Those Who Can, Should Teach

Although factors outside the classroom greatly influence basic education, inside the classroom, the teacher still plays a major role. Improving basic education therefore entails better teacher preparation. Asking the question what makes a better teacher is therefore important in addressing the present challenges schools face. With this in mind, the following quote posted in MindShift and the Hechinger Report from Yoon Jeon Kim, a research scientist at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, deserves our attention.

At the heart of the Teaching Systems Lab is the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning where scientists and engineers are trained to become educators in their field. The academy clearly works on the principle that excellence in teaching comes from content knowledge, as stated in of its web pages.

Your STEM content knowledge is what will make you an excellent teacher 
The WW Academy only focuses on the preparation of STEM teachers. We recognize the importance of STEM subjects and of putting the best STEM minds in charge of K–12 STEM classrooms. We require all of our students to bring specific STEM knowledge and experience. From similar work at 28 universities in five states, we know there is a huge difference, for instance, between those who know science like chemistry and biology at the university level versus those who just know science education. We believe every great teacher needs to be a content expert.
The above is indeed supported by research. In a previous post in this blog, Who Can Teach Chemistryit is clear from a British study that a general science education is not sufficient for teaching chemistry in high school. The study specifically finds that "Forty-four ‘triads' each comprising one chemist, physicist and biologist, matched by academic and personal backgrounds, showed that chemists outperformed biologists and physicists in Chemical bonding and Combustion reactions." And these topics are not advanced but fundamental ones in chemistry. Russian researchers have also recently found that content knowledge in mathematics is correlated with student performance. In Examination of Lower Secondary Mathematics Teachers’ Content Knowledge and Its Connection to Students’ Performance, the authors conclude, "The most important finding of the study was the correlation between teachers’ content knowledge measured as the total score on the Teacher Content Knowledge Survey (TCKS) and student performance measured as a grade obtained in a common cumulative assessment at the end of an academic year in lower secondary schools in Russia."

These findings should really be used to guide us in addressing what we need to do to improve basic education. For the Philippines, this is an area that exemplifies how much education policy makers ignore evidence-based research. One of the major weaknesses of the new K to 12 curriculum in the Philippines is the spiral curriculum for math and the sciences in high school. There is already a shortage in math and science teachers who have a mastery of their subjects. The shortage becomes much more severe when we now require not just a mastery of one field, but expertise in all. It takes a chemist to teach chemistry well. To teach biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences, one therefore needs to be an earth biophysical chemist. It is ridiculous. The approach taken by the MIT Teaching Systems Lab cannot even be applied because the Philippines simply made its STEM education problem worse.