teachers not having the content knowledge

Discussion in 'General Education' started by teach42, Oct 10, 2012.

  1. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    Do you know of any teachers at your school who don't have the content knowledge to be teaching the subject that they are teaching? I'm just wondering if this is prevalent in a lot of schools. The only requirement to teach is to pass the Praxis or whatever test and there doesn't seem to be a limit as to how many times you can take it. Not a very high standard if you ask me.

    I saw this at my last school where one of the teachers didn't know statistics but that was only a portion of the course that he was teaching. This year, I found out that there are teachers in my district who were assigned subjects that they had absolutely no knowledge in. I couldn't imagine say, teaching algebra, and not knowing how to do it. Just blows my mind. And yes, they are math teachers so it's not like they were assigned classes outside of their certification area.
     
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  3. Math

    Math Cohort

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    I don't understand if they don't understand then how did they pass the Praxis? Also why teach something you can not truly teach? I wonder what happens when an administrator observes the teacher.
     
  4. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    My master teacher certainly didn't when I was student teaching.

    But I believe she got credentialed in a different country and had her credential transferred over or something.

    I would have to explain or teach her many things before she taught it to the students.
     
  5. donziejo

    donziejo Devotee

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    NO, I really don't.
     
  6. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    This is what I was blown away by. The Praxis is not that difficult and you can keep taking and retaking it if you don't pass the first time. I'm not saying they have absolutely no knowledge of math, just certain subjects like geometry or statistics. At my last school, one of the administrators actually knew about it but she praised it as being a good thing. In her mind, the teacher could teach it better because he was learning it with the students and could understand their struggles. :whistle:
     
  7. pete2770

    pete2770 Comrade

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    To be honest, there's only so much the government can do. I mean, they have set standards of college coursework to be competed, student teaching requirements, standardized tests with passing scores set at a decent level, etc.

    In your opinion what more should they do?

    How do you define a teacher that knows the content?

    How do you define a teacher that doesn't know the content?

    Laws and rules are passed to try and make sure it works out, but there are people that will always slip through the cracks.

    Also, rural schools. You'll see a lot of teachers working on variances because a teacher cannot be found for a specific subject. In that case, you really just have to deal with the cards that have been dealt - which means trying your best and learning with the students.
     
  8. perplexed

    perplexed Comrade

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    There are a few teachers at my school--I know of three--who have a social studies background, but are each mostly teaching language arts and reading (there's a little social studies in the afternoon). I co-teach in two of the classrooms, and I can tell that they struggle with teaching writing. I don't think they are using the best practices at most times, so I try to help, but I think if they had chances to learn more about teaching writing, it would go better.
     
  9. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Virtuoso

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    I'm at a small, rural school. We don't have anyone teaching outside of his/her degree. I don't know of a single person in our secondary schools who is teaching something that they "tested into" from the Praxis. The middle school teachers are dual certified in one of two subjects, and the high school teachers are single certified in one subject area.

    Naturally there are variances in the things they know based on things like experience or focus of study, but nobody is someone I would consider to lack knowledge to teach him his/her content area.
     
  10. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Now, no.

    But I did work with a math teacher who needed me to teach her Precalculus each day so she could teach it to her class.

    After a while it got real old, so I spoke to my department chair. At that point he took over as her tutor to the end of the year. I forget whether she didn't return the following year, or was bumped down to material she was more comfortable with.

    And, yes, she was certified in math.

    As to what happens for observations, a lot of teachers put on a show. What the observers see isn't even close to resembling a typical class. And the kids are frequently loyal enough to keep the secret and play along.

    She hasn't been in our school for a good 20 years.
     
  11. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    My cooperating teacher during student teaching was teaching biology for the first time. I had to explain lots of things to her first. But she was really open about it and really wanted to learn so she could be a good teacher. I worked there after my student teaching and any time a kid had a question she couldnt answer shed tell them to hold on, come to my classroom and ask me, and go back and give the answer. I thought that was awesome. It showed the kids that everyone can learn and to not be embarrassed about it.

    In my school now, our English teacher is a science teacher. He was hired because he is a native speaker but doesnt know anything about teaching the language. Hes getting there!
     
  12. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    My cooperating teacher during student teaching was teaching biology for the first time. I had to explain lots of things to her first. But she was really open about it and really wanted to learn so she could be a good teacher. I worked there after my student teaching and any time a kid had a question she couldnt answer shed tell them to hold on, come to my classroom and ask me, and go back and give the answer. I thought that was awesome. It showed the kids that everyone can learn and to not be embarrassed about it.

