Should teachers be smarter than kids?

Of course they should. You can’t teach maths to someone who knows more maths than you.

And since everyone is now born with a third class Honours degree in every subject from aardvark reproductive biology to Zulu history, a teacher with a third class Honours degree simply won’t do.

What a load of bollocks.

Schools go up to A level (Highers in Scotland) and they used to go as far as S level. I have an S level. It’s no bloody use because nobody now knows what it is, but it means I have the set in biology. The Oxford/Cambridge entry exams were sat at school but sent away to be marked at the universities. Teachers need to be at least one level above the course they teach, they don’t have to be full professors, PhD, DSc and bar (every scientists loves the bar).

A third class result is still an Honours degree. Below that is an Ordinary degree which is still a decent qualification. Below that is ‘fail’.

Even those who failed must have learned something, even if it’s only how to find your way home drunk. In some schools, they really need someone to teach that.

Any honours degree is way above what a teacher would be expected to teach in schools. I remember being taught (and deciding instead to learn which book it was in) the full biochemistry of photosynthesis. The whole set of pathways looks like a map of a Bombay slum. It’s mind-boggling. And that was only A level – why didn’t it deter me from a biological degree? Possibly because bacteria aren’t plants and as long as I stick with the ones that live in the dark, I won’t have to deal with that horror of a diagram. Bacteria use a different one anyway.

I admit to not being able to draw Kreb’s cycle. I see no need to have that in my head, I have several books here I can use to look it up if I need it. It was in my head for the day of the exam then – foosh. Gone. Remember which book it’s in. No need to clutter up limited physical brain with stuff you rarely need.

A biology teacher only needs that in his head on the day of the lesson. It impresses kids if you can draw it from memory on the board but if you can’t, no problem. Copy it from the book before the class starts. As long as you know which page it’s on, that’s enough.

What happens when the teacher is six or seven levels above the coursework? The teacher is bored out of their minds explaining what, to them, are the absolute basics every year and never being able to use more than a fraction of the knowledge they have. I was a few levels above a HND class I used to teach about microbiology and genetics. Here I am, PhD and all, teaching agriculture students how silage works. No, I could not go further than the basics, they only need to know why they have to keep the air out and why mouldy silage will kill their cattle and/or get them prosecuted for food poisoning further down the line. There is so much more to know about the bacterial interactions that turn grass into silage but they didn’t need it. Just how to make safe silage.

Imagine a professor of mathematics teaching quadratic equations to an O level class. That professor will have no teeth, they’ll be ground down to flat white slots in his or her gums. Why can these people not grasp this simple thing? Why do I have to keep explaining it? Why can I not tell them about Mandelbrot sets and unreal numbers? Surely they are here to learn?

You reach a point in your own education where you find yourself stunned by the inability of others to understand stuff you left behind many years ago. The idea that a bricklayer or a plumber has never had any need to know about the comparative ATP generation of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism simply does not occur. Doesn’t everyone know that? No, because not everyone took A level biology and of those that did, fewer went on to a degree and even fewer to a PhD.

I started a discussion of IQ with someone who stopped me with – ‘Look, I don’t know what that means’. I was silenced. She works in a shop. She is intelligent but IQ measurement is of no relevance to her life at all. There is no competition based on these numbers in her life. They simply do not matter to her in the same way that types of car, engine sizes, football and many other things simply do not matter to me. For some people they are important. For me, if the car works, that’s all I need to know. Football is, to me, a bunch of grown men who do what kids do in the street. I don’t want to watch it. Lots of people do, and pay to watch. People are different to huge degrees and university only lets you contact a very narrow range.

My own teachers didn’t all go to university. The headmaster did. He had a degree in something, I forget what. Hitting small boys with a stick, maybe. That course wasn’t on offer when I applied but I bet that headmaster got a first.

. My English teacher wasn’t a famous author (as far as I know, she wasn’t an author at all), the French teacher was a neurotic wreck who spoke French. Okay, she wasn’t totally neurotic when we started school but the music teacher started out sane too. He had left by second year. We had one maths teacher who knew her stuff and then some bloke who might well have been a doctor or professor because his classes were all way over anyone’s head, far too fast, and he had no chance of controlling a class full of bored kids. He produced the best teacher one-liner of school days – ‘Is anyone listening?’ Nope.

There was a woodwork teacher who the biology teacher would ask about plants. He could identify wood by looking at it, which was pretty cool. So was the chemistry teacher who loved to say ‘Hey, watch this!’ just before something exploded. And the physics teacher who let us design and etch circuit boards. Then play with soldering irons. I bet they aren’t allowed to do that any more.

