I first heard about Mr. Singh (not his real name) the first week at my school, working through a modeling problem with a student.
“Come on, you know the perimeter formula for a rectangle, don’t you?”
“No. I had Singh last year for geometry,” the kid says matter-of-factly. A nearby student rolls her eyes.
“Oh, I had him two years ago! He flunked me. He was making mistakes all the time, everyone told him, he said no, they were wrong.”
I was taken aback. I had never run into students who called teachers incompetent before. But then up to that point, I’d taught at much tougher schools, where the “bad teachers” were the ones who couldn’t control their classrooms full of kids who didn’t give a damn. (We have difficult kids here, but the ratio is something approaching a fair fight.) I was not in any way used to kids complaining that teachers didn’t know their subject.
I forget which student this was—it’s been almost eighteen months, and the whole pattern had yet to form. But I remember distinctly the kid wasn’t a math rock star. Just an ordinary student in algebra II, telling me he knew more than a math teacher, enough to realize the teacher was ignorant. I shrugged it off at the time, but I heard it routinely through the next semester. Occasionally, I’d get it from parents, “Well, my son had Mr. Singh two years ago and told me the man had no idea what he was doing.”
When I started teaching pre-calc, the occasional comments became a constant. I began with my usual response: state it’s unacceptable to criticize one teacher in front of another, whatever the reason. But at a certain point I flat out banned that anti-Singh jokes.
I don’t know Mr. Singh well; math teachers aren’t a chummy crew. He did not and does not strike me as incompetent in any way. Like at least half my colleagues, he privately thinks I’m a pushover, too willing to give kids passing grades. But when some members of the department pushed for a higher fail rate to ensure that we only had qualified kids in advanced math, he was on the side of the demurrers (I did more than demur, of course, because I’m an idiot). He is younger than I am, Asian, speaks English well, with only a slight inflection. I don’t know if the kids are openly disparaging him to other math teachers, and haven’t asked.
Last fall semester (for newcomers, we teach a year in a semester, then do the whole thing again, four classes at a time), I had a handful of very bright seniors who were refusing to go on to Calculus the next semester, because “Mr. Singh’s an idiot”. I got fed up and told the crew in no uncertain terms that they should all have taken honors pre-calc anyway, that I was tired of them not challenging themselves and using teachers as scapegoats, and they were to get their butts into Calculus. They gulped and obeyed, “but we’ll show you that he doesn’t have a clue; he’s just using the book as a guide!”
So the whole passel of them, along with a number of my precalc students from the previous spring, would occasionally drop by during lunch to tell me about how Mr. Singh was wrong, how everyone was telling him he was wrong, but he kept insisting he was right. What the hell is going on in these classes, that he’s arguing, I’d wonder, and tell the kids I didn’t believe them, that I found it incredibly hard to believe Mr. Singh was wrong and certainly wouldn’t take their word for it. If they were so sure, bring me a specific example.
A couple months ago, Jake came rushing into my room, triumphant. Very bright kid, Korean American (grandparents immigrated), and if you want to know how white folk world might change Asians over the generations, he’s a good place to start: refused to take honors pre-calc “because of Mr. Singh”, took Calculus at my orders only, and is going to a junior college (where he easily qualified to start in Calculus).
“I can prove it. I took a picture of the board!” This incident happened long before I’d thought of writing about it, and I can’t remember the specific problem. It was a piece-wise function, a complicated one, and he sketched out the graph he’d captured on his smartphone. “See? He’s saying it’s negative for x < -1, and it can’t be, because [math reason I don’t remember].
I frowned at the board. “Hang on, let me think. I see what you’re saying, but I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with that approach, like a mistake I’ve made before but can’t remember why.” Frowned some more. “Look, Mr. Singh knows way more math than I do. Why don’t you go ask him about this?”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“No, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Oh, wait. Duh.” and I turned back to my computer and brought up Desmos to graph the function. Desmos agreed entirely with Mr. Singh.
“Wow.” Jake is utterly gobsmacked. A world view shattered. “But how the hell does [technical math question I don’t remember anymore]?”
“Here’s a thought, Jake: go ask Mr. Singh.”
“He hates me.”
“I can’t think why. You’re just this punky jerk who disrupts classes with arguments because the possibility that the teacher might just know more than you hasn’t crossed your peabrain.”
