A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Category archive: Teacher training

Monday May 12 2008

There’s no link in this posting to the Kavanagh column mentioned, so I’m guessing it was paper only.  Anyway, here’s what James Forsyth says about it:

Trevor Kavanagh’s column in The Sun today brilliantly details the way that £1.229 trillion has been added to the public’s tab over the last ten years - an astonishing £20,500 extra per person. 87 percent and 90 percent increases in health and education spending respectively have not resulted in the transformation of these services. Indeed, all it has done is test to destruction the idea that all these services needed was more money.

There is now fierce debate about whether education is getting better in Britain, or worse.  On Question Time recently, for instance, a Labour Lady pointed out that there are now many more graduates in the teaching profession than there used to be.  But does that mean that teachers have got better?  It could just mean that graduates have got worse, and that potentially good teachers who aren’t graduates are being kept out of the profession by credentialism.

But my point is: there is fierce debate.  If the education budget has been nearly doubled, there ought not to be any debate.

Wednesday April 30 2008

I’m for it:

A school is paying sixth-formers as young as 16 to teach lessons instead of hiring qualified supply staff, it emerged yesterday.

Here’s the story.  Predictably, a Union spokesperson has just been on the telly complaining about it, which is how I heard about the scheme.  Children “aren’t trained” to teach.  (We don’t want any of them proving they can, more like.) And Conservative spokesperson Nick Gibb is also suspicious.  But why isn’t he in favour of school autonomy?  Head of Chalfonts Community College Sue Tanner points out that the resulting classes are frequently better than what supply teachers from outside the school offer.

And I say that one of the classic ways you encourage people to learn a subject is to get them to teach it.  This has long been known at Sandhurst.

Tuesday April 29 2008

This by Matthew Ladner, is interesting:

South Korea in fact engages in remarkably different education practices when compared to the United States. South Korea spends less per pupil, but pays their teachers more. This feat is accomplished through larger average class sizes - which are approximately twice as large in South Korea than in the United States.

Korean teachers however are paid much better and enjoy greater professional prestige than their American counterparts. The McKinsey report cites data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showing that a 15 year veteran teachers in South Korea is paid an average of 2.5 times GDP per capita. In America, the average is a little more than 1 times GDP per capita.

Higher pay and prestige allows South Korea to recruit teachers from those in the top 5 percent of their university graduating classes. Korean schools have many applicants for every teaching job. Meanwhile, in the United States, the low upper cap on the pay fails to attract many of our brightest and most ambitious students. American schools on average recruit teachers from the bottom third of American university graduates.

Additionally, American schools once had a near monopoly on employing bright university educated women. That monopoly has since retired to the dustbin of history and will not be returning. Our national preoccupation with lowering average class size has also impacted lowered the average effectiveness of the teachers we’ve hired. The average class size in American schools has plummeted since the baby-boomers went through the system, but our test scores have remained flat.

Americans have been obsessed with lowering class size, while Korea has emphasized getting the brightest students possible into the classroom while thinking nothing of packing 40 or more children in a classroom. Who made the right choice?

My only worry with this kind of thing is the assumption that test scores necessarily measure educational success.  But then again, if you measure educational quality by real world outcomes (my preferred method), South Korea scores well with that also.

That niggle aside, like I say, very interesting.  Joanne Jacobs found it first, to whom thanks.

Sunday April 20 2008

Speaking as a more-or-less completely (assuming a mere degree doesn’t count) unqualified sort-of teacher(’s assistant), I am having a lot of fun reading all the comments on this piece.  (Sorry, this link to the TES blog doesn’t work properly.  If you really want to find this piece and all its comments, without a lot of nonsense about subscribing, you have to go to where it says “Home”.  When there, go to the column with “Community” in blue at the top, go down to where it says “Blogs”, and click on where it says “Should unqualified people be teaching in our schools?” I kinow.  Ridiculous.  You’d almost think it was designed to keep casual onlookers away.)

When you finally get there, what you encounter is qualified and unqualified teachers furiously trying to convince one another, or perhaps third party onlookers like me, of their educational excellence, both sides often using English that is badly spelt and rather ungrammatical.

A persistent idea emerges, in the form of protestations from qualified teachers that unqualified persons aren’t allowed to perform brain surgery, therefore unqualified teaching should be similarly forbidden.  This is very silly.  No non-surgically-qualified parent performs brain surgery on his child either, yet parents who are “not qualified to teach” constantly teach their own children, often very successfully.  If the comparison held up, parents who were (a) not qualified teachers but who (b) ever taught their children anything would have to be done for child abuse.  (I know.  Don’t give them ideas.) I mean, when did you last hear of a child dying, straight away, because – and only because – of incompetent teaching?

Associated with the brain surgery meme is the constantly repeated statement that if you are not a qualified teacher, you aren’t a teacher.  It’s an on-off thing, like being pregnant or not pregnant, and if you don’t have the relevant capital letters after your name, you ... are ... not ... a ... teacher.  (Their punctuation, not mine.)

The reason only “qualified surgeons” are called “surgeons” is because “unqualified surgeons” don’t get to do any surgery.  If they did it adequately (which is a very big if - but if) they’d also be surgeons.  Just not qualified surgeons.  But this is very rare.  Teaching by “unqualified” teachers, on the other hand, happens all the time.  I know this.  I do it myself.

