Content Matter - Becoming An Expert

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Math, Apr 16, 2014.

  1. Math

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    Another thread got me thinking about teachers who do not know their subject matter well. Now I take it that most of these teachers that become a (Math, Science, English, History, etc...) teacher learn to become experts in college? If this is correct maybe some individuals forget somethings occasionally as most students will not remember everything you have taught them this year. Are you really becoming the expert by going to college and just learning advanced topics? A teacher coming out of college should be able to teach at the AP level or Honors or what ever he or she is specifically certified for. I just want to know your thoughts on how this happens.
     
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  3. gr3teacher

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    The higher level the material is, the closer to your own "knowledge ceiling" you get.

    I was a music major in college. I took four semesters of music theory, plus additional work in 20th century theory, Jazz theory, orchestration, and conducting. If I were teaching music in school, at the elementary level, I probably wouldn't be using more than the first three weeks of my Music Theory I class. Even though it's been eight years since I took a theory class, I'm reasonably confident I could do that stuff in my sleep. If I taught high school, I might conceivably need to use stuff from any of those classes. I could still do it, but especially at first, I'd probably catch myself making mistakes periodically, particularly with obscure stuff or with unusual questions. Some higher level classes also give you more leeway with what exactly you teach, or in what order you teach, etc.

    In some ways, having a larger knowledge base can almost make it tough to teach also... for example, as an adult, I know a lot of shortcuts to math.If I try to teach those shortcuts to my third graders without them having the background knowledge necessary to understand them though, I'd end up screwing them up. Just as an example here... the "butterfly method" of comparing fractions, which essentially works out to be cross-multiplying. A kid knowing how to use that is all well and good... once they know WHY it works. Some of these things just become more natural the more you do it.
     
  4. gr3teacher

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    Also, the higher the content you're teaching, the bigger a deal it becomes if you had a gap somewhere. What I mean by this is... if a math teacher didn't master the quadratic equation the first time they were exposed to it, that isn't such a big deal, since it gets reinforced so much during later math subjects. If a math teacher didn't master a pre-calculus concept the first time it was introduced though, that could be problematic since there would have been fewer opportunities to reinforce that and fill in the gap.
     
  5. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    The greatest skill you learn in college is the ability to learn and master new things very quickly. My wife's first job out of college was as a corporate software trainer. Upon hiring she knew little about the software she was teaching. But her gift was that you could give her a program and a manual, and she could come back the next day ready to teach a class on it.

    I've seen great teachers with very little in terms of content knowledge and very bad teachers with advanced degrees in their subjects.

    Since you are one of the most curious of high school students, and since curiosity is an indicator of genius, I'm going to throw a question back at you since I actually don't have the answer.

    You and your AP classmates represent only a tiny fraction of the math students that a math teacher would conceivably be assigned to teach. Most math teachers, even those lucky enough to teach an AP class, will spend most of their day with kids who don't like math, may not like school, and don't really want to be there. They are not bad kids. But to quote Run DMC, "The next time someone's teaching why don't you get taught?" is a message that they have neither heard nor heeded. My guess is that, while you may not have these kids in your AP classes, you go to school with them and interact with them as well. So I know you know what I mean.

    So here is my question. Assuming that after college, you have attained a level of content knowledge as high as any teacher could attain, how do you think that content knowledge is going to help to reach the kids I've described in the aforementioned paragraph? Because, as a teacher, you will have those kids.
     
  6. Go Blue!

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    I do not consider myself a History expert since there are tons of historical facts and details I don't know. History is full of obscure events, people, facts and details and I can't know it all - I won't even try since it is impossible.

    That being said, I try to be an expert on what I am currently teaching. The day (days) before I teach something, I go over my PPTs and do some brushing up or I will research any questions and comments I anticipate from my students. Thus, my focus is on being an expert on what I'm teaching at that moment. If I am discussing the Russian Revolution; I am not worried about knowing all of the indigenous languages spoken by the Aztecs. If I'm discussing Johnson's Impeachment during Reconstruction, then I'm not too worried if I can't recall the names of all of the Popes from the Catholic Reformation.

