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What’s more important for teachers, knowing how to teach or knowing the subject matter?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on October 22, 2013

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Photo of Kris Schorno

“Subject matter, you gotta know it.”

Photo of Riley Ross

“Know how to teach. I ran into some professors who did all the research, but didn’t know how to teach.”

Photo of Linda Clark

“Know how to teach. There are audio and visual learners, so if you know how to teach, hopefully you can bridge those gaps.”

Photo of Lee Euler

“Anyone can learn the subject matter. I think they’re going to have to know how to communicate.”


DwardF 4 years, 7 months ago

How can you teach what you don't know?

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

Why the choice. Seems obvious that to teach something you must know the subject and you must know how to teach others. Oops did I not cross the NEA picket line with that comment?!!

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

Yes and they also resist alternate certification of teachers in high demand subjects such as math. There argument is that subject matter knowledge must be supported with a teaching credential that requires completion of a whole series of courses before teaching.

In California when my wife got a job for the LA unified school district her Kansas, Colorado and Virginia certificates were not enough. She did not have a subject matter degree but an education degree with several minors in subject areas. They wanted the reverse - driven by the CNEA.

The NEA is a problem in this area. We need alternative certification programs in hard to fill areas.

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

Really!! I thought they were protecting an antiquated certification system. Just because we have always done ii that way does not mean we should continue. There are approaches that recognize life skills that are directly transferable. Requiring forty year old technical people to attend a class on how to make transparencies might just be unnecessary. Yes some training is appropriate but we need more flexibility as to what.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 7 months ago

Did you know you can buy escargot at the South Walmart? They come in a clear plastic tube and you get about six for ten dollars. You can find them in the canned meat section which also has canned fish.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 7 months ago

If you know how to teach, but have no knowledge of the calculus, you're going to be a rather poor math teacher, I would think. The same goes for foreign languages. If you don't know a language, how could you possibly teach it?

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

Pause button. Remember K- X is a general studies environment where specific focus is probably adequately served by a college degree-education degree would appear quite acceptable.

When we get to high school and start specialization in subject content we may need to put more emphasis on subject matter and maybe a bit less on teacher training.

There is a subjectivity here that I would suggest requires a bit of flexibility.

For Barbara: " Watch what I do not what I say.". California (above) being an example. If you read their law on the subject of teacher training it reads just like the quote you made above. But then we would not want all those eager young teachers from the plains states driving down the salary structure for those educated locally (in California).

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

No she was fired because of an inability to get another degree in the allocated time. She eventually got the degree and got certified just about the time we got transferred to Alabama.

As usual you are avoiding the point and nit picking. Of course I digressed by making the snide comment about the NEA. They are essential but at times a bit too conservative for our collective good.

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

Actually my comment was very much on point. Certification requirements are already varied. Introducing alternate ways that may require less formal teacher training in acknowledging life experience seem to be within that space.

I also noted that California says it wants :eager:" young teachers just like the NEA statement you quoted and then makes rules that pretty much limit the resource to California graduates. The NEAs insistence on all candidates having a rather structured training experinece does exactly the same - it limits the pool.

Yes some training is required but it should be flexible

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

Well we disagree. Flexibility will get teachers with unique knowledge into the classroom. Teacher training does not have to be as structured as it ist. Quality will not decline - it might improve if we get math and science teachers into the classroom.

The NEA needs to get out of the way to allow for the future where good teachers are rewarded and bad teachers retrained or fired. Teachers are supposed to be professional not line mechanics.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

"Knowing his/her subject matter; Knowing how to teach that subject matter; and Understanding how students learn and what it takes to reach them."

Seems right on the money.

"Understanding how students learn and what it takes to reach them." A big one considering not all students learn the same.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

It doesn't matter as teacher unions in general are against evaluating teachers on their ability/results and want to favor teachers based on seniority. When teachers and their union get serious about evaluating teachers on their actual ability/results and getting rid of the dead weight, then the overall quality will improve. The unions give lip service to teacher evaluations based on ability/results but then always find something wrong with the proposed evaluation method and then fight against the evaluations actually being done. Protecting ineffective teachers does not help the union in the long term. By evaluating the teachers based on ability and results would make sure the teachers stay current on the subject matter and innovative in teaching methods. Ability/performance evaluations would also make sure the teachers remain motivated to perform at the highest levels. Too many news reports of teachers unable to pass elementary tests on basic subjects.

Greg Cooper 4 years, 7 months ago

Would you please provide some links by credible sourses that support your claim? As an education major, I have a little difficulty seeing the reluctance by the NEA or KNEA that you cite.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Read any article about a school board trying to implement teacher evaluations. The union wants control over who can evaluate and what they can use for evaluation. They do not want standardized tests unless they develop them. Standardized tests are for "non-evaluative" use. Like I said the unions talk of evaluations but they want to control every aspect of the evaluation. What job gives the employee control over the employee's evaluation?

Greg Cooper 4 years, 7 months ago

Standardized tests, John, ar given to students. The subject is teacher evaluation and competence. It may be that teachers' unions protest school board suggestions because the suggestions do not address teacher competence but overall student "achievement" and test-taking expertise, things that are only a small part of teacher expertise.

If you want teachers evaluated for competence, classroom observation, certification by teachers of teachers, and ongoing education of teachers is what needs to be done. What? Oh, yeah, that already exists.