I don’t think those teachers even had degrees but they knew a hell of a lot more than we did. That wasn’t hard, I was eleven when I went to the local grammar (later it became comprehensive, which I liked because the school we joined with had metalwork class facilities. I made a cannon which my mother still has and a cold chisel which I know is still in my father’s toolbox). I didn’t know nuffink.

The idea of someone coming out of university with a first class degree in an actually useful subject then taking a teacher’s salary to deal with horrible children they aren’t allowed to discipline in any way is astonishing. Teachers don’t get paid anywhere near enough to put up with the freaks and monsters they have to deal with every day. It would be safer to take a job as a lion tamer.

A third class Honours degree is far more than anyone needs to teach the blank minds they will face every day. Someone with an A level in physics knows more than enough to teach an O level physics class. Hell, anyone who passed with an ‘A’ grade knows enough to teach the next layer of the same class.

Why do school teachers have to have Honours degrees at all? Surely the requirement should be ‘know more than the Morlocks in front of you’? A qualification in karate or judo might be of more use in the modern classroom than even a CSE in the subject.

Some parts of the article are undeniable. Being taught by someone who only just scraped a pass in the subject is derisory. Also, those ‘teacher training colleges’ have long been hotbeds of ridiculous Leftie propaganda and should be nuked from orbit. They don’t want to turn out real teachers, they want to turn out Marxist propaganda drones. Which they do. Shut the lot of them. Those who naturally want to teach will still do it, they’ll learn on the job. Just as they did back in the days when we still had real life.

The Lefties turned schools into indoctrination centres. It’s right that this should be corrected – but the Tories have gone way too far. Teachers do not need to be PhD material, they will get bored teaching empty heads that 2+2=4. Teachers only need to want to teach.

Wee Govey would spend his time better if he allowed discipline in classrooms. That would help a lot. Oh, the bleeding hearts will say ‘But you can’t hit kids, it damages them’. Depends how hard you hit them, and what with. I’d have always taken six of the cane over the modern ‘week in isolation’ technique though.

That isolation thing – that is seriously damaging.

But then, isn’t that what Marx wanted?

(You know, if Karl’s brothers had let him be in the films, he wouldn’t have been such a sore-ass bastard. Then again, the films would not have been funny at all. I think Groucho made the right decision).

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22 thoughts on “Should teachers be smarter than kids?

  1. I think (well know for a bleeding fact) that just having knowledge in a particular subject doesn’t mean they have any skill in being able to teach it, and the ability to step back and take something to its base or component level is of vital importance.

    I remember once learning sines, co-sines and tangents, the teacher was quite a decent mathematician, but was totally useless at teaching. I remember being sat in class, and asking what “theta” was (I can’t do the O with the line through it) and she said “Well it’s theta” tapping her chalk on the board. I said “I don’t understand”, and her reply was (paraphrasing here) “I think you’re too stupid to be attempting maths at this level”.

    My problem was I knew that Pi was 3.14 (or there abouts) and wanted to know what the coresponding number for theta was. The answer is Theta can be any number, as it’s the ratio between this line (or angle) and that one. Problem solved, Now this is where problems lie in copying something from a book you don’t have a full grasp of.

    I’m not saying it’s easy teaching, I know I haven’t got it in me to teach as I’d be fired for walling one of the little darlings up against the wall by the first break time.
    I remember being taught circumference/area of a circle in school, with the equation Pi x r2 (or d) and most of the other kids in the class were getting splinters in their fingers from scratching their head, as they were thinking phonetically and were wondering what kind of filling the pie had, and why the pie couldn’t be rounded but had to have corners and be square.

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      • Very true, but neither does it mean the skill is always lacking.

        The trouble is that, for decades, education professionals have been exercising a clear prejudice against what they see as ‘elitist’ attitudes – an example being the Oxbridge graduate told at teacher training college “We don’t want your sort here; you don’t belong”, at a time when two Cs at A-level was enough to get you in.

        Along with the bathwater, this meant they threw out many babies – the minority who combined high academic qualifications with the ability to impart knowledge effectively – not to mention getting rid along the way of students who questioned the ideology being forced down their throats.

        Teaching is, without doubt, a vocation (though as a third-generation one myself, maybe I’m biased) – it is when bursaries and poor employment prospects elsewhere mean it attracts those who don’t have that innate instinct that problems arise (the same argument, I would suggest, might apply to the Catholic priesthood). Some of those thus thwarted found other outlets for the pedagogic instinct in administration or industry.

        But for those determined to teach in schools without the benefit of a state qualification, that left only one place to go; the independent sector.

        Seen any private school exam results recently?