“Well, when you put it that way, I’d hate me, too.”
“So go up to him and say ‘Hey, Mr. Singh, I’ve been reviewing this function and I can’t figure out why the graph looks like this when x is less than negative one. Can you help me figure it out?’ He will like you for this. I promise.”
Jake had the conversation, reported back, explained to me why we both thought it should be something else (and the minute he mentioned the reason, which I still can’t remember, I went “yeah, that was it! I made that mistake before!”)
This happened periodically over the next two months, but Jake grew increasingly tentative, uncertain of his own certainty. Rather than rolling in confident he held evidence that would convince me of Singh’s stupidity, he was now doublechecking with me. Mr. Singh said this, but I think that, what do you think? Sometimes I knew the answer, in others I’d look it up, but I would always send him back to Mr. Singh for either more information or confirmation. Eventually, he started going to Mr. Singh first and then reporting the results to me.
His new data points had an impact. Now, when Jake and the others came in to say hi, they don’t have any tales of Mr. Singh’s errors but instead have all sorts of stories about how they pwned a classmate with their awesome math skills.
(Does this seem weird? Remember that at my school, Calculus is third tier from the top—AB and BC Calc are ahead of it. They’re all bright but not quite nerds. Many of them are my favorite sort of kid—more interested in learning than good grades. But they’re boys, so posture they will.)
Last Thursday Tom, a white junior who’d taken my precalc class as a sophomore, came by during our “advisory” (brief tutorial period after lunch).
“Do you know anything about L’Hopital’s Rule?”
“Vaguely. Something to do with limits. I have a Stewart Calculus text, and can inquire. Why?”
“Because he marked me wrong on a test. I got the right answer! But when I asked him about it, he said that I couldn’t use the Quotient Rule, that I had to use L’Hopital, and that it was a fluke I got the right answer.”
I looked up L’Hopital’s Rule, page 289. “If I understand this correctly, L’Hopital’s Rule is intended at least in part for cases where you can’t use the Quotient rule. If you have an indeterminate result, like dividing zero by zero or infinity by infinity, the Quotient rule won’t apply.”
Tom looked aghast. “It doesn’t?”
“Not according to this book and, I’m betting, not according to Mr. Singh.”
“It was a limit of sin(2x)/sin(3x).”
“Well, I know the limit of sine isn’t infinity, so I’m guessing it’s…”
“Zero. Oh, I can’t divide by zero. So he was right. It was just a fluke I got the answer.”
“Looks like it.”
“It’s so weird. There’s always like fifteen ways to do something in calculus, then sometimes, only one way.”
“Hah. But look. I don’t know much about this. I want you to go back to Mr. Singh. My guess is this test question was specifically designed to assess your understanding of the cases for L’Hopital’s Rule. But you need some clarity, and he’s the guy to explain.”
This story began nearly two years ago, and not until a few days ago, when I read this piece of utter Campbell Brown crap, did I think of writing about Mr. Singh, me, and his students. But at one point Brown quotes a student who said ““There were certain teachers that you knew, if you got stuck in their class, you wouldn’t learn a thing. That year would be a lost year” and I realized how often I had read that sentiment. Kids know who the bad teachers are. Parents know who the bad teachers are. They just know. Word gets around.
Well, no. They don’t. Students are, I think, the best judge of teacher quality in classroom management. They know when a teacher can’t control the kids. But they are usually incapable of evaluating teacher content knowledge. I hope this story shows that students can form fundamental received wisdoms that are simply false. From average to excellent, Mr. Singh’s students all thought they knew more than he did. And they didn’t. I’m pleased that I now have a knowledge base that allows me to do more than just tell the kids not to discuss Mr. Singh. I can laugh at them—“Yeah, I heard that before. Every time someone tells me Mr. Singh’s wrong, I ask for proof. Turns out the student doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You want to play?”
But my tale has a few more object lessons. First, teachers and parents, please note what I am proudest of. I sent the kids back to learn from Mr. Singh.