I suggest that you who have a beef with teacher competence spend a little time talking with teachers and administrators to find out just exactly what teachers are trained to do. Are all teachers competent? Of course not. Are the majority? Most definitely, from my experience in education.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

And yes teachers should have to pass standardized tests on a regular basis to be sure they are up to date on the subjects they are teaching.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Clearly classroom observation, peer to peer evaluations, and CEUs are not getting the job done. As you admit their are incompetent teachers. If the current evaluation system was working there would not be incompetent teachers currently working. A teacher's job is to teach students. The most direct method of measuring students progress is standardized testing. If a teacher's class is failing to show improvement then the teacher is failing. Real simple. If the teacher is failing fire them. If the school as a whole is failing, fire the principal. If the district is failing, fire the superintendent. The NEA and KNEA do not want to use standardized tests because it is too easy to see if a teacher is doing their job. If NEA or KNEA thinks someone watching a teacher for half an hour, or a peer to peer meeting, or reviewing lesson plans can tell if the teacher is doing their job then I understand why the US continues to have an education nightmare on our hands. The easiest and most accurate way to measure the process is to measure the outcome. Teachers doing a good job will not have a problem as their students in general will show measurable improvement on standardized testing. Teaching is a business. Like any business the employer needs to tell the employee what their job is. If the employee fails to do their job, they get fired. A teacher's job is to teach students. If the students in general are failing to show expected improvement on testing then the teacher is failing. Evaluating a teacher is not as hard as you would like to make it.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

As I said a teacher's class in general should show expected improvement. Any one student may not show improvement for any number of reasons. Hold back students that don't show improvement. Start program from kindergarten. If student doesn't show improvement then hold them back. Then only students in first grade are the ones that should be there. If any student doesn't show expected improvement in first grade then hold the kid back. That way only kids that should be in second grade are in second grade. So on and so on. Too many students passed to next grade that have no business being moved on to next grade. Again teachers that pass kids that should not be passed are not doing their job. Fire them. If school wide issue then fire principal. If district wide, fire superintendent. Standardized tests are an objective measure of kids progress. If they don't pass the tests then they shouldn't move on. I never said ALL problems are due to incompetent teachers but they are a real problem that the unions are doing more to protect than eradicate. Principals in charge of failing schools should be fired. Superintendents of failing districts should be fired. Only when there are clear expectations of measurable improvement of students made of teachers, principals and superintendents with severe penalties including firings if failure occurs will there be improvement in education. There is too much touchy feely going on. Educators are making this too hard. The current mess is not working and the teachers and administrators are to blame. Place clear objective in front of students, teachers and administrators. Punish those that fail to meet expectations by holding back kids and firing teachers and administrators. Run education like a real business and people will rise to the challenge. It does no good to pass a kid on that can't do the current work. You are only setting them up for more failure. Teachers and administrators that are not meeting expectations simply need to be fired. Parents need to be told what their kids expectations are and if the expectations are not met the kid will be held back.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

So by your response you favor passing kids along whether they should be or not. If they don't get it the first time through you are not helping them by passing them on. If they can't do kindergarten level how can they do first grade level etc. If you pass ones you shouldn't you are slowing down the other kids because you now have the teacher trying to play catch up with the one who shouldn't be there. It hurts all the kids.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

So you are saying all inner city kids are poor students, all inner city teachers and administrators are bad. How nice of you. The kids that don't progress hold back. The teachers and administrators that don't do their job, fire. There are plenty of good kids in the inner city given a chance they will progress like any kid from the suburbs. Those kids that repeatedly cause management problems in the suburbs or inner city remove them to a school district set up for troublemakers. That way they won't bother the kids that want to learn.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

So you give credit to the educational system for the successes and blame everyone and everything but the educational system for the failures. How nice is that. With such a way of looking at this it tells me you are definitely connected to the educational system. You can't have it both ways. If the educational system takes credit for one group it must also take blame for the other.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

If students are in a library class then they should be taught library science. Test like any other class. Art, wood shop, music etc can have history and theory taught and tested as any other class. The performance aspect is pass/fail based on attendance and participation.

Greg Cooper 4 years, 7 months ago

Thomas, I agree wholeheartedly. It seems that in this day and age it is necessary to ask polarizing questions and accept only polarized answers.

Would it be a better question to ask something like, "Do you know how teachers are evaluated in the classroom?" Or, "Do you know how student learning is measured?" Or, "Is it important to you that there be a measureable method of evaluation of teacher and student competence?"

The point is that asking this question as it ws leads only to right/wrong answers rather than to knowledge about how the system works and how it might be improved.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

What matters is can the kid read, write, and do math. From worldwide rankings of outcomes, the US does a poor job of teaching. Outcomes are the best measure of process. The current system in place by administration and teachers is failing. The kids are never in school. They have fall and spring break that was never needed before. I guess these breaks are more for the teachers and administration than anything else. The kids also are frequently out of school for teacher conferences, in service days, pep rallies or regular Wednesday afternoon off etc. It is hard to find 3 weeks in a row where kids actually are in class Monday through Friday. Other countries that are doing better in the rankings often have the kids in school more days and longer days. Teachers now have smaller classes than previous and often have teacher's aides that were not used previously yet have worse outcomes. Yet the NEA and other teacher unions continue to profess they know best when it comes to education. Apparently they don't know as much as they think they do.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

The rich kids you speak of are most likely in private schools which is not what we were talking about. Public schools are the issue so stay on point please. Provide proof that France and Germany are kicking kids out of school system in a systematic manner before high school. Some countries limit who gets into college which is quite smart. They limit college to those that have shown ability to handle the academics necessary for college. Too many US students are not ready for college. They don't belong.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Barbara apparently you have a vested interest in the current education system so you want to keep the status quo. The status quo is not working. Everyone in education should hang their head in failure.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Barbara your position as you have stated above is the current education system is the best in the world for rich kids. You apparently are giving credit to the current system for how well the rich kids are doing. Yet you lay blame for the failure of the 'unrich' on causes except the educational system. You can't have it both ways. If you take credit for one you have to take blame for the other. From your position you must be connected to education and have at least an interest in administration because you talk like a politician that wants to keep what power they think they have.

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