However, the strength of a case is not determined by how silly are its silliest proponents.  I am sure that some schools do indeed economise by hiring bad unqualified teachers instead of good qualified ones.  But the cure for that is not to simply pass a law forbidding the hiring of unqualified teachers, bad or good.

Monday February 25 2008

People losing their damn minds:

Lemme explain how teaching works: educational professionals profess their enthusiasm for “the kids” largely in inverse proportion to their actual experience of being with thirty of them in an enclosed space for most of the day. So, for example, senior management are generally much more favourably disposed towards “our young people” than real teachers but can still on occasion get pissed off with them because despite their best efforts, they can’t avoid bumping into the odd one from time to time. Even more enthusiastic are lecturers in teacher training colleges who love the kids so much they fucked off into what is laughingly called academia at the first available opportunity. But even these never-have-beens can’t match the people who actually run the show for sheer divorced-from-reality lunacy ...

And the bile goes on, with copious quotes from this.  Bonkers teachers, who according to Shuggy don’t do much actual teaching, say they “love” their prisoners.  The more cautious and grumpy ones, Shuggy’s preferred sort, fear that such protestations might be misinterpreted.

All these arguments are quite reasonable, if you think that imprisoning “thirty of them in an enclosed space for most of the day” is a good way for everyone involved to be made to behave, or if not good then at least unavoidable.  When people are forced into each other’s company, there’s a high chance that either love or hatred, or, most likely, some overwrought combination of the two, will result.  But if you are an adult and the object of your love or hate is children, probably best not to say either of these things with exactly those words.

I prefer the adult world, where people are at least allowed to balance the glories and horrors of being forced into one another’s company day after day against the more mundane benefits (like getting paid) that they get in exchange, and to decide for themselves who they will be imprisoned with.

One kind of educational romantic loves his prisoners.  My kind says: why can’t they be let out?

Wednesday January 23 2008

Went from here to here, where Shuggy says this:

And from Tim Worstall, unusually, something about education I think most teachers would agree with: we knew the ‘academic’ component of our post-grads in education was a waste of time, taught as we were by a bunch of people who could hack it neither as teachers nor academics, peddling out-dated theories that I would decline to describe as ‘liberal’. We all knew the only thing worthwhile in the whole damn year was the actual teaching practice. Now there’s some research that backs this up, apparently. Praise be.

I also enjoyed this first comment on Shuggy’s posting, from dearieme:

A friend of mine got one of her teaching practice assignments at a place she hated on principle: Eton. Loved it - won’t hear a word against the place.

My first cousin used to teach at Eton, having been a boy there himself.  I recall him saying to me, with great emphasis: “Eton is a very good school.” (This is now his house.)

Monday January 21 2008

Tim Worstall writes about Teach First at the Adam Smith Institute Blog:

So we seem to have a situation where an absence of specific training in education produces better educators: or at the very least, ones that are no worse.

An excellent result I think all can agree: the policy implication is therefore clear, make teacher training a 5 or 6 week course, close the vast majority of the educating to educate system, save a great deal of money and possibly improve the education system, or at least leave it no worse.

Mark Wadsworth comments thus:

Having spent as many years in education as most people, it strikes me that teaching is largely an innate skill. Sure you need to understand the material, which is usually not that complicated, really. It’s getting the crowd on your side and motivating pupils that counts, skills which I doubt can be learned.

This I seriously doubt.  I certainly think that useful things about how to teach can be learned, if only by watching others do it in a way that you admire (currently my preferred method).

But what is surely true is that if the the choice is between very bad teacher training, of the sort that actually makes you worse than you would have been otherwise, and no teacher training, no teacher training wins.

Wednesday January 16 2008

Trawling through the educational “news” is to immerse oneself in an endless litany of disappointed hopes and missed targets.  So instead of writing about any of that today, I will write about another little detail that Irina Tyk mentioned in the talk she gave on Saturday.

It was to do with blending.  When you start teaching reading with the Butterfly Book, you don’t start with the names of the letters, but with the sounds they make.  (Names come later.) And right away, in lesson one, you are teaching blending.  You get a few sounds, the sounds made by a, n and t, and you start making little words out of them.  Ta.  At.  Na.  An.  Tan.  Ant.  Nan.  Tat.  Blending begins at once.  And no, I don’t know what “na” is either.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is making the right noise.  What “ant” means is also digression.  Do not interrupt the teaching of reading with a lesson about insects, or asking whether the kid knows what an ant is.  (I used to do this.  Now, I will stop.)

Anyway, what Irina Tyk said was that what you must not do when teaching blending is assemble a number of separate syllables, and then try to put them together.  So, if the task is to get the child to read “together”, what you do not do is break together up into “to”, “geth” and “er”, and then try to bolt all that ... together.  Blending is done from left to right.  If you do need to soften the complexity of it, then cover up “gether” behind a bit of card, leaving only “to” visible.  Then slide your card rightwards, and leave “togeth” visible.  Then slide it again, revealing all of “together”.  You should not cover up “togeth” in order to show that the end goes “er”.

Interesting.  Well, I think so.  In general, Irina Tyk gave me a lot of confidence that she knows exactly how to teach people to read, with all extraneous stuff stripped out of the process.  So if on some particular matter I don’t get why she says whatever she says, I am inclined to take her word for it.

Irina Tyk says blend from left to right
Learning by assisting
“Company that lost hard drive also hold trainee teacher data”