We want kids to form trusted networks. We want them to find resources when they feel lost or doubtful about education, so they don’t lose hope or quit because they feel isolated. And when they do come to their trusted resource, it’s incredibly tempting for that resource, whether teachers and parents, to regard the kids’ trust as an ego feed—see, I’m the one they really need, the safe place, the wise soul. This is particularly tempting for teachers, because it’s practically a job requirement that our personality type value trust and respect over pay. However, when a kid is using you as a resource not just to get more information or clarity, but as a substitute for the teaching process, you send him back. He or she has to learn how to use the educational process as it’s intended, to push the teacher for more information, to make sense of the unfamiliar. Ideally, students must learn not to just do what feels safe—complain to another teacher—but what feels terrifying, and ask for help. Sure, sometimes it won’t work. That’s a lesson, too. You’ll be there to help them figure it out, if needed.
Then please note what I have used everything short of neon signs to highlight: Mr. Singh knows far more math than I do (see the comments if you have issues with my description of L’Hopital’s Rule). The kids know this. I make it clear to them. Yet they still came to me for help.
And that, readers, is an important takeaway from this little essay, a truism people mouth without really thinking about what it means. Teaching involves trust. You can’t just have content knowledge and run a fair classroom. Your students have to trust your ability and your judgment. Your students’ parents have to believe that you have their interests at heart.
Reformers might do well to remember that, as they wonder what went wrong in Newark, in DC, in Chicago and Indiana. It’s not enough to tell everyone you want excellent schools. They have to believe you.
Yes, sometimes that trust will be misplaced. That is a huge reason why the charter market doesn’t work, in fact, because parents are taking schools they trust to keep their kids safe over the schools the charters want them to demand. No doubt, reformers in general think that misplaced trust is why teachers and their unions continually win the long game. But regardless, reformers aren’t trusted by the very populations they say they want to help. And alas, trust has nothing to do with test scores.
Finally, please note: in no way am I suggesting that I am a superior teacher to Mr. Singh. When I am tempted to that conclusion, I remind myself of the occasional students of mine who go running to other teachers (including, no doubt, Mr. Singh) to get a straightforward lecture or template. When I learn that students have done this, I always remind them that they can ask me, that if they need more structure, see me and I’ll give it to them. I wish those teachers would let me know when students come to them for help with my class. And then I remember that I haven’t said a word of this to Mr. Singh.
Postscript: The comments have been revealing of the way people are filling in gaps. First, my kids are doing well in Singh’s class. Most of them are getting As, the occasional B. They understand the math. Second, this is NOT a case of a teacher refusing to allow students to point out errors. Third, my students drop by for many reasons—it’s not like this is all a constant bitchfest about Singh. I’m just pulling out representative moments.
June 1st, 2014 at 2:00 am
“I wish those teachers would let me know when students come to them for help with my class. And then I remember that I haven’t said a word of this to Mr. Singh.”
Actually, yeah. As teacher evaluations and feedback goes, this would probably be the absolutely most valuable.
What is it about your instruction that is setting students off and confusing them – that they don’t dare tell you.
June 1st, 2014 at 6:08 am
Yeah. I do my best to spot the kids and reassure them that they can ask me. Most of us know our weak spots. I know students who have trouble with me are going to need more structure. How they’ll need it, I don’t always know, but that’s going to be the main issue.
June 1st, 2014 at 8:40 am
If everyone from average to excellent agrees Mr. Singh doesn’t know anything, how sure are we that the problem arose in Mr. Singh’s instruction? Could it just be a nasty self-perpetuating fluke?
On a totally different note, is the example with L’Hopital’s rule fictionalized? L’Hopital’s rule isn’t for cases where the quotient rule doesn’t apply; it’s for answering a completely different kind of question (the quotient rule will answer “what is the derivative of f(x)?”, while L’Hopital’s rule will answer “what is the limit of f(x) as x approaches whatever point?”). For L’Hopital’s rule to apply to f(x) = sin 2x / sin 3x, x must be approaching an integer multiple of pi, and the answer will be lim f(x) = ± 2/3 (depending on which multiple of pi). If you apply the quotient rule (which you can do with no problems!) to f(x) = sin 2x / sin 3x, you get f'(x) = (2 sin 3x cos 2x – 3 sin 2x cos 3x) / (sin 3x sin 3x). If you plug x = n*pi into that monstrosity, you end up dividing by zero — you certainly won’t get 2/3.
June 1st, 2014 at 4:04 pm
“If everyone from average to excellent agrees Mr. Singh doesn’t know anything, how sure are we that the problem arose in Mr. Singh’s instruction? Could it just be a nasty self-perpetuating fluke?”