    In my school now, our English teacher is a science teacher. He was hired because he is a native speaker but doesnt know anything about teaching the language. Hes getting there!
     
  13. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    But in the meantime, and entire group of kids is being denied a real education. They'll never get back the year they lose as he learns what he needs to know.
     
  14. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    Currently, no. But my district does have the option to force you to teach out of field for one year.

    I do homebound teaching as a second job, and I do teach subjects that I am not certified in. But I drew a hard and fast line at math. There's a second teacher just for that.
     
  15. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    Hes been hired and hes doing the best he can. At least its his native language and can see the mistakes!
     
  16. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I'm sure he's a very nice guy, and doing the best he can.

    My point is that apparently it's not good enough. According to you, he doesn't know anything about teaching the language. How, then, are his students supposed to learn it?
     
  17. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Unfortunately she is certified in her subject area; however, she's not very good at it.
     
  18. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    I've seen teachers who are teaching subjects that they shouldn't be teaching, but I've also seen people who shouldn't be teaching period. It's hard; just because someone can interview doesn't mean that they are a good fit for the classroom.

    In this economy, it's the perfect time to make standards for teachers a little harder. If less people major in education, then there would be less people searching for a position and more qualified candidates coming out of colleges.
     
  19. Myrisophilist

    Myrisophilist Habitué

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    This isn't fair. Everyone (every teacher) has to start somewhere. If there is a more capable teacher available, then certainly he or she should be teaching the class. But perhaps this is a situation where no other candidate could be found. That's the case in lots of rural schools as has been mentioned previously. Many of my teachers in high school were not certified in the content area they taught in. My education probably suffered to some extent, but that's not the teachers' faults.
     
  20. Lisabobisa

    Lisabobisa Comrade

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    I would learn it if I didn't know it already.

    I review everything I teach in math and make sure I can do the problems before I present it to the class. Math was not my strong suit in high school and I wouldn't want to teach it wrong.
     
  21. ciounoi

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    I taught a variety of science classes at the detention center without being certified in science (this was OK by the state since I was hired as an LTS). Because I couldn't tell you the difference between a proton and an electron at the time I was offered the job, I had to teach myself the content so I could teach it the next day. I had several weeks where I basically BSed my way through several tricky questions. >< I do learn quickly, however, and I was able to get caught up and actually undestand what I was teaching. I knew I had jumped a hurdle when some kid accused me of not understanding his pain in balancing chemical equations since I had "been doing it for so long and made it look soooo easy". Late-night cram session payoff!

    That being said, I often felt like I was failing the kids on so many levels by not being in control of my content knowledge. I taught kids of all different ability levels, and it really killed me that I had difficulty explaining concepts to the lower kids because I didn't have a firm grasp on them myself. By the time I left, I definitely was coming along in my science content, but I wouldn't exactly recommend going in cold to a new content area.
     
  22. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    Well, I didn't mean teachers who were teaching subjects outside of their certification area. I meant teachers who were certified in their content area and still don't know it. I agree with Alice. I had a bunch of students tell me they didn't learn anything last year from their teacher and it turned out that the teacher who taught the course was the one who didn't know her content area very well. I'm now having to deal with the repercussions.

    I don't think just a major in education prepares you to teach, at least not high school. They should require you to focus more on your content area or something very closely related. That should probably be the case for elementary school teachers as well. IF there were more elementary school teachers who knew more advanced math and could see the bigger picture, they could do a better job teaching the content.
     
  23. vivalavida

    vivalavida Companion

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    Interesting thread...
    I often consider this as well, since I am planning to teach a foreign language and am not a native speaker. I know there is absolutely NO way I'll know EVERYTHING before I start teaching, and I doubt I'll ever be able to say I know everything. It's kind of like...where is the fine line of "knowing enough?" Certainly not everyone knows absolutely every little thing in his/her certification area, right? Of course, you wouldn't want to deal with a teacher who is having to be tutored every single day, as Alice referenced. I think it's hard to make that call of "knowing enough of one's content."
     
  24. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    There is no possible way to have read every poem, short story, and novel that I could possibly have to teach during my career. In fact, I'd wager that many of the works I'll teach haven't even been written yet! However, I feel confident in my ability to read and analyze because I have the basic content knowledge. I can apply what I know when reading the new works.

    I hadn't read Wuthering Heights until this summer but I'll be teaching it in a few months. I read it twice this summer and will read it once before we start the unit. I feel it's difficult for English teachers to enter the profession having read EVERYTHING they could possibly be assigned to teach.