    In college, I took mostly US History courses as a part of my History major. These classes were all focused on very specific topics based upon my personal interests (such as "The Role of Women in the Antebellum Low Country" or "The Lasting Effects of the Haitian Revolution"). I did not choose these courses based upon what I might teach in the future. So, I guess I don't feel that college helped me to become an overall history expert, especially considering the broad and very general Hstory courses that I teach now (US History and World History). But, this has a lot to do with the way history courses are designed at the college level - they are not as broad/general as math courses.
     
  7. Go Blue!

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    When I taught MS, I would stop teaching Social Studies for a few months to teach either Math or Language Arts test prep. Teaching Math drove me insane for multiple reasons, but the main one was that all of the tricks I know for solving problems - especially solving problems in my head - my students couldn't use. There had to be a method or "process" they could repeat. Not to mention, shaky foundations make teaching math even harder .

    God Bless Math teachers. :clap: :clap:
     
  8. gr3teacher

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    I think history teachers by their nature, before college, have to be jacks of all trades, masters of none though. Most "history experts" aren't actually history experts. They are experts on Roman history, experts on Chinese history, etc... or even experts on specific dynastic periods, time frames, etc.
     
  9. teacherbatman

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    This is the key for me. Although, I didn't learn this in college or any school -- I learned it on my own.
    I would argue that school is pretty bad at teaching this ability, and most people don't have it coming out of college.

    You can always know, learn, understand more in your content area. The "trick" it seems, is to know enough for what you're teaching, and then being able to grow and adapt as needed.

    Also, I will occasionally remind students that I do not know everything, or I will refer them to another resource, ask them to figure it out on their own to "help me out," etc. I am a firm believer that students need to know that you don't know, and can't answer, every single thing. (even though in secret, we kind of try to)

    There is a huge problem with the attitude that teachers (or anyone) needs to know everything. I don't ever want a student to believe that anyone ever needs to (or can) know or be everything.
     
  10. Math

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    Is that content knowledge or teaching methods? The only thing I can think of content matter wise is that I would know why we do certain problems certain ways. I could have different ways of solving one problem. I could let the students know why what we are learning is actually important. I am not sure if I answered correctly though Sarge.
     
  11. mmswm

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    The fallacy here, is to think that any one person can be an expert in a subject as wide as "history" or "math" or "science". These categories are simply too large. While I may be an expert in the particular sub-specialty of math I studied, I am by no means an expert in the entire subject. I can't think of a single mathematician who would claim otherwise.

    It is also worth noting that being an expert doesn't always mean that you know every little detail off the top of your head. Sometimes it means just knowing what resources to use to look up an answer.
     
  12. Math

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    You are actually misinterpreting what I meant by expert. I know for a fact that teachers are not specifically experts in their field. I am not even remotely getting at being an expert in your entire subject. I am just saying being expert enough to teach what you are certified to.
     
  13. Glühwürmchen

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    I think my subject area (foreign language) is somewhat unique in this regard. Going to college can make you an expert (aka fluent), but every foreign language teacher/major I know says that they didn't feel fluent until they studied or lived abroad. I don't think a teacher who never lived abroad for an extended period of time should be qualified to teach a language.
     
  14. gr3teacher

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    At a certain point though, being a foreign language teacher also becomes very much connected to the culture and history of the country itself.
     
  15. Shanoo

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    While I agree that you can't really become fluent without immersing yourself in the language, I have disagree that you can't call yourself a language teacher without living abroad. I grew up in an English household, learned French in school, but lived in a bilingual community. I had access to French tv programs, French radio, spoke French daily at my part-time job at the Dairy Queen and many of my friends' parents were French, so I was often immersed in French at their homes as well. And, while my community was very close to 50-50 English-French, there were certainly people in the community who didn't know one word of English (and, by the same token, others who didn't know one word of French).

    I now teach middle school Math in a French Immersion program. Am I being nitpicky? Maybe. But I (and many others) didn't need to go abroad to become fluent. We needed only to walk out our front doors.
     
  16. gr3teacher

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    I think French in Canada (and specifically in Quebec) is a little different though.
     
  17. mr_post22

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    I was taught all of the stuff I teach in college and high school but I don't remember how to do it. But once I look in the textbook it all comes rushing back to me. But, if your curriculum changes drastically (which is rare) you may not be an "expert" until you get adjusted.
     