Your questions again assume some bizarre world in which I said something else–unless you’re a different anonymous. When did I say that this was his instruction?
As for L’Hopitals’s Rule, I restated the text straight from Stewart and it made sense to Tom. He was supposed to have used L’Hopital’s Rule to find a limit (which I said, by the way). He apparently used the Quotient Rule to find the derivative of the numerator and the denominator, and he wasn’t supposed to. Beyond that, I can’t say. That’s kind of the point. I don’t know calculus that well.
June 1st, 2014 at 11:45 pm
Text of the comment I replied to:
“As teacher evaluations and feedback goes, this would probably be the absolutely most valuable.
What is it about your instruction that is setting students off and confusing them – that they don’t dare tell you.”
“how sure are we that the problem arose in Mr. Singh’s instruction?”
I’m not assuming you said anything at all.
June 1st, 2014 at 11:54 pm
Because you described it as a “problem”. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
June 2nd, 2014 at 1:59 am
After some point it doesn’t matter where the problem arose if the students are using their own misunderstandings of Singh’s accurate teaching to justify what may be pre-held misconceptions about his accuracy.
If it is shown to them that they are wrong about their misunderstandings (ala sending them back to Singh to learn why they’re wrong) then the prejudice will gradually fade due to lack of support.
But yes, my first comment doesn’t cover this because I didn’t think about it until your (anon’s) most recent comment.
June 2nd, 2014 at 2:01 am
And knowing that student’s hold pre-conceived notions that you are frequently wrong would lead an instructor to adjust their teaching style with prefaces about how correct usage of certain techniques can be easily misunderstood (or etc…).
June 1st, 2014 at 10:51 am
To spend some more words on my “it’s a fluke” model…
In step (1), somebody, possibly a charismatic somebody, decides they don’t like Mr. Singh and manages to convince a critical mass of students that they’re all better than he is.
Subsequently, no one bothers to pay attention in Mr. Singh’s class (“what would be the point?”). This makes the idea that no one learns anything from Mr. Singh self-fulfilling, but not totally inaccurate. At that point it’s just a toxic piece of school culture.
If, as lightly implied by the article, the ability of the student doesn’t predict how well they follow Mr. Singh, that seems like evidence that it’s a cultural or otherwise non-instructional problem.
I’ve observed this general kind of thing once, a bunch of (high school) students rejecting a teacher. It always galled me that not having had that teacher myself, I wasn’t able to form any opinion about him, but what happened was this:
The original complaint of the students was that this teacher paced the classes too fast and didn’t provide enough support. They didn’t actually accuse him of being wrong, but they accused him of being impossible to follow.
The school didn’t care about that, but late in the year the students provoked him into insulting a student in class. The students then each individually made formal complaints (all over this same semi-incident) until he was fired.
June 3rd, 2014 at 10:35 pm
What is it about your instruction that is setting students off and confusing them
Often, the students don’t know why you’re confusing them, only that you are. Or not even that much – only that you talked about something, and they left confused. Knowing why a teacher is effective or not is harder than knowing whether he is or not.
June 4th, 2014 at 12:40 am
But remember, he’s not ineffective. The kids are learning math. The issue is that they don’t have confidence in him.
June 1st, 2014 at 3:14 am
Why are all these kids coming to you to bag on Singh?
June 1st, 2014 at 3:30 am
Well, it’s obvious. I invite them to come talk to me and bad mouth other teachers.
June 1st, 2014 at 3:57 am
[…] Source: Education Realist […]
June 1st, 2014 at 4:23 am
I’ve never seen a math teacher who got upset about having errors they committed pointed out right there in class. If you’re wrong in math, you’re wrong. And if you tried to point out an error that wasn’t, they’d explain it. What’s going on in your school that that’s not happening?
My (tiny) high school offered a programming class one year, and the teacher was an incompetent hippie. She wanted to teach us C, and in the course of covering [something about arrays] said something in direct contradiction of the textbook she’d assigned (from my memory, she didn’t understand that anything equal to zero is treated as false in C).
So I brought it up right there, and was told “no, the textbook is wrong”. I said “why don’t I write a tiny program covering this phenomenon, and we can see what happens?” She said no, that wouldn’t be permissible. When I later raised the issue again: “I wrote a program to see how this goes, and the textbook is correct”… my parents were called to disciplinary hearings and I was nearly suspended from the school.