    However, I define my content area by being able to teach reading, writing, and speaking. That means there are certain skills we use to teach those things and those don't really change. For example, I have to teach symbolism and I have to understand that. However, I get to choose the work I use to teach it.

    Hopefully that makes at least a little sense?
     
  25. FourSquare

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    My sign says "6th Grade Reading and Math" but only because they don't want the stigma of calling it Special Ed. Under no circumstances would I EVER be called a 6th Grade Math teacher. I looked through that textbook and remember about half of it. It's the only time I've been thankful that my kids are very low. They operate at about a 3rd grade level in math, which is absolutely my territory. ;) Any higher than 5th and I'd have to seriously reteach myself.

    That being said, if there were no-one else for the job and they had to settle on me, I'd try very hard to learn and do my best. But no, I don't think that job should go to me. Best circumstances would have a more qualified candidate.
     
  26. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    All the high school teachers I work with have degrees (or sufficient coursework) in their content areas. I don't actually know any high school teacher who majored in "Education", although I do know a few with MEds.
     
  27. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    Of course no one expects a teacher to know everything but to teach something like geometry for a year and not know how to do it at all. Scary.

    There are high school teachers at my school who majored in education exclusively.
     
  28. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    I teach in a K-8 school, and I don't see it much. There is a perception out there that this is "the problem with education". I disagree. I find it more common that some teachers have loads of education, but have difficulty communicating with children.
     
  29. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    How are those teachers "highly qualified"?
     
  30. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    My bachelor's degree is in education, my master's in curriculum and instruction, yet I'm a high school SPED teacher. Last year I had to teach a resource math class and I was one of those that had to really teach myself before I could teach the students. This year I am strictly in inclusion classes so they get the content from a teacher whose degree is in their content area which helps me out a great deal! I do have certification to teach high school English and could do it if needed. My coursework was heavy on the English side though so that would help.
     
  31. Peregrin5

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    I'm certain that one doesn't need to know EVERYTHING in the field that you are teaching. I would say a good start is to UNDERSTAND (meaning understanding comprehensively) at least 80-90% of what is covered in the textbook though. The textbooks used are generally pretty basic anyway, and most people have encountered everything in it in the past.

    Really good teachers go above and beyond though. They understand all the concepts in their textbooks, and browse the high school and college textbooks to see what they need to prepare students for. They keep up with their field by reading recent news (i.e. science news, etc.) and are constantly looking for professional development opportunities or ways to expand their knowledge about things they may not have encountered before.
     
  32. TeacherNY

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    What state do you live in? As far as I know you need to major in a content area to get certified in my state. I'm assuming you can major in "education" but you will not get certified.
     
  33. CindyBlue

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    I agree with you, HeartDrama. Content knowledge doesn't have to mean that one has majored in a subject area. If it is a passion, and you've studied and explored it in depth, and you've passed a test certifying that you have content knowledge, than you have it.
    But after much reflection, and at the risk of being slammed here, I will thoughtfully disagree with many posters, in that I don't think one needs a major in or to have passed a test in "content knowledge" to be able to teach a subject competently. I know a few teachers who are excellent at the craft of teaching, who have been thrust into teaching a subject in which they have no major. They study like crazy, and ask a lot of questions, and though they may be only a few days ahead of the kids, they teach the material better than some who have that degree or who have passed that test. How they acquire that content knowledge is not the point...they do, and they teach it well, and the kids learn and score well on tests and do well in the next year. During my many years of teaching, I have seen over and over that it's the "born teacher" who can teach - and they can teach anything. They prepare carefully, they have the pedagogical skills, and they have the enthusiasm.
    It's made me think a lot about the way teachers are certified and evaluated. It's a case of "I know it when I see it," but how do you quantify it? They can have classes and degrees and tests, but I don't think that anything can predict who will teach well and who will not, until they are in the classroom and proving themselves. And that means that yes, some classes of kids won't get the best education for those years while they figure out who is a teacher and who isn't, and this applies to some first year teachers as well as some who've been in the classroom for a long time.
     
  34. Lisabobisa

    Lisabobisa Comrade

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    I am certified in Middle School Math, but I teach seniors in a resource room as well. Technically, I'm told, I'm not qualified to teach them because I don't have a high school math certification... even though they are well below any high school level math.

    So I'm studying up to get that high school math certification, (in PA, you can add-on a certification by passing the Praxis if you already have a teacher certificate) even though it would be very unlikely that you would see me teaching a regular education honors calculus class.

