You're Not All Einsteins

Following a New York Times story on the proliferation of certification requirements in the US over the past few decades, PBS among others has been running this column from a University of Chicago professor about the struggles his wife -- a Dartmouth graduate with a science degree -- had in becoming certified to teach the topics and grade levels she wanted to teach (in Chicago): Why Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics.

"The real losers are often the customers — in this case the poor kids in Chicago's public schools who could really have used a smart, dedicated math teacher."

Whether you're a fan of traditional training and certification programs or think they're a racist crock of shit, we might still be able to agree that there's an issue embedded in the professor's lament that's all too common for the discussion of education issues: conflating an individual experience with a broad based policy issue.

The vast majority of alternative route teaching candidates aren't Dartmouth grads, or even TFA recruits, much less Einsteins.  Let's not make policy decisions as if they were.

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  • After I read this article yesterday I was struck by a few things. First, who says that Einstein would have been successful as a CPS teacher? I know lots of really smart and creative people who have no business in the classroom. The assumption made by the author and so many people (of which TFA is only one example) is that the higher your IQ the better the teacher. It's a silly assumption that can be proved wrong in so many cases. Einstein was good at creative and boundary breaking thought but whose to say that he would be able to manage a classroom on in CPS?

    Second are the nefarious inference one can make from this assumption: i.e. teachers must be a bunch of dummies (since good teachers have high IQ and there are so few of them). I'd be really surprised if there was any correlation between smarts and teaching ability. There are so many other attributes that make a great teacher that smarts (after a certain baseline) might fall pretty far down the list.

    This author's assumption is just as broken as the one where teachers are the most important factor in education. It sounds good and seems right but in reality is much more complex and has some really bad unintended consequences.

  • Yes, the rules and regulations even apply to the privileged, the wealthy, and the over-educated. Just because you have a great pedigree does not mean you are qualified to teach. The rules are there for a reason, and people that demonstrate they do not understand, or think that they should be exempt from them should be weeded out.

    My school has had TFA math teachers from U of C, Duke, Cornell and ONE OF THE WORST EVER from Boston College or Boston University. Two of the four struggled mightily, and one was quite good. The notion that TFA or a Dartmouth degree makes you a good educator is bunk. Funny enough, the best math teacher in the building held a degree from Chicago State. The notion that Einstein would automatically make a great high school teacher is DUMB. Can you imagine Einstein in front of a class at Fenger? Sometimes being a genius can be detrimental. How would Einstein deal with students who are illiterate, come from broken homes, or who just transferred in from Jefferson? I'll bet Albert would be pulling his hair out when he found out how much time it took to teach the most basic tenets of physics.

    Looks like Leah was negligent in investigating certifications and endorsements. This is something that 99% of teaching candidates understand. She would have learned this at, say ISU. This ignorance of details is not something I would want in my child's teachers. Don't blame the bureaucracy that 22 year old kids from NIU easily navigate, blame yourself and your notion of privilege.

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