On the model where students correcting teachers are wrong by definition, that might make some sense. But I’d like to think that where it’s possible to see who’s right, someone might consider it. The system seems to be well aware of the phenomenon you’re describing… to the point where even when the teacher is manifestly unqualified, nobody will even consider that they might be wrong.
June 1st, 2014 at 4:39 am
Um. Did you read this? The teacher wasn’t wrong. And he didn’t mind kids telling him he was wrong. Since, you know, he wasn’t wrong.
June 1st, 2014 at 7:18 am
Yes, I read it. Hence the question, “what’s going on in your school that that’s not happening?”.
Say a kid points out a “mistake” on the board. One of two things should happen: if it’s really a mistake, it should be corrected. That’s easy. If it’s not a mistake, then the kid shouldn’t leave class with the impression that it was. But you very plainly indicate that despite seeing all these “mistakes”, none of your kids left his class thinking they were anything other than mistakes. Why not? There’s a failure somewhere in there.
In the rest of my comment, I go on to describe a problem between myself and the school system, where a teacher was too incompetent to realize they might be wrong, and the school wanted to back them up by force. I specifically contrast it with “the phenomenon you’re considering”. Did you read my comment?
The phenomenon I’m complaining about is more important *to me* than the phenomenon you’re complaining about, and is in fact worsened by what is in my view excessive awareness of what you describe. I think that’s relevant, so I’m bringing it up in your comments.
June 1st, 2014 at 7:25 am
“Why not? There’s a failure somewhere in there.”
The kids in question didn’t believe him. Remember, this might not be all the kids. Just the kids coming to see me.
Weird things happen in school.
What you’re describing is something else entirely—in fact, what you describe is what most people think is happening when, in fact, it usually isn’t.
June 1st, 2014 at 10:28 am
Well, by your description, it’s the kids coming to see you and it’s also the general run of kids in your class, ranging from average in ability to excellent, such that you imposed a moratorium on anyone bringing him up. That doesn’t sound like such a narrow group. Under normal circumstances, I’d expect kids who are excellent at math to do substantially better than “average” kids at identifying what is and isn’t an error and following the explanation when the teacher is called out. There must be some students who can follow Mr Singh, right? What are they doing distributed all along the ability scale instead of clustering at the top?
June 1st, 2014 at 4:52 pm
” I’d expect kids who are excellent at math to do substantially better than “average” kids at identifying what is and isn’t an error and following the explanation when the teacher is called out. ”
Math isn’t a homogenous subject, just as biology (molecular to ecology), physics (particle to cosmology), medicine (surgery to general) aren’t homogenous subjects.
It’s possible to be really very good at arithmetic, geometry, or algebra, and not as great at calculus (you’ll still probably be good, but might not be superb). Especially given the sheer number of rules and techniques used in calculus compared to the simpler H.S. level algebra and more spatial geometry. The corollary is that some students who are superb in EdR’s class aren’t as good at following Singh’s calculus, while others who are less superb in EdR’s class find Sinh’s calculus far more logical.
June 1st, 2014 at 5:02 pm
There’s a kid who got a D in my class, who I actively advised not to go forward, that is getting a C+. I have no clue how. The kid wasn’t stupid, but incredibly disorganized logically. Singh’s structure works for him.
BTW, all my kids are doing very well in Singh’s class—A’s and B’s. Many of them took the AP Calc test even though they didn’t take AP.
June 1st, 2014 at 4:53 pm
Well Cosh! I misspelled Singh as Sinh. 😛
June 1st, 2014 at 7:16 pm
I recalled and then checked this bit from EdR’s post:
“Remember that at my school, Calculus is third tier from the top—AB and BC Calc are ahead of it.”
Which means that basically none of Mr. Singh’s students are “excellent in ability” (or at least not both excellent in ability AND motivation, and it does take motivation for even the skilled to follow a math problem exegesis).
Glad to know your kids are doing well in Singh’s class, EdR. I’m assuming then that the kids who would complain to you about Mr. Singh still managed mostly to get A’s and B’s in his class (and hopefully 3’s or better on AB Calc).
June 1st, 2014 at 7:22 pm
I’d be pleased with 3s.
And Jake, in particular, is excellent. Achieving AP Calc is a matter of brains, yet, but also swotting.