    Plus I'm told the test is ridiculously hard, so I doubt I'll pass it no matter how hard I study.
     
  35. Harmony2

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    I got a very high Praxis score, but I don't think that necessarily means you never have to review a concept before you teach it. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and I know many very intelligent teachers who have to teach themselves how to teach. I am fine with anything LA, Science, or SS related, for example, but for Math, even though I can solve most grade level math problems, it is another thing entirely to explain to others how to do it. But I don't think that makes any teacher not worthy to teach....different story if you are hired as a History teacher and don't know anything History related, though. But it's my understanding that anything beyond K-5 certs requires the content knowledge tests for what you'll be teaching?
     
  36. 1cubsfan

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    Oct 11, 2012

    I am currently student teaching. During my practicum experience before student teaching, I was in a junior high school class. The junior level course at this particular school focused in post modernism and post modern American novels. At my university, I ended up taking a lot of Shakespeare and older British literature courses. I did not feel at all
    prepared to teach this particular area. However, I was able to study up and had enough related content knowledge and general knowledge about literature to stay ahead of the students. While I am sure that I will run into content that I don't yet know, I can't imagine anything coming up that I would be unable to teach, content-wise.

    I also feel like I could be a great math teacher, at least at the lower levels. Even though I never took math past precalculus, I feel very competent in my abilities to teach at through Prealgebra. It wasn't that I did poorly in math, but was never required to take it becuase I majored in English.
     
  37. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I actually really strongly disagree with this. I think that teachers should understand 100% of what's in the textbook, plus a fair bit more. If a teacher doesn't understand what's in the textbook, how can he or she really understand that topic in the "big picture" sense?

    I teach a foreign language. Let's say I understand everything in my textbook except the perfect tense (past tense). That means that I understand a good 95% of my textbook. Well, the perfect tense is a pretty big deal. If I don't understand the perfect tense, how will I be able to teach the pluperfect tense when it comes up in the second year? How will I be able to teach the perfect tense in the passive voice? The perfect tense in the subjunctive? The perfect subjunctive passive? The pluperfect subjunctive in the active and passive? The perfect active infinitive? The perfect passive infinitive? How will I have any real sense of how tenses work in my language? Verbs are a big deal in my language. If you don't know verbs, you don't and can't possibly hope to know the language. We teachers have a saying: There are two kinds of words in this language--verbs and everything else.

    As you've said, the textbook is pretty basic. If a teacher doesn't have a very strong handle on everything in it, I just don't see how he or she could be effective. Forgetting the issue of what comes next, how can a teacher expect to be able to answer questions about what is actually in the book if he or she doesn't get it? This is actually the one and only thing I like about the textbook we use in my class--the teacher's edition doesn't have any of the answers. (It's basically a regular student textbook with "Teacher's Edition" written on the cover. No activities, special notes, or answer keys. Nothing. Nihil.) Any sub-par or unskilled teacher who tried to teach out of it would be quickly knocked down a peg or ten. There's simply no way to fake it in my position. You either know it well or you don't know it at all. And, in my opinion, that's how it should be.
     
  38. Peachyness

    Peachyness Virtuoso

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    I think what Alice said is fair. If I go to a doctor, I expect that person to be VERY competent in what they do. Same with a firefighter and police officer. They have had a chance to work under someone and practice. Same with being a teacher. We have to do student teaching and need to pass tests. I do expect teachers do know their content. Also, with teacher shortages, I think schools have it much easier now to find highly qualified candidates. But yes, I think teachers should VERY much understand what they will be teaching that year.


    Agree.
     
  39. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    Legally with my teaching license I can teach any grade K-12 and any subject. I focused on early years in university, but that really doesn't make a difference.

    But I know my limits. I taught basic French one year. I know basic, basic French. But I attended PDs, collaborated with colleagues and I think did a decent job at teaching the subject. I would never apply for a job higher than grade 6 and I hope no high school would ever hire me!
     
  40. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    In my province we do not have to pass content tests to teach a subject. But I think knowing the content is essential and would not apply to teach a subject I don't know anything about!
     
  41. vivalavida

    vivalavida Companion

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    Oct 12, 2012

    As a foreign language teacher, do you feel as though you need to know nearly everything about the language to teach it? I think I would know everything in a textbook, although once I start teaching I will definitely have to review the parts I learned many years ago. However, I worry that I won't know random vocabulary that students want to know. Especially being a non-native speaker, I feel there is always more to learn (just as most other content areas I'm sure). I'm just curious and would appreciate any input you have. :)
     

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