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        • Yes quite macheath. My wife is a qualified teacher who has never taught in her life. Why? Well sums were never Govt’s stong suit were they? so when she graduated in the early 70’s there were approx 6000 more trained teachers than posts for them.
          Yes those were the days when 2 C’s at A Level would get you in to Training College, though my wife had 2 B’s and a C.
          Well I used to spend a lot of time at Clifton College in Nottingham with my now wife, and chatting with her fellow students. I was doing Law at the Uni, and i was getting rather perturbed. I found that the majority of her fellows did not have a decent grasp of the subject (geography… History… maths etc) that they would finally end up teaching for the rest of their lives. Further they were attracted to the job by the steady pay, long holidays and a nice fat pension at the end. Even worse, they almost to a man and woman hated teaching. If you saw a bunch of slurred hung over nearly suicidal students weaving about the campus, then you knew it must be Teaching practice fortnight.
          And the worst of all? Teacher training College may attempt to teach many things, but the actual art of teaching isn’t one of them. And there is an art to it… how to keep discipline, maintain the pupils interest, excite their thirst for knowledge etc etc. But nope, not one single lesson or tip.
          I remember thinking back then… Jesus! we are going to be so fucked as a Nation when the knock on effect of this shower actually get to a classroom and pretend to teach. And so it has proved.

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          • I was at 6th form college in the 80’s & I can remember friends getting offers from TTCs of “E, E”. On one memorable occasion “E, Ungraded”, I kid you not. I admit to thinking, at the time, the exact same uncharitable thoughts as you about the fate of future generations.

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  2. “I think (well know for a bleeding fact) that just having knowledge in a particular subject doesn’t mean they have any skill in being able to teach it”
    But they, with other similarly qualified friends, become advisors to Government and impose inappropriate technique and content on those who can teach.

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  3. I appreciated the Marx brothers idea. While doing my honours degree in some subject which has never paid in cash I once sneaked a joke assignment onto the assignment board, causing a deal of consternation. It went along the lines of ” Einstein’s theory of relativity had a significant effect on the later sculptures made while managing the Beatles. Discuss”
    My, how we laughed . . .

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  4. I remember a jewish friend once telling me that back in the Shtetls and Ghettos of Eastern Europe that the (secular) school teacher was just about the lowest job on the village totem…and infact the school master tended to be whatever ‘schnorrer’ (beggar) happended to have wandered through that winter. In a culture that has traditionally had near to 100% literacy rates, who valued literacy above food, a teacher was simply required to teach the secular 3Rs and keep the kids from climbing up on to the roofs to play the fiddle or whatever passed as youthful high jinks in the wattle and daub misery of the dorf.

    I have to muse what results draggin your typical ‘got any change’ dosser off the street and placing them infront of a class of children would produce these days…then some of the tramps , alkis and dossers I have known have had degrees…plural.

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  5. ps and on the subject of literacy, I realised after posting that the plural of ‘roof’ is rooves -see what having an English Master who flew Spitfires during the war, and who considered Siegfried Sassoon to be side-splittingly funny, will do to a youth.

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  6. “the French teacher was a neurotic wreck who spoke French.”

    Our French teacher was a fat, slovenly and ‘old’ French woman who reeked of what me Gran would have called ‘that heathen herb’ (ie garlic), Gauloises, sweat and stale wine. It was only in our final year that the Headmaster let slip in conversation that she had infact been a ‘translator’ on deGaulle’s staff during the war and in the SEO etc

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  7. You’re absolutelly right about everything!

    Anecdotally, I was once covering a sick/skiving collegue’s maths class. Most of our so-called ‘marking’ periods were spent covering for sick/skiving collegues. You generally just gave out the work and spent the rest of the lesson getting on with your own stuff, but on this occasion it turned out none of the third year (mod. yr. 9) kids actually understood the maths. My first line of attack – getting the ones who did understand to teach the rest – failed for that reason.

    So, armed with my GCSE grade 4 and thinking bad thoughts about the irresponsible twat who’d left work an entire class couldn’t do, I managed to make sense of the numbers and launched into my one and only maths lesson.

    And it worked! Probably, only other teachers will understand the smug glow of self-satisfaction you get when something you teach hits home. The little cries of, ‘Oh! I get it NOW!’, eyes shining with the light of new knowledge etc etc. Very gratifying.

    The point is, there’s another reason why maths experts should be kept out of schools. Their brains are wired up differently. How can they teach something that they have no difficulties with? You HAVE to be able to see the problems- the hard bits – or you end up like Budvar’s teacher: too clever to see the fundamentals and too stupid to allow for anyone elses thought processes. No one’s too thick for maths, there’s just different paths to understanding it and most of us have to take the kind of tiny, baby steps that natural mathematicians aren’t even aware of.

    Gove would be far better off with some kind of incentive to get good teachers, of any subject, learrning and teaching maths and the sciences. So would the pupils.

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    • A perfect illustration of the fact that effective teaching requires imagination rather than factual knowledge; it is ‘allowing for anyone else’s thought processes’ that is the key.

