Daniel Willingham has a great piece in the New York Times today that discusses the notion that teachers are dumb. Of course they are not dumb! They just may have not been trained properly. This is totally true when it comes to reading:
Consider reading. In 2000, a national panel of experts concluded that reading teachers need explicit knowledge of language features that most people know only implicitly: syntax, morphology (how the roots of words can combine with one another or with prefixes or suffixes) and phonological awareness (the ability to hear parts of spoken language like syllables and individual speech sounds). Yet many undergraduates preparing to teach, fresh from their coursework in reading instruction, don’t know these concepts. In one study, 42 percent could not correctly define “phonological awareness.”
It could be that the professors don’t know it as well.
Of greater concern, those who educate future teachers don’t know them either. Emily Binks-Cantrell of Texas A&M University and her colleagues tested 66 professors of reading instruction for their knowledge of literacy concepts. When asked to identify the number of phonemes in a word, they were correct 62 percent of the time. They struggled more with morphemes, correctly identifying them 27 percent of the time.
Willingham makes the point that it is hard to evaluate the teachers on test scores of students when the teachers are not properly trained in the first place. They have been left in the dark. Let’s not leave our future teachers in the dark. Let’s get to work improving our teacher prep programs.
Much of what makes a teacher great is hard to teach, but some methods of classroom instruction have been scientifically tested and validated. Teachers who don’t know these methods are not stupid; they’ve been left in the dark.