  18. Shanoo

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    Why is that? Unfortunately, two official languages doesn't equal bilingualism.
     
  19. Shanoo

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    To get back on topic, I took History in university and I did teach social studies fora number of years. Unfortunately, I taught NOTHING of what I studied at school. My concentration was on Middle Ages Europe and I was tasked with teaching Canadian civics.

    I think the previous poster was right - it is impossible to become an expert in any subject as broadly as is necessary to be a teacher. But, I also don't think that being a good teacher is something that can be taught.

    I think that good teachers are people who can just...learn. And I think we can do it well. I think we are "experts" in a field because that is what we happened to study in college, but that doesn't mean we couldn't become "experts" in another field with a little time. If someone handed me one of Shakespeare's plays tonight and asked me to teach it tomorrow, I couldn't do it. However, give me a month and I think I'd do an ok job. Give me the summer to prepare and I think I could do better than ok. If I asked the music teacher down the hall to teach linear patterns tomorrow, it might be a disaster. If I gave him some time to prepare, I bet he'd do fine.
     
  20. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    1. I don't think that going to college makes anyone fluent.

    2. I have never lived in a place where the language I teach is spoken. I believe I'm still quite qualified to teach it. I do consider myself an expert in it even though I've never been "immersed".
     
  21. gr3teacher

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    Haha... you might be surprised about the music teacher. It's pretty incredible how deeply connected music and math actually are at a theoretical level. Especially when you get into some of the Serialism stuff by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, I find it more fun to look at the sheet music than it is to actually listen to. I can't stand listening to Webern's music, but I look trying to break down his scores.
     
  22. Glühwürmchen

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    The culture is still best learned in the country. It's impossible to experience everything, but stereotypes are often promoted by getting information from books instead of first hand. I also think that anecdotes are important in language class (like, "my first experience in Germany was getting pulled by airport security" - true story :lol:)

    Language proficiency is still the most crucial. You can prepare to teach culture and history, but language is spontaneous. If you can't function without making a lot of errors or needing a dictionary then that's a serious problem.
     
  23. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Have you ever experienced or heard about a situation where a subject's curriculum changes drastically?

    I think that it's curious that you aren't able to teach high school content without looking at the textbook first. Hmm.....
     
  24. Glühwürmchen

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    By living abroad I just meant being immersed in the language. The same would apply for many Spanish speaking communities in the US.

    1. Depends on your definition of fluent. Going to college doesn't "make" anyone fluent, but I think it's possible with a diligent student.
    2. Latin obviously doesn't count.
     
  25. mmswm

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    I didn't misinterpret anything. I'm trying to tell you that your question is far too broad. My master's degree is in mathematics with a concentration in Statistics and Probability Theory. I'm certified in two states to teach secondary mathmatics (6-12). Based on my education, this should present no problems, right? Wrong. I would not feel comfortable teaching high school geometry without giving myself a crash course in the subject prior to teaching it.

    Why is this? Well, for starters, I specialized in an area that didn't include geometry. More so than that, I absolutely detest geometry and did my very best to take as few geometry related courses as I could get away with. I managed to go my entire career only having to teach the course once, and that was shortly after I finished school myself. At this point, over a decade later, I've simply forgotten the material from lack of use.

    So, even within my certifications, there is at least one course that I'm far from expert in. The same could be said for any teacher with any credential. It's simply far to broad for any one person to be an expert in a single subject such as "math" or "English" or "history", which is exactly what I said in my first post.
     
  26. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    As a professional, one never stops learning. Any profession, and specifically the dynamics of changing standards, philosophies and legislation demanded in education, requires that those employed as such engage in ongoing personal and professional development.:2cents:
     
  27. gr3teacher

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    I think this especially happens with science teachers.

    For me personally, I hold certificates in Elementary K-6, Special Ed... K-12? Pre-K-12? Something like that... and instrumental and vocal music K-12.

    For a variety of reasons, I would NEVER take a vocal music high school job, even though voice was technically my major instrument in high school [EDIT: College]. At this point, I probably wouldn't take any music job, period, and may just let that certificate lapse. Even within elementary ed though, I don't think I'd consider myself qualified to teach kindergarten.
     