      If I may add a tale of my own, I am no biologist, but I was once asked for help by a girl who was struggling to memorise (by coincidence) the Krebs cycle. It struck me that the diagram bore a passing resemblance to choreography notation, so I suggested that the pupil – a keen modern ballet dancer – should translate it into movement as an aid to revision, with intensely gratifying results as described above.

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      • Its amazing how quickly, how easily one can learn if, say, one wants to get laid..
        My Parisian Ex used to put the ‘french’ back into French Lessons and I always felt it was a shame she didn’t speak fluent Greek…
        (you, the Reader, will have to be of a certain age and be able recall the cards in telephone boxes-or telephone boxes at all- to get the pun)

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  8. Flour is to bread as articulate and willing teachers are to education. It is in the presence of other elements and catalysts, that a loaf is made or a child’s potential is maximised. My teenage years were racked with guilt that a Grammar School place deprived others but with hindsight it is evident that decent equipment and the company of pupil peers, were just as vital as smart teachers.

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  9. A very good article indeed. I learned all those pathways too. You simply had to if you wanted to pass the second year biochemistry exams. I went to a lecture by Krebs. He of course called it the citric acid or TCA cycle. Modest man that he was. My masters at school were Oxbridhe MAs and did their bit in the war (maths master did his bit in WWI and was a colonel!). My chemistry master was Sylvanus J Smith of textbook fame. My undergrad first degree final year project supervisor was Dr Donald Nicholson who drew all those bloody biochemical pathways! He died last year. .

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  10. Here in the United States, there is great controversy concerning something called ‘home schooling’. It is what it sounds like it would be. Surprising to most educated indoctrinated people, the ‘home schoolers’ trounce the childreeen ‘educated’ via normal means when results are tabulated.

    It doesn’t take all day to teach children, if you don’t spend all day correcting whatever social malady is the watch-word of the day. I suggest, to the scoffs of listeners, that you cannot keep a child from education, if the child desires education, and that you cannot force a child to become educated, if that child does not wish to learn. Luckily, most children want to learn. At least they do until they get to school and have that wish destroyed by rote and uniformity.

    One size, sadly, does not fit all.

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  11. I also have to mention that I’ve learned more from old engineers sat in the pub than I ever did from teachers in school and college. I’m 51 now, and we still had some “old school” teaching methods kicking around before the progressive teaching methods of those trained in the 60s/70s took hold. I’m one of the few people that can work in both imperial and metric with equal measure, and can roughly convert one to the other in my head.

    The way I was taught to read was to sound out the letters phonetically, which worked in most cases, but there was some oddball words like “Choir” which don’t follow the rules, but once you come across them you know for next time.

    The modern way of learning to read by recognising the “Shape” of the word, well it’s totally lost on me. My son is a bit dim, and one day whilst walking along the canal (he was about 12 at the time) discovered he was incapable of reading words of 3 syllables or more.

    I explained to him that a big word is just several small words joined together, and if you sound out those small words and put them all together, you end up reading big words.

    Over the summer, I got his reading and vocabulary to grow in leaps and bounds. That is until he got back to school and the teachers did their level best to undo everything I (and he) had achieved.

    We were out in the following autumn, and we were back to the way he was before. I said “Come on you know how to do it”, and he said “But school wont allow me to do it this way”. So I went to see the school, and wanted to know why, and came up against the automatons with “The curriculum dictates we have to teach them this way”, I replied “What difference does it make as long as he’s learning?”, and ended up in a circular argument about the curriculum. In the end I just said to my lad to do it the way you feel most comfortable and if they give you a hard time, tell them to go fuck themselves, and if they have a problem with it, tell them to ring me.

    Open mouths all round. but it appeared to sink in and left him alone. They then took the tactic of getting other kids to give him the hard time with “That’s the baby way of trying to learn”. That didn’t last right long either, as he was getting the other kids to do it his way too.

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  12. Anyone who can drag themselves to work knowing they have to spend the day surrounded by kids, deserves a bloody medal. I’d rather spend my life breaking rocks with my face.

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  13. No, they needn’t be smarter. They need to be better informed and better experienced in the topic than the people they are teaching at that level, along with an ability to impart the knowledge. It’s quite usual for a pupil to go on to overtake a teacher once they have become older and more learned – if they didn’t no generation could ever produce anyone ‘smarter’ than the best of the previous generation!

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  14. Not all of teacher training is crap. If there is one thing that is important, it is to get kids to use their imaginations. For example, teaching simple maths at infant level is much easier if the teacher finds out what interests a particular child. It is a good thing that ‘teaching by rote’ has become a no-no. But, there again, that is a far different thing from the ‘laissez faire’ methods which were the vogue for some time.

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