June 1st, 2014 at 7:22 pm
What’s interesting, though, is that most people are focusing on the relatively minor aspects of the story. Hmm.
June 1st, 2014 at 10:36 am
Serious question (so please don’t bite my head off): how much of this is racial? I’ve gotten people, including non-whites (especially non-whites) assuming that me and my white colleagues are more competent than the non whites. That’s certainly not the case for me – I got hired for my winning personality (no, really, I’m gonna have to ask you to stop laughing.)
June 1st, 2014 at 4:10 pm
Well, as long as we’re doing racial stereotyping, what’s Mr. Singh? Asians are good at math! Jake is Asian. Tom is white.
I think it’s more likely that Mr. Singh is a tad more geeky than I am, if that’s even possible.
June 1st, 2014 at 10:48 pm
With a math teacher I know the kids who are not doing well will try the old “She can’t even speak English.”
That lead to one very amusing incident where the parent of one such kid came in for a meeting before the meeting time and was chatting with said teacher and then had a very red face during the meeting.
June 1st, 2014 at 10:54 pm
Well, to be clear there are *definitely* cases of math teachers whose accent gets in the way. Very common: Vietnamese, Chinese, even some Europeans. Just not in this case.
June 1st, 2014 at 10:59 pm
“Well, to be clear there are *definitely* cases of math teachers whose accent gets in the way.”
Yes, there are, and the teacher I mentioned, who is Asian and who has an accent that most Americans like, knows an Indian teacher who has an atrocious accent.
June 1st, 2014 at 3:19 pm
I don’t know anything about Mr. Singh other than what you’ve said here but it strikes me that he could be both highly knowledgeable in the subjects he teaches but at the same time not so good at explaining things to many of his students. It’s quite possible to know a subject very well and yet not be good at teaching it.
June 1st, 2014 at 4:05 pm
Of course it is, but that’s not the point. The kids understood the math, or thought they did.
June 1st, 2014 at 3:40 pm
[…] we really need that fair and accurate way to measure teacher performance, because (1) teachers are particularly vulnerable to getting tarnished with an unjustified bad reputation courtes…, and (2) the knee-jerk reaction is to go get smarter teachers based on test scores, certification […]
June 1st, 2014 at 10:56 pm
I think it is usually other teachers and the admins (if they bother to analyse the data on passing rates) who know which teachers are unable to teach the material. However, it is more complex than that, because it also depends on the quality of the kids, and some teachers will pass kids who should not pass just to avoid emotionally draining arguments with parents and kids (eg, “you’re just failing me because I am black …”, “you don’t like me because I’m Mexican …”, …)
In fact, I suspect that to be an effective teacher you need a combination of skills and sheer bloody-mindedness in order to force some large fraction of the kids to engage with the material when they would rather be doing something else.
June 2nd, 2014 at 2:34 am
When I was a kid in the eighties it was old Germans who were smart but unintelligeable.
June 2nd, 2014 at 7:36 am
You can look up student evaluations of college professors (some of them famous, such as Alan Dershowitz or David Foster Wallace) on “Rate My Professors. One thing that’s apparent is that there is a lot of disagreement. If you are a good reader you can begin to calibrate how smart the students are by their prose style and use that to evaluate their evaluations.
June 2nd, 2014 at 4:54 pm
[…] EDUCATIONREALIST: “Teaching involves trust.” […]
June 2nd, 2014 at 8:35 pm
I was reluctant to give comments until now, even if I had spent two years as a research assistant professor in the UC system teaching a bunch of mechanical engineering undergrad courses. I realized that there is no correlation between the capability of the teacher, and the student’s impression of the teacher.
I did not have an office, and so I ran all my visiting hours at the campus coffee shop. I was available some 10-20 hours a week for student questions (I ran my experiments only in the night so I had some free time in the day). Because of easy accessibility, most students had a very good impression of me, and they constantly complained about other professors who had set loftier goals. I was able to understand that there was a very broad spread in cognitive skills of the students (great racial variation and levels of high school achievement) and helped the lesser performing students outside the class. I got bets teacher awards for three trimesters, even though I knew I did not have even 10% of the skill of the full time professors.
I believe that students are principally looking for teachers who talk to them, and talk to them well. Someone who is awkward in human interactions and speak very didactically in class, is setting up for low students evaluation.