  28. Go Blue!

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    Exactly. This is why I don't care if I'm an expert or not, I know what I'm teaching at the moment.
     
  29. Math

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    Well make sure next time you elaborate for me, okay? I read your first post and did not get all this from it. I do not assume anything.
     
  30. Sarge

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    Pretty close. Here's the thing to remember. A lot of people, perhaps most people, are not the best at teaching the things about which they are the most knowledgeable. I'm a very good writer. People have said I should take all of my emails to parents and publish them. However, I do not think I'm the best teacher when it comes to writing. Writing is so second nature to me, that teaching it is actually difficult.

    Computers, on the other hand, are something I had to learn later in life. People have said I can explain computer skills better than anyone.

    And finally, the Air Force takes pilots just out of pilot training and makes them instructors. Why would they do that instead of getting someone who has been flying jets for 15 or 20 years? Probably because a person who has just learned a new skill understands the learning processes required to learn it better than a person who has been using that skill for a long time.
     
  31. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    I'd say I'm an expert at teaching third grade curriculum. I taught grade 2 for 8 years..I'd position myself near expert there as well (been out of second for 4 years...curriculum has changed some)...I could teach any grade k-4 well, could hold my own teaching ELA or math in 5th...beyond that I can tutor most thru 8th but math starts becoming a bit dusty post pre algebra.
     
  32. Math

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    So should teachers that come from college teach the higher level courses?
     
  33. Go Blue!

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    1. All teachers come from a college, you have to have a BA or BS.

    2. Some schools do not offer AP or true Honors courses. Or if they do, the kids sitting in them are not advanced students at all, but they are more advanced than their peers at that school and usually well-behaved.
     
  34. Math

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    I meant recent graduates. Sorry!
     
  35. Go Blue!

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    My auto-reaction is to say "No" because recent grads may not have all of the skills needed to teach very demanding, higher level courses. But, there might be some benefits for the teacher in this scenario.

    The person that teaches all of our 9th and 11th grade English classes is not a recent grad (career transfer) but he is brand new to teaching. He teaches two Honors course (one 9th and one 11th grade) and he admits that these kids are not that much smarter than their non-Honors classmates (and that some of the SPED kids really have no business in that class). But, the Honors kids are MUCH better behaved than the rest, these classes are smaller and these kids work MUCH harder - they want to learn. They create an environment that allows my co-worker to teach, try new ideas and develop his pedagogy skills as a brand new teacher which I think is really important. He admits that in the non-Honors classes, he never gets to actually teach; he spends all his time putting out fires and trying to manage the chaos. I think the Honors classes provides him with an opportunity to not only develop his skills, but also gain some much needed "new teacher confidence."

    So, I think it depends on the teacher, the school environment and what type of Advanced courses are being taught.
     
  36. GTB4GT

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    I started teaching 3 years ago at the age of 50+. What you have described is essentially what I have experienced. Teaching the honors/advanced/high level courses requires only content mastery. In my other courses, content knowledge is not as critical, one just has to know how to "herd kittens" as I have said here before. I.E. one's success as a teacher is more dependent on one's skills in classroom management rather than expertise in the material.

    I teach with a young woman who is only a few years removed from college. She can 'do" the work that she teaches. However she has difficulty in conveying information to her students (I know because they come to me for tutoring).Alas, content knowledge does not necessarily mean one is equipped to teach. You see this often times in sports - many players who were gifted at their sport did not have success as coaches. Conversely, many coaches who achieved success did not play their respective sport past the high school or small college level.
     
  37. a2z

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    I have yet to meet anyone who in their argument about content says content is the only skill that is necessary. That argument tends to be implied by those who don't like the idea that content mastery and knowledge is equally as important as other skills such as communication, classroom management, appropriate temperament, and common sense.

    People tend to argue about content knowledge being important and the come backs always talk about how those people with lacking other skills will fail.

    Content knowledge is extremely important. I've seen the devastation to student learning by teachers that was just trying to keep ahead of the curriculum or who could only understand the content at little more than a cursory level and had holes in other portions of it.
     
  38. GTB4GT

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    I absolutely agree and if my post implied otherwise that was not my intention. It is the foundation to being a good teacher imo. But it is only the foundation or starting point. I think we agree on this.
     

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