What Makes a Teacher 'Qualified'

An aversion to depression prevented my reading "US 12th-Graders Miss the Mark" (Feb. 25) on the math and science scores of US high school students in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. My wife, whose stomach is stronger than mine, called to my attention some of the miserable facts in your article.

In particular, I was disgusted to learn that 18 percent of high school science teachers neither majored nor minored in one of the sciences. I hold a BS degree in botany and MS and PhD degrees in plant pathology. When I sought a certificate to teach biology in Missouri, I learned I would have to take more than 30 credit hours of coursework. Fewer than half of the hours were education classes, whose necessity I concede. Part of the balance comprised science classes that would give me broad but shallow knowledge, rendering me "qualified" to teach sciences outside my major.

What really sickened me was the requirement of yet another psychology class and an undergraduate class on evolution. A member of the Department of Education at the University of Missouri told me that a PhD in a biological science was insufficient to demonstrate an understanding of evolution. I finally gave up hope when I learned I'd have to sit through a diversity-training class - and I don't mean biological diversity. I guess what our kids really need more than well-trained science teachers is touchy-feely patronizing self-esteem boosters.

Oddly enough, I qualify to teach at the college level. I have taught men, women, whites, blacks, and Asians. Regardless of the level of diversity in the classroom, I find that the science remains the same. It is a tragedy that policymakers are more concerned with social engineering than with imparting the knowledge that brings true self-empowerment.

Keith Emery

Athens, Ga.

Enthusiasm in the classroom

Your editorial "Teach Dick, Jane to Reason" (Feb. 26) seems to associate being an unexciting pedant with being only a step or two ahead of the students. Long experience with a subject is not a prerequisite for teaching it in an exciting manner. Sometimes, in fact, it is quite the opposite! Learning something on your own can be extremely exciting, and a teacher who experiences that excitement often transmits it to his students.

Jack V. Wales Jr.

Ojai, Calif.

The Thacher School

Small-school spirit

We are the freshmen of the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (the MET) in Providence, R.I. We have 104 students, eight teachers, and no security. We read "Nation's Largest High School Says That Bigger is Better" (Jan. 6).

We like the opportunities they have at Miami's G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School - with 80 clubs and 25 AP courses - but as a small school, we are in no way limited by our size. If students want to take a dance class, the MET will help to find one in the community. And we understand how a 200-person lecture on the War of 1812 could prepare students for college, but we wonder how a class that large could go to a museum to study history.

We think security cameras and guards indicate a lack of trust. Here at the MET, we are trusted to venture out where we can find more resources. A bell does not control us. We are trusted to be where we are needed, when we are needed. We also suspect it's easier to fall through the cracks in a big school. If a student needed individual attention, could a school like Braddock provide it?

Yes, a large school "fosters harmony" when decisions are made for students. In a small school the students can be a part of the decisionmaking, which fosters true harmony. So is bigger better or just more trouble?

Maria Acevedo, Dan Angolano, Raymond Batalon, Adelina Castillo, Tiffany Gillbault, Aleasha Leavit, Josue Mendez, Desmond Paye, Erik Pincins, Carlos Ramires, Yassiry Sierra

Providence, R.I.

Your letters are welcome. All letters are subject to editing. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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