessons with my honors students while student teaching that I can't with my students now! :)

              It's unfair to act as if all kids react the same way to the same kind of classroom environment and the same expectations.

              Exactly. Again, I think one of the objections to "tracking" has more to do with the bias of adults/educators than anything in assuming that going on to uni is an inherently better path than, say, learning a skilled trade, starting a business, or even going into an unskilled profession. And I don't think it is. I have taught many students who give me a blank stare the moment we go beyond the literal level in reading a story but who can fix anything that goes wrong on a car (while I sometimes can't get the gas cap off because I forget which way to turn it!)

              Also, educators tend to assume that being known to be in G&T carries prestige among kids, and I think we both know that that's not always true. ;)

              only breeds resentment.

              The attitude here is often, "Why should my kid be held back or have to deal with constant class disruptions because of that kid with disabilities?" Which, aside from being a fair point, certainly doesn't do much to encourage kids to have a positive view of people with disabilities. :^/

              WHAT. That's really hard to comprehend.

              Technically, student teaching should be a capstone, much as it is in Germany. Student teachers have likewise completed all of their content area and pedagogical requirements at their university (and many have taken the PRAXIS exam(s) by this point as well). It's either done at the end of the BA or after the BA is completed (as in my case). But I think you're right that there isn't a lot of prestige in completing an education program here, so that doesn't mean much.

              But unpaid internships are also the norm here, which became bad enough during the recession that, in certain fields, it had become commonplace to work for free for the first few years after graduating uni (which of course caused an uproar because only people whose parents were well-off could afford to devote those early adulthood years to working for free). Student teaching, thank goodness, is only a few months long. If I had my way, I'd make it a year or two paid apprenticeship and scrap most (aaaaall? ;) of the pedagogical coursework.

              Alas, I don't get to be in charge, so the unpaid student teaching internship remains a barrier for people who want to change careers into education.
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