June 2nd, 2014 at 9:15 pm
I agree with this. But I’d be very nervous about student evals regardless.
June 3rd, 2014 at 5:54 am
I’ll give you a mulligan on the Singh piece. It was uncharacteristically incoherent and the conclusion is the the guy can’t teach very well. Students may be easily charmed, but when it stinks they call it.
I’ll even agree with your turnip analogy and most of your diagnosis of the public schools. But if you had sat in on my year end conversation with my kid’s school counselor and college advisor you would have had to stop pretending that there are not teachers and administrators here who are doing a terrible job and need firing. It is not the small problem you are trying to sell. The ratio in his school is 50/50 good/bad teachers and close to 100% bad administrators. Those who can’t teach administrate.
Go ahead and rip me, it’s your MO.
June 3rd, 2014 at 11:53 am
“kid’s school counselor and college advisor”
Wow. My school of between 300-400 per grade had a counselor per grade. The sole college advice (that I can recall) was a database with a list of all the educational institutions in the U.S., their locations, and their majors.
From what I’ve read elsewhere this sort of thing is mostly due to the fact that school counselors are swamped with legislature and DoE required paperwork completely unrelated to college counseling.
Nice that your school had a dedicated college counselor.
June 3rd, 2014 at 2:59 pm
Yes, I used to have a terrible, TERRIBLE opinion of school counsellors until I learned what their job actually was, which wasn’t to provide academic counsel.
June 3rd, 2014 at 2:58 pm
What turnip analogy? And I don’t know if my pieces are incoherent or not, but it does require following along and not looking for a fixed world view. That’s probably what causes your confusion.
I’m not trying to “sell” anything. The data is pretty conclusive on the number of “bad” teachers. It’s about 5%. There are all sorts of teachers who I personally think are not good. But that’s not the same thing.
June 3rd, 2014 at 5:51 pm
The turnip analogy is your opinion that the pub sch’s do a pretty good job given what they have to work with: “You can’t get blood out of a turnip”
We have one “college counselor” who is also the principal. Our kid is on a college track with good grades and the counselor was talking about how much money one could make as a plumber. Thankfully our neighbor is a retired plumber and he is telling our kid to go to college because construction is so boring.
I’ll reiterate, there is not much point in trying to reform the schools from a conservative perspective, particularly in a blue state. The voters are pretending that the Voldemort view is evil and the schools aren’t that bad anyway. Of course everyone who can afford it is bailing out to private schools, charters or districts with non NAM demographics.
June 6th, 2014 at 11:20 am
What the public schools have to work with are the school boards and superintendents. But even worse, what they have to work with are the state and federal legislatures, and the influence of various think tanks.
If charters and private schools were held to identical standards as public schools – heck, even if richer districts were held to identical standards as poorer or more rural districts – the comparison you’re making would be closer to a wash.
I bet the principal of your kid’s high school is getting some encouragement from above to promote the trades. It is also the case that some kids, regardless of grades and ability, would prefer a trade to college. I think it’s nice that this option is pointed out to them.
Fortunately, in terms of college counseling, the online tools that exist today are far better than in previous years. I presume you’re already using them, if not, consider doing so. It’s better than all but a private college counselor who would spend dozens of hours on your kid could do.
September 11th, 2014 at 9:16 am
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1. A smart and motivated student is capable of teaching himself the material solely from the book, so the whole “can’t learn because of bad teacher” is not correct. It’s usually a copout. (How many kids who say this are simultaneously cracking ass on the work?) Sure, there are better/worse teachers and it is better to be in an advantaged situation than a non-advantaged one. But learning is more about the student than the professor.
2. Great story. Enjoyed it a lot and it was not incoherent Singh sounds like he knows his math. You sound like an approachable person to talk to.
3. It’s just one anecdote, but interesting. I can definitely say that I knew teachers who were uncertain of the material or where I thought I knew more than them, growing up. A lot of the issue was brains versus knowledge. If you are smart (and young), it can be easy to confound the question of brains versus knowledge. But still, I definitely had experiences where I knew more than the teacher. And one or two pathological ones where the teacher was out of his depth (middle school).
But point 1 still applies. And teachers (and parents) are not perfect. That is part of growing up, to realize life is not perfect, but it can still